Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Thursday, June 01, 2006

New York, New York: Start spreading the news…..

However you count it, 10 months, 44 weeks, or 315 days overseas and just a couple weeks short of a year of being homeless, we’ve brought our adventures back to the land we know so well. And what better place to have America greet you--with all of its glory, angst, food and shopping--than New York City!

It took only minutes after landing at JFK, during our passport inspection at immigration, to be reminded of what it’s like to be in America and be Americans. Armed with a combination of a mandate from the Department of Homeland Security and a strong curiosity, our immigration officer certainly took his time with us. When he asked how long we’d been out of the country, we all turned and looked at each other and said, “A long time.”
“How long?” he asked (this was his official job duty).
“Uh, we left the US on August 16th and this is our first time back.” He was incredulous. “Were you working?” he wanted to know.
“Nope,” we said.
“Where did you go?” he asked.
“Do you want us to list all the countries?” we replied.
We were given an affirmative reply, so we started, “Japan, Korea, China, Tibet, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia…” at this point he could tell this was getting long.
“So where are you coming in from?” he interrupted.
“Prague” we said, “via Frankfurt.”
“So was that as far east as you made it?” Relative to where? we wondered.
“You know, was Prague the farthest east in Europe you got?”
“No, we’ve been in Ireland, Norway, England…” but he cut us off again.
“Okay,” he wanted to know, “are you rich or something?”
“No, we sold our house and car and furniture.”
“But are you going to get a job?” he pressed.
At this point we knew we weren’t being grilled because we were suspicious persons entering the country, but because we were curiosities. Or perhaps we weren’t the least threatening people, but he had gauged our danger to be negligible, with Dylan looking groggy after the eight-hour flight and Andy and me having an abundance of determined optimism. We may have been misguided, pathetic, and goofy looking, yes. A domestic threat? Nope.

We could tell that he was truly baffled. Who were these crazy, seemingly clean-cut middle-aged folks with a small kid, and what were they doing? Part of it was his New York-ness, part of it was good old American friendliness and the idea that there are almost no questions which are off-limits, and part of it was that perhaps we weren’t what he usually saw coming down his line at the immigration stand. Welcome to America.

We must note that of all the immigration entries we’ve been through in all of the countries we’ve seen, including communist Vietnam, the United States is the most intimidating country to enter. The forms were a source of confusion for many of the people traveling with us--the Uzbeks next to us were having a particularly difficult time filling theirs out--and a combination of the video instructions for the forms and the impression that answering a question wrong (either by mistake or by having the wrong nationality) would get you a fast pass to Guantanamo Bay, caused a great deal of worry. But then, in classic American form, once the immigration procedures were completed on the plane, they put up a big sign welcoming people to the US and stating that they had the right to a courteous greeting, among other things (unfortunately I couldn’t take a picture due to security regulations), as they tried to soften the severe procedures.

Since we had visited NYC a couple years ago and seen all the major sights then, we felt no compulsion to do anything touristy. My friend Rhonda came up from Washington DC to spend the weekend with us, and we shopped, ate, and talked. It was wonderful. Most of the clothes I’ve been wearing have been in my pack since August and so I couldn’t get to an Ann Taylor Loft quick enough to get something new to wear. We satisfied some cravings for things we can only find in America (eggs benedict, iced tea, root beer, limeade) and made a couple pilgrimages to huge bookstores. Dylan had her own agenda, off to the American Girl Doll Store and Dylan’s Candy Bar!

And the conversations! Rhonda and I had long, drawn-out conversations that lasted four days, meandering their way from topic to topic in a way that is impossible to do on the phone. They were soothing to my travel-weary psyche.

We love New York! But it’s not time to come home, not yet. It will be a while before we get back to Portland. Our plans are to explore the United States for a few weeks. First we go to Florida to see the final Disney on our to-do list. Then take a trip up north to visit the Boston Wells, and make a stop in Colorado to see most of my family. Once we get back home, we know that it will be a while--at least a few months--before we get to travel, so we’re ending with a bang!

Upcoming: our final posts of the trip: what’s it all about, was it all worth it, reflections from Only-Planet and Travel Rat, and where do we go from here. Also the Werking Wells Travel Index, the numbers behind the story.


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