Three flights and a bus trip after Herr Marlboro and his father left me at Entebbe, I disembarked at Newark Airport.
The sky was overcast, the temperature chilly. Yancey and Roberta picked me up—I’d been carrying around 90 cents for six months, in anticipation of using a pay phone the minute I got through Customs. (One does not carry a US-cell-phone to Africa to make a single phone call in half-a-years time; coins are a different story.)
What must new immigrants who fly into Newark think, I wondered, as we breezed past the post-apocalyptic landscape along Route 1 en route to Jersey City. They surely must be horrified at the crumbling promised land, its port and refineries spewing toxic waste, its roads potholed, its traffic lunacy, its Road Warrior aesthetic supremely over-the-top. If there is a “perfect storm” of industrial landscapes, it is between Exits 14 and 8 on the NJ Turnpike, along with the corresponding parallel madness of 1/9. The only thing looking vaguely First World is the reassuring blue and yellow of IKEA.
New immigrants would not be in awe of the deteriorating concrete Pulaski Skyway, as I usually am. They would not marvel at the drivers jumping the median when they spot a back-up, on 1/9, the way I often do.
But today, even I was not impressed by the crème de la crème of hideously ugly panoramas. Because it was unpleasant, gray, and cold. I’d gotten on the plane on a warm night, in a city of fresh vegetables, plentiful ripe fruit, cheap melt-in-your-mouth steaks, and a low cost of living. I’d gotten off the plane to enter into a maze of madness, the kind of criss-crossed highways where you’d get lost in a flash if you didn’t live there.
Yancey dropped me off at my car, and Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus started up with just a little sputtering. I dug around in my apartment for winter clothes and my cell phone. (My tenants were out of town but are there until Nov 30). Henry then took me to Virginia, where I set up shop in my mother’s spare house, in the rural “Northern Neck.” The dial-up Internet access was excruciatingly slow and unreliable. My cell phone got no signal. It rained for the next two days. The local restaurant was McDonald’s, or for a special occasion, I could head to Subway.
I grieved for my lost adventurous lifestyle and for my sedate homecoming. I’d be here for ten days then head back to Jersey City where my chromium-riddled pocket Victorian neighborhood sits in the shadow of a spur of the NJ Turnpike.
But we all have to go home eventually. Visas and their expiration dates force the issue. Mom helps too. But I'm already suffering from what Peter Moore termed "Matatu Withdrawal Syndrome." Hakuna Matatu indeed.
Next stop: Kuwait in January. Watch this space.