More of the Time Capsule playlist sub-series.
“Buddy Holly” – Weezer
Reminds me of a few things, but the most vivid was in September 2010 in Memphis. I taught English in Ecuador for most of the year, and while I was gone, my mom discovered some long-lost relatives in Texas. My flight home had a layover in Houston, so we decided to just meet up there and take a road trip for a week or two before returning to Indiana.
The trip was a delight and the reverse culture shock was fascinating. Huge parking lots, businesses set far back from the road, no concrete walls around homes. Water fountains I could actually drink from, air conditioning, an actual need for air conditioning. (Despite being on the equator, Quito sits at 9,350 feet above sea level and therefore has a mild climate similar to San Diego’s.) Feeling an impulse to still say “gracias.” Clean sidewalks, not constantly watching my back, not (usually) preparing Spanish dialogue in my head before approaching a cashier. Walking in public with no heads turning to the pale gringa with red hair. The relief yet disappointment of appearing normal once again. My mom paying for nearly everything, rather than me tracking every cent and forgoing most little luxuries on my small teacher’s salary. The constant political news cycle I’d tuned out while away. The things I was relieved to see, the things that now stood out. The unexpected things I missed from South America, like bakeries, tiny apples, and walking everywhere. The strangeness of not being able to quickly text my friends there. I’ve always had an ambivalent relationship with my nationality, and time abroad put that into sharp relief. Deep admiration and pride still ran concurrent with shame and disgust, but new experiences brought more nuance.
While approaching Memphis on the way home, I remembered my friend Fei-fei had enjoyed a vegetarian BBQ restaurant there. I called her, and super organized as she is, she immediately gave me the name, address, and directions. RP Tracks was near a college campus and was indeed delicious. Its wooden booths carved with names reminded me of so many college-town restaurants across the country. Outside the restroom were dozens of candid photos from the 90s, overexposed shots capturing moments of laughter and friendship. This was before 90s nostalgia had come into vogue, but enough time had passed that the pictures triggered a wistfulness. They looked surprisingly old, yet immediately familiar. The bathroom stalls were filled with old graffiti, so I added a Funkadelic lyric, my classic graffiti line when nothing else comes to mind: “Free your mind and your ass will follow.”
I put “Buddy Holly” on the jukebox. As soon as it began, a sense of home settled over me. This was the good America. Weezer’s Blue Album blasting on the jukebox. Old photos posted without need for context. Calling old friends without paying a fortune or going to a janky internet cafe. Obama in the White House. Old restaurants in funky college neighborhoods, tofu BBQ, Dr Pepper, and an unhurried meal spent laughing with my mom.