Life Travel

New York 2021: Ellis Island

Ellis Island should be a required pilgrimage for anyone with immigrant ancestors. Or really anyone that wants to truly understand what makes America America.

We are ‘the’ melting pot, a stew of every race and language and religion and superstition on Earth. Whether we know it or are willing to admit it, our culture and beliefs are a patchwork of every immigrant family that has made their way here.

My own immigrant story is not recent. My Irish ancestors came to America around 1670. So, I haven’t been Irish in 300 years but still identify as being of Irish descent. I think that deserves some discussion.

How long before your family is ‘American’? If you’re white and American-English speaking, it can be almost instantaneous. But if you happen to be non-white or non-European or have a second language, you can assume that it will never happen. You will always be hyphenated-American.

Some Chinese-American families have been here for generations – since before the Civil War – and still speak Chinese but are not considered American by many of their more recently immigrated fellow Americans.

I don’t know if I have any ancestors that came through Ellis Island. Still, I felt the impact of the immigrant experience all the same. The pain, suffering, and desperation that traveled through that place is both tragic and heartening. I believe it is that suffering that created the fortitude that immigrants contributed to our country’s fabric. People came here with nothing but hope, leaving behind family, friends, and everything they had ever known. They did this knowing that it would be forever. Many had nothing waiting for them here, nothing but the pie-in-the-sky hope that was and is America.

Today America is still that pie-in-the-sky hope for many people. But we seem to have forgotten the humble origins that made us. My ancestors were German and Irish immigrants that came here for a better future. I don’t feel that I or anyone has the right to deny someone else the ability to pursue the same hope that our grandparents and great-grandparents were given. Were they any more desirable than a poor family from south of the border? I don’t believe that your country of origin determines your moral fabric or the strength of your character.  

Cages for the undesirables.

Our visit to Ellis Island distilled the immigrant experience down to its essence. It was clear that immigrating is not a holiday or a vacation visit. It’s never short-term. There is no trial basis that can be reversed if it doesn’t work out. It is forever for most. Immigrants almost never go back to visit the old village or those long-lost cousins. The families and friends and homes left behind were gone forever, never to be seen again.

One of the most tragic things we learned was that some families were separated upon reaching America. People were not allowed in willie-nillie. They were inspected for diseases, sometimes even political affiliation. If grandma was suspected of being sickly, she was sent back to their port of origin, often never to be heard from again. Those are the tragic stories that we don’t hear about. But those are the experiences that made America.

“Whatever happened to great-grandma?”

“No one knows…”

Liberty from Ellis Island

NY – Doesn’t Smell Like Pee At All

New York City is dirty and eternally under construction. But I loved it.

We stayed in Manhattan, in the Lower East Side close to the Bowery. It was everything you imagine NYC could be. It was smelly and loud and the melting pot chaos that is America. It also had its unfortunate ugliness and tragedy, but that is part of the package – always has been.

We saw a lot of homelessness and some of it was extreme. One poor soul was sleeping or passed out on the sidewalk with no shoes and his bare ass hanging out with his pants at his knees. People were just walking by like it was nothing. He might as well have been a potted plant. But then, what are we to do? What is the correct response to that? I’m not sure. And therefore we didn’t do anything.

There were also several obviously stoned individuals wandering the streets. Most of the time I find them to be comical. Yes, it is sad and tragic that they got themselves into that situation, but looking in from the outside, it is funny. I think most of us have been that drunk at least once in our lives. When it becomes a daily occurrence, someone should step in and get them some help. That is the part society seems to have forgotten. 

One thing that non-New Yorkers seem to consider a settled fact is that the subways and buses of New York are piss-covered and stinky. Most people think the same about any subway and city bus system. However, I have found the public transportation system clean and pleasant in every city I’ve been in. I like Chicago’s system the best, but New York’s was very nice if a bit more confusing. My wife and I never drive when we go to a city with a subway and bus system. That way we never have to worry about where to park or traffic or any other BS. We fly in, get on the train, and hit the town. We are downtown long before we could have driven there.

I’ve also never felt unsafe in a public transportation system. Not once. Big cities are big, but not necessarily the untamed wilds that they are portrayed to be. There is just a lot of people in a small area. But they are still just people.

So, all you Timid-Tina’s and fainting lambs out there that want to see the big city but are terrified of taking subways or buses should calm down and get on. It’s gonna be fun! Life is supposed to be an adventure, right?

Some of the wildlife of NYC

Plane Spotting

Our new house is not far from the local airport allowing me to watch planes take off and land. I happen to love traveling and flying in particular. Flying is freedom in my mind. So, seeing these flights taking off for points unknown makes me smile. Someone is getting out and seeing the world and that is a great thing. I wave at them sometimes to be funny. I’m so jealous.

Flight to Somewhere – cooler than here.

Today I am sitting in my backyard on a beautiful sunny day and dreaming of travel as the planes claw their way into the sky. They are both an inspiration and a taunt. There is a world out there to experience, but I have to wait to board and explore. I’ve been waiting since last year. It’s time.

Our next trip is to New York City in August, only 37 days away! I’ve never been to NYC and I’m very excited. We’ve planned a sailing tour of the bay, a visit to Ellis Island and, of course, Times Square. Those are the big ones. We tried to get tickets to a Broadway show, but like they say in NY ‘fuggedaboutit’, ain’t gonna happen. Which is fine, there are a million other things to do there. Like deli’s, food trucks and one hundred thousand coffee shops. I’m excited!

We will be spending the last days of the trip in Syracuse, sitting on a lake and relaxing. I am actually looking forward to that more than the tourist thing. Give me a chair, a beverage, and a book, and I’m good for a few days. Can’t wait.
In the meantime, there goes another one.

Wave, everyone! Have a nice trip! See ya! Bring on August so I can get to the airport on time!