America, America!

Don’t get me wrong: I am not about to burst into song. 

Being in the land of POTUS 45 (I have sworn not to utter the name of the current president–it’s personal), I must wonder what is going on. I arrived in what must be called ‘Little somewhere Latin America’ yesterday morning, and my brain was racing, as it always does when I get to Miami. All I heard was Spanish, and when I had a question to ask of the American Airlines bag handler, the only language he seemed to understand well was Spanish, not English. So, my first head spinner was ‘Why are the United States of America not listed as a bilingual country?’ Did those Americans who voted to ‘make America great again’ have Florida on their radar? Of course, the Spanish-English bilingual case makes sense in Florida, but not everywhere. It also could make sense in the Greater Washington (DC) area, but then, with the current tenant at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, that would not go down well, I think. Then again, given he has a great love for Mar a Lago…

Having negotiated the southern tip, I was in the vicinity of the Washington Monument and the Pentagon, doing a quick spot of shopping before heading out to my new lodgings for the next few days. I really needed to check on the status of my Costco account, and get my daughter onto it, as she lives within hailing distance of their stores. As I went through preliminary chit chat about the account, I muttered “Now that I’m here, I can use this card”, meaning it’s much easier to use US credit cards in the USA. One of the two black ladies helping me replied “Now, don’t go there!” I really had no idea where ‘there’ was, so I asked. I never got a clear answer, but I did manage to joke about a few things, including how ‘we’ were doing in the Land of Uncle Sam (if not Uncle Ben). All ended well: I got my card account renewed; my daughter was added to it; one of ladies told me how she had loved visiting Jamaica–Negril (‘Knee Grill’) and Montego (‘Mount Ego’) Bay. I thanked her deeply for having supported my people, and off we went to add to US GDP.

Costco is great, though it’s not an unmitigated bargain hunter’s paradise. As my eldest said, if you are single, the minimum quantities can sometimes overface you. But, she managed to buy wisely as she clutched two bottles of Malbec. I got things that some of my Jamaican family appreciate, like a few kilo+/2.5 pound tubs of mixed nuts and razors and/or blades in bulk. Have to figure out the weight for the return trip. Duty visit done, we could head to my child’s home, along the ‘freeway’, which is often clogged even on days when most people are not heading to work or school. Many have ‘high occupancy vehicle’ (HOV) lanes, to encourage ride-sharing, or express lanes to help those, who want to pay, speedily on their way. It’s a lot to undersand if you’re not local, and though I know the area, I was bemused by the plethora of information not he road about how to get there from her and what you had to pay.

She lives in a lovely apartment in an area that has expanded like topsy over the past 30-odd years, as various industries clustered towards the capital area, and it seemed to be more or less recession-free. This particular area has grown, too, as the Metro has extended and access by public transport has been improved, even though the area is surrounded by multi-lane freeways. Open fields are no more as condos and apartments and town houses spring up like mushrooms. But, the USA is good at manicuring its residential development, so it’s not a higgly-piggly mess of zinc and board, like in some places close to my heart, but nicely-laid-out areas, with paths and parking and signs and orderliness. Shopping malls and plazas sprung up alongside, and ‘village’ life has been recreated.

We did a quick tour of the adjacent area, which was much bigger than I thought, and got back to her parking garage. She met some ‘neighbours’ who recognized her back and we shared the elevator. (I often find American tourists some of the most obnoxious in Jamaica as they seem to now know the common courstesy of ‘greetings’ and what to do except shrink into the corner of the elevator or gaze straight ahead like zombies when ‘assaulted’ by a ‘Good morning’ or ‘Hello’.) But, enough of my prejudices. 

I’d been up since about 2.30am, as my flight was at 7, and having woken, I felt no urge to get back in bed and then find I was waking when I should have checked in. It was now about 4.30pm and I was just beginning to falter. My daughter plunked me into a sofa and offered me a cup of tea and a piece of bun and cheese. Yes! Jamaican Easter bun, with English cheese bought by her English grandfather, and a cuppa in a mug that had London buses. The child is truly culturally blended! That did for me: I was not inclined to move any further, and thoughts of going out for dinner receded as I sank deeper into the couch.

The air smelt different. My nose itched. The greater Washington area is renowned for triggering respiratory problems and I wondered if I was already falling victim. I drank my tea and my eyes felt heavy. I was ready to doze off and be ‘free at last’. With that thought hovering in my head, I wondered if I could get a ‘stand by’ ticket for the Museum of African American History. My daughter got a message from a friend offering free tickets to watch the Washington Nationals play baseball on Sunday afternoon. Nice idea, but all of that is for another day.

I wonder how many people who now live in the ‘land of the free, home of the brave’ hold dear the same thoughts of the place:

My country, ‘ tis of thee, 

Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing; 

Land where my fathers died, 

Land of the pilgrims’ pride, 

From every mountainside let freedom ring!

My native country, thee, 

Land of the noble free, thy name I love; 

I love thy rocks and rills, 

Thy woods and templed hills; 

My heart with rapture thrills, like that above.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)