We made it back to Chicago. Feels like it’s been about, oh, six months. Sometimes I still look up from my computer at work and think about some place in Providence, and it takes me a few seconds to remember that I don’t live there anymore, won’t be back there. For a while I was waking up not sure where I was, but that’s about over now.

Now we’re settled into our new apartment in suburban Wheaton, with a new couch, newly assembled table and media stand, and a dwindling number of boxes. Mike and I painted the walls over a couple of days, though we’ll need some brighter lights in here if you really want to be able to tell the difference. We’re soaking in the warm embrace of suburbia, with wide freeways and shopping and restaurants as far as the eye can see. Back in New England you really had to plan out your trips to the store, and be sure to bring a map. Here you can just get onto the main road and keep driving until you find what you want.

Getting out of Rhode Island was an adventure. I drove out here after several days of packing, staying over in my old haunt of Sharon, Pennsylvania along the way. That was back in the summer of 1997, fresh home from Manchester, England, when I drove down Route 80 with my Dad in my new Hyundai Excel, and took up residence in the home of Jean Kooser, 70 something, of Hann Hill Road, Hermitage. And a hermitage it truly was, with little to do but wander the depressed streets of Sharon, seek out the old covered briges and winding rivers of Mercer County, and wander through the firefly-lighted abandoned air strip in back of Jean’s property, to the tune of the Beatles.

I drove up the steep Hann Hill to Jean’s old house, from which Jean passed to the next world several years ago, to see what bells it would ring. It took a minute to figure out which one it was–it now has a trampoline in the back, sign of a new family in the space where Mrs. Kooser once smoked her Virginia Slims as she watched “Quincy” on her little kitchen TV, and muttered, “Pancakes!” as I made my weekend breakfast. Out back, where I considered my place in the world on my walks through the overgrown thicket, the land has been turned into a true walking path, and beyond it, a growing technology park, a proper use of a once-neglected patch.

Downtown in Sharon, there wasn’t much to see. There was the Herald, and Lenny’s Auto Repair, where my Dad and I limped in with my already-self-destructing car as soon as we arrived, and the river that I stared down at to glean yet more existential meaning. I decided to eat over at the Quaker Steak and Lube, a gas station that had been converted into a restaurant, where I had visited for the Wednesday bike night and wrote up an article about the colorful locals.

I tried to see what I could remember of it as I walked in and surveyed the scene. At the door, a gas pump refashioned as a doorknob. Then, just inside the door, a yellowed, framed newspaper article, a bit crinkled and hard to read after a decade of aging: “At home in hog heaven. By David Andrews, Herald News Intern.”

There I was, 11 years later, my name on their wall. I had actually left a mark on this forgotten place, a place that I was sure could not have remembered me. Suddenly the whole place seemed different–it was not a dusty old place that meant nothing now; it was the launching of my (brief) journalistic career, one that yielded a work that the purveyors of this restaurant saw fit to keep hanging on their wall for 11 years, yellowing though it may have been. This article was hardly a masterpiece, but it was written by me. More importantly, it seemed, it bore my name.

I ordered up some ribs and watched the Red Sox game for a while. I told the waiter of my discovery, and he told me there was more. This is the original Quaker Steak and Lube, he said, but there are new ones being franchised all the time. And every article that’s posted on these walls (mine wasn’t the only one) is reproduced at every “Lube.”

I had to see if he was right, so I stopped at the Lube closest to Chicago, in Portage, Indiana, on my way in. I found my article (in much better shape) among the many pieces of publicity and Americana on their walls. Isabel and I found another elsewhere in Pennsylvania, and there it was again. It looks like my journalistic works will live on, in a mediocre story about bikers, in a chain of restaurants derived from a converted gas station, across a great swath of rural America.

That’s enough for now; the saga shall continue…

 

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