I knew I had no choice but to exit and take a look when I read the name of the community: Asti.
What's the big deal about "Asti," you are wondering, right? If you guessed it sounds Italian, you are absolutely right. But, if you thought that I exited because of that Italian connection, you are dead wrong ;)
My mind played with how the word "asti" sounded and I was reminded of the Sanskrit classes decades back in the old country. अस्ति means "to be." It is. It exists. Asti.
If only the teachers and the system back then had provided us with a wonderful exposure to the humanities--and to languages, in particular. Whether it was Sanskrit or Tamil or English or Hindi, the teachers did not teach us how to appreciate the beauty of the language. Even worse, they failed to convey the rich history that comes with any language.
Instead, all they drilled into us was about learning the mechanics of whatever language they wanted us to learn. Now, looking back, all I can do is smile at how ironical it was that one of the essays that we read for the English class was Winston Churchill's piece on his learning Latin as a schoolboy. it is a long tradition of making languages unappealing to students!
Thus, Asti as अस्ति in my mind was why I decided to exit. I knew there was a story waiting for me.
But then, I suppose stories are never waiting for any of us. It is up to us to tell stories. A story is in the eye of the beholder. Let me tell you what story I saw there.
Asti is named for the Italian town for a reason--this is in California's wine country. There are vineyards everywhere, and it should surprise nobody that a small community here is named after a place in Italy. Off the exit ramp, I turned right, and drove slowly admiring the scenery. A cop car passed me. Otherwise nothing. It did not seem like there was any story.
I turned around. I drove past the exit. There was my story.
I was tempted to park, get down, and take a few photographs. But, what if I upset them in the process? Did I really want to mess around with people walking around spraying chemicals that are apparently so powerful that they have to wear Ebola-fighting outfits? I am, after all, a wuss. I reached out for my camera, which was lying on the passenger seat, and clicked without even lowering the window. What they didn't know won't bother them, right?
We seem to do bizarre things in the name of progress, like using chemicals that are so powerful that we need to protect ourselves from them. While wrapped up in protective suits, we spray those chemicals on produce that we eventually consume! We certainly are fucked up. I wonder how I might say "fucked up" in Sanskrit; I wish Pattabhiraman "sir" had taught me that back in the old country! ;)