In this brief lull before I head back over the Atlantic, this time to Europe, being in the U.S. feels less like being home and more like a rest stop sandwiched between two very different journeys. There’s no irony, therefore, in titling this post with the town in which I live. Wheaton is, for this week, a mere respite before the process of checking and re-checking my passport, combing over itineraries, and the bottoming-out feeling of the airplane lifting off the ground begins again.
It recalls a time in my life, more distant than I think of it as, in which an airport, any airport (don’t all of them fundamentally feel the same?) was in some ways more familiar than any place I’d been, and any place I was going.
Even now, whenever I’m in an airport, I’m—not home, exactly, but we recognize each other, the airport and I. Every airport recalls dozens of memories. Pick up book, read. Pick up phone, scroll in a daze. Pick up ticket, review boarding time. Stare at fellow passengers, sketch out histories for them, people with whom you will soon be sent hurtling into the sky usually for at least several hours, yet people you will not know any better when you return to earth, disheveled, yawning, shouldering bags in resigned impatience.
All of this is in my recent past, and also in my near future. But for now: Wheaton, Illinois. What’s here? What to include in this brief travel journal?
There’s the food, of course. Always the food first. Steamboat BBQ just down the street, so close that when the windows are open a breeze carries through tantalizing scents of smoke and salt. At least three ice cream shops, frequently changing ownership, are within a few blocks of each other downtown. River City Roasters, also downtown, serves excellent coffee in a now-ubiquitous rustic industrial setting, right next to County Farm Bagels, which boasts a dizzying display of bagel and cream cheese options.
A small pond lies just outside our apartment. We have a view of it from our windows. Herons flap over the water to roost in trees half-hidden by another building. They settle among the branches, heads tucked under white feathers. Full-throated frogs bellow in melancholy along the lip of the pond.
No hills. That’s one thing about Wheaton. I love to climb, in a sort of recreational, strictly non-serious way, and Wheaton is flat, flat, flat. I don’t mind this fact as much just now, while Wheaton is only a rest stop. Europe will have hills.
And when I’m back, will I mind still? Well, I’ll save that question for later. Perhaps I can find a mole-hill, and make it a mountain to climb.