I left my hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska on November 1st, 2010. I returned on December 17th, 2013; three years, one month and 16 days later. I returned home 40 pounds lighter and with a little more perspective. While I was away the city and its people kept moving. The people of Lincoln rejuvenated the old Hay Market district downtown. My friends and family grew and started new adventures. I was far from the only one with a story to tell. I exited the airport and breathed in the freezing air. It was a fresh breath to be back where it all started.
Lincoln is small-
I use to get annoyed having to drive across town in Lincoln. For example from my parents’ house, in the northeast, to my grandmother’s house, in the southwest, is a 10 mile/25 minute drive. 25 minutes! I might as well have driven to Kansas at that point.
Having recently lived in a metropolis where a commute less than an hour was a treat, Lincoln suddenly seemed a lot smaller. While I was back in town I made the drive to my grandma’s well over 20 times, and it was a breeze.
Lincoln wasn’t just horizontally smaller than I remembered, but vertically too. I sat at a red light on the top of hill with my mother. Below me lay the entire city and above it bright blue skies. I interrupted her with a long whistle to point it out. The only time one could enjoy such a view back in Tokyo was standing on the top of a skyscraper. In this regard, it was good to be home.
America is huge-
While I quickly realized Lincoln was smaller than I remembered, I finally understood just how huge the United States was. On my flights from Honolulu to San Francisco to Phoenix to Omaha I looked out the window and watched the landscape change drastically. I looked at my watch and realized I could have flown from one end of Japan to the other four times in the same time it took me to cover half of the United States. On the drive from Omaha to Lincoln I could have passed through three Japanese prefectures in the same amount of time. From sea to shining sea, this is a massive country.
The car is king-
In Japan I had a driver’s license but only drove on a handful of occasions. Mostly because it was unnecessary. I could use public transportation to go nearly anywhere I wanted. And if I wasn’t on a train or a bus, I’d simply walk. I really came to love a walkable city.
However in Midwestern America, you simply cannot function without a car. Everything is so spread out that without a set of wheels you cannot do anything. So during my stay I rented a 2013 Ford Focus. During the 11 days I was back home I drove 500 miles, staying only in one city. Need a loaf of bread? Drive to the store. Want to see mom? Drive to her house. Want to have dinner with a friend? Drive downtown. Drive. Drive. Drive.
What made this culture shock all the worse was the pedometer built into my phone. In Tokyo and Honolulu, I was walking on average 10 miles a day when out running errands. In Lincoln I was lucky to walk one mile. Walk to the car. Drive. Walk in to the store. Walk back to the car. Drive. Walk in your home. It quickly became clear why many Americans have a weight problem. We don’t walk anymore.
That having been said, I really enjoyed driving around a new rental car. I would frequently romp on the gas when the light turned green. I cornered my turns really hard. I drove like a 26 year 16 year-old. I remembered how much fun driving can be.
Well maybe just acquaintances.
I was out at the bars for my siblings’ birthday on a Saturday night.We walked into Barrymore’s downtown and I knew the doorman. We shook hands and chatted. My siblings and I grabbed a table and I knew our server. She brought us complimentary stiffer drinks. We toasted our drinks and two of my old friends walked right past. They sat down and our party grew. With our drinks finished we stood up and made for the door. I locked eyes with another old friend at the bar. We hugged and exchanged numbers. Finally we emerged back outside into the cold Nebraska night.
My baby sister came over and ribbed me.
“Do you just know everybody in this town,” she asked sarcastically.
We entered the next joint, Duffy’s, and the process started all over again.
“Oh yeah, you’re a big deal,” she was again sarcastic.
I was never one of the popular kids growing up in town. However I was always outgoing and never afraid to strike up a conversation with someone. It wasn’t that I knew everyone in town, it was just Lincoln was a smaller city. There are 40 million people in the Tokyo metro. There are 300 thousand people in Lincoln. You’ve just a got a better chance of seeing a friend with those odds. This was actually a benefit to Lincoln, it was good to see so many people while simply out and about.
Here are just a few of the friends I saw when I was back.
I was able to join my siblings for their birthday for the first time in four years. It was a treat being able to join them on their special day! I love my brother and sister!
I was not only happy to be back with my siblings, but I was tickled pink to be back with my family again. I’m talking about my nuclear family, my grandmothers, my aunts and uncle, and my cousins. You don’t get to pick your family, but I feel pretty lucky considering the lot I drew.
Cost of living-
Tokyo is expensive. Honolulu is expensive. Lincoln is affordable!
Whether I was at the supermarket or the bars, I was floored at cheap the cost of living. My friends told me how much their rent was. I couldn’t believe it! In Honolulu a $1,000 a month will get you a run down efficiency apartment. In Lincoln that’s enough for a house payment on a modest home! Naturally salaries are lower and so purchasing power reflects it. But wow, what a place to live! Maybe I should consider retiring in Lincoln…
Too many choices-
The United States often prides itself on freedom. Freedom speech. Freedom of religion. And the freedom of choice. Well I quickly found the choices I had to make were overwhelming. At every restaurant and every store I was hung up on the variety of choices. I ordered a salad at a restaurant and the server asked me which of the 10 options I wanted. My mind froze. I read the first salad aloud and breathed a sigh of relief. She followed up and asked what I wanted to drink. I looked at the drink menu, which was an entire page. I panicked. Did I want a beer? Tea? A soda? Which kind of soda? Diet or regular? With a lot of ice, some ice or no ice? My heart began racing.
“Let’s keep it simple,” I said. “Just a water please.”
I’d rather err on the side of having more than fewer choices. But let’s get real, we don’t really need an entire grocery store aisle dedicated just to cereal. Let’s get our priorities straight, people.
See ya, Lincoln-
It was really, really good to get back home after such a long absence. However all the while I was there I couldn’t help but think, “this isn’t home now.” Lincoln was familiar, but it isn’t what I want, nor need, at this time. I’ve got enough family and friends in town that I’ll be returning for a while to come. But I cannot realistically live in Lincoln and accomplish what I want to in life. At least not for now. Thank you for getting me to this point, Lincoln. I won’t ever forget you.
The first time I’ve ever been homesick came on January 1st, 2014. I was on my own back in Honolulu. My heart ached for home and for a brief spell I wanted to be back. Back in Tokyo. I missed Tokyo, everything and everyone there. I wanted to go back.
I never felt homesick for Lincoln because I knew I would go back. I felt homesick for Tokyo because I know I’ll likely never go back. There’s nothing there to get me to return. Life is too short and there’s too much I haven’t seen yet. I’ve got to see something new. I spent three years in the country. I loved it and knew it well. And that chapter has closed.
I spent the day allowing myself to feel a little down and reminisce about days past. I went to bed early and drifted off.
The next morning my alarm went off and I hopped out of bed. Good morning, Hawaii. This is my home now.
Now I’m back in Hawaii. I’ve started work and I’m living with a schedule for the first time in two months. The cultural anomalies that threw me for a loop in the beginning have mostly subsided. I’m making friends and getting out there. I’m enjoying my job. Things are clicking. I’m not sure how long I’ll be in Hawaii, but just like Japan, it quickly felt like home.
Aloha and mahalo for reading.