This journey started just after one pm, locking the metal gate of my flat on Claydon House, looking out on the concrete gangways with the peeling paint, the view of the empty lot where the only sign of activity was a single scaffold in the middle of the pit – dragging my suitcases down to New Kent Road and into the unlovely tunnels beneath the roundabout in front of the very unlovely shopping mall, making one last plunge to the Bakerloo trains which would take me to the Picadilly Line and the ride out to Heathrow.
The jet was half-empty. Shock of hearing American accents of the plane staff, Maroon 5’s ‘Sunday Morning’ playing in the cabin, reminding me of drinking beer in a NY bar in the afternoon with the NY sunlight pouring in the window and the NY girls on the street outside . . . a few b-grade movies and a view of the great green surface of the North Atlantic through a break in the clouds, the ice sheets breaking up in the mouth of the St. Lawrence River and we descended at eight pm into JFK International.
I’ve never crossed into the US from Europe before and I wasn’t sure how it would go. I wasn’t sure if I’d be printed and scanned like other European citizens or if I’d be faced with a barrage of questions about my dual nationality and why I’d moved to England. On the plane we were given a form with the most bizarre questions (Have you ever been a member of the Nazi Party?) but when I went to the stewardess and asked if I had to fill it out as a Canadian, she just laughed in that charming, easy American way, “No! Give it back!”
Right off the plane we were herded down a narrow corridor into a shabby looking room with a low ceiling and the immigration control booths lined up at the end, a couple of West Indian ladies directing people to each booth. The effect was intended to intimidate, but the atmosphere was easygoing, even a little festive, with everyone off the plane anticipating the night in New York and the immigration officers joking with the people coming in – something I’ve never seen before crossing into the US where the guards tend to be at best humourless, at worst downright menacing. I stepped up to a black guy with a French first name who was joking with the officer behind him, pointing back to the line and saying, “Check out that guy there!” before checking me in without looking at me at all.
For the first time in a year and a half, I was back in America.