Signs of Spring

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Emergency overflow tent wards at Lancaster General.

 

For me, the past year or so has been a very strange rollercoaster ride. My green card situation finally resolved to a point where I could look for work but having been effectively out of the job market for several years by that point and being the age I am, I found there was little work to be had.

Eventually, Jersey girl left her job with a major craft store for greener pastures and, as a special favour, her boss agreed to take me on (it wasn’t permitted for me to work at that store while my wife was still a manager there). I was not keen on the idea of standing all day at a register so I took a job in night replenishment.

Even part-time, night work can be brutal, especially if you don’t sleep well in the day, (I’m reminded of the line in Fight Club, “when you’re an insomniac, nothing’s real, everything feels like it’s behind glass, a copy of a copy”) and I quickly lost all desire to write or do anything creative. Still, it was work and that was the most important thing.

Several months went by and the greener pastures of Jersey girl’s new job dried up and blew away and so she took another one with a Photography studio as their in-house framer. This was a great position but it was, unfortunately, not in New Jersey. For several months, she commuted the hour and a half to Reading PA every morning and the hour and a half home to High Bridge every night but that simply wasn’t tenable.

And so, we upped stakes and moved to Lancaster. Reading just wasn’t our kind of city but Lancaster, just a 30 minute drive away, was perfect. Longtime readers of this blog know that if there are two things I love, it’s history and architecture and this city has both in droves.

I was able to get a transfer with the company and we found a really charming apartment right in the heart of town. Life was looking up. Lancaster city only has a population of 50,000 but it has an amazingly high number of fantastic restaurants, pubs, craft breweries, tap houses, galleries, museums, and really good coffee houses. We set about exploring our new home, trying as many places as we could and quickly fell in love with the place.

Enter COVID-19. My wife and I had been watching this little beastie since early January, recognizing the potential threat it posed almost immediately. This was a new kind of virus, that was obvious. People kept falling for the relatively low death count* and not seeing that it was fast-moving, highly infectious and worst of all, in the 15% of cases that required hospitalization, one patient could tie up a hospital bed for weeks – and then still die at the end of it. We knew that if it got here it could very easily overwhelm our medical services.

And then, in a flash, it was here and the speed at which it moved was beyond belief. Before it really even looked that bad, we started to become nervous about going in to work. My job involved touching things constantly that others had touched and working up close with colleagues and customers. Meanwhile, Jersey girl dealt with a lot of rich clients that travelled often (quite a few of them in the medical profession). Going in to work a shift was becoming increasingly stressful.

We’d already started to prepare for the worst. For weeks, whenever we’d shopped, we’d bought a few extra items to lay aside, nonperishables, essentials, even water, and yes, a little extra toilet paper. We only did a little each week but by the time the Governor of PA had started making noises about lock-downs, we had enough to get us through a month or so.

Inevitably, like so many others, we were soon both out of work but at least we knew that we would not have to go hungry, at least for a while. Many people we knew refused to believe this was as bad as we knew it was. It seems a lot of people simply can’t grasp exponential growth but we have been seeing it over the past ten days here in Lancaster.

Here’s how it has gone:

1st confirmed case of COVID-19 in Lancaster was March 18th.
21st case was March 26th.
33rd and 45th cases were March 28th.
67th case was reported as of noon on March 29th which is today.
11 days’ worth of spread during a lock-down.

To date, we’ve had just 2 fatalities. That looks like a low mortality rate but bear in mind that once a patient is infected, it can take up to a month for them to actually die. We really won’t know what the final cost will be for quite some time to come.

The biggest impact for us so far has been the closures, all those amazing businesses that make this city the vibrant, incredible place it is are now shuttered. We were all given a two-week time frame for reopening but it was obvious that no one was going to ‘flatten the curve’ in such a short period of time. No, it’s going to be months before it will be safe to open places up to the public and by then, a lot of these small businesses will be broke; many will simply never reopen.

This has been a tragedy on so many levels and we’re only just getting started.

I have been taking long walks around the city armed with a mask, gloves and my cellphone camera trying to capture the strange contrasts that I see and which we all feel.

 

Signs of Spring.

 

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*Of course, the numbers out of China are rubbish. The death toll was actually in the 10s of 1000s.

©2020.

All words and images are my own.

 

The song remains the same

 

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I’ve been pretty absent these past months. Other projects as well as just ordinary, everyday, life have kept me from this blog and the blogosphere in general.

Part of it is that I reached love letter 100 a few months back and realised that the original point of this blog was to journal a long distance relationship that is no longer long distance.

If Runaway American Dream was an interesting read, it was because the emotions which fuelled the writing were so raw and urgent. Those of you who have been with me from those very different early days may recall just how charged my writing could get back then.

Truthfully, these posts were my coping mechanism, my way of bearing the unbearable waits between those oh so short visits.

All that is done with now. Jersey girl and I have been married for over a year and I have been resident in this fine country of her’s for almost two. Were I to simply write about our relationship as it is now, I fear that the sheer domesticity would sink the blog faster than a torpedo.

I mean, what is the point of just chronicling a perfectly normal life? I’m as happy with my love as I ever expected to be in my most fervent yearnings but I must confess that this actually doesn’t make for very interesting reading.

True, this blog was always a little more than a simple journal of an unusual love. There were the music slanted posts, the poetry attempts, local history, and other writings but the main reason it existed at all was my need to externalise all the emotions that swirled around this amour de longue distance  I found myself in.

Blogging served that need quite well but that was then and this is a very different now.

This begins to sound like a farewell note but I hope that isn’t the case. I’ve been thinking about where to take all this from here and am still considering options.

Feel free to make suggestions if there has been some aspect of the blog you have particularly enjoyed over the years. I’m leaning towards making more of the historical posts I’ve occasionally delved into but if there’s something else you’d like to see, just let me know.

I’ve really enjoyed my blogging journey thus far and have no real desire to give it up. All of you helped me get through some pretty difficult times and, though we don’t really know each other all that well, you are all distinct and unique cohabiters of this Runaway American Dream to me.

Some of you I count as friends, others whom I have really enjoyed interacting with, I consider some of the most informative, entertaining, and inspirational folk I’ve ever encountered.

I’m not sure where this goes from here but I hope you’ll all come along for the ride.

Thanks for being here.

 

 

100. Full circle

 

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2013

 

 

Yesterday, we drove down to Kingston, Just outside of Princeton, to see the oldest bridge in America and to satisfy my shutter-bug obsession. It was a beautiful, warm day and after wandering about for a bit we decided we’d head for our favourite brewpub in Long Valley and enjoy a couple of their fine ales.

As we sat outside supping our beers, It all seemed very familiar. The day was very like those I’d experienced on my very first trip to visit Jersey girl. The kids are currently  away at their Grandmother’s, just as they were back then.

I reminded my wife that this very brewpub was the first place we ever went out to dinner together. And that’s when it hit us. This was actually the five year anniversary of that very meal.

Somehow, completely unintentionally, we’d ended up back at the place where we had our first proper date. I was kind of stunned at the almost audible click of that long five-year circle finally closing.

That’s not the first such instance lately either. A few months ago, after our last Immigration interview had been successfully navigated, we stopped off at the Clinton Diner for some lunch and while sitting there had remembered that this was the very first diner we ever visited together.

We’d chosen, on that day of all days, to eat in the first place we ever went together (didn’t count as a first date, though, it was just breakfast).

On top of that, we have recently been forced to move house (and towns) and quite fortuitously have ended up back in the town where JG was living when we two first met.

It all feels like completion, like all the strings are finally being tied. There’s a sense, we both feel, that we are where we are meant to be and that the path ahead is clearer than ever.

This is Loveletter 100* and feels like a good place to end. I don’t suppose anyone will ever read through all 100 entries but for anyone that might, I think the story has the capability to inspire.

I don’t think there was a single person who actually believed that a relationship that began on social media between two people on opposite sides of the world had a snowball’s chance in Hell; not one.

No one, that is, except those same two people. We knew to the very core of our souls that we would succeed, that no matter what was thrown at us and no matter how hard the journey, we would ultimately be together.

Time has proven us right and yesterday was a reminder that anything in this world is possible, you just have to want it enough.

 

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*If you’re new to this blog and you want to know what it’s all about, you can go to the Love letters section and start reading.

 

Iron men: Part 4

 

 

Part 3

 

The town my family are now living in is named for a bridge that cannot be seen. Despite its considerable height (34m) and length (400m), the iron trestle bridge is invisible to the eye.

It was built across the South Branch of the Raritan River by the Central Railway Company of New Jersey in the 1850s but saw almost no use in its originally intended form.

The official reason given for this was that the bridge was too ‘costly to maintain’ but the truth was that the bridge swayed whenever a train crossed and people were simply reluctant to use it.

This was a scandalous state of affairs but the solution chosen had a touch of genius about it. The railway simply buried the bridge supports under rail-truck loads of earth (and indeed even the rail-trucks themselves were dumped over the side to add anchorage to the mound).

 

 

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For scale, the painted flag adorns a full sized shipping container.

 

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Another scale comparison.

 

 

It took five years to complete the job but by 1864 the bridge had been replaced by a massive embankment. The only visible structure that now remains is a double tunnel through which a road and the river pass beneath the embankment. However, the bridge in some form still exists at the core of the mound.

 

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High Bridge was originally incorporated as a township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature on March 29, 1871, ironically, named for a bridge which technically no longer existed as such.

 

Words and images are my own.

 

©2018

97. Straight to you

 

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I travelled 16,618 km (103256 miles) to be with my wife. At least, that is the distance, as the crow flys, between Melbourne Australia and New Jersey. Of course, I made the trip five times before that final permanent one. Five times both ways; 166,180 km plus the final trip bringing the total to 182,798 km or 113,585.411 miles.

Any way you cut it, that’s a lot of travel hours; a lot of time spent jammed into undersized airplane seats listening to babies cry and people snore, a lot of time dashing through strange airports trying not to miss my connection, a lot of time being irradiated in body scanners and harangued by the TSA.

Add to that the heartbreaking farewells at the end of each of those five visits and the weeks of depression once I’d returned to Melbourne and the whole thing feels a little Homerespue; at the very least, it is an epic(ish) poem of devotion and unflagging determination.

Was it worth it? Was all the lost sleep, longing, anxiety, and sheer discomfort worth the final reward?

Absolutely.

Jersey girl and I recently passed the one year mark in our real life together. One year living under the same roof. One year living as a family. It has been challenging, rewarding, vexing, and, at times, downright confusing but mostly it has felt like home. We live well together. Our chemistry has survived close and prolonged proximity. If there was a honeymoon period, it is still very much in effect.

I wake up every day and thank the universe for this woman with whom I now share my world. She has shown me what true love and devotion really are.

And my new adopted country?

America, much to my surprise has become a strange fascination to me. I have felt myself falling in love with her too. Her seasons, her moods, her people, and her beating heart (New York) have captured me in ways and with an intensity, I never would have guessed could happen to me.

There is a feeling that anything is possible here, that you might discover who you truly are as this vast melting pot of ideas and cultures reflects your persona, your mask, back at you. America will not let you hide from your true self. She demands that you simply be – you.

Challenge accepted.

 

 

Underground

 

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Theseus

 

The shortest distance

Between two points

Is no distance

If gravity tugs

If you begin to drift

Remember the string

That warm red thread

tied at each end

Around your soul and mine

remember

And reel in

that shimmering fish

Of rainbow scales

My wandering mind

Don’t fear the labyrinth

Lie down here beside me

I’ll encircle you

Pull you closer

And get lost in you again.

 

 

Words and image are my own.

 

©2018

 

If you sleep always like this

 

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This town where Jersey girl and I currently live is tiny, really tiny. It is more properly a village than a town. It was officially established as a turnpike village around 1806, however, tucked away in an almost forgotten corner is the original cemetery dating back to the mid 1700’s.

I’ve visited the spot once before back in the Summer but it was so overgrown with bushes and Ivy that it was hard to read the inscriptions on a lot of the stones. I remember thinking that this was a cemetery that kept its secrets well.

As I mentioned in the last post, my son has been visiting with us from Melbourne and a few days ago he and I went back to the small cemetery to take some photographs. Upon arrival, we discovered that the place had been considerably cleared since the Summer.

It was much easier to gain access to the stones and we quickly discovered something quite amazing. This tiny place holds the remains of not one but five soldiers of the Revolutionary War.

This was a great surprise to me. Even today the village population is far less than two thousand. At the time of the Revolution, this wasn’t even a settlement, just a collection of scattered farms. And yet, somehow, we have five graves of men who fought in (and survived) the great war for independence.

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We even have a soldier born on the 4th of July.

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Words and images are my own.

 

©2018