When the Eastern Airlines flight landed in Raleigh it was past ten in the evening. The day before we travelled from Lisbon to New York and stayed the night at my in-laws to give the children some rest.
The stewardess opened the front door and a gush of hot, humid air ran through the plane fogging up all the windows, annoying the kids trying to peek outside. We waited for the mobile staircase to connect to the aircraft. When we deplaned and crossed the tarmac to the airport building our shirts got soaked instantly. The brief relief in the air-conditioned terminal, while we reclaimed our four large suitcases, was cheerfully welcomed. With our belongings on a couple of carts we braved outside, looking for a taxi, and again were confronted by the hot, wet air of July in North Carolina. The monotonous sound of the cicadas, seemingly in sync with the gyrating beam of the airport tower, increased the weight of the oppressive night. It was one of those “dog summer days,” as we later learned they are known in Tarheel country.
A hefty middle age woman came swaying in our direction pointing to her behemoth old car, the taxi. She was unable to lift our heavy suitcases so I loaded them myself into the trunk, already occupied by a spare tire, a jack, newspapers, dirty rags, and all kinds of junk I could not discern in the faint light around us. We all sat on the back as there was no space in the front seat, occupied by pizza boxes, McDonald’s food wrappers, magazines, two huge Coke bottles and a small briefcase. The lady driver got into what was left of the front seat through a series of maneuvers required by her heavy figure, first seating sideways with her legs out, and then swinging in each leg at a time. She cranked up the engine and turned back to us with a big smile.
“Where to?” I gave her our address. She got the car in gear and rolled into a dark road that immediately got us out of the airport grounds, the radio belching honky tonk music all the way home.
We drove through a narrow, one-lane winding road in the middle of a dense forest that was impossible to distinguish with the dim lights of the taxi. Amy and the kids moved their heads from one side to the other, trying to make out what kind of a place I had brought them to. The kids, although tired, were curious for a glimpse of the new town where they were going to live.
“All I can see are trees, and more trees… they look like pine trees.” They could not see more than ten feet each side of the car. “There are no people, no lights… no houses!”
It was 1980. I had immigrated to the USA the previous March. Amy came with me to help rent a house and buy a car and returned to Portugal until Angela and Ricardo finished the school year. I had now returned to Lisbon to finally bring the whole family to settle down in Raleigh.
We finally got to the Falls of the Neuse Road and started to see street lights and some signs of life. Soon we got to the townhouse we had rented and the kids could not wait to run through the house, until they succumbed to exhaustion and went to bed, quickly falling asleep. The following day they realized the house was sparsely furnished as our belongings were still in Portugal, delayed by a strike.
When Amy and I first came to Raleigh in March, not knowing how hot the summer days were in North Carolina, we made the big mistake of buying a Honda Civic hatchback without AC. That first summer we did not venture out on any trips. We waited until the fall days to start exploring the State.
For the rest of the year, with only one car, Amy became the official family driver. In the morning she took me to the office and then took the kids to school. Then she went shopping. In the afternoon it was the reverse schedule. Pick up the kids and then pick me up from the office.
All this driving was done without AC, obviously with all windows open.
Henrique Gomes (OLLI Member & OLLI Writer’s Group Coordinator)