It was on the way out of Washington DC when I first saw the ad looming up from the side of the Freeway.
I wasn’t quite sure what to think – the barefaced appeal to commercial self interest was, I have to admit, a little shocking. Middle America is surprisingly full of (often privately-funded) adverts for organisations like this (often torn apart on the internet by well-argued pieces like this).
I was tickled, therefore, when we finally arrived in New York City later that day, to meet two sassy urban girls who sheepishly told us that there are plenty of people in New York that are living proof that married people really do earn more money. The going rate for helping someone to procure a Green Card through a sham marriage is, apparently, 10,000 dollars.
And not uncommon.
Oy vey Oy vey… New York, New York
It’s in the nature of big cities to detach themselves from their host country and establish an identity of their own. None does this better than New York.
Our drive across middle America, for instance, had proved that the central states can be a little sleepy – even soporific at times. In sharp contrast New York, meanwhile, truly is the city that never sleeps.
But there are other differences – as we sat having one last drink with a middle-aged woman in SoHo’s amazing Balthazar bar, conversation turned to the nature of this global city.
“Oh yeah, six months in New York, and you’re an honorary Jew,” our garrulous acquaintance told us in her classic New York Jewish accent. “Come owan! The Empire State’s even lit up blue and white for Chanukah…”
And it’s true – Jewish influence pervades the city. Michael Bloomberg, mayor since 2001, even renamed one of the ten avenues that slice the city top to bottom as “Yitzhak Rabin Avenue”.
Given that this journey has enabled me to experience a number of the world’s faiths – Hinduism, Buddhism (Tibetan and Chan), Sikhism – it seemed apt that the second last night of my trip should be spent in a deeply celebrating Hanukkah in the home of an Orthodox Jewish family, friends of Justin’s cousins. The sense of a tight, family-based community was palpable.
The contrast with the middle states couldn’t be more stark, where we had heard all kind of subtle and insidious slights directed at Judaism – and indeed any other non-Christian religion – with an alarming frequency. The pervasive nature of Christianity here over four weeks has been one of the surprises of the trip, way beyond expectations.
I’m now back in London, 13 months after arriving in Bombay. The last month driving across the US has been a fantastic way to set in context some of the changes I’ve seen across the world in the last year. That will take a while to process.
It has been a privilege to share the road-trip with someone else – Justin and I met briefly in India in late 2008, stayed in touch by email, and it happened to work out that we both had the time for this journey. That’s travelling for you. The month has been packed with experiences that many would give their right arm for.
A few years ago, someone said to me “Mind the gap between the life you’re leading and the one you want to lead.” This year has been all about closing that gap. In that sense I feel I’m at the start, not the end, of a journey.
Lots has changed. Nothing has changed. But one thing’s for sure – what I’ve done and seen in 2009 is now part of me. And that’s a Good Thing.
A blogging intermission is now definitely in order. So, for the last time for a while…