Homestretch, U.S.A.

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This blog entry about the events of Thursday, March 03, 2005 was originally posted on March 15, 2005.

DAY 502 (Part 2):  My initial plan for my sixteen-month trip around the world was to end off with a month doing outdoorsy stuff in New Zealand, followed by a classic American road trip from California back to New York.  However, due to time and money constraints (mostly money), I replaced a month in New Zealand with a week in Vancouver, B.C., and a road trip across America with a road trip across the state of New Jersey.  (Yes, I realize this is like trying to substitute filet mignon with the salisbury steak in a T.V. dinner, but hey.)

Actually a road trip across New Jersey is sort of like crash course in Americana; in just three hours, you drive through the woodsy Pine Barrens of the south, up passed the shore towns of the Atlantic, academic and scenic Princeton, the malls and residential neighborhoods of American suburbia, until you gradually get up to the more factory-filled area near New York City, an area secretly still crawling with the gangsters that The Sopranos were based on.  Each exit on the New Jersey Turnpike has its own sort of identity (which inspired me to open an on-line t-shirt store), for New Jersey is a microcosm of American diversity (even on the political spectrum), a melting pot of opportunity and numerous locations of Staples and The Home Depot.  In fact, there’s a line in the classic Simon & Garfunkel song, “America” that goes, ”...the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike, they’ve all come to look for America.”

My road trip across the Garden State started not in New Jersey, but in Pennsylvania, more specifically the city of Philadelphia.  As the birthplace of the nation, Philadelphia was the perfect place to make my re-entry into the United States of America after over sixteen months abroad, so that I may illuminate (or is it bore?) my readers with historical trivia one last time.


FOUNDED BY QUAKERS IN 1681, PHILADELPHIA became the first capital of the United States when there were just thirteen of them, in 1790.  It is a city steeped in American history, for it was in Philadelphia that the forefathers of the nation did a bunch of colonial things wearing ponytails, knee-high stockings, and bi-focal glasses (after ol’ Ben Franklin invented them in 1760, one of his better ideas — I mean, c’mon, the guy wanted the turkey to be the national bird).  Philadelphia is where the phrase “I just need your John Hancock here, please” originated when some guy named, not surprisingly, John Hancock first signed the Declaration of Independence against the British in 1776.  After that, Philadelphia was on a roll, spawning the first American hospital, medical college, bank, paper mill, zoo, and U.S. Mint. 

Speaking of being on a roll, Philadelphia is also responsible for giving us and the rest of the international culinary community the Philadelphia Cheesesteak Sandwich, a tasty artery-clogging slice of Americana I had not seen prepared properly since I left the country — hence, another reason why I chose Philadelphia to make my U.S. entrance.  Right from the airport, I went straight away to Pat’s Kings of Steaks, the originators of the famous steak sandwich in south Philadelphia, to welcome my stomach back home.  Thankfully, I still remembered how to order without being sneered at, and filled my empty coffee-lined tummy with greasy cheese and beef goodness — so good I had another one right after.


WILLIAM PENN, ONE OF THE FOUNDING QUAKERS of Philadelphia, coined the nickname “The City of Brotherly Love” for he “envisioned the area as a place where anyone of any color or background could live together in peace and harmony” — most likely completely ignoring the fact that many of the founding forefathers owned African slaves.  In any case, it was in The City of Brotherly Love that I was reunited with my own brother, markyt (TGBTGBTB), who I had not seen in the flesh since his appearance on “The Trinidad Show” in Brazil a whole year before.  Mark had been waiting for me, even after my delayed flight, so that for the second-to-the-last numbered Blog entry, he could show me around “his Philadelphia.” 

Of course, with the morning wasted in Toronto, we sort of rushed through everything that afternoon, mostly taking quick pictures of touristy and non-touristy spots so that you Blogreaders could whiz through the city vicariously:  The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s old hood of South Philadelphia, funky South Street, City Hall (featured in the film Twelve Monkeys, St. Augustine’s Church (featured in the film The Sixth Sense), and some familiar locations where Sylvester Stallone once stood during the filming of Rocky.  Mark was also quick to point out the McDonald’s where the late Wu Tang Clan rap star O.D.B. ran away from the police when he was breaking parole. 

But it wasn’t all locations of movies and rap stars; Mark zipped me through the finer side of Philly, first to the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, site of the reception of his upcoming wedding reception (apparently he got engaged since I’ve been away), and of course, the historical core:  Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell, where the sounds of freedom started ringing way before the U.S. started exporting it to other countries by use of Starbucks, McDonald’s, and the United States Army. 


IF TIME HAD ALOTTED, the drive across New Jersey (picture above) would have included a stop at different exits on the New Jersey Turnpike to show off the diversity of the American microcosm, including a stop at the self-proclaimed “America’s Playground,” Atlantic City, the former dumpy shore town completely transformed by Donald Trump.  But it didn’t take “The Donald” to transform the rest of New Jersey; the rest of New Jersey already shined with its own born and/or bred glitterati, spanning the different exits:

EXIT 2:  Bruce Willis
EXIT 3:  Linda Fiorentino
EXIT 7A:  Danny DeVito, Kirsten Dunst, Jack Nicholson
EXIT 8:  Bruce Springsteen
EXIT 11:  David Copperfield, Jon Bon Jovi, Kevin Smith, “Count” Basie
EXIT 14:  Meryl Streep
EXIT 15W:  Jerry Lewis, Paul Simon, Kevin Spacey, Ray Liotta, Tom Cruise, Whitney Houston, Lauryn Hill
EXIT 16E:  Frank Sinatra
EXIT 16W:  Joe Piscapo, “Buzz” Aldrin
EXIT 18W:  Tara Reid, John Travolta

Perhaps the most famous icon of New Jersey was from Exit 14B, a celebrity that didn’t even do much but stand there.  I am of course referring to Lady Liberty, a.k.a. the Statue of Liberty, which despite popular belief, is actually in New Jersey waters, not New York’s, as settled by a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.  The New Yorkers across the Hudson River can claim some sort of bragging rights though, for Lady Liberty faces New York City; New Jersey just gets to see her ass.  (Is that where the smog comes from?)

A quick stop at Liberty State Park at Exit 14B was significant for me, not just because the Statue of Liberty served as a symbol welcoming foreigners arriving in America, but also because it was the nostalgic park where I used to frequent and ride my bike after work when I had an apartment nearby.  (Movie buffs might also be interested to know that I used to ride my bike on the road in the park where Clemenza recites the famous line, “Leave the gun.  Take the cannoli,” in The Godfather.)  My brother and I ran out to see the symbol of arriving in America (even if it was of her backside) for a quick picture, but then rushed back into the car because it was so damn cold.  (I hadn’t been that cold since trekking the Snows of Kilimanjaro.)  Before hopping back into the car, I managed to take the most patriotic (or is it the cheesiest?) photo of my return back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.


EXIT 18W WAS WHERE WE MADE OUR LAST STOP of the day, at the house we grew up, my parents’ in Teaneck.  It was there that I had moved back into the few months before I left for this crazy trip in 2003 to save some more money; it was where I would crash for a few months after my return in 2005 until I got back on my feet financially for a place of my own (or left the country again, whichever came first).

The front door opened and my parents greeted me with kisses and hugs, along with other relatives from the Trinidad and Rivera sides of the family that had relocated to the area.  My little American-born cousins of “Rivera Clan West” were excited to see me — they even made me a welcome back banner — and were excited to stick pin flags into the world map I had on the wall.  (We ran out of pins before we could finish off every place I had been.)


IT’S A FUNNY THING ABOUT HAVING MY TRAVELS on a public, daily Blog; during the big welcome family dinner that night, there really wasn’t much to say.  Everyone knew what I was up to for the past sixteen months, perhaps in greater detail than if I was just living in the New York area without a Blog, and there was no need to ask me “How was it?”; I had spent a good 2-3 hours a day on the road writing, telling everyone how I was anyway.  With that said, family life pretty much returned to normal in an hour.  My cousins just played Grand Theft Auto on my PS2; my friend Terence (a.k.a. wheat) stopped by and we simply just watched a DVD with not much conversation. 

Weird.  I thought I was gonna have some sort of reverse culture shock or Re-Entry Syndrome as I saw things again for the “first” time, but surprisingly it was almost as if the past sixteen and a half months never happened; in fact, my wall calendar was still on October 2003.  Even mentally in my mind, I wasn’t phased or changed.  The only reason for it that I could come up with was that perhaps I had just become so oversaturated with so many experiences around the world that it was all just clumped into one pile of mush in my brain, too complicated to be sorted or remembered. 

Thank God I kept a Blog.

And so, I had made it full circle after a hectic day — after a hectic sixteen and a half months — with not much hoopla at all.  I guess that was okay for the time being, because the real ending, the real full circle, would come on Day 503: The Return To New YorkManhattan was just a hop, skip, and a train ride away under the river...






Next entry: The Return To New York

Previous entry: Adventures In Homeland Security




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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

Praised and recommended by USA Today, RickSteves.com, and readers of BootsnAll and Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree, The Global Trip blog was selected by the editors of PC Magazine for the "Top 100 Sites You Didn't Know You Couldn't Live Without" (in the travel category) in 2005.


Next entry:
The Return To New York

Previous entry:
Adventures In Homeland Security




THE GLOBAL TRIP GLOSSARY

Confused at some of the jargon that's developed with this blog and its readers over the years? Here's what they mean:

BFFN: acronym for "Best Friend For Now"; a friend made on the road, who will share travel experiences for the time being, only to part ways and lose touch with

The Big Trip: the original sixteen month around-the-world trip that started it all, spanning 37 countries in 5 continents over 503 days (October 2003–March 2005)

NIZ: acronym for "No Internet Zone"; a place where there is little to no Internet access, thus preventing dispatches from being posted.

SBR: acronym for "Silent Blog Reader"; a person who has regularly followed The Global Trip blog for years without ever commenting or making his/her presence known to the rest of the reading community. (Breaking this silence by commenting is encouraged.)

Stupid o'clock: any time of the early morning that you have to wake up to catch a train, bus, plane, or tour. Usually any time before 6 a.m. is automatically “stupid o’clock.”

The Trinidad Show: a nickname of The Global Trip blog, used particularly by travelers that have been written about, who are self-aware that they have become "characters" in a long-running story — like characters in the Jim Carrey movie, The Truman Show.

WHMMR: acronym for "Western Hemisphere Monday Morning Rush"; an unofficial deadline to get new content up by a Monday morning, in time for readers in the western hemisphere (i.e. the majority North American audience) heading back to their computers.

1981ers: people born after 1981. Originally, this was to designate groups of young backpackers fresh out of school, many of which were loud, boorish and/or annoying. However, time has passed and 1981ers have matured and have been quite pleasant to travel with. The term still refers to young annoying backpackers, regardless of year — I guess you could call them "1991ers" in 2013 — young, entitled millennials on the road these days, essentially.




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