Fear and Leaving in New Jersey
September 16, 2001
I thought that my first entry from the road would be a tongue-in-cheek tale about our bumbling adventures on the road. I thought I would write about how Brian and I got lost on a back highway in the South some place near Deliverance territory or how we managed to pitch our tent on the only plot of quicksand in North Carolina. I thought I would write about the euphoria of beginning a long-awaited journey and the small pleasures of life on the road in America. Instead I’m trying to find the right words to describe what it was like in New Jersey this past week and how the events of September 11, 2001 have changed this trip.
Brian and I were in northern New Jersey visiting my parents when the World Trade Center was destroyed. From the street outside my home we saw the dark cloud of smoke rising from the New York skyline and jet fighter planes roaring across the silent sky towards the city. Over the next two days my mother’s office had two bomb scares and my father had to leave work early because of riots.
None of this is unusual. Everyone from that area will have similar, and worse, stories to tell about this past week. Our town rescue squad was sent in to help in the recovery effort, children were dropped off at police stations by daycare workers who couldn’t contact their parents, and we all sat near the phone waiting for word that our families and friends were safe and unharmed.
I left my home on Thursday with a tremendous sense of uneasiness that I didn’t shake the entire twelve-hour drive from New Jersey to North Carolina. I never thought that the beginning of our trip across the country would be anything less than one of the best days of my life. Instead, I felt guilty for not staying close to my family and friends and to the smoke that still rose up along the horizon. It felt inappropriate to travel for pleasure in a country that was in mourning.
Every story needs a theme, but I never imagined that terrorism and impending war would be the thread that wove itself throughout our travels. As we drove down the East coast on Thursday we saw the American landscape transformed by countless American flags, announcements for prayer vigils, and homemade “God Bless America” signs. We are staying in Franklinville, North Carolina with friends that are also from the New York/New Jersey area and all of us have been hypnotized by the television news reports that have aired non-stop since Tuesday.
On Saturday we went to Seagrove, NC, famous for its local pottery, and happened upon a town fair. There was a John Deere tractor show and a band that played songs that called on the audience to “give themselves to the Lord”. It had the making of my first comic tale about small town life in the South. But it’s hard to poke fun at all those people wearing red, white, and blue when our country is on the brink of war.
Tomorrow we leave for Hot Springs, NC where we’ll be camping for the next couple of nights. I think that being in the mountains and away from the television will make it easier to take a more lighthearted approach to this trip. Later this week we’ll arrive at Graceland in Tennessee and I have hopes that its velvet walls and mirrored ceilings will lift our spirits. I think Elvis may have the cure we’re looking for; one should never underestimate the healing powers of a peanut butter and fried banana sandwich.