Across the Sea

The first of July is the 38th anniversary of my arrival in the US.

This newsletter is mostly water, but not all water all the time. Here’s something different for your fourth of July weekend. It still has a sea, an ocean, a river, and a lake in it. See if you can spot them all!

The first of July is the anniversary of my arrival in the US, and this year it’s the 38th. Back in 1985, I flew in over the ocean from Amsterdam into the international arrival terminal at JFK. I was here on an L-1 visa1. I was directed to the appropriate line and shuffled through. Although we came by plane, and not by boat, I felt kinship with those huddled masses who shuffled through Ellis Island.

The day I arrived was a Monday. Thursday would be the fourth of July. I had no idea what to do. We didn’t celebrate that holiday in the UK; if we had, we would have called it Thanksgiving.

A work colleague and her husband took me up to Lake Minnewaska in New York state where we swam and sunbathed. The beach was backed by limestone cliffs that reflected the sun. I had no idea how strong the sun could be at that time of year and ten degrees further south than I’ve ever lived. I also had no hat, and no sunscreen. Yvonne lent me her sunscreen, but it was just SPF 4. It might as well have been cooking oil. I got the worst sunburn of my life.

A friend of theirs worked at the Unesco building on the East River and offered to take us all up to the 6th floor roof that evening to watch the fireworks. Driving us up First Avenue, he somehow missed the turn. He moonlighted as a cab driver, which is presumably why he though it perfectly normal to back up an entire block on a one-way street. Sitting in the back, I thought was going to die. With the sunburn setting in, I was up for it.

The fireworks were pretty cool though.

fireworks display over the building during night time

“I took the Yukon to the Indian Reservation and told them to fill it up. Ten thousand dollars in fireworks! I told my son he’d better keep quiet on the ferry.”

Fireworks are great in the right place, which is in the hands of professionals. Personal fireworks are legal here on our island, but they’re banned in nearby King County, home to the big cities of Seattle and Bellevue. Folks from there come up for the fourth to their second homes on the island, stopping only at Costco and the fireworks stand. Actual quote: “I took the Yukon to the Indian Reservation and told them to fill it up. Ten thousand dollars in fireworks! I told my son he’d better keep quiet on the ferry.” Fireworks are illegal on the ferry.

It’s been a dry summer after a wet spring, so there’s plenty of fuel. We have a ban on outdoor burning in effect, but not a ban on fireworks. We’ve had four brush fires already this week. Our fourth of July party will finish early so that our friends can go home to watch over their houses and yards, hoses at the ready.

The Americans I met were smart, they were funny, and they thought my accent was cute.

As a teenager in the sixties, I was fascinated by the US, or “America” as we always called it. The music, Vietnam protests, civil rights, and during my college years the birth of the environmental movement. I worked for an American company. The Americans I met were smart, they were funny, and they thought my accent was cute. I was smitten, and when I was offered a move I jumped at it. I’d been living and working in Holland for six years, and had hit a professional ceiling within the company.

I arrived at the start of the Ronald Reagan’s second term, the fifth year of what would turn out to be a forty plus and counting year swing of the pendulum from left to right. I settled in New Jersey, recent focus of the Abscam operation2. The culture shock in moving from liberal Holland was profound.

There are things that didn’t sink in about an L-1 visa. One of these was that you can’t change jobs. The culture of my new workplace was awful. I went from a workplace that was deserted by five after five to one where there was a competition to see who could stay latest in the office. I was trapped. I couldn’t leave without losing my visa status, and I couldn’t afford to go back to Europe. Like the Vikings before me, I’d burned my boats, and would have to learn to survive on this new shore.

It would be a few years until I got my green card and was able to escape. Eventually, I became a citizen. You can read about that here:

These are some of the thoughts I have every first of July. Each of the paragraphs above could be a whole post, and maybe will be one day.

For the next few posts, I’ll be taking a break from drinking water to talk about recreation in and on the water.

Thanks for reading, and, as always, if you enjoyed it please like or comment or share with a friend.


An L-1 visa is a non-immigrant work visa valid up to 5 years. L-1 visas are available to employees of an international company with offices in both the United States and abroad. The visa allows such foreign workers to relocate to the corporation’s US office after having worked abroad for the company for at least one continuous year within the previous three prior to admission in the US.


Abscam was an FBI sting operation in the late 1970s and early 1980s that led to the convictions of seven members of the United States Congress and others for bribery and corruption. It was the inspiration for the movie “American Hustle”.

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