Walk Like An American

A Free Meal and a New Friend

After a Setback, Hitting the Road Again

Constantino Diaz-Duran is a fellow at the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University. He is chronicling his walk from New York to Los Angeles to celebrate his eligibility for American citizenship. Follow Constantino’s progress.

I’m sitting at Parisi Deli in Hackensack, N.J. on the second day of my journey. It’s been just a little over 24 hours since I hit the road, and I’ve already run into my first setback and met some kind and friendly strangers.

I decided to save my money and not stay another night at the motel after all. Instead, I’m walking seven miles over to Clifton, where my friends Vishal and Vasanth have offered me a couch. Seven miles is way below my goal of 20 miles a day, but I’ll have to work up to that number. I will take it easy for the first couple of weeks.

I spotted the Parisi Deli on my way to Starbucks, and I’m very glad I decided to come here instead. The deli is operated by Russ and Anthony Parisi, whose grandfather opened the place some 70 years ago. My backpack and funny-looking hat caught Russ’s attention, so I told him what I’m doing. He liked the project, and was nice enough to buy me lunch: a chicken salad sub on multigrain, a banana, a peach, a bottle of water and a bottle of Gatorade.

Russ’s mother emigrated from Sicily in the early 1950s, when she was only 16. She came by herself, learned English, found work and eventually helped other relatives join her in the U.S. To Russ, being an American means confidence and safety. He has traveled across Europe and Turkey, and while he enjoyed those places, he said he would never want to live anywhere else.

Russ believes the biggest problem affecting America today is corruption – particularly in his home state. “Almost 100 officials have been indicted in New Jersey on corruption charges in the last couple of years,” he told me. “That’s what people in this state should be worrying about, not what people think of Jersey Shore and all that. Who cares what those people on TV are doing; that doesn’t reflect on us, doesn’t affect us. The corruption does.” He thinks the root cause of the problem is “too much ego” in politics and “too much keeping up with the Joneses” in N.J. I wonder if people will see these issues differently in other states.

So the second day has been great so far. Meeting Russ and Anthony has more than made up for the motel problem. Now I have to start walking. I hear Vishal and Vasanth are making dinner, and I don’t want to miss it!

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*Photo by Constantino Diaz-Duran.