Fourteen hours, a taxi ride, a bus ride and two plane rides after leaving the hostel in Medellin, Colombia I arrived at Boston, Logan airport. Plane touched down very early Tuesday morning. That being so, there was very little traffic. Made it much easier on my friend Edwin, who graciously agreed to pick me up. Had other offers to pick me up but those folks would have had to ride in the middle of the night from New Hampshire or Maine. It’s good to have family and friends.
It is difficult to describe the phenomenon commonly known as culture shock to anyone who has not experienced it. Suffice it to say that after being in South America for a period of six months, it seems odd and strange to be back in the USA. The degree of feeling the strangeness is different for each individual but it is a common phenomenon. What it really amounts to, is noticing and being required to quickly adapt to the differences presented in the entered environment in contrast to the exited environment.
Upon reentry to the US from Medellin, Colombia every passenger must pass through both Customs and Immigration. US immigration officials simply check the passports of US passport holders to make sure that it shows them as having officially exited (stamped) their most recent foreign country. There is no need to have a US passport stamped as having entered the US. The passport officials actually say: “Welcome home” to US residents.New passport scanning machines issue an identity form which you must render to the officers upon exiting the customs area
The next process is to turn in the white customs form to the customs officials. Returning US residents will be asked several times if they packed their luggage or if they let anyone have access to their luggage at any time in any airport. You are not to return with certain items and you must declare what items you brought back. Each US citizen is allowed to bring in the equivalent of 800 US dollars worth of gifts or items purchased in a foreign country without paying additional ‘import duties’. My items totaled fewer than 200 US dollars. There are uniformed officers with dogs that sniff everyone’s luggage while standing in line.
One gets the sense that there are hundreds of uniformed people who are working for different branches of government, each with a different task/function during the course of the return process. It is a time consuming process and it occurs to the person going through it all as an endurance event. It is not glamorous nor fun.
My flight from Medellin arrived Ft. Lauderdale about 6:30PM as expected. My connecting flight to Boston was scheduled to depart at 8:20PM. That may sound like a lot of time. It is not; because clearing customs and immigration took an hour and then I had to find the gate for the ongoing connecting ‘domestic’ flight… AND go through the tsa screening process to board that flight.
Oddly enough, the domestic flight experience seems to be even slower and in some ways more complicated and time consuming than arriving from a foreign country. I’m not exactly sure why it feels that way but it does. Part of the reason is that there are many people who are going to many different domestic destinations (hence, different flights) that must pass through the same tsa inspection process area. Consequently; the lines are clogged with people.
Then, when it is your turn, you must: remove your shoes, ALL items from every pocket, all coats, and hats. All your personal items; including wallet, change purses, medicines, glasses of all types. EVERYTHING must be placed in plastic bins that go through an x ray machine. Your carry on luggage must all be opened and available to be examined. If you have a lap top computer in a carry on bag it must be removed and must pass through the x ray machine out of the bag.
I have a lot of electronic equipment because I have been recording my experiences in photos, videos, and digital recording devices. I also carry a portable hard drive onto which I store these things so that if my computer malfunctions the files will not be lost. I have a card reading device and an mp3 player. Over half of the items in my carry on case are electronic. I also have a personal care kit with soap and a rechargeable hair/beard trimmer/medicines/disposable plastic safety razors… etc.
On travel days, I wear a long tan denim ranch coat with many pockets, making it easy to carry small books and other small items. What a traveler wears is not counted as ‘luggage’. I usually fill 3 or 4 plastic bins. You place all items in the bins and they are carried on a conveyor belt that takes them through the x ray machine. Then the traveler, is directed to move forward and walk/pass through another ‘scanning device’. I was explicit in my request to NOT go through an x ray machine. I was assured that the machine I was directed to enter was not emitting any kind of radiation. It must be some kind of magnetic resonance scanner or the like. I hope that is the case.
It was noticed that some of my lower pockets (I wear cargo pants) had an empty fabric wallet and my passport in another pocket. I didn’t think those counted because they were not metal. They made me remove EVERYTHING in ALL pockets and hold them in my hands as I entered the machine. I was directed to raise my hands above my head as the scan was made. Then, I was directed to step forward.
There were two or three uniformed people after exiting the scanner. One issued directions… “turn around”… “raise your arms”… “turn again”… while another person waved another hand held scanner all over my body. Makes you wonder why they have the scanning machine if they are going to repeat the process… manually… with three uniformed people after you exit the machine.
Finally, I was told that I could move on and reunite myself with all my personal items in the plastic trays ten feet away. Then; I had to re- pack the computer and other items back into my carry on luggage. I put on my coat, hat, and shoulder bag. As I was about to put my boots back on, an announcement was heard over the pa system that last call for boarding my flight was underway. I grabbed my boots in my hands and my bag and jogged towards the gate in my socks which just happened to be at the extreme end of the terminal. Approached the man checking boarding passes and was encouraged to move quickly. Entered the plane, still cradling my boots in my arms and carrying my carry on bag. I was breathing heavily and had developed a slight sweat by the time I seated myself.
The entire nearly two hours from arrival to boarding the new plane was spent in lines and the ‘process’. Turned out that there was no need for me to have run. More passengers filed past me and many in seats in front of mine. The plane’s door shut about 20 minutes after my dash.
Departed Ft. Laud about 8:30PM. Flight had a scheduled stop in Myrtle Beach S.C. before continuing on to Boston. Thankfully, I did not have to change planes. Arrived Boston, Logan airport about 12:30 AM. As 1:00AM rolled around I had my checked bag, my carry on bag and my walking staff and exited the building to the curb outside.
My good friend Edwin and I spotted one another in fewer than two minutes. He and I were wearing very large, wide brimmed straw hats. Edwin is a long time resident of the Boston area. Because of the hour and the lack of traffic and Edwin’s familiarity with the area we were in his apartment building’s parking lot 25 minutes from exiting the airport grounds.
Edwin and I had not seen one another for about seven months. He and his wife Diane had become fans/readers of this blog. He had read all my adventures. I had much to inquire about the activities of his past several months. My day had begun about 7AM Monday. Despite this, I was strangely energized by being ‘back home’. Edwin and I chatted through the wee hours of the morning like old college dorm buddies. We were awake as the daylight of Tuesday morning illuminated the panoramic view of Boston from his 14th story window.
I dozed on and off in a reclining chair in the living room. The same chair in which Diane had recuperated from the rigors of two artificial hip replacements. Sleep, strangely, does not come easy to returning international travelers who have burned the midnight oil. Sleep occurs more like a dream state. Hard for the consciousness to grasp the new reality of the more highly ‘civilized’ existence and the world of white faces where everyone speaks English and the world where known friends and family are glad to have me back.
In the late afternoon of that day, Edwin treated me to dinner. His son, Aiden, who had developed an interest in ‘classical’ literature and had won for himself an enrollment at the University of Paris… also known as the ‘Sorbonne’ joined us for dinner. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Paris)
Father and son relationships are known to be challenging for both father and son. This is as true today as it has always been. This seems to be a Natural consequence of the next generation learning new things and maturing into adulthood, while the parent(s) learn to relate to their ‘children’ as adults in their own right.
Dinner was delicious and the conversation lively. When we finished, Aiden went off in his direction and Edwin and I returned to his apartment.
Edwin had been introducing me to many people in his apartment building and the library and even to his barber. He really went out of his way to make me feel as an honored and welcomed guest. Edwin makes no secret of his desire that I try my hand at living the more ‘civilized’ existence. He continually suggests that I ought to apply for a slot in his government assisted, elder housing building. He is a good friend and as he describes it, he labored vigorously to cultivate my friendship.
We met at an event that was suggested by his long time therapist; Arthur Cobb, about whom I have heard many admiring reports from Edwin. Edwin and I have done many things together as friends over the course of about eight years. I helped Edwin move all of his belongings from his small apartment in Manchester-By-The-Sea to Cambridge in my truck. He had never been South of Washington D.C. when he joined me on a month long tour of Belize. It was the adventure of his life. On another occasion we traveled to Florida for six weeks in a motor home I once owned.
My life has generally been one of extreme self-reliance. I remember my mother recommending that I read Emerson’s Essays when I was about 10 years old. (http://www.emersoncentral.com/selfreliance.htm) I have grown to prefer rural environments.
Edwin grew up in Medford in an Irish/Catholic family. To be Irish/Catholic and to be from the Boston metropolitan area is a fit like a hand in a glove. Edwin is basically oriented and inclined to prefer city environments.
In many ways, the Aesop fable of the ‘town mouse and the city mouse’ and it’s many subsequent rewrites by different authors in different time/places contains instructive insights that describe the differences in inclination(s) between Edwin and me.
Edwin spent thirty and something years as a social worker in the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health service. He worked for many years with people diagnosed with various forms of severely disabling ‘mental illnesses’. He also has cultivated a keen interest in politics.
It is very interesting that although we rarely (if ever) see eye to eye on those issues… we are capable of successfully exchanging views. Often, however, Edwin suggests that my views (from his perspective) are suspect of being what he deems ‘delusional’. He rarely allows that his views (as are the view’s of nearly anyone) are also subject to ‘delusion’ and/or ‘self-delusion’ .
Seems to me that we all have our own personal experiences and PERCEPTIONS of those experiences. Then… we also are left to INTERPRET our perceptions. Who is to say whether or not a perception is correct or not? Then, furthermore; who shall claim to be the ‘authority’ or arbiter in determining which interpretation is the accurate one? That is the crux of the ‘authority’ fallibility/infallibility dilemma.
During my 65 year tenure here aboard planet Earth, I have acquired many experiences and perceptions through which to sort. I have spent many, many hours in deep contemplation regarding the process of interpreting my experiences/perceptions. I have determined that my current philosophical bent exists in close proximity to classical Greek skepticism; after the fashion of Sextus Empiricus who seems to ‘pre-echo’ many of my current views.
I consider myself a VERY fortunate man to have many wonderful people in my life that I am happy to call friend… one of whom is Edwin Lynch.Edwin, at home and in his element, next to a Guiness ad in front of a popular Cambridge pub/restaurant on Massachusetts Avenue between Central Square and Harvard Square.
I liked Cambridge a lot. It is clearly a melting pot and an authentic crossroads of many international cultures. It is home to many of the most intellectually disciplined and practiced scholars anywhere.
I experienced sticker shock regarding the prices of nearly everything as compared to what I have recently experienced in South America. I can see that in Cambridge there is a very real effort to provide customers with the highest quality coffee, tea, fruits, vegetables, breads… as well as food for the mind and soul. It is a wonderful and most interesting place.