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The Americans: leaving New York

In 1979 I hitch-hiked for seven weeks around the United States.  What became of the carefree, relaxed young 21 year-old of these pages?  Can I reconnect with those qualities, forty years later?

What about America itself?  Was it better then, or worse?

Perhaps the US needs to reconnect, too.

You can read more episodes from this journey on my page, The Americans.

Here is how I set off from New York on my first day of travelling, on 3 July 1979.  Pictures below!

Leaving New York

On Tuesday morning, Harold and Dorothy drove me from their house in Ardsley to the Major Deegan Expressway, heading south for Washington, D.C.  The road stretched out ahead.  First target was to reach the New Jersey Turnpike.

How was I not terrified?

Dorothy Berkowitz seeing me off on the Major Deegan Expressway 

Aged 21, my primary emotion was excitement.

Looking back, I think: “how can I reclaim that boldness, that clarity of purpose, that focus on the present, that carefree calm?”

Things I was not worried about:

– my career.  It had not yet started.  I had nothing to screw up;

– money.  I had all my cash, for seven weeks in the US, in traveller’s cheques on my person;

– other people.  During my trip, I wrote several letters and postcards home.  I tried to make one phone call, reversing the charges because I had no coins, to Harold in Ardsley – I can’t remember why.  On the line, I heard him telling the operator he refused to accept it;

– information about the rest of the world.  The Internet did not exist.  I do not remember buying a newspaper.  I had a tiny transistor radio (thanks, Harold) but mostly listened to music;

– death, injury or other cataclysm.  Sure, hitch-hiking posed risks.  But what would life be like if it consisted mainly of avoiding risk?

Things I was worried about:

– how quickly will I catch a ride?

If living in the moment had been invented, I would have been doing it. (more…)

The Americans: prologue.

Welcome to “The Americans”.  Who are they?  What can they teach us about ourselves?

You can read more on my page, The Americans.

The prologue begins with me leaving Durango, Colorado, as the sun sets in mid-July.

Prologue

The first thing I saw were his big butcher’s arms: broad and sheened with sweat.  Next I saw tattoos; a square jaw, thick with stubble, set in a sullen half-smile, half-sneer; and a six-pack of Schlitz, wedged between his thighs on the driver’s seat.

Schlitz – the beer that made Milwaukee famous.  What made Milwaukee famous made a loser out of me.

Was it dangerous to enter the cab of the old Ford pick-up?  Standing by the roadside outside Durango in the evening heat, I had the usual split second to decide.  I sensed contradictory feelings: fear; an urge to keep moving; and thirst.

‘Where are you heading?’ I asked.

‘Cortez.’

The next town.

‘OK.’  I got in.  The cab smelled of camphor.

My 1979 diary and Rand McNally Interstate Road Atlas.  The flag was originally stuck to my red rucksack as a hitch-hiking aid

It was July ’79.  Jimmy Carter was President.  Donald Trump was a 33-year-old real estate developer in (more…)

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