“You’re not from here, are you?”
Instinct tells me to either run screaming into the night or quickly drop to the floor and assume the fetal position. “Welcome to Dubuque” I thought.
“Actually Mam, I’m from here,” I hesitantly reply as I crouch towards the floor.
I gage a sense of confusion. “But,” she furrows her brow and quizzically tilts her head, “you dress up-for dinner?”
I glance at my reflection in the window. “Where am I?” I wonder. Jeans, a t-shirt, and a sports jacket and I am accused of being a foreigner. It was at this moment I understood the adage “you can never go home again”. Try and you shall forever remain a tourist, trapped in your own hometown.
Let me formally introduce myself. Hello. My name is Nick, and I’m new here. Actually I am from here, but due to an extended stay with the University of Iowa, I have been away for a bit. Almost eight years to be exact. Yet, for some reason, after graduation I did the unthinkable. I moved back home to Dubuque.
In his book I’m a Stranger Here Myself, author and native Iowan Bill Bryson compares returning home after an extended period away with “waking from a long coma”. Although you wake up as the same person, everything else has carried on regardless.
Dubuque seems to have done pretty good without me. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to decipher whether it is the same place I departed from eight years prior. Sure, the standard staples still stand, but much has supplemented this historic foundation. For one thing, there is actually a downtown, with actual people going out to actual establishments on an actual Saturday night. Further, the river, the bloodline of the city, is actually being used for recreation and entertainment instead of inartistic industry.
After a nostalgic ride up the Fourth Street Elevator, I take a moment and gaze down at this place I am to call home. Dubuque has clearly gone on without me and I seriously need to catch up.
And so it is, standing on top of a Mississippi carved bluff, towering over the downtown, I declare myself a live-in tourist. My mission, to re-discover Dubuque. In a perhaps futile attempt to regain my previously discarded status as a Dubuquer instead of “not from here”, I plan to do exactly what any tourist would do: go exploring.
Whether it is a visit to a gritty tavern or a glittering nightclub, to a world-class attraction such as the National River Museum or a little known local classic, I plan on chronicling my attempts at assimilation here. And perhaps someday when asked, “you’re not from here, are you?” I will be able to confidently state, “Why yes I am”. I will then strut by wearing a sports coat and bright orange Mighty Morphine Power Ranger shirt, always keeping an eye over my shoulder in case the fetal position is in need.