On a hot, hazy early-August afternoon in 1970, I boarded an Eastern Airlines flight headed for New York.  Although I had traveled regionally, this would be my first international flight. It was an emotion-packed journey. Any excitement I felt was tempered by feelings of anxiety over the pending loss of the familiar and the fear of the unknown and I wondered whether all young women, on long journeys to distant worlds, carry more weight in their minds than in their suitcases.

We landed at JKF Airport at approximately 7:22 p.m.  I had heard my Auntie and my American cousins talk impressively about smooth flights and perfect landings and I imagined that this must have been one of them since my fellow passengers broke out in spontaneous applause as the plane touched down.  I followed suit and clapped, enthusiastically … like I had a clue.

We were escorted off the aircraft through a narrow, covered walkway and onto a waiting bus.  A bus?  Something wasn’t quite right here.  This was surely not what I was expecting. I panicked.  And as the bus pulled off and taxied slowly down the tarmac I looked around at the other passengers, searching their faces for signs of worry or concern.  But for the most part, everyone seemed relaxed, at ease, even happy.  Maybe there was no reason to worry.  I tried to relax.

We were taxiing for about seven minutes when it suddenly occurred to me that I had not been handed my luggage.  I panicked.  Where was my luggage?  Why was I on a bus?  It further occurred to me that no one had asked me my destination.  How would they know that I was going to Brooklyn?  Could they have picked up that information from the immigration form I filled out en route?  But a bus doesn’t take people door to door and even if it did, how would I know when my stop came?  And how would my relatives who had promised to be there to meet me, know that I had gone on to Brooklyn ahead of them?

I peered through the window as the bus continued on its mysterious journey.  Where were the houses…the shops…the skyscrapers  and all the wonders of New York I’d heard so much about?  Where was civilization?  All I could see were lights…lights high above me and lights low to the ground.  And worst of all, rain … the kind of rain that distorted my vision and obscured everything I tried to see.

Pride, I thought, is a funny thing.  Because paralyzed as I was with fear and worry, I could not bring myself to inquire of those around just what was going on.  I could have been on my way to finding myself lost and alone on some street corner in Brooklyn … and without a change of clothes.  But I was not going to look foolish in the process.  I might have been less traveled but I was no less sophisticated.  Or so I thought.

Several minutes later, the bus finally came to a stop.  My fellow passengers immediately began busying themselves…gathering up personal belongings and freshening up their makeup.  I watched and waited.  Something was about to happen. I peered through the window and saw that the rain had subsided. And there were lights…bright lights and people scurrying about.  There was an announcement…something about the terminal.  And as I alighted, I caught sight of the sign—EASTERN AIRLINES TERMINAL.  I was beginning to get the picture.  Culture shock!  The words repeated in my head … Culture shock!  I smiled; then I laughed … audibly.

by

Bernilyn A. Isaac

AGHS Alumnus – Class of 1968