Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Arriving in New York City

When we arrived at JFK airport last Thursday, we got through immigration really fast. The immigration officer wished me a big smiling "Welcome home!" Our bags came right out. The customs officer asked no question.

We rode the Airtrain around the airport to the rental car center and picked up our Chevy Impala from Budget. We hadn't asked for a full-size car, but that was the car they wanted us to drive to Chicago for them. It has Illinois license plates on it.

To get out of New York City, we needed to drive up an expressway through the borough of Queens and cross a toll bridge before we could head north to Albany. All we had was a $50 bill, and we figured we would need some smaller bills for the toll. We also needed a phone card so that we could easily make calls within the U.S. The best idea seemed to be to get off the expressway, go into a neighborhood, and buy a phone card, just to break the $50 bill.

We decided to take Liberty Avenue east into Queens. We drove along for two or three miles. There were gas stations, car repair shops, and other businesses, but no drug stores or convenience shops like 7-11 that would be likely to sell phone cards.

We turned left at some point — 160th Avenue, maybe? — and drove north a mile or so. We ended up in the center of Jamaica, Queens, on Jamaica Avenue. It's a big commercial area, and there was a Walgreens drugstore. We found a place to park and this church was about the first thing I saw.

French-language church in Jamaica, Queens, New York City

It's a typical American church in many ways: it occupies a building that probably wasn't built to be a church. Then again, maybe it was. But it doesn't look like a traditional European church, that's for sure.

Bethany Baptist Church, Jamaica, Queens

Click on the picture, as usual, if you want to see an enlargement and read the text on the sign.

Somehow seeing a French-language church right away made me feel welcome in New York City.

In Hudson, NY, nearly three hours north of New York City, we took a long walk along the main street on Sunday afternoon. We stopped in a church to see the inside, and we were surprised to hear a service going on. It was about 2:00 p.m. The pastor or priest was speaking French. He was black, and the 30 or 40 people attending the service were also black. The priest read scripture in French and the congregation answered back in French.

They must be from Haiti, I told Walt. The service ended, and I listened to the adults talking among themselves. They were speaking Creole, which is based on French, Spanish, and English.

Meanwhile, Walt talked to a couple of teenage girls who were in attendance. They confirmed that their parent were Haitians. The girls spoke perfect American English. I walked up and said in French: "Alors tout le monde parle fran├žais ici?" — So everybody here speaks French? — and the girls eyes got wide. She stared at me for a second, and then beat a hasty retreat to rejoin her family. I guess she was shy — or shocked to hear somebody outside her community speaking French. It was cute.

The church in Hudson, NY, is more traditional

We are hitting the road again this morning and we don't know whether we will be able to post blog entries tomorrow. We're headed up to Lake George and Fort Ticonderoga, a hour or two north of Albany, and will spend the night up there before returning to Albany tomorrow afternoon.

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