My immigrant parents, while bestowing upon me the gift of worldliness, with their accents and many passports and the ease with which they code-switched, yelling at one another in English, German, Italian, and Russian, left a glaring omission in my childhood: there was no Americana.
It was not that America itself was absent from my formative years – indeed, it couldn’t be. I was an American, and my home was here. But my parents’ version of this country always had a European slant: my father telling me to go to Katz’s delicatessen, my mother’s knowledge of strange pieces of American pop culture that somehow had made their way across the pond. There was always something missing, some element of the heartland that wasn’t present.
Westward expansion fascinated me, but did not run in my veins.
When my husband first mentioned that we visit part of Route 66 while we were in New Mexico, I was confused. I couldn’t remember if it was real, like The Enchantment Under The Sea dance that I keep thinking is part of historical record and not simply a plot point from Back to the Future.
But that road exists – like Marty McFly it may have faded at bit over the course of its adventures, but it never fully disappeared. It is not what it once was. Then again, none of us are. Roads, at least, can be repaired.
When I first saw this iconic strip of land, one that had been immortalized again and again in song and film, it was under repair, choked with traffic. The businesses along it had signs from the road’s heyday that now expressed disapproval of an impending rapid transit system.
There were nods to the people who lived here before a belt of asphalt ran through it.
There were signs that hearkened to the atomic age, which shaped New Mexico’s past.
Later, as the sun set and the sky grew dark, I went to a diner with the most handsome man in the world, and he regaled me with stories that I don’t remember under neon lights.
Later, I tried to take a photo of the two of us and failed.
Some of us are Americans, but we feel excluded from our country’s history for a variety of reasons. I’m lucky enough and privileged enough that I can try and reclaim it. I interject myself into settings that are foreign to my family, and I make them part of my history. It’s a gift. There, on Route 66, with him and those damn eyes of his, I unwrapped it slowly.