Thursday, August 18, 2011

Coming Home To My People, To the Place Where I Began

Oh, the irony! Naming a post after a song about the struggle for freedom among Soviet Jews in the context of an 11,000-mile journey across the Land of Liberty? Well, I’m doing it anyway. Maybe the juxtaposition of those two images creates a deeper meaning or something. You decide. I drove all day, so I’m too tired.

When I reached the Delaware Water Gap and my trip odometer eclipsed 11,000 miles, I realized that this was the first stretch of road on this whole adventure that I recognized from having driven it once before. Up to this point, everything had been new, even on the return journey, since I took I-70 west and I-80 and 90 back east.

Some magical things tend to happen when you cross into the New York / New Jersey / Connecticut tri-state area. As if flicking a light switch, traffic often comes to an immediate standstill just over any of the borders, for no clear reason. Drivers abruptly change from benign Pennsylvania driving habits to a strong-willed confident New Jersey mindset (and you also tend to encounter more assholes – they’re almost always from New York). People from other parts of the country complain that New Jersey drivers are the nation’s worst, but those people couldn’t be more wrong. The problem is that we all know where we’re going and how to obey the unwritten rules of the road, and you out-of-state critics just can’t keep up with us. To be able to navigate the most complicated network of interstate highways in the country, New Jersey drivers are definitely some of the best of any state.

One of the odd state-line phenomena I half-expected today was the ridiculous monsoon rains I’d been hearing so much about lately. The other day, Central Park saw over 5 inches of rain – which is more than it gets from many hurricanes. I thought that my weather streak (38 days without a single washout) would be coming to an end, but I was wrong. It turns out that the Schwartz is strong with me, and I was able to turn the tides and bring with me the fantastic weather I’d experienced in the rest of the country. You’re welcome, New Jersey.

On the road, I couldn’t help think of the significance of today’s date – a date I chose intentionally on which to return to New Jersey. It was a year ago today that we lost my grandmother. I suppose one of the reasons why I never considered doing something like this trip in the past is that I always wanted to make sure to spend some time during the summer visiting my grandparents. Since this was my first summer without any of them, I didn’t feel as strong a force pulling me towards New Jersey – or any single location for that matter. Still, I would have liked them to be able to read about the journey, since I know that all of them would have absolutely loved it. But, by the end of the year, I’ll have written books about two of them, as well as a third resulting from their tacit permission to go on this adventure.

Then, at 4:17pm Eastern Daylight Time, I arrived back in Colonia. While this marks a transition point in the life of this trip, it does not signal its end – or at least the end of this blog. I started writing and counting miles when I left my apartment in Marlborough, MA on July 9, so I will continue to do both at least until I get back there. Besides, I’d like to do a little reflection on the whole experience and, ever since I went away to college, every time I’ve returned home to New Jersey, my brain can’t even seem to keep up with the level of frenetic activity around here, let alone spare some for self-reflection. So you all have at least a few more posts to look forward to. Probably not very many more good pictures, though. One thing I’ve learned this month is that the old adage about taking great pictures really is true – it’s much easier to take good pictures if you put yourself in front of really good stuff. And it doesn’t get much better than the stuff I’ve stood in front of for the last 38 days.

When I finally pulled into the driveway this afternoon after over 7 hours of driving (congratulations, Pennsylvania – you beat out Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, Las Vegas, San Francisco, and Chicago; leaving only Montana and Arizona with worse traffic conditions than you), my first move was to take the 3 boxes of souvenirs out of the car and spread them out all over the living room floor. This included over 20 maps and posters, 7 kinds of rock samples, 6 books, 5 t-shirts, 3 Ziploc bags of refrigerator magnets, 3 mugs, 3 kinds of pine cones, 2 pieces of redwood bark, 2 pieces of kitchen décor, and a pair of bear-foot slippers. It was a relief to know that I wouldn’t have to pack it all back up to fit in the car in a few hours.

Then, it was on to the task of getting my dog to remember me. Gordo had taken to following my father around everywhere, like he’s always done with me. He also didn’t appear particularly excited to see me. I guess he had given up hoping that every time the door opened it would be me walking in. I knew when I started out that leaving him here would be the best option for both of us (maybe not for my parents, but they seem to have made it through relatively unscathed), but I still felt bad for making him think I was abandoning him. So he may have been a little mad when I finally did return. By the end of the evening, though, he was back to his usual ways – responding to my commands (more or less), frantically sniffing the space under the bathroom door when I went in, and even starting to follow me around again. I think by the end of the day tomorrow all will be forgiven. Then I’ll throw him in the car and we’ll see if that lasts.

After having a bit of Chanukah in August, I went downstairs to do something I haven’t done since July 10. I sat down on a recliner. There was one hotel that had a couch in the room (I wanna say it was in California between Yosemite and Sequoia), but I never sat on it. It was in a dark alcove in the room that I thought better suited for putting suitcases.

From here on out, I haven’t really planned how I’ll spend my time around here, and I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I do know one thing, though – it better include ice cream cake. August 18th is my birthday, after all.

1 comment:

  1. Why was there no picture of all the souvenirs laid out on the floor? That would've been a site to see!