Retracing my steps in Bloomington, Indiana

I am at Indiana University, Bloomington today through Sunday, for a few public speaking engagements. My home department is hosting me, so I find myself an overnight guest at the IMU Hotel – something I could never have imagined as a student. I’ve just had a lunch meeting with Islamic Studies grad students and a cozy book discussion at the Anthropology department.

This is the first time I’ve been in Bloomington as a driver of my own car. As a grad student, I did not know how to drive nor did I have the money to own a car.

I used to think my White friends spoke highly of Bloomington as a ‘fun’ place because they were White and because ‘fun’ activities for them were not so fun for me. But physical mobility, too, is a significant factor in how pleasant a town is. When I see my various former apartments on 11th Street, Woodlawn Avenue, and Henderson St. fly past me, they take on a gentle hue, – not the dull grey heaviness they radiated when I slogged past them, laden with grocery bags and thin winter coats. I passed the Kelley School of Business, where, one winter, I slipped (in my traction-less boots) on ice in the middle of the road, and looked up from my prone position on the road to see a driver giving me the middle finger. I stopped in to pray at the Bloomington Islamic Center – where the women’s prayer-room is still separated from the main prayer-room (I saw a TV that, I guess, shows you the imam). As I prayed, I recalled the hours-long community debate over whether a woman could hold office on the MSA executive committee, and then I picked up my bag and drove off in my car. I drove past the Main Library, where I spent many hours searching for books, typing assignments in the lab, and watching old Bollywood movies. Everything wears the sepia tones of memory. It’s all good now.

Today, driving around, drinking in the sights, and smiling charitably at the students trudging around in the grey drizzle, I realize that America is a whole OTHER country when experienced from a car as opposed to on foot.

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