Welcome to Civilization

Jimmy survived The Green Card Interrogation– no questions asked – at Seattle Airport having been “welcomed” to the United States by Gandalf.  A harrowing drive in a borrowed truck on Interstate 5 – the heavily trafficked north/south corridor of the west coast – in the dark and in pouring rain was Jimmy’s next ordeal. As we’d already been awake for 24 hours, I was feeling giddy. Jimmy, more used to driving an automatic on the left and now required to drive the unfamiliar pickup with manual gearbox on the right, was feeling completely bamboozled. For good measure he added, “My night vision isn’t so good anymore.”


“Oh, that’s reassuring!” A shot of adrenalin jolted me to full alertness on Jimmy’s behalf. Peering as intently as him into a bleak night punctuated with dazzling headlights and blinking brake lights, all reflected in crazy patterns on the slick road surface, I was pumping the floorboards on the passenger side all the way down the Interstate.

When at last we pulled under the apartment parking canopy with a cessation of the thrumming rain on the truck roof, it was with great relief and a measure of amazement that this part of our journey was at an end. We disgorged our suitcases into an apartment we had arranged on a previous visit to Olympia and fell into bed.

The next day, our small two-bed American apartment seemed positively palatial after months of confinement in a trailer. It was fully furnished and equipped – a little treat for our first month until we got our bearings and our belongings in our new country – and we wandered from room to room like novice millionaires inspecting our first mansion.

Deprivation had taught us to appreciate the everyday things we had previously taken for granted so we poked around and played with our new toys – the washer, dryer, microwave, garbage disposal, coffee maker, large screen TV and VCR/DVD and radio/alarm clock (which needed resetting as some bright spark had left it set and it went off at 6 a.m. Cheers, matey).

The monster fridge/freezer (how could we possibly fill it?) was five times the cubic capacity we were used to on our European caravan. The four-ring stove with massive oven, a land line with voicemail, the dishwasher –  it was all exhilarating.

It might be hard for a  normal person (that ship has sailed for me) to imagine how a washer and dryer could provoke such excitement but my undies would no longer share the laundry facilities with dog blankets, greasy overalls and mixed loads of indistinguishable lumps of gray. Each of the ordinary items in the apartment was coveted. The queen sized beds would be blissfully comfortable after our spell on thin hard trailer bunks if only our inner time clocks weren’t eight hours out of sync and we could manage to sleep through the night.

The central heating had a thermostat in every room. For two people with their internal thermostats set at always hot and always cold, to live in a trailer which was essentially one large room had been a constant source of querulous rants. “Turn that heat down!” “I’m freezing!” “Open the door!” “I’ve just warmed up!” “I need some fresh air!” “Well go out and get it!” Jimmy would sit in shorts and a tee-shirt while I shivered under a fleece blanket. The thought of being able to close a door between us and whack the heat up filled me with a tingle of anticipation. Fresh air is meant for outdoors. If himself wants to be an American, he needs to learn that.

These were the first of many adjustments we would make to life in America.

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