Yesterday I woke up after an uneasy sleep in the early hours to wind and rain on the southwest coast of Portugal and watched the sun rise as I drove through the sleepy green hills of Alentejo. Today I woke early (jetlag) to the snowy suburbs of Philadelphia and watched the sun rise from the window in the bathroom of my dad’s master bedroom.
I am strangely still high, my energy vibrating from some crazy positive frequency, from my beautiful last day in Portugal, and don’t feel nearly as uneasy as I thought I would about being back.
It was great to see my dad, who still pretty much rules above all dads (don’t even try to fight me on this one). I changed the game plan on him and instead of arriving in Philadelphia on an Amtrak train at 7:42, I arrived in Trenton, New Jersey, on a NJ Transit train at 5:00. (Yes, NJ Transit was my first stop after landing at the airport. One day you wake up in one of the prettiest places in the world, the next day — after traveling for 15 hours — you are riding the commuter train from hell.) No matter — he still showed up to pick me up, battling last-day-before-the-Christmas-holidays traffic and a brewing sinus malady.
He barely flinched when I told him I planned to stay in the U.S. for only about a month before heading back to Europe, when I told him I planned to just pick up work here and there and travel for about another year. For a man who spent his whole life in his hometown and still, at 76, goes to work every day, it’s somewhat of an alien concept not to work a full-time job and live in one place your whole life. But my dad has the heart of a traveler (we have traveled together in Rome and Sicily), so I am not entirely surprised he was cool about it, and the fact that he will be my home base/freelance check casher while I’m away.
My first greeting on U.S. soil wasn’t nearly as warm, but more or less solidified my plan to get out of the country again as fast as possible.
When I had my passport stamped at immigration, the officer asked me how long I had been away. I told him two months; he then asked if I lived in the U.S. or in Europe, and if I was on vacation or working while I was away.
Wanting to just get out of there — immigration always makes me nervous, just like seeing cops make me nervous, as if I’ve done something wrong (a throwback from smoking a lot of marijuana when I was a teenager, I think) — I said I was mostly on holiday. (As an aside, I’m glad I got rid of the weed I picked up in Portugal, where having a small amount is legal, before I left the country. There were drug-sniffing beagles in baggage claim.)
Then Mr. Important Immigration Guy asked, “Don’t you work?” which I thought was pretty rude, because what if I was one of the thousands of people who lost jobs in the U.S. — people who, unlike me, have major responsibilities and kids and bills and are in seriously dire straits. I responded, “Sometimes” and then “I’m freelance; where I am, the work is.” He smirked, handed me back my passport and sent me on my way.
His whole attitude reminded me exactly what I don’t like about the “American” way of life, which generally puts more value on making money and working even a dead-end job than life experience, traveling, creativity and a solid spiritual path. We all know which side I root for, and yes, I know I’m lucky that the circumstances of my life and the hard work of my father have, to a certain degree, allowed me this lifestyle.
But honestly, I think that more people could live a different way here if they didn’t buy into the whole American value system in the first place, so I didn’t appreciate having someone question my lifestyle, and certainly not some power-tripping government cog.
It didn’t ruin my day or dampen my spirits, though, nor will it ruin my Christmas. I’m here at my dad’s now, and looking foward to seeing my sister and her kids today. I talked briefly to my 2-year-old niece last night on the phone and that little girl was jabbering away (god knows what she was saying, but it sounded super-cute; she wasn’t talking that much last time I saw here).
Hope you all have a beautiful holiday and take a moment in between sips of wine and food-gobbling to count your blessings this year. I suspect you will find you have many more than you think.