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(east/west, day one: New Jersey, Pennsylvania)

I write my daily pages as I face the Atlantic

Then I take a fistful of sand and bid Asbury goodbye

What I’m about to do is nothing less than gigantic

What lies ahead, no one can predict or prophesy

This place has been a nest, but it’s time that we flew it

And I admit it, I’m more than a little afraid

But all the same I’m brave, and so I will do it

So let’s take one last picture and be on the way

Arise, and cross this land

Its whole length surveyed, its whole breadth spanned

It’ll be all yours, if you follow this command

Arise, and cross this land.

I set out from Interlaken with the morning sun behind me

I take the old highways on the way out of town

Is this journey meant to cement or cut the ties that bind me

Will my world revolve as usual or turn upside down

I cross the Delaware into the rest of America

The sun is blocked out by a curtain of rain

The road twists and turns down the length of Pennsylvania

Through cow and coal country, tunnels and narrow lanes

Arise, and cross this land

In a 26-foot box truck, towing your van

Just follow the map, and stick to the plan

Arise, and cross this land.

And there’s Train on the radio calling all angels

Something like an anthem for the duration of the ride

I don’t know what to expect when I finally get there

I don’t know what’s waiting on the other side.

First night in Pittsburgh when the curtain lifted

I catch up on old times with an old friend and his wife

It’s amazing just how far apart we drifted

Could this be a portent for others in my life

On the one hand I know that I’m doing the right thing

On the other I know that I can’t be too sure

But I’ll have plenty of time over the next week while driving

To figure it all out and hope my faith will endure

Arise, and cross this land

From the east to the west, across plains and sands

Your skies will broaden, your horizons expand

Arise, and cross this land.

Arise, and cross this land

Its length and its breadth, sweeping and grand

See it with your own eyes, experience it firsthand

Arise, and cross this land.

©2023 The Hesh Inc.

Heshy about to hit the road, Interlaken, NJ, June 17, 2003.
About to hit the road, Interlaken, NJ, June 17, 2003.

In March 2002, my second wife and I were living in Interlaken, New Jersey, just outside of Asbury Park. She was getting ready to finish her medical residency and was seeking to do a fellowship before going into regular practice, but she didn't "match" with any of the New York– and New Jersey–based programs she had applied to. However, there were unfilled vacancies in other programs throughout the country, and when we were considering which she should apply to, our eyes fell on one in the Los Angeles area. Why not there? After all, we reasoned, there's a Jewish community and a beach there ... what more do we need? She applied and was accepted to the program. Then, axe fell at my job ... the publishing industry in New York had taken a big hit in the wake of 9/11 and its ripple effects had finally reached my employer, resulting in layoffs that included me. That cemented our decision to move out west. After searching online and enlisting the help of relatives based in LA, we found a place to live, and the plans to move were set in motion.

We decided that my wife and our daughter would fly there, but that I would drive there overland so that I could keep an eye on our earthly possessions. It was also important that I made this a voyage of transition ... I had already had one bad experience in my life being flown a great distance and dropped into a new universe, and I did not want to repeat that experience. It would give me the opportunity to mull and process the future as I proceeded across the continent, while at the same time seeing and experiencing the vast expanses of the country, and I did so with a sense of cautious optimism.

I pulled out of Interlaken on Tuesday, June 17, 2003. The first day n the road was really the first time I had ventured outside of my East Coast bubble into the rest of America (not counting a trip we had made to Northern California about a decade earlier). The weather seemed pleasant enough as I made my way out of New Jersey, but soon as I was over the Delaware River, the rain began and did not let up as I slogged my way across the length of Pennsylvania. Finally I made it to Pittsburgh, where I spent the first night at the home of a friend from Israel whom I had not seen since the late 1980s. I had a sense that this beginning of the journey was akin to my great-ancestor Abraham, commanded by G-d to arise and cross the land and survey its width and breadth. I documented this whole journey with the usual "morning pages" that I wrote every day, and years later, when I had set about the business of turning the experience into a musical work, I laid it down in a single song that was as sprawling as the country I crossed. But that song kept getting bigger and bigger as I realized that I wanted to include more detail, rather than cut it down to size with abstract, obtuse lyrics that would be little more than gruel. So I broke that epic down into a series of songs, covering each day on the road in a uniform verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus-chorus format. The result was what I call the "east/west cycle," the first day of which you see here. No music has been written for them yet as of this posting, but the intention is for each song to have its own tune and feel, even if the lyrical format is the same for all of the songs in the cycle.

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