Tomorrow is the fourth of July. A big event for the USA. It feels a little bit like Australia Day on steroids – the flags are spangling and dangling from every place possible, fireworks are a bargain and people are packing into their cars and heading for the pool, lake, coast, beach.
I sit in my mother’s house in Canton, Ohio. Sleep sits heavily on me and newly forged memories of fireworks, laughter and love mingle in my consciousness. Today has been a great day in a great land. Getting to this very comforting physical and emotional place was quite a hike. I’ll recount it briefly below if you’ll indulge me a little.
ISTE is still bustling through my mind and shall (hopefully) exorcised into the form of meaningful and practical blog posts in the near future. My focus for this post is on my journey between ISTE in Philly and my present seat – Ohio.
We took the aptly named MegaBus (it had free wifi and only cot $12 each!) from the history and grandeur of Philadelphia to the culture and chaos of New York City. Our packs heavy, our legs tired and our tummies empty, we found ourselves in the crush of NYC. A quick look around resulted in NYC gold – a pizzeria selling enormous slices. The big yellow taxi was our next challenge. Our driver was insane and amazing, darting between buses, trucks and other taxis and managing to get us from 42nd street to the World Trade Centre for just eight bucks. Yep – we had to catch the PATH train from Ground Zero to our hotel across the Hudson in Jersey City. That big construction site was amazing. I didn’t feel any gut-wrenching sadness, nor the weight of tragedy. I saw potential. I saw hope. I saw progress. I saw humanity marching into the future. Beautiful, friendly American faces were doing their jobs and getting on with life despite the very visible reminders of the past – notably the barricade posters referring to the soon to be completed 9/11 memorial museum. Pretty impressive stuff, New York. The WTC stop was a daily stop for us, after a couple of days it was part of our routine.
The next two days were spent navigating the complexity of that big old city. There is no other word to describe it but disorienting. Left and right, north and south – it was a blur of people, lights, shops and street signs emblazoned with numbers (7th, 5th, 42nd, 34th, 23rd) and names from movies (Madison Avenue, Broadway). We paid a stupid amount of money to catch a red double-decker bus around the downtown and Brooklyn (Greys Line), finally realising that with the time we spent ‘looking’ ay NYC, we’d barely any time left to ‘do’ NYC. Whilst the bus was expensive for what we manage to fit in, it did allow us to see some cool stuff – the diner from that scene in When Harry Met Sally, Delancey Street (referred to by Regina Spector), Joes Pizzeria from Spiderman II, shopping mecca Soho, the beautifully crazy Chinatown, The Empire State Building etc. You really needed to give 48 hours to that pass – we just didn’t have the time to get it all done.
The best place by far was Central Park. I am a big dork when it comes to J.D Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t read it until 2 years ago – embarrassing, huh? But when I did, I knew Holden would be in my life forever, so going to Central Park was really important to me. I just had to see if the ducks were there, I wanted my boys to ride the carousel and grab for the golden ring. I had big plans to follow Holden’s footsteps in that park. And we gave it a good go. It’s summer in NYC right now. Not winter. The ducks are there and the turtles too. My boys were stoked to see both, it was by far their most favourite place. Balin even said spontaneously, ‘This place is so calm’. He too had felt the rush of the city subside upon entering that fairy world of green.
The carousel was closed. It seemed kinda fitting, My boys didn’t need to reach for that golden ring. They had made Central Park their own and that made me really proud. I can’t catch them before they fall off the edge of innocence into the terrifying abyss of adulthood, but I can give them wonderful opportunities to experience the richness of life in all its craziness and colour.
From NYC we picked up a car and headed North to Niagara Falls. This is no small feat – go on, open a new tab and look at the distance, I dare you. After a few nervous miss-steps – such as taking a wrong turn and winding up in a dodgy suburb close to the Bronx and accidentally driving on the wrong side of the road – we made it too a destination that was laughed at by many an American friend. I can see why. Niagara Falls is not a beautiful place. The falls are beautiful – a sort of symbol of America in a way. Big. Loud. Intense. Compelling. To be honest, we jumped across to the Canadian side to get our photos, an option I recommend any visitor do. Getting that stamp on our passports as we went through customs was so cool – my boys can now say they’ve been to four different countries. If you do decide to go to Niagara Falls, probably best to steer clear of the busy season – like two days before Independence Day. It is very busy. Kinda cheesy touristy. If you want to get through customs quickly it’s best to go very early in the morning. We loved the falls, but to be honest we spent about 10 minutes there. I don’t know if those photos were worth the massive drive but the memories probably will be.
My youngest son shifts and speaks in his sleep beside me. I am in Ohio – my mum sleeps in the room beside me. We are all exhausted from a day of driving across states and a night of setting off pre-July 4th fireworks. The chance to share the thrill of lighting 50 bucks worth of fireworks – the shrieks of surprise, the ‘oooohs’ and ‘aaaahs’ – is truly priceless. My kids just would never get that experience at home in Australia.
Tomorrow it’s a day of celebration for the country I am visiting. We’ll be heading off into Amish country and then to a family dinner. I hope there’s more fireworks!
Oh, and if you want to follow my trip, I’m using the hashtag #b80usa 🙂