So last time I wrote about hearing for the first time in years a song by the fantastically gifted Sting. It was “An Englishman In New York” and one of its lines had inspired me to realize the peace that you receive when you realize, decide and accept that being honorable is better than being right. But the song itself is about more than that. It’s about being, as Sting calls it, a “legal alien” and how one’s natural customs are not always welcomed or appreciated or even noticed in another place. And that’s where I find myself now.
As some of you may know, my move from New Jersey took me to a new and, in many ways, a strange land: Utah. It is a spectacularly beautiful state. I am surrounded by mountains (already snow-capped!) everywhere and from my front door I can see the church steeple that is in my sister’s neighborhood, a 15 minutes ride away.
I am blessed to be living in a locale that is as nice a place as I have ever lived in with so much space we still have empty closets and cupboards to fill. I am doubly blessed to be here living with my Mom and getting to spend more time with her than I have since I left the nest after graduating college back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. We get to see my sister and her family every weekend and she’s introduced us to new adventures and different places to go and see. My mother’s cat and my dog have learned to co-exist in a relatively peaceful manner. All is right in our pet world.
My great kid is now a mere 5-hour drive away instead of a cross-country flight away so I get to see him, and he gets to see us, far more often than we’re used to. When the awful carnage happened in Vegas (where he goes to college) a month ago and he needed to come home to feel safe again, that he could do that made his emotional recovery easier and my anxiety over him being so close to what had happened more manageable once I was able to hold him in my arms again.
Not having to set an alarm every day is also a fantastic thing. I’m working remotely on some freelance things and have the ability to set my own schedule which is very freeing. That schedule lets me take my mother when she needs to see a doctor or needs to pick up a prescription or just wants to go out to lunch. That I can do that for her is very gratifying particularly since both my parents chauffeured not only me but all my friends around everywhere we needed to go when I was growing up. I am happy to be able to now be her personal Uber driver.
And the people I’ve met have been very nice to me, although I have yet to meet anyone I’d consider a friend. Nearly everyone I’ve met has asked me where I’m from (somehow they think I have an accent. I’m quite sure I don’t!) We’ve found nice restaurants to eat, great doctors for my mother to see, good hospitals just in case, a fantastic hairdresser and a good nail salon. Life is good. And yet . .
I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the speed limit in the lower half of the state being 80 MPH and having drivers on my tail in the slow lane on the road because I’m (only) driving the posted speed limit. Patience while driving doesn’t seem to be a mantra that’s lived by here. Red lights and turn signals seem to be optional. I never assume when a light turns green that I have the right of way because nearly every day since I’ve been here someone has run the red light or continued to make a turn directly in my direction instead of waiting for the next light to turn signaling to them that it’s safe to go.
Seat belts also seem to be optional here. Too many times already I’ve seen parents get in cars and not only not buckle themselves in but drive away with children – sometimes toddlers – standing up in the back of the car. Cell phone usage while driving seems to be the rule, not the exception. And you don’t have to wear a helmet while driving a motorcycle in Utah. (Hello? Has anyone checked in with Gary Busey to see how that worked out for him?)
And guns. Oh my, guns. You can carry an unloaded gun anywhere, you don’t need a license to own a gun (although God forbid you don’t have a license to operate a car), you don’t need to register your guns (but you still need to register your car). And you can carry a loaded handgun in your car without a permit. (Which is why my mother constantly encourages me to avoid my New Jersey habit of honking at people who almost hit me because they’re talking on the phone while driving or cut in front of me without signaling because they’re too busy talking on the phone to use their turn signal.) I’ve already visited far too many places (hospitals, stores, supermarkets) which post signs on their front door asking people to please leave their guns outside. (It would never occur to me to bring a gun into a hospital but I may be the exception to the rule.)
And I suspect that if someone from Utah was transplanted to New Jersey they’d question most of the things I take for granted. They’d wonder what was the difference between pizza and Sicilian pizza. They wouldn’t get the concept of an egg cream. They’d think we drive too slowly. Parallel parking might be a challenging new concept to them. They might not get why we let gas station attendants pump our gas. (As my son’s great friend, Alison, just reminded me, New Jersey people come out of the womb saying “$20. Regular. Cash.” ) And they’d never understand how people like Snooki or The Situation warranted their own television show. We all have our own ways, neither right nor wrong when compared to others, but just what we’re used to and reacting to new ways of doing things, incorporating them into our lives, learning to accept them can be challenging. The “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” syndrome.
So while I do love my new home, some of its customs and accepted practices may never sit well with me. And I miss so much about my old home: the Jersey Shore, Dunkin Donuts and my friend Raj, White Castle and WaWa, my hairdresser, my mini-reunions with my high school classmates, my sister, my Burke cousins, my DC girls, my best friend Jimmy Courage. I’m blessed that social media lets me keep in touch and I hope that one day I’ll feel more comfortable, more acclimated, more receptive to what is still a different way of life to me. Until them, I’m an Englishman in New York. Or at least a Jersey girl in Utah.