At the kind suggestion and arrangement of my younger brother I spent a fortnight in London and environs last summer, my first time across the pond since Tony Blair was PM, and Lina’s first time ever farther than a mile off the US East Coast. A pleasant time was had by all, not least because we secured transatlantic passage via somewhat costly “business” class, which provided us with something approximating beds, and with in-flight fare a cut above the pretzels and peanuts grudgingly provided those in steerage.
Upon our return from that green and pleasant land, we disembarked at the airport in San Francisco, dodging the 350 passengers awaiting Customs clearance—three international flights had arrived within a quarter-hour of one another—by means of our “Global Entry” passes, a system that permits Real People who can afford the tariff to bypass the hoi polloi as they trudge sullenly through the lines.
The filth and squalor on the train back to our neighborhood, and visible on the streets, were striking: nothing much changed from our departure the previous month, but a shock upon seeing this with the impressions of a civilized country fresh in memory. Indeed, returning earlier from a daytrip to Oxford, I looked at the comfortable, tidy villages from the train and thought “they wouldn’t let me live here if I asked.” And for the first time, belatedly, I realized that I was a prisoner in my own land, a grim and grimy police state.