During the beginning of July 2020, my best friend and I decided to take a
spontaneous, last-minute trip to visit her family in Greensburg, Indiana. Looking
back on it, I am humbled at the change in perspective I gained in my life. I got to
experience the pure beauty of an Indiana summer, be in the Midwest for the first
time, and best of all, meet her family and friends.
Road tripping from California to Indiana is a sizable journey that can easily be
underestimated (because I did). It is a thirty-four hour drive across the country to
get there if you don’t stop. We got a taste of the open road in between states and
because we took the interstate highway I-40E there and the West I-80W back, we
ended up passing through eleven different states. If this trip taught me anything, it
showed me how truly diverse America is depending on which state you are in. I
adore traveling, and in a way it felt like going to a foreign country because I did
immerse myself in cultures different to my own. I had never been to the Midwest
and I didn’t know what to expect.
I learned quickly that there were interesting social differences. One particular
instance that will always stand out to me was during a pit stop for gas. A kind-
looking man asked us where we were going as I put the pump in the car. My
reaction was similar to a deer in headlights, I didn’t know what to do, I stuttered,
and for some reason my initial reaction was hesitation to talk to him. My friend
gave me an “Are you crazy?” kind of look and then answered the man, “Indiana.” I
didn’t realize how much the cultural norm of not talking to strangers was so
ingrained in me! If we had been in California, it would have been odd or
suspicious for someone to ask where we were going. Contrary to that, in the
Midwest, everyone acts like they know you even if they just met you. It is very
much the norm to check on how strangers are doing like they are your neighbors. It
just showed how differently we were raised based on where we were in America.
As every road trip brings unexpected twists and turns, we were met with our fair
share. Unforeseen obstacles were waiting for us on the road.
On our way to and from Indiana we were almost run off the road by semi-drivers
three different times. I’m sure there are plenty of good semi drivers, but those
weren’t the ones we came across. These drivers were clearly drunk, exhausted, or not being watchful for other drivers. Unbelievable, I know. The reality is these
drivers have intercoms that connect to police stations so they can get away with
drunk driving and speeding if they want. Two different times, a semi would start
moving into our lane while we were still driving next to them. The first time
she had to honk to get them to stop. The second time I had to speed up to
dodge them. If you think that was bad, the third time, three different semis were
making a game out of boxing in other cars. Extremely coordinated, as if they were
communicating with each other, they would switch lanes rapidly so cars wouldn’t
get the chance to pass them. One semi in front of us, one to the side, and one
behind us on a two lane highway. The only reason we got out of that one is
because there was a third lane that popped up from the two-lane interstate towards
an exit and she bravely booked it through that lane. I remember looking back
and seeing the semis switch lanes once again, box in another car, and hold back the
traffic behind them. Moral of the story: be cautious of semis.
As we passed through Illinois, driving through the last state before Indiana, we
were pulled over by a cop. I am up to date on the terrible brutality police have been committing towards people of color here in the U.S. And being a person of color myself, and never having been pulled over before, I remember pushing down my panic as hard as I could. Thankfully, the cop was very nice.Unfortunately, he did overstep his authority.
His explanation for pulling us over is that I switched lanes too closely to the driver in front of me, but what was odd was that he already knew the car was a rental and asked for that specific rental paperwork, which meant that he ran our plates before he pulled us over. He then asked for both my license and my friend’s even though she was sitting in passenger seat. He then asked me to step out of the car and either wait next to the car or sit in the passenger seat. At this point my panic was bubbling up in my throat and my
body language was showing it as I stiffly stood next to his car while he ran our
licenses. After that he asked if we had anything illegal in the car since we are
coming from California, and specifically suggested marijuana. I told him no. After
that he asked to look in our trunk. Now if it had been any other person or even
my friend driving the car he would have been questioned at this point, “Why do you
need to look in the trunk? You don’t have a warrant. We didn’t do anything wrong.”
I honestly could not respond properly. Even though he was polite, he had a that
badge and that gun. I was terrified of what he represented. Flashes of violent
murders committed by the police went through my mind. I was aware of the
danger. Even though this specific cop was nosy but polite, and I probably had
nothing to worry about, I was still scared for my life.
So, without question, I opened my trunk to find our pink and purple suitcases. Even after this, he kept asking if there was anything illegal in our cases and I replied no. After that encounter, we drove off, and the panic I pushed down during that entire interaction
hit me tenfold. It was so bad that we had to pull off on the next exit. I got out of the
car and experienced my first panic attack. Even though that interaction went well,
no one should fear for their life when being stopped and treated in such a manner
because of a measly “traffic violation”. We were not stopped for a good reason.
We were stopped because we had California license plates. I’m glad I was stopped
by good person, but this interaction solidified my belief that the act of
policing is a threat to our rights as citizens.
Arriving to Indiana was the gift we needed. Long stretches of corn fields and
billowy white clouds greeted us from a bright blue sky. Meeting my friend’s family
felt like meeting extended family because they immediately felt like home. Our
days became jam-packed with attending family barbecues, pool parties, inflating
tubes and going down the river (“Don’t forget to lift your butt when you get to the
rapids!”). At night, within a blink of an eye they were lighting fireworks on the
streets for the fourth of July. It was very refreshing to be around people that aren’t
in a rush, unlike the city where I am from. In the small town of Greensburg,
Indiana, no one is rushing to work or looking at you oddly if you move at a slower
pace. Everyone takes their time and it is a very relaxing and relieving environment
to be in.
On a particularly beautiful hot summers day seemingly all of my friend’s family came together and toasted their beers in celebration and jumped in the river with the donut-
like tubes held to their backs. I appreciate being welcomed into this moment with her family the most. It was simply a perfect day to be in the river. At some point we stopped at this cliff and everyone was jumping in the water. I got nervous and was going to back out, but my friend’s Mom, encouraged me to jump and for some reason that gave me enough courage to be able to do it. As I climbed up the cliff and looked down, the distance was not too high, but my phobia of heights did kick in a little. As I was looking
down, the nerves began to make my body shake with adrenaline. So much so, it
was hard for me to pay attention to the directions everyone else was trying to tell
me. The two pieces of advice that stuck out as they were telling me was to,
“Commit and jump out from the cliff” and “Bend your knees towards your chest as
you jump.” I held on to that for dear life and before I could let myself back out, I
jumped. It was so exhilarating! I was in the air and, before I knew it, I was being
patted on the back. Even though this is a tried and true activity for fun in Indiana
that is really common, I thought it was a very special moment because I did what I
wanted to do anyway despite the fear. I earned my Indiana stripe.
When our trip that was originally going to last a week ended up extended another
week, I decided to take a joy ride on my own and go to Indianapolis to visit my
Uncle Kenny. He was my Dad’s childhood best friend. A brotherly love: when
they were young teens they even started a business together called the Balloon
Bandits. The funniest part is that they ate their profits in ice cream. I met my Uncle
Kenny when I was a baby, so I was excited to see what came of my beloved Uncle
When I arrived in the city, I had some time to explore before meeting with him, so
I walked around the city center. The street art really made me fall in love because it
was paying tribute to George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. It was
important for me to note the artwork because even in a “red state” people were
speaking out about this issue in a way that would speak to people’s hearts, which I
believe is through art.
Once I got Uncle Kenny’s call, I headed over to his place ten minutes from Indy’s
city center and caught up. The first thing he said to me when he welcomed me in
his home was, “I can see your Dad in you,” which warmed my heart like nothing
else could. As the evening went on, I was amazed to hear the stories of my Dad’s
youth. I learned of the trouble they would see and get into as teens running around
the streets of San Francisco. They looked out for each other and took care of one
another. I thought to myself how seeing my Uncle Kenny was poetic justice
because their relationship reminded me of the way I feel about my friend.
Even though there were clear differences in the environments and people who
raised us, going to Indiana and meeting my friend’s family was so special. I consider
them extended family of my own now. I have a special place in my heart for the
green perfection of Indiana and the people living there. I think of goodbyes like
sunsets, beauty in the moment, and within a blink of an eye the chapter closes.
Indiana sunsets in particular are a sight to see. So much so, when we first showed
up, my friend’s sister insisted on me seeing one. No word will
ever fully cover the level of amazing Indiana sunsets are. The combination of reds,
yellows, blues, oranges, and pinks compliment the depth of the fluffy shaped
clouds. It was hard to say goodbye to such a beautiful place and amazing people. I look forward to the time when I can come back.