I tug my suitcase towards the final line of immigration, trying to casually scrutinise the officials ahead to try and identify the one with the least bellicose manner. This is, though, somewhat akin to mulling over whether you’d prefer a punch to the face or a knee to the knackers.
I gear myself up not to take any of it personally; these guys are, after all, trained to be simultaneously unforthcoming and accusatory, and – aside from whatever personal kick it’s giving them – they just want to see how you react. "Love it or leave it" is the rebuke to any criticism in this part of the world, and I have no plans to make a return flight just yet. Just give him the facts, no pleasantries, no conversation, and certainly no questions.
"Whatcha here fwar?" the official asks, seemingly incredulous to have encountered a non-US citizen at an international airport.
"A holiday." Crap, I should have said vacation. Too late now: I’ll sound unsure and nervous if I correct myself.
"Whatcha gonna dwo?"
"Shy at searing? What’s dat?"
Double crap, I think. I was sure site seeing wasn’t an exclusively British English expression. Well, I’d better answer.
"Ummm, the visiting of areas and buildings of interest, particularly to tourists."
A flicker of recognition flitters across the official's eyes, but it isn’t a particularly humbled one.
"Go," he says, no longer looking at me and jabbing his thumb over his shoulder.
All is grey and damp on the New Jersey turnpike, the slow moving traffic still managing to throw up spray as the evening draws in. Chimneys pump steam and smoke into the darkening sky, with its back drop of scattered pylons and skeletal bridges. After the sterile atmosphere of the airport, these surroundings, however unglamorous, serve to awaken the holiday mood as the environment finally feels foreign and different. I do however begin to appreciate why site seeing is such an alien term to a New Jersey resident.
The late rush-hour traffic is relentless and it is soon nighttime, but mercifully I reach Weehawken and leave the turnpike. A few twists and turns through some backstreets, and I discover I am at the top of a hill. The Hudson sits below me, and across it lurks Manhattan, my first glimpse of it hidden by the rain and cloud, but I can still feel a colossal presence.
5 weeks ago