Counting The Cars On The New Jersey Turnpike

There are many reasons why America doesn’t attract me. It’s too big. There are too many people. Everybody runs around too quickly. There’s too much commotion, too much uproar. Everybody pretends too hard that they’re happy there. But I don’t believe in their happiness, I think they’re just as unhappy as we are, except that we still talk about it sometimes but they only say that everything’s fine, that it’s fantastic. It gets on my nerves.

When Americans asked me “how are you,” I said “so-so.” They probably thought somebody in my family had get awaydied. But I simply had jet lag because I’d been flying for seven hours and didn’t feel particularly well. But it was enough for me to say “so-so” and then they immediately thought that something tragic had happened. You can’t say “so-so.” You have to say “well” or “very well.” The most optimistic thing I can say is “I’m still alive.” So I’m not cut out for America for that reason.

I’m afraid of America. Whenever I’m in New York I always have the feeling that it’s going to cave in and all I can think about is how to avoid being there when that happens. The same goes for other places in America. You don’t get all those people and that noise in the streets of California as you do in New York but, in turn, there’s a huge number of cars going to and fro and I always have serious doubts as to whether there are any Americans inside. You know, who’s inside? I’ve always got the impression that those cars drive themselves.

I had this adventure. It was silly really. I was hurrying to some screening I had at the New York Festival. I was in a terrible hurry. I got into a taxi. It was raining. The taxi-driver hit a cyclist. My journey took me through Central Park. In Central Park the roads are lower down, not in a tunnel but a sort of gully. Well, that’s where my taxi-driver knocked over a cyclist. It was dusk. Raining. And he simply hit him. The cyclist jumped off and fell and the taxi-driver ran over the bike. The road’s narrow there; that is, one line of cars can go in one direction and one line in the other, no more. The cars there are terribly big and wide so maybe two French cars would fit but only one American. Well, when he knocked over the cyclist, he stopped, and got out. We started to help the cyclist up. I also helped, because he was laying there with his leg bleeding. Well, car horns started beeping. An enormous river of cars had stopped behind us. A gigantic traffic jam, a couple of miles long, had formed. And they started to beep their horns and flash their lights and himshout and beep and so on and so on.

Since it was literally five minutes before the time I was to appear at the Lincoln Center, I gave the guy what I owed him, and I started to run. You can guess what the taxi-drivers coming up in the opposite direction thought. A taxi’s standing and some guy is running away from it. Of course they thought I’d done something to the driver. Mugged him, robbed him, killed him or something. I ran like hell because, on top of that, it was raining and I wanted to save my suit from becoming soaked before I reached the Lincoln Center. So I pelted along. I saw the taxis coming to a halt in the opposite direction, and they started signaling. Guys jumped out of the taxis. I simply started to run away, I started to run away from them, not to the Lincoln Center any more but away from them. I started to climb up the side of the gully, jumped into the park but it turned out that there were taxi-drivers standing in front of the gully too, and they’d also noticed a taxi and this guy running away. So they simply started chasing me through Central Park with these great big baseball bats. You know, those huge, long sticks. You get it with one of those and your skull’s cracked open. And I saw the guys waving these sticks above the cars and chasing me across Central Park in their cars. I barely escaped. The trees were pretty dense there and they couldn’t get through with their cars; that’s the only reason why I escaped. Covered in mud, I went and explained at the Lincoln Center why I was late—I was five or ten minutes late. But that’s not why I don’t like America. That was just an amusing adventure.

—Krzysztof Kieslowski


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When I Worked

February 2015
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