Can you remember what you were doing at the very moment when you first heard about or saw the shocking images of huge airplanes crashing into the World Trade Centre in New York on September 11, 2001. I certainly can,- I was dealing with a crisis of my own in the school where I worked but for me, that crisis quickly became overshadowed by the event that shook the world so graphically and so catastrophically on that date. It is perhaps one of the the most important defining moments in modern world history.
Today, for whatever reason I made the decision to visit only one ‘attraction’ out of the many thousands of exciting options which were available to me in New York City, Ground Zero, -now called the ‘World Trade Centre Memorial Museum”.
This was my last day in the USA, and as I gazed sadly into the dark waters of beautiful reflection pools there I reflected myself on the impact of 9 11 on the world and then on the six weeks or so I’d spent here and how that experience has changed my views on this country, long considered to be the most respected, the most influential , the most powerful in the modern world. -‘The greatest show on earth’, The land of the free, and the home of the brave…..’
I almost fell into the trap of spending the whole day just chillin’ in the HI hostel. To do so was a very attractive proposal with such convivial surroundings and so many kindred spirits to engage with. I also had to spend a good deal of time preparing my baggage and getting Karolina ready for our long and penultimate flight, this time across the Atlantic Ocean to the Iberian peninsula and the last leg of the Gogodermo adventure.
I had a long and leisurely breakfast,
went for a short run in Central Park, which was most exhilarating, returned for a shower and then spent an hour or two blogging and answering messages.
It was a relatively short ride through Manhattan down to Ground Zero. En route, there were amazing views of the Brooklyn Bridge and Lady Liberty herself off in the distance. I expected it to be very busy there but was surprised to find very few tourists, mostly Europeans and Japanese.
It’s difficult to present a respectful and fitting memorial to such an horrific event, but to be fair, the Americans have done a wonderful job on this truly magnificent monument. The stories of the victims and the artifacts on display truly capture the awfulness of that day. Just as I’d witnessed in Volgograd at ‘Motherland is Calling’ and at the concentration camps of Kazakhstan, there was a weird and dignified silence about the place. The memory of my visit there will be forever etched on my consciousness.
On my way back to the hostel, I had to visit a number of bike shops before I could secure a bike box suitable for transporting Karolina to Portugal tonight. Pete, the diminutive Rastafarian bike mechanic at Danny’sBike Shop on Columbus was most obliging and even helped me roll up the bike box to allow me to carry it aboard Karolina to the airport.
Everyone in the hotel thought I was crazy to consider cycling to JFK. It was about 40k from Manhattan and a cab seemed the most logical option. But when I investigated, that was going to cost me at least $60 for myself and there was definitely going to be a hefty charge for Karolina too. Taking the subway was another option but it was approaching evening rush-hour and even I wasn’t looking forward to running that particular gauntlet.
My flight wasn’t leaving JFK until shortly after midnight, but I wanted to get there before it was completely dark so I left the hostel at about 5:00pm and had a glorious ride through Central Park en route to the airport. I was overtaken by Jamie, a really interesting guy who’d spent some time bike touring in the USA and in Asia. He obliged by shooting some video and suggesting alternative routes across the city.
I was tempted to take the magnificent Brooklyn bridge across the river but instead opted for a shorter route on the smaller but equally interesting Queensborough Bridge which offered amazing views of the evening skyscraper skyline.
Ones over the bridge, I quickly found a cycle path through Queens and into the New York suburbs. It was altogether much easier than I’d anticipated. The only problem occurred when it got quite dark and even Map me couldn’t offer a viable bike route into the enormous JFK airport complex. At home I get confused navigating my way through the two terminals at Dublin airport. Here there were eight terminals linked by a confusing network of flyovers and most ‘bike unfriendly’ freeways.
However, after much cursing and swearing at the impatient cab drivers and with hands and toes numb from the cold, I eventually reached Terminal 8, where budget airline TapPortugal has its base.
Packing Karolina for transportation in her newly assembled and rolled out bike box was a cinch. At this point, I actually think I could do it with my eyes closed!
Checking in was also no problem, -until I was told that the cost of taking Karolina and my panniers to Portugal was going to be almost as expensive as taking me there. There had been no option to book her online and so there was nothing I could do but grimace and bear it as I handed over what was literally my last dollar.
To be really honest, I was now very relieved to be leaving the New World. Apart from the experience of my initial exuberance when I started in Los Angeles and the excitement of DC and New York City, the USA has been something of a disappointment and a shock to may fairly robust system.
So what did I see when I gazed into the dark waters of the reflection pools at Ground Zero this afternoon?
Let’s start with the positives… I saw a magnificent and varied landscape, -high snowcapped mountains, mystical deserts stretching beyond the horizons, swamplands, unpolluted rivers, clear blue open skies that seemed to fill the universe……..
There was so much variety and abundance in the wildlife I observed, birds, insects, reptiles and especially mammals. I doubt if such diversity could be replicated anywhere else on earth.
I met so many good, kindhearted broadminded, wonderful people here, from those who threw open the doors of their homes to me offering me bed and sustenance, to those who encouraged me so vociferously on this long traverse.
However…… There’s a great deal wrong with America. I’m fully aware that these comments will anger and possibly upset some people but I feel that I can’t leave without offering my opinion. Traversing the USA from the west to the east and from the south to the north, has I believe given me the opportunity to really ‘take the pulse’ of this land at a time I believe is a major turning point in the history of the world.
Here’s the darker side of what I saw;
The differences between the north and the south, between the east and the west, between Republican and Democrat, between rich and poor, between black and white….. are truly phenomenal in the USA. It seems to me that these divisions are growing at an alarming rate. The present political crisis caused by the election of Donald Trump has, I believe caused a dangerous, potentially explosive situation where polarized views are set to inflame hatred and fear in the hearts of so many Americans.
Instead of building walls, now is the time to start building bridges.
-Lack of concern for the environment
Outside of the big cities, most of the USA is light years behind Europe with the regard to caring for the earth. This is reflected in so many aspects of life in America, -the incredible squandering of the earth’s natural resources with cheap fuel and huge gas guzzling vehicles choking up the freeways,
the reluctance of people to walk or cycle anywhere, the disgusting and disgraceful practice of serving food on plastic plates and with plastic cutlery.
Donald Trump is not alone in America in claiming that climate change isn’t real, but many believe also that ‘The waters are already rising on Capitol Hill’
-Food and diet
Many people where offended by my blog, ‘Big Fat Texas’. But everything I witnessed there was replicated in so many towns and rural outposts in Arizona, New Mexico, Alabama, Louisiana Mississippi and Virginia. -So many obese people, so many fast food restaurants, so many people eating in their cars and at their desks, so much processed food in the supermarkets, so many free refills, super size portions and ‘eat all you can’ buffets……… so much waste!
American is eating its way into a catastrophic health nightmare.
It was perhaps unfortunate that I happened to be cycling in the USA when the terrible massacre occurred in Parkland High School in Florida. True, there was an immediate and emotional response from many right minded people, but the official Government response and the views I heard expressed in bars and restaurants all over America were truly shocking. As an educator, the memory of seeing a group of teenagers huddled in a McDonald’s restaurant, a few days after the massacre, too frightened to go to school, both saddened and revolted me. This type of behavior wouldn’t happen in any other country, civilized or otherwise in the modern world.
Nobody will never ‘make America great again’ until the second amendment is dispatched to history and all of the guns have been decommissioned.
Perhaps I’m too much of a ‘culture snob’. Perhaps I’m over fascinated by the importance of history in our lives. Perhaps I’m moved too much by the aesthetic and revolted too much by the banal.
But the truth is that are vast culture deserts in the USA, where there is little interest in history and no beauty outside of the natural environment.
One day, I passed the birthplace of Davy Crockett- ‘King of the Wild Frontier’ and a town where Daniel Boone- ‘Daniel Boone was a man, yes a big man’ once plied his trade.
That evening, I got to talking to a nice local family eating in a restaurant. Neither the parents nor the kids had ever heard of these legendary characters associated with with the area where they lived!
And where are the injuns hiding?
In my six weeks traverse of the United States, I met not one Native American. There were aborigines and maoris in almost every city, town and village of Australia and New Zealand. There was also a huge effort being made there to recognize the role played by these indigenous peoples in the shaping of the land and a genuine feeling of shame and regret for what was inflicted on them in the past. Equivalent efforts and sentiments were very sadly lacking everywhere I went in the USA.
A country without an appreciation of it’s culture and heritage is a country without a soul.
“Trump is Nero and America’s the new Rome” quipped the guy who sat next to me as we taxied down the runway at JFK.
America and the world needs to wake up before he watches it burn.