A stars-and-stripes homecoming
I’m home! Ranch dressing, pink lemonade, free refills!
My plane is flying over New York and a big fat lump gets stuck in my throat as I look out at the skyline … minus two towers. A reminder that I’m coming home to a different America than the one I left three and a half years ago. I’m a bit bruised, a bit scarred, but, hallelujah, baby, I’m home!
* * *
My friend Carol, visiting from Minnesota, picks me up at JFK and we’re taking a bus from the airport to the city. We’re a couple of country bumpkins with our eyes bulging clear out of their sockets, peeled up against the window watching the bright lights sparkle through the steel canyon, Manhattan, The Big Apple!
The bus turns into Times Square, and when I see those lights of 42nd Street, a surge of electricity bolts up my spine and down my legs that are spinning in place like Fred Flintstone. God bless America. I gotta get off this bus. I’ve got to throw my arms up, twirl around a lamp post, kick up my heels, break into song.
“I’ve got to be a part of it, New York, New York.”
American flags are waving like crazy everywhere. I find it a bit overwhelming being surrounded by all this patriotism when it’s been pounded into me for years now that that’s just not on.-It takes a couple days, but I slowly ease into the fact that it’s O.K. now to be an American. I don’t have to dodge the fact anymore.
I see the construction worker down at Ground Zero with “9/11 – Don’t Forget” tattooed on his biceps, and I realize I’m no longer isolated like I was starting to feel in Europe.
Businessmen on Fifth Avenue are wearing Old Glory ties. A woman walks down Broadway with a red, white and blue beret and jacket to match. I find it liberating to walk around The Big Apple surrounded by stars and strips, to feel the spirit of a city, a country pulling together. It’s like a thousand-pound gorilla has dropped from my shoulders and I’m free to stick the stars and stripes out of my ears if the humor is on me.
Then I start going mad with myself; American flag emblazoned sweater?- Yep.
Green foam Statue of Liberty crown for my head? Afraid so.
Flags for Bob the trolley? Got ’em.
U.S.A. toy license plate for Bob the trolley? Check.
Stars-and-stripes, designer cell phone? Yessiree.
* * *
The CBS Early Show invites Bob and me for an interview. It’s broadcast live across the country and the perfect way to start my home stretch.
On the way back to our Greenwich Village apartment, the van driver says “welcome home.” He says he’s from Brazil and this is the best country in the whole world – “the whoooole world,” he says.
“All my life I want to come to America. I apply four times to come to “America and they tell me “no’ every time. So I apply again,” he tells us. “The consul general says to me: “Why? Why you come to apply again the very day after I turn you down for the fourth time? And I say to him, “”Because, sir, I want to go to America, I want to live in America, and I will keep applying and keep talking to you until I get to America.’ So he smile to me and say “Congratulations.’ Anyone with that much want to go to America must go.'”
His arms are so passionate and his enthusiasm so infectious you can’t help but be inspired by him.
He goes on.
“I am here eight years now,” he says. “I work hard, I learn English, I drive the CBS van 60 hours a week. I go to school. I study every day. Anything is possible in America. Look at me – I will be CPA.”
For a moment I’m tempted to give him a big fat kiss for keeping immigration so alive and healthy, but I don’t want to send him screaming back to Brazil so I keep my lips to myself.
* * *
Three and a half years of drama I’ve missed from fallen towers to wars to snipers in the capitol. There are other things that will take me years to catch up on: Who’s Gary Condit? Where’s Martha Stewart? What happened to Matt Lauer’s hair? And the other half of Al Roker? When did Abe Lincoln’s face get so darn big on the five-dollar bill?
Despite all the bruises – or more likely because of them – I am moved more than ever before to ride that boat out to Lady Liberty, throw myself at her feet and thank God I was born in this country.
And I’m sure if she could talk she’d say something like: “All right, all right, stop with all the dramatics. We’ve taken in your tired, your poor, your huddled masses before and clearly you qualify for all of the above. Welcome home. Now get up off my feet, dust yourself off and get a move on, you’ve got a long ways to go yet.
“And nice hat.”
Editor’s note: Vail resident Polly Letofsky has been on the road since she left town Aug. 1, 1999, on her mission the become the first woman to walk around the world and promote awareness of breast cancer. From Vail she first walked to the West Coast, then crossed to the two islands of New Zealand, up the eastern coast of Australia and on to Malaysia and Southeast Asia, India, Turkey, Greece, Great Britain and Ireland. She’s now back in the United States, having arrived in New York City. She’s expected to reach Vail sometime this year. This is the latest installment from her journal. You can follow along with Polly’s journey on her Web site, http://www.globalwalk.org.
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