2009 was a long time ago. You can tell because babies born then can speak in sentences, and your favorite running shoes have gone through four updates. Back then, we were crushing so hard on Obama that the book he went on vacation with was national news. That book was Netherland, which was a novel about cricket, but also the American dream.
A plot summary would be kind of useless—it’s a book to read for the sentences. There’s a moment toward the end of the novel when Hans, the Dutch cricket-banker searching for identity in a post-9/11 New York hits the ball like an American. It’s a heavy-handed analogy about Hans’s surrender to his new self, but it still works.
I was thinking about Hans the other day, on my drive home from work. One of the hardest things about my journey to become an American – or an American outside of New York City – has been the automobile. One of the reasons I stayed in New York was the public transportation. For a while, driving wasn’t something I could do with any regularity, and living somewhere where I would depend on a car wasn’t a real option for me.
But I also love public transportation, specifically trains, especially reading on them. Some of my favorite moments in New York came on the subway with a novel. I kept riding the 2 to finish Exit Ghost and Never Let Me Go, and I have a distinct memory of not getting anywhere in Infinite Jest on a round trip F-train odyssey from Park Slope to Queens.
In New York, I never thought of myself as someone who read a lot, it was more that I took the subway often. I didn’t really know how to be idle while commuting, and in Denver, I listen to a lot of podcasts.
But the other day, I didn’t want to learn anything about the economy, or how Americans live, or something vaguely about science. I wanted to sing “Second Hand News” over and over again to myself for 30 minutes. And I did. Until that moment, I didn’t really understand the American love of the automobile. But I finally got it: a car doesn’t just provide mobility, it provides privacy. On the open road, you can pick your nose and sing off-key without shame.
And when I arrived home, without an increase in my general knowledge and my voice a little hoarse, I was much like Hans after hitting the ball like an American cricketer. That is, “I’d done so without injury to my sense of myself. On the contrary, I felt great.”