Monday, July 16, 2007


At 12,000 feet, we dropped below the cloud cover. To my right, the Olympic Mountains rose nearly to eye level, green-gray and still flecked with snow, the first American land I had seen in nearly two years. I looked away, rubbed my eyes, and then dried my hands. We banked to the right over Puget Sound, and there was Seattle, skyscrapers and waterfront, close and inviting, a haven of safety and comfort for the weary traveler.

I wasn't staying in Seattle, though. I was taking a train to Portland, departing from the Tukwila station in the suburbs near Seattle/Tacoma Int'l Airport. Clearing customs was a breeze, for me at least. The Korean man next to me got a long interrogation from a smug officer who seemed a little amused at the man's limited English abilities. I wished I could pull the officer aside and tell him to slow down and use smaller words. I wonder whether U.S. customers officers have ever been interrogated in a language other than English?

I found a bus and rode out to the Tukwila station, giving advice about living in Japan to a Department of Defense family who was about to move to Tokyo for three years. I missed the stop, but realized it quickly and the driver kindly pulled over at the next traffic light. Just being able to make that request in English made my life quite a bit easier. I was feeling good. I was back in my own country. I had shared some of what I'd learned about Japan to eight very attentive ears. A service employee had done me a favor. And then I stepped off the bus.

The Tukwila Amtrak station is in the city of Renton, Washington, part of the suburban sprawl that has filled nearly every available acre between Seattle and Tacoma. It had been nearly two years since I had walked through American suburban sprawl. New hotels with ground-level restaurants, big, black parking lots and immaculate landscaping. Low-slung, single-story office buildings. Strips of bright, green grass separating road from sidewalk. It was all very new, very neat, very clean, and incredibly ugly. And this was America. I knew it, I recognized it, even remembered it and connected with it. But it held no nostalgia. With every step I recalled the mundane parts of everyday American life that bore or depress me. I could hardly wait to get on the train, into my comfort zone, and at least put that big pane of tinted glass between me and that crafted, sterile landscape.

I've felt a lot better since then, but there have also been times when I've felt just as bad or worse. I'm lucky right now to be in very favorable conditions for readjusting. I'm visiting some very good friends, seeing some beautiful places, eating the foods I've most missed, and doing some of my favorite things. When I can focus on those, I'm delighted to be back. Yet so many sensations and visualizations pound me from every angle. They're simultaneously foreign and familiar to me, and that's unsettling. Things I thought would bother me don't; the most unexpected triggers set off deep loomings.

Those loomings arise, I think, because so much of what bothers me is also so natural to me, so much a part of me. I'd like to go on, but I see I'm speaking far too much in generalities. I'm far too tired to speak in specifics right now. This is going to take some time.


anyram said...

Hey Scott -- give it time. At least that's what I'm telling myself for when I go home... two weeks to go.

Welcome back to アメリカ...

Tim said...

welcome home, Scott, whatever that means.

it was tough for me to adjust. it took a long time.

i hope we can meet up later this summer.

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scott, I'm sitting at my desk on mon. morning trying to get started when I simply typed in lothes. great notes. It's funny how the cards were delt today.

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