There was something deliciously ironic about the situation. After 14 months of sauntering through the world with surprising ease and few time pressures, I found myself stuck in a Ford Transit somewhere outside East Croydon, late for dinner with a friend. I had covered two miles in the past hour. Continue reading
Category Archives: ‘mind the gap’ journey 08-09
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…
“I hate being late. It’s just one of my things…” said Justin.
Drive 5000 miles across America with someone on a road-trip and you get to know them pretty well. Speed, I had discerned, most definitely was one of Justin’s “things”. Our encounter with the Texan judge had done nothing to deter him from his desire to live life in the fastest lane. We were now in North Carolina, and still travelling at speeds that even Jensen Button would baulk at.
As the familiar flashing lights and siren appeared out of nowhere, I had a strange sense of déjà vu….
“D’y’all know the laws in this state?”
The politeness card was played again. “No officer, we’re from England and I know I was driving too fast, I‘m terribly sorry…”
And trumped. “I gotta tell ya, at that speed, y’all’re goin’ t’jail.”
Gulp. There was something worryingly serious about this guy. Pause. Long pause. There was only one thing for it. Justin pulled out the Ace in the pack – the “School play” defence.
“Umm, officer, I’m so sorry, but we were heading to a school play at the Nags Head Elementary… I know we were driving too fast, but we woke up a bit late, and we’re really sorry…”
Bizarrely, this was in fact legitimate. The night before we had indeed met a troupe of childrens’ actors and actresses and really were heading for their performance at a local school.
None of this however cut the mustard with the officer involved, who played his Joker – a pair of handcuffs.
The rest of the tale is too long and convoluted for this blog; suffice to say it involved a trip to the Dare County Detention Center, a bail bond, a 24-hour wait for the court case, a friendly magistrate, another reduced fine, and much wiping of brows.
And no school play.
The pros and cons of Road tripping (with apologies to Roger Waters)
If encounters with the legal system of the USA have constituted one part of the road-trip experience, the people who we’ve met have played no less a part.
Anger has brewed up in lots of different ways – since the last post, we’ve come across Scott from Alabama who was ready to use his fifty stock-piled AK47s to take the battle to those he thinks are destroying his country by backing off from continual confrontation; and East-coasters Ted and Tony in North Carolina who were more sanguine, but no less depressed about the future here. It’s really not at all clear what comes next. But it’s unlikely to be pretty for quite a while. Lots to think about.
Travel brings its own rewards though, and the kindness we’ve encountered along the way will live long in the memory – sleeping in sofas in Venice Beach LA, staying four days on a yacht in Charleston courtesy of Cap’n Will at the local yacht school, scoring great deals in great hotels. (No jail cells, despite Justin’s best efforts).
5.500 miles on the road has allowed for aural pleasure (please be careful at this point if reading this blog aloud), with music ranging from classic Americana to Indian Kirtan to African beats to bizarre Scottish eighties underground bands. We’ve even heard and made friends with a musical star of the future – you heard it here first – John W Lee is going to be BIG. Click here for his music.
The prize for soundtrack to the trip though goes to Johnny Cash – click here for “I’ve been everywhere”.
I write this from Washington DC, and head tomorrow for New York, the last stop before hopping over the Atlantic to check on the UK, 400 days after I left heading East in November last year. Should be interesting.