Three years ago I began writing down my memories and experiences in the American south as advised by my colleagues at Ch12 WDEF News in Chattanooga, as well as close friends.
I knew my time was ending; visa issues, a dividing America, protests and uprisings, the beginning of the Trump campaign for president all contributing, coupled with a sadness that, as an immigrant, I only got to come home once a year to Galway and see my parents.
The US I came to live in back in 2012 changed rapidly until I bid farewell in October 2015. It both intrigued and concerned me as a journalist, an immigrant and an Irishman overseas.
On my return to Ireland, I met with Dr. Niall McElwee of Book Hub Publishing from Athenry and he explained that the memories alone could make an interesting publication.
Over the next month, I will publish the final three excerpts from the book, it is called "Through Irish Eyes, a Personal and Journalistic Journey" and welcome your views, comments and input.
This part examines the journey from JFK down to Tennessee and the American south in the hope of finding work as a TV reporter or anchor. It happened in October 2012.
I moved to Sheffield England for a year, after summer 2011 in NYC. In Yorkshire, I studied a masters in broadcast journalism and interned at BBC Leeds. Upon graduation there were no opportunities for me in England and Ireland was emptying fast with challenging economic situations affecting us all. So I left Ireland again. The third time in 18 months. This time south of the Mason-Dixon.
Read more: Who are the top Irish American journalists?
Chapter 5, Tennessee Tales:
The South was like nothing I had mentally prepared for. Without a car, I bussed it down the east coast to DC. The night was edging in as our half-empty coach squealed to a halt in a deserted parking lot. Having sat near the front I
grabbed my cases and wheeled my way towards the stop that said Knoxville. The bus was there but the line was empty.
Gingerly knocking on the window a gruff older African American man in a creased uniform told me I had to wait three more hours. I shuffled wearily towards stained glass doors and a dimly lit lobby.
Inside Union Station looked more like a refugee shelter on the eve of the apocalypse. Stores were closed and security officers languished in little booths, homeless people slept, scuffled and shouted in corners and behind benches. I found a space near an empty wall on a plastic chair where I could finally sit down.
There was a double socket where I could charge my phone and laptop and I pulled my hood up and pretended I did not see the fighting, the crazed, lost and lonely screeching about Jesus and racism. My mind drifted back to the subway ride in New York 15 months prior and breathing heavily I moved my little cases closer to my seat making a small perimeter wall.
After 30 minutes or so a pretty blonde college student sat down right beside me. Wearing a red Ohio sweater and black leggings and a woolly cream scarf, her wavy blonde hair falling across her shoulders and smoldering brown eyes peeking out from under a little white beanie hat.
Two cases in tow and headphones wrapped around her tanned neck she asked me quietly if she could charge her mobile phone. I didn't say anything, I just nodded. I
was tired, slightly scared and could sense she felt this was the only safe place in the station. My mouth was dry and my eyes itchy. She unlocked her iPhone and tapped away like a woodpecker. A few times she tucked her long golden hair behind her ears and occasionally averted her eyes towards and then quickly away from me as I tried to ignore her. I wrapped my heavy black coat tightly around me in the little plastic bucket seat and pulled my Newcastle United scarf up around my neck as the minutes ticked away. What the hell, it was three in the morning, the wind was blowing hard outside and we were both alone, journeying somewhere, anywhere.
“Is that an iPhone 5?” I asked shakily.
“Yea I just got it, the Wifi will work in the UK.”
“Is it unlocked?”
“Yea, well I don't know, I hope so, my mom bought it for me”.
“When are you going to the UK?” I queried gaining in interest.
“Now,” she replied laughing.
We talked for the hours we had left. She was going to study abroad, I emigrating. Passing, just two drifting leaves fluttering in different directions further and further apart. Going to London, full of excitement, questioning Harry Potter, wide smiles, gentle laughs and warmth in her eyes and heart. I wish I had her enthusiasm. She had two years left as an Ohio University science major. Her future was bright, quiet voice becoming more elevated into the night hours when I told her of Sheffield and how despite its rough industrial past it taught me more about life than spending that same year back in Ireland.
We talked about our hopes and dreams. She was the girl next door, the one you believed would always be there, no matter what. We huddled side by side in our little chairs, surrounded by our luggage wall as the lights faded in the station and the homeless screams grew tired and weaker. Her time to go came and we shook hands and stared straight at each other. Reaching slowly into my little red and white Adidas bag I snatched at a phone charger adapter for a British power outlet.
“Do you have one of these?”
“No, what is it,” she asked curiously reaching out
“How do you expect to charge that same phone in Europe?”
“Oh wait, the plugs are different there?”
“Yes, you need this more than I, don't let your phone die, it's your lifeline,
it's your direct line to home”
She smiled and gratefully took my little adapter wheeling her two dark blue suitcases away into that cold night in October. I never knew her name nor she mine. The bus hummed quietly across Virginia and I slept until we hit the
Tennessee line. Zipping past Bristol and its iconic speedway. An elderly African American woman dressed in bright orange, balancing a large cake -like hat on her head sitting across from me caught the look of awe on my face.
“You ever been to Tennessee before son?”
“No Miss, it's very pretty down here though.”
“Yes it is, so where you from?”
“I am from Ireland, hoping to move down here.”
“That's nice, the Megabus routes have been expanding all over the country
I hadn't the heart to tell her you can't ride a bus from Ireland to Tennessee.
Through Irish Eyes is available in Kindle form on Amazon.
It is available for international order from Book Hub Publishing.
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