I gave my friend Leigh, a ride into St. Paul to her parents house. They have lived there for 49 years. St. Paul is a city of distinct neighborhoods with each area well defined, often by Parrish rather than school attendance area. Leigh's neighborhood was south of and next to the neighborhood where I lived the first years of my life. I took the exit off of I-94 into her Highland Park neighborhood.
I tried to remember how many times I had driven on that street. I did remember getting on the bus when I was 4 years old at the corner near our house. My dad was the bus driver and he stopped, picked me up and we made a circuit on his route. He called out the name of every intersecting street. He tested me on the make, model and year of the parked cars that we passed. And now I was driving down the same street looking at houses that I've always known and streets that I've always seen and remembering things that I hope I will always remember.
I dropped Leigh at her parents and started back on my 60 mile trip to Flannery Bay. I got to the the local business district, a place where I shook Adlai Stevenson's hand at a stop on his 1956 campaign for President. There Wong's Chow Mien Restaurant was still in business, now the Cleveland Ave. Wok with an all you can eat Chinese buffet lunch. I had to stop.
I remember going into the chow mien joint with my father when I was 4-5 years old. We were there to get some exotic foreign take out food. (Even though my father, who had spent 3 years in China during WWII, assured me that chow mien was really an American food). I remember sitting in the vinyl and chrome chairs waiting for our food to appear in a number of paper boxes with a lump of little plastic tubes of soy sauce. The Chinese people who owned the restaurant were scurrying around and shouting at each other in Chinese. How exotic for 1950's Middle America. My dad even answered a question in broken Chinese, a talent that I never heard before or again.
Today I was sitting at my table. The Chinese owners were scurrying around and hollering at each other in Chinese. The chow mien was long off the menu, but the white rice was the same starchy sticky mass with soy sauce that I loved as a kid. And the lemon chicken with broccoli and carrots was fantastic. I didn't answer anything in Chinese, broken or otherwise, but then I hadn't lived in China for three years, either. All I could think of was how much I miss my dad and no matter how much things change there is always a string to home that stays the same.