A Journey to the Past of America -1
By Nasim Hassan
Delaware , USA
I start in New York City (NYC). All of the other cities of the world look up to New York and try to build high rise monuments to modernization like Manhattan. The sights and sounds of Manhattan show that the city has taken off to the twenty-first century. The high rise buildings look very impressive. There is not one, but a number of high rise buildings trying to touch the clouds. Everyone is in a hurry to go somewhere. The city has improved upon its recent past, it looks cleaner. Perhaps, it has been three years since my last visit and I am pleasantly surprised. The Avenue of the Americas, Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, and the Empire State Building all look decent. Today I see a number of South Asians people walking around. The yellow cabs in the city are now the domain of Pakistani, Indian and other people from third world countries. The white taxi drivers have graduated and moved upwards or simply disappeared. I personally do not like to live in NYC because of its perpetual noise and crowding. However, New Yorkers love the Big Apple and cannot live anywhere else. New Yorkers believe that they are the smartest people on Earth. I am surprised when I see very high tax, the high tolls on all bridges and bad condition of the roads. Nobody seems to mind and some look like they even enjoy it. I know people who cannot stay away from New York for more than one week. Some people miss the rush and noise so much that they need the sounds of NYC to sleep. Then there is a Wall Street area where the companies are taken over, merged, broken up and the fellows in Oshkosh, Wisconsin who are investors would not have a clue as to what hit them.
The people are connected to the world in NYC and can stay in any country in a state of mind like the Chinese people living in China Town. Here they speak Cantonese, Mandarin and other dialects. They work in Chinese factories or restaurants, read Chinese newspaper and eat Chinese food. A number of them do not know English and live their life without ever learning it. There is a little Italian neighborhood called Little Italy. Similarly, there is a Mini India and Mini Pakistan. Almost all-Pakistani newspapers are available here. There are at least four local Urdu weekly newspapers, many TV programs and countless Pakistani community mosques and organizations. A large section of Pakistanis in NYC have not migrated to the USA on a mental level and continue to live in Mini Pakistan. In NYC you can find Hindu temples, Sikh Gurudwaras and Islamic centers. I still cannot understand the presence of Pakistani political parties here in New York. Perhaps it takes a generation to migrate to another country.
Travel through New Jersey
I take the George Washington Bridge going to New Jersey on the Turnpike. Coming out of Manhattan I can see old bridges and buildings that point to the industrial past of New Jersey. There are old row houses, apartment buildings, and warehouses, but still the tempo of New York is maintained. The Turnpike is a jungle of cars neck to neck every morning and evening. In fact it never stops. The people are running both towards and away from New York. A large number of people come to New York from surrounding suburbs. In my opinion, only two kinds of people can live in NYC. The first kind is the very rich folks and the second are poor people who are on welfare and government takes care of their health and housing. The middle class does not want their families to go through the hassle of living in cramped apartments and live sometimes 70 miles away from NYC. These people come to the city by trains, buses, taxis or a combination of all means.
Continuing south and west of NYC on Interstate 95 (Turnpike), I glance around and see chemical plants, refineries, oil storage tanks indicating that the industrial base of New Jersey is still strong. New Jersey has now moved away from chemicals to the pharmaceutical industry. The stretch of Interstate 95 from New York to Washington DC is perhaps the busiest road in the United States. The Turnpike is busy even on the weekends. About 70 miles from NYC, the traffic is little bit lighter. The surroundings have changed on the highway. There are no high- rise buildings visible from the turnpike. Both sides of the highway have cluster of trees, some are evergreen pine trees but mostly there are maple, birch and oak.
Farther from the highway I can see new and old colonial and ranch style houses. In winter, the trees look like dark naked skeletons and you can see small towns or houses through them. In other seasons, no houses are visible from the Turnpike due to closely planted trees. I pass through the small towns of Jamesburg, Hightstown and Willingboro. A few miles west of this point is the town of Princeton, home of the renowned Princeton University. This is the same University where the great scientist Einstein taught after his immigration from Germany. The sign says that the Delaware Memorial Bridge is 30 miles ahead. There is a toll on the Turnpike and all the bridges in the North Eastern United States. You can end up paying 10 to 15 dollars in tolls while going from Washington DC to New York. As I approach the end of turnpike the highway lanes come down from ten lanes to four. The Turnpike has a number of service areas where you can stop and replenish gasoline. These service areas are very well maintained but offer bland fast food and tasteless coffee. The children love high fat and high cholesterol hamburgers and fries.
As I approach the end of the Turnpike a sign advises me to Keep Awake and announces the last service area. After the tollbooth, I continue towards the elegant rising bridge known as Delaware Memorial Bridge. This bridge always welcomes me home. I emigrated from New York to the state of Delaware, called a small wonder. The blue number plates on cars say "The First State "above the tag numbers. This means that the Delaware was the first state to ratify the US Constitution.
Midway between New York and Washington DC, I leave Interstate 95 and take the exit in Delaware on to Route 41/ 141North. As the interstate takes a brief turn to the west I continue north on a local route called 41. The people on Interstate 95 driving at 70 mph may not have a clue that the American past comes alive only a small distance away from this crowded highway. The Route 41 is a local country road that passes through Delaware and ends up on US Route 30 in Pennsylvania. The route 41North takes me on the western edge of the city of Wilmington, Delaware and continues toward Pennsylvania. I pass the Wilmington Western Railroad Station on my right. The trains operate from this station on the weekends for a tour of Brandywine Valley. There are churches of various denominations on both sides. A little west of Route 41 a church celebrated two hundred years anniversary. But wait, it looks almost new! In the third world countries an old building means a crumbling structure. A few miles north I approach the small town of Hockessin that is where I currently live. However this time I want to continue on to Pennsylvania Dutch Country in Lancaster. I don't have to wait very long. I drive only for ten minutes and the small wonder ends (State of Delaware). The State of Pennsylvania welcomes me. (To be continued)