ON INTERSTATE 95 NEAR DARIEN, CONNECTICUT
Well, well. This morning I find myself at a crowded rest area along the Connecticut Turnpike. It feels like a return to the scene of the crime.
For three years, I drove back and forth on this highway nearly every weekend, traveling between law school in Massachusetts and my parents’ home in New York.
More than a quarter of a century has elapsed since then, and it shows. This is now a mega rest area, a veritable food court containing the likes of Pinkberry (a smoothie joint), Cheeseboy (melt sandwiches), Sbarro, Chipotle, Subway, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s and a couple of other places I can’t remember. It certainly is a far cry from my late night stops for fish fry and ice cream at HoJo’s on the Post Road in Milford. But time moves on, and this transplanted Californian passing through the Nutmeg State feels as if he’s been lifted by a tornado and plonked down in the middle of another era/planet/zeitgeist.
Then again, after you’ve been on the road for a few weeks, all the truck stops, gas stations and rest areas start to look the same. Case in point: When we were in Manhattan, my wife asked me where one would find the Orthodox Jewish communities where men walk the streets in their Hasidic garb, including long black coats and trailing strands of white tzizit (prayer fringes). I considered driving over to Williamsburg in Brooklyn, but this proved unnecessary. We saw a few Orthodox down on the Lower East Side in the Rivington Street area and a few more in my suburban hometown in Rockland County. But it was at the rest areas on the highways that we saw the most Hasidim of all. They were there on the Palisades Interstate Parkway near the George Washington Bridge (Sign in the window: “Kosher sandwiches sold here!”) and the one at the northern end of the Garden State Parkway in Montvale, New Jersey (we were thrilled to have made it all the way there from Brunswick, Maine on a tank of gas!).
But here in Connecticut, a class of middle school girls has burst rowdily into the rest area (surely they must have adult supervision somewhere?), causing my wife to have to wait in line to use the ladies’ while I lean uncomfortably against a high table watching the bored young employee at Cheeseboy with the dreadlocks make it obvious to all the world that he’d rather be anyplace else but here.
I belong here, but I don’t. I am of this place but I’m not. I cut those strings long ago when I boarded a plane for California and allowed those pretty blue and green ribbons tethering me to my beloved Connecticut to float away into the same sky shared by the 747 bound for SFO.
And yet, I can’t seem to let go. True, this place no longer seems like home. And yet.
Connecticut (yes, my Connecticut, dammit, the one 3,000 miles from my current residence!) is the only state in which I am a member of the bar and licensed to practice law. (Not that I have ever done such a thing.) After law school, I could not find a legal job anywhere (blame it on Reaganomics, the weak New England economy, my poor class ranking and no-name law school, insufficient initiative on my part — you choose), returned to my previous work in the printing industry back in my hometown in New York, and worked my way back to Connecticut. After two years in a dead end job and nothing but rejection letters from law firms, I started driving to Connecticut every weekend to pick up the Sunday papers. Eventually (after bothering that poor HR lady every week for months), I was hired as a desktop publisher and moved to a tiny rented room in Connecticut, an unheated sun porch where I froze my caboose off all winter. How proud I was to have those blue and white license plates on my car! Yes, I did it! I am Connecticut and Connecticut is me! With no law firm willing to hire me (“oh, you’re hungry, you’ll find something!”) and my entire family having migrated to California, I sealed my fate the day I boarded that silver bird and yelled “Open sesame!” at the Golden Gate.
The memories, the conflicting feelings, they all come back as if not a day has passed. Am I really here or is this just a dream? It is lunchtime and hungry travelers swarm and swirl around me, claiming tables, calling to each other loudly across the cavernous space, searching for the rest rooms way in the back, beyond my line of vision. Coffee! Food! A line forms at Dunkin’ Donuts and Cheeseboy remains forlornly abandoned. As if on cue (doesn’t it always happen this way?), an email pops into my phone from (of all damned things!) the Connecticut Judicial Branch, Client Security Fund. How did they know I was in town? Did I trip some invisible, emotional sensor, triggered by GPS and bitterness?
“Invoices for the 2016 client security fund fee have been mailed to attorneys licensed to practice in Connecticut who are required to pay the fee pursuant to Practice Book section 2-70…”
Every year, I pay the fee rather than resign my bar membership based on the off, off, off, minuscule, nonexistent chance that I will ever practice law a continent away in the only state in which I may legally do so.
Why can’t I seem to press “delete” on this dream? Face reality, you idiot, this dream is dead! What’s with the pretending? Just who am I trying to fool? This is getting to be some clingy, enabling relationship worthy of a daytime serial drama. It has long outlived its usefulness and I should have cut the cord twenty years ago. So why can’t I just let go already?
My wife appears with two large iced teas and we are on the road again. Next stop will be lunch in Westerly, Rhode Island at one of my favorite sandwich shops from when I lived there in the early 1980s. See? Clearly, I am hopelessly stuck in the past. Perhaps this is an innate hazard of getting old.
As for you, Connecticut, thou Constitution State, yea Nutmeg State, I will continue to secretly sing hymns of praise to your ocean shores, your green hills and the richness of cultural life in your cities.
And, like lovers everywhere, I shall sigh.