Archives For summer

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A year ago today was Labor Day, and our first real adventure day on the Long-Distance Dad road trip. 

At the hotel in Jersey, we waited a half hour for a lost Uber driver who clearly never heard of deodorant. While it was hot that day (actually, it was brutal the whole month!) it was only 9:00 a.m. I would have appreciated wearing a mask in that tiny Honda Civic!  

After the most zig-zagging, convoluted drive ever, we finally arrived at Liberty Park to catch the ferry. Was fascinated by an abandoned railway station there, with an ornate wrought iron roof, and the old track signs. Mtuseni wasn’t that impressed.

liberty park stn both

Still trying to erase the stink of the Uber driver from our senses.

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train station roof

I can picture this station once bustling with travelers on their own journeys to near and far. 

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liberty ghost tracks

Paths to nowhere now… but once to many somewheres.

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antique railroad destination track sign

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Discovered the new Empty Sky 9/11 Memorial at Liberty Park, which points to where the Twin Towers had stood. Mtuseni knew surprisingly little of that event. A New Jersey reporter interviewed me about that day and my personal connection to it. Tough memories; simple but powerful memorial.

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empty sky 9-11 memorial in new jersey

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Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty were new sights for both of us. Ellis Island is so impressive. I got emotional thinking of my grandparents arriving from Eastern Europe. Such courage — they were only teeneagers! I want to return and dig into the archives, find their records.  

Check out our Instagram greeting from Ellis Island!

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ellis sign mtu

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ellis island outside

What immigrants must have thought — and felt — as they approached this grand building!

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ellis sign

Crowds… I miss them now. 

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great hall crowd

The Great Hall where my grandparents were processed. Just… wow.

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great hall michael

Maybe before I die I’ll figure out selfies and selfie sticks. (Actually, I really don’t care.)

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There is a room with walls covered in citizen documents. Just randomly scanning them, this one caught my eye. The woman lived in my hometown way back when — and I had just ridden my bike past her address days earlier. Crazy!

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citizen doc

Butters Row was the road to my kindergarten. It still has a one-lane wooden bridge!

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Mtuseni has wanted to see Miss Liberty since his first US visit seven years ago. He was so excited. It is a beacon of America, still — and forever, let’s hope. Exciting for me too as I had a small replica of it on my desk as a kid.

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liberty boat

Crowds on a boat — the good old days.

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liberty sky

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mtu liberty front

Probably never imagined being here growing up in a shack in South Africa.

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statue of liberty

Goober alert. (But hey, why not?)

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liberty shop girls

My funny gift shop pals. I tried to be Mtuseni’s wing man on the trip; he wasn’t buying it. American girls intimidate him, I think. 

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Took the ferry to Manhattan and walked to the World Trade Center and 9/11 Memorial. Ogled at the Oculus. (And got lost in it — the first of several times. Cool architecture, dumb layout.) 

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outside wing of oculus in manhattan

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oculus inside

Damn, I look exhausted. And it’s only the first full day! 

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Took the subway to the Port Authority Bus Terminal … from the sublime Oculus to the armpit of the universe… and a quick shuttle bus back to the hotel. A great day… with so many ahead of us!

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skyline from liberty both

I so wish we were there now. And that Mtuseni wasn’t 8,000 miles away.   

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Back to Manhattan tomorrow!

Seasons Turn

July 15, 2012 — 3 Comments

It’s hot here in the Northeast, actually across much of the country. I’m locked in my office working to finish the Long-Distance Dad book proposal. It’s over 90 outside, but I’m comfortable with the A/C cranked. I was thinking about how hot it was in Johannesburg when I visited in January — and how Mtuseni not only doesn’t have air conditioning, he doesn’t even have electricity for a fan. His mother’s windowless brick shack must be like a mini-oven on summer nights. Mtuseni is now in the “annex” that he built with his brother. It’s made of gypsum wallboard or something, just panels haphazardly nailed together into walls, the dirt floor covered with blankets. I’m certain that it must be a bit cooler than the shack in summer.

South Africa-settlement-shack-JohannesburgExcept that it’s not summer in South Africa; it’s the middle of winter. Last night Mtuseni’s MXit status line said “cant feel my legs, the Cold has completely paralysed me.” I laughed. As a writer myself, his ability to paint evocative word pictures is one of the things I most love about him. And he does have a flair for drama. He’s been complaining about being cold for months, well before winter set in. It’s not like he has any fat on his bones to keep him warm. When we were in Cape Town during the Southern Hemisphere summer, he slept in long-legged, long-sleeved pajamas, complaining about the barely-there air conditioning. We fought like an old couple over the thermostat setting.

I checked the weather online yesterday and, indeed, the overnight forecast for Joburg was 34 degrees. But the city gets the urban heat island effect. Mtuseni has often said that his area 15 miles from downtown gets much colder. So it is likely well below freezing in his community — and the forecast shows those conditions for the next several nights. Mtuseni told me that the gas-powered fridge in his mom’s shack throws a little warmth, perhaps from the compressor. But now that he’s in the ramshackle annex, he is essentially sleeping outside with walls. He only has one heavy blanket and thin cotton sheets.

As I dial the thermostat to ensure my own temperature-controlled comfort while working on this book, I hope that one day I’ll be able to buy flannel sheets and warm blankets for the whole family. Perhaps even sleeping bags. Someday, maybe I’ll explore a more comprehensive solution such as solar panels for all the community shacks — to power a cooling fan on hot January nights, and maybe a little extra warmth in the bitter-cold South African July.