When I first moved from Mississippi to the Northeastern area–to the New Jersey Shore, my entire paradigm was forced to immediately shift; and for a while, I was traumatized by all of the changes imposed on me.
One of my children lived in Philadelphia and after my house burned, she encouraged me to move to the area where I currently live. Since my son and I had virtually nothing left after our fire, we literally flew into Philadelphia, with little more than the clothes on our backs. My daughter picked us up and brought us to the place that would become our home and left us there; and I was terrified. Consider that I had grown up in a farm region, in a town of less than 2,000 people and after that, I moved to the mild and unhurried lifestyle in Mississippi. My relocating to the congested northeast was a total shock.
Although my son and I flew to the northeast, someone drove my car and a few of our belongings; and once we arrived, we did at least have a car, but I was scared to drive–everywhere. I had not even heard of a GPS, and I was constantly lost. Every time I was unsure of my route, a wave of panic gripped my chest.
Linwood itself only has 7,000 people living inside its limits; but the upper East Coast is one town connected to another to another to another–all the way to Maine. It is almost as though I had moved to a town where several million other people lived. Yet, the area immediately around Linwood does not seem terribly congested. Philadelphia and New York City, on the other hand, are nightmares for drivers.
I never shall forget the absolute panic attack that I suffered the first time that I drove across the Walt Whitman Bridge, that leads into Philadelphia. I am one of the few silly people who is afraid of escalators. It takes me several seconds to gather courage enough to get on an ever-circling, potentially swallowing fan belt that climbs up or down.
Imagine how I felt when I first saw the Walt Whitman Bridge, which seemed to be the ultimate escalator. The Walt Whitman stretches high above the Delaware River; and the shore around the Delaware there is totally packed with boats and buildings.
Until I began to ascend the Walt Whitman bridge, I had never in my collective entire life seen as many buildings. The cars were jammed on both sides and in front and back of me. I couldn’t shift lanes; and I didn’t have any idea what I would do next–should I survive the passage across the bridge. I was mortified that one of those too-close cars would nudge me off the bridge and that my car, my son, my dog, and I would spiral into the abyss that I saw below. I am not exaggerating when I say that I had a full-blown panic attack, and I am not sure how I maganged to get across that bridge.
For a few years after I moved here, I went to Philadelphia about once a month. I eventually became relatively comfortable with crossing over the Walt Whitman, but New York–hey, that is another matter entirely.
About 2 years after we moved here, my son elected to attend a camp on Broadway, in New York City. The campers would stay in a hotel in New Jersey, and would be bussed back and forth to NYC. I merely had to get my son to North Jersey and to a suburb of New York City. Honestly, I am not sure that this was much less congested than the actual city.
Again, I had no idea where I was going. I got lost a few times; and then I had to cross the Raritan Bridge in Northern New Jersey. That bridge has a bezillion lanes and all of the lanes are jammed with people. Again, I had a full-blown panic attack; but I managed to deliver my son at his hotel destination in New Jersey; and then, it was time to find my way home.
I asked for directions, and I did my best to shuffle toward South Jersey–and away from the horrific traffic in the North. Things did not look familiar. The cars began to crawl and everyone seemed to move closer together. It seemed that we were being sucked into some sort of narrow funnel that required everyone’s driving inches away from each other. Suddenly, I saw a toll booth and just beyond that, there was a tunnel, that looked to me like the mouth of a whale–the mouth of a shark-like whale, which had enormous teeth. I began to sense that something was definitely wrong.
I pulled up to the toll booth attendant and with terror in my voice and eyes [and with my distinctive Southern drawl. I choked out the words, “Is this the Garden State Parkway going South to the Atlantic City Area?”
The attendant’s eyes widened and a slow grin came across her face, “Oh, honey, this is the Holland Tunnel. You are about to drive into New York City.”
She might as well have said that she was the Guard at the Gates of Hell. Tears welled into my eyes, and I begged her, “Please help me. Please don’t make me drive into New York City.”
Something unprecedented happened that day. She stopped the traffic and helped me get back around and heading into the right direction. I promise you. That just doesn’t happen in the New York City area. Even more of a miracle, she did not charge me for having driven on her toll highway. She merely wiped my slate clean and gestured me to drive away. Still wincing the tears, I said, “Thank you, Thank you. I cannot tell you how much you have helped me. I am from Mississippi. We have cows–not cars.”
The lady chuckled, and I was on my way.
Don’t get me wrong. I am still afraid to drive into New York City. I have been there many times now–but on tour buses. I am still slightly afraid to drive to New York City on my own; but I am making progress. The idea does not terrify me now; and any time that a person can conquer one of his fears, he is allowed to grow–to expand.
Copyright Jacki Kellum October 28, 2015
All Rights Reserved
In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Fright Night.”