Whatever Happened to the America Us Foreigners Grew Up With?
After a decade of living in the United States I left Boston to move to France. First I had to attend a conference in England. It was late summer. Gravity forced me back into my seat as the plane’s engines burned up fuel at a fantastic rate in their attempt to gain height quickly, sending us hurtling away from the tarmac.
The August sun lay sprawled over the waters of the coast and the city looked still and sultry in its pall. Our evening flight circled over Boston harbor before heading north up to the coast of Labrador. As I watched the former terra nova recede below me, as I had dozens of times before, I did not know when, if ever, I would return. All the way up the coast I watched as the day failed and we rushed eastward into its night, and further, into tomorrow. Around me people fidgeted, shifted, twitched; children cried, the cabin crew bustled about, organizing, and the faint smell of food floated through the interior as foil-wrapped dinners were heated. Outside the air passed us at four hundred miles per hour. The plane carried us, seats, life jackets, toilets, in-flight entertainment systems, all insulated in its metal canister towards the other coast, thirty thousand feet above the darkened, rolling Atlantic Ocean.
My neighbour was a tall young man with a thick dark beard, long greasy hair and a battered leather jacket. For the first half-hour of the flight he perused a piece of fax paper with “American Express” printed across the top in big black letters. The content seemed to refer to a lost ticket and the credit card company’s assertion that he had paid for it.
After he had thoroughly scrutinized this, somewhere over Greenland, he got up and left his seat. I read the papers, napped and watched the movie, aware of my pleasure over my neighbor’s absence. It was not until an hour before our stopover in London that he returned, reeking of whiskey and smiling broadly, winking suggestively (but not without some charm) at one of the flight attendants. He was talkative now: “Bet you never thought you’d end up sitting next to a drunken Paddy,” he exclaimed in a thick Irish brogue. He was an Irish carpenter, he soon told me, who had just spent six months traveling the States on a motorcycle, a Honda Gold Wing, to be precise.