As my sister and a nephew were insisting on us to visit them in the US we travelled there in 1998. Pre-travel formalities take a lot of time, especially those relating to the US visa. Thankfully those days were different and Donald Trump was yet to ride on the back of Uncle Sam. Having had the visa we bought US Air tickets under VUSA that make flying to distant destinations in the vast country much cheaper.
We flew from Mumbai to Paris and from the Charles De Gaulle Airport to John F Kennedy Airport. After an overnight stay in a hotel on the Sunset Avenue somewhere not far from JFK we moved towards La Guardia airport to catch a flight for St. Louis in Missouri. My sister’s place, Edwardsville, Illinois, was only few miles away from St. Louis across the Mississippi River.
The way to La Guardia was interesting. We passed through Flushing Meadows Where US Open tennis tournaments are held. Besides, it was from Flushing Meadows that the United Nations functioned for some time before moving to its present location on East Side of Manhattan. Our Kashmir problem was referred to the UN when it was still located in Flushing Meadows and it remained unresolved for decades before being finally declared as a dispute that has remained “Unresolved”. The name Flushing Meadows has, therefore, somehow remained embedded in my mind.
After a stop-over to change over to another flight at Pittsburgh we reached St Louise around mid-day. My sister was waiting at the Airport and we drove across the Mississippi to Edwardsville, a university town in the state of Illinois. It was the same Mississippi which we were taught abought in schools and the college, one of the longest rivers in the world that originated up north in Minnesota and flowing down around 2000-odd miles drained into the Gulf of Mexico. At St Louis, however, the River was not at its widest.
While Edwardsville is claimed to be third oldest city in Illinois, its university, Southern Illinois University (SIU), has one of the largest campuses in the United States. My sister used to be a professor at the university and later, on retirement, she was honoured by the status of Emeritus. She had a beautiful independent house on a Drive that led to the Edwardsville Lake. Behind the house one could see the spread of Prairies and her grounds at the back and the front had lots of trees. In fact it looked idyllic. It was far from the University but that is how it is in the US and that is why automobiles are so important there. In fact, with no public transport they are a necessity. Even the closest mall was around six kilometers away.
There were a few things which caught my eyes. First, I found there were no boundary walls separating the neighbouring properties – not even a proper fencing. Apparently, unlike in this country, people do not try and encroach on the neighbours’ property or, perhaps, if they did the law enforcers would take care of them. Another thing that I observed and found it to be unusual was absence of policemen on the streets. Even after a rather violent spell of weather which brought down numerous trees obstructing traffic to manage which there were no traffic policemen but only young scouts. The youngsters managed the things very well. Good training for young people and at the same time relieved for the cops to more important jobs.
The business concentration as also the older settlements, known in the US as “downtown”, was a few miles away but there was nothing much here. Everyone, however, had to visit the “downtown” to get essentials or to transact businesses or for availing banking services. It was a nice tightly constructed urban settlement. The absence of the pressure of population was palpable.
While in Edwardsville we went on a day-long outing to Alton, a town up the Mississippi River. One gets some fascinating views of the River as the town stands on a cliff at an elevation. It is supposed to be a decaying town, though we did not see any signs of decay. It was a flourishing town during the times of river trade. However, it could not stand up against the new means of transportation and the river trade declined impacting the town’s economy. And yet, it seemed to be doing pretty well. The town boasts of being the location of the last debate for presidential election which was won by Abraham Lincoln.
During our stay we also had two day-long outings – to St Louis and Cahokia Mounds, remains of an old (American) Indian settlement. I have written about them separately. We also took a trip to Chicago impressions of which I will record separately.