by Jon Kaufman
Unemployment brings out different things in different people. I was always told that one’s true character emerges only when disaster awaits, a theory testing many of us who are presently jobless. Following weeks of perpetual hunting, filing out scores of online forms and gaining little from my efforts, I found myself at a crossroads. Unwilling to surrender, I decided to part with my worries temporarily, and embark on a journey, leveraging the one commodity I own in ample supply; time.
My trip would take be back to where my life began, the New York metropolitan area, encompassing parts of Long Island, Manhattan, and New Jersey. Spending time with my sisters has always acted as a tonic, an elixir I desperately needed. My plan was to be a Bedouin houseguest, moving from sister to sister in search of advice, support and wisdom.
First, however, I would have to travel the northeast route home that I have traversed for the last quarter century. The first six hours of the trip includes your normal variety of roads and bypasses, winding through Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware, until I reach the New Jersey Turnpike. The Jersey Turnpike is a formidable passage that has become part of the vernacular in the territory. In fact whenever someone identifies themselves as a Jersey native, they are invariably asked, “Really, which exit?” There a three types of drivers on said turnpike;
1) Those who drive near the speed limit and observe the rules of the road. A small band, few in number.
2) Those who drive twenty miles an hour under the speed limit and have white smoke billowing out of their tailpipe as if the Vatican had just announced a new Pope.
3) Those who drive between ninety and Mach one, slaloming the lanes like Picabo Street.
Surviving the NJT, I arrived at my youngest sister Sally’s house, my fingers still curled as if still clutching my sweat stained steering wheel. The following day I was treated to a full family gathering arranged and hosted by Sally, brother-in-law Matt and niece Irene. My smile makes a comeback when the guests begin to filter in. At one point in the afternoon, a soft intervention develops on a sunroom couch, where sisters Laura and Emily sit to my left and Eve and Sally to my right. My Bedouin plan seemed to have been fast-tracked into a group huddle.
The Kaufman girls are an eclectic bunch whose intellect often spans the entire panorama of thought. Each is brilliant and analytical; each offers a viewpoint either slightly or largely different from the others regarding my litany of issues. Being the simple minded one of the brood, I begin to feel like I am the smoke blowing slowpoke hogging the turnpike’s right lane. Although overwhelming at times, the discourse was heartfelt and greatly appreciated. It’s nice to be loved by family after your former employer has left you for dead.
The second night was spent with Eve in East Hampton, where we walked, talked, ate and watched my brother-in-law Jim feed his adopted group of deer who have set up residence in their backyard. Eve’s house is both homey and unusual. Her bathroom door is held open with a statue of a saint and the inner décor near the sink was once described as resembling a Mexican cemetery.
The next night was spent with Emily in Manhattan, where she and my brother-in-law Robert are presently renting a sublet as they await approval on a condominium in midtown. That evening we dined on delicious empanadas in a restaurant the width and length of two bowling alley lanes. Space is always at a premium in New York, in fact, I enjoyed a peaceful sleep on an air mattress in the kitchen of Em’s temporary home.
In the morning, I drove Emily to work and renewed my love of driving in the city. Manhattan driving is pretty much a kill or be killed proposition and not for the faint of heart. Performed at speeds much lower than turnpike standards, city driving is the closest thing to Mario Cart I can imagine, although if a bus broadsides you on eleventh avenue you can’t use your extra life to keep playing.
Fleeing the city on the day after Bin Laden’s demise, I drove to New Jersey to lunch with my nephew Andy. Leaving time for traffic, I arrived at Andy’s office an hour early. Realizing that I was a scant two miles from Carlo’s bakery, home of the “Cake Boss,” Buddy Valastri, I cruised over to Hoboken to sample the goods. Tiny place, filled with incredible smells. Lunch with Andy was wonderful. He is such a positive, hardworking person. Buoyed by Andy’s undeniable spirit, I set my sites south and headed home to Roanoke.
Refreshed, renewed and carrying the love of my northern family, I hardly even noticed the dump truck passing me at the speed of light on the southbound lane of the Jersey Turnpike. I, as you know, was in no hurry.