Lost in the ‘burbs of Philadelphia

It was the spring of 1991. I had spent two years in Washington DC as a grad student immersed in the Deaf world of Gallaudet University. I was looking forward to finishing my studies and starting work as a sign language interpreter. The last hurdle was to find myself a 3-month internship.  After a number of false starts I managed to line up a possible position with an agency that contracted interpreters in Philadelphia. They were keen to have me come work for them, all they wanted was a chance to meet me and cement the deal. So on a sunny Friday I took the train from D.C. to Philly. Having never been there before, I decided to splurge and stay at (where else) but the famous Hershey Hotel!

Saturday morning dawned, a beautiful sunny day. This was before the days of Google map, and I  only had the address to the agency’s office – somewhere out in the ‘burbs of Philly. So down to the concierge I went. After a somewhat protracted discussion with him I set off for the subway, to take a train and then a bus; eventually I was unceremoniously dumped out onto a sidewalk to make my way to the office. It was lunchtime.

After the interview was over, I set off again to catch the bus-train-subway back to downtown Philly.  I got to the road and hit my first major snag. I couldn’t remember what side of the street I had disembarked onto, and hence, didn’t know which side I should wait on to catch the bus. Did I mention I am directionally impaired? I made my best guess, however, and waited. Eventually a bus came along and on it I got.

The bus wandered all over hells half acre before I decided it maybe wasn’t going the way I needed it to go. I got up and asked the driver (not, as it happened, for the first time during this trip) and he confirmed my suspicions, I was not going the right way. So next stop, out I got and crossed the street to wait. Time passed.  Eventually I got on another bus. By this time I was getting fairly stressed. I had no idea where I was, no idea whether I was even on the original bus route I had taken to get out and no idea how to get back to the hotel. I sat down on a seat near the front. The bus was full of commuters, and no one looked particularly friendly. Eventually I got up my nerve, and turned to the gentleman sitting next to me. “Excuse me, I was wondering if you know how to get back downtown?” However, what was a bad trip quickly became worse. It seemed the young man I had addressed was developmentally delayed, and my talking to him threw him into a complete tizzy. As I stammered out my apologies, the man and his companion moved away from me and I was left with people eyeing me out of the corners of their eyes.  And I still didn’t know where I was or how to get home!

The bus continued to jolt along, people came and went and still no hint of a highrise or even a city anywhere. Miles upon miles of nothing but houses. I had to do something. So I got up and squeezed my way to the front. Surely the bus driver wouldn’t mind answering my question – after all it was part of his job. “Excuse me, sir but can you tell me how to get back to downtown Philadelphia?” I asked. The answer though was a stunner: “muhmmh mu n L” was what it sounded like. “Excuse me?” I repeated, and he did, exactly as he had the first time. I thought about asking again and decided it was hopeless. I’d just go sit down and see where I ended up. On and on we went.

The suburban landscape of ticky-tacky houses slowly changed to shop fronts and slightly larger streets, but still no indication of downtown. Finally, the bus turned into a roundabout, and everyone around me began to get ready to get off. This was the end of the ride. I sat there feeling more and more panicked, when one of the people getting off – a well dressed business man – turned to me and said two words “follow me”. So I did. Off the bus, across a median through some doors and towards a turnstile. It would seem we were going down into a subway system. The man asked if I had what I needed for the fare, I said yes, so we continued on and down the stairs. The last thing he said to me as he disappeared down the platform was “you want to get onto that train”. I looked to my left, and indeed there was a train there with all its doors open, and NO ONE on it. So. I popped on, and sat down expectantly, waiting for the doors to close. But no. It was not to be that easy. The train sat, and I sat, and the train sat … and … well the only thing that kept me there was the full and certain knowledge that I didn’t have anywhere else to go or anyone else to ask. After what seemed like hours but probably wasn’t, people started to trickle in. Finally I wasn’t the only person sitting on the train!  Even later, the doors chimed a warning, closed, and we were off!!!

My train was moving, I was presumably headed in the right direction and maybe at some point I was going to get home? I started watching the stops and reading the subway map and eventually figured out where I was and that, by deduction, I knew where I needed to be! For the first time in hours my stomach unknotted itself somewhat and I relaxed. Commuters came and went and then, finally, it was my station. I got off, only to find myself, yet again, completely disoriented. I still didn’t recognize anything! And yet I knew that I was at the right station – 15th Street Station. And firmly fixed in my head was the intersection I needed to get to – JFK and Broad. People washed around me as I stood, an agony of indecision. There were any number of exits I could take, but which one would take me the right way?  Ah ha! I spotted a policeman, and to a damsel in distress such as I, he looked a mighty fine sight. “Excuse me, sir but can you tell me how to get to the corner of JFK and Broad?” I asked in my best Canadian girl accent. He gave me an odd, longish look and then (without saying a word) simply turned and, as he looked, I looked up and there, written on the wall in letters at least six feet high were the words “JFK and Broad Street, exit to right” with (even) an arrow! Heh.

So off I went, and after wandering through a dingy tunnel I emerged blinking, feeling mole-like, into the dim and rapidly dimmer light of the early evening. So there I was. But where was there? I was on a sidewalk of two huge streets with cars and people streaming by in every direction. And which direction was I to go? My hotel was not visible and I didn’t have a clue (again) which way to go. So off I wandered, down a street that was first a boulevard then an avenue and gradually became just a street. It was getting really dark now, and cold and to top it all off it had started to rain. Finally I saw a store that was lit up – and again I plunged in to get directions. This time though, the patrons and owner of the pharmacy were thoroughly helpful, told me (at length) how I was going the wrong way, got me turned around and finally on the right road to the hotel.

I got back to my hotel well after 8, starving, drenched and tired to the bone. The final straw to the day was the discovery that there was no hot water and that warm bath I was promising myself just wasn’t going to happen.

Later on, the agency that hired me for my internship told me that the mere fact that I got there on just their address alone was enough to qualify me for the job! However, I never did tell them about the struggles I had had getting back!

Growing up · hockey · Music · Parenting

Transferring Children between Parents

I got an e-mail today from my son’s father which read (at the end) “I am going to need a station wagon soon” and I had to laugh and wryly agree. Tony and I have been parenting Alex separately since he was not quite two. We have gone through a variety of types of shared parenting, but have landed on the week-on, week-off as being the best for all of us. What this means, though is that on the changeover day (Friday) there is an ever-increasing amount of stuff that needs to be lugged between each home.

My son plays hockey, so that in itself is a big chunk of real-estate that needs transferring. Then there is school stuff, knapsack, lunch bag and other desideratum associated with grade six. He is a proud owner of an i-pod shuffle, so that has to be remembered and brought and then he also has started taking guitar lessons (can I say he plays the guitar? Hmm, perhaps not quite yet …) so anyway, there is a guitar that needs to be shuffled as well. And, finally, although we have just had a week of OMG it is Spring, it is still not yet the end of March and so the winter and spring gear come as well.

Hence the “I need a station wagon” comment. Isn’t it lucky we don’t have to move the dogs from home to home as well? Yikes.


A writing challenge

While I was an undergraduate at Mount Allison University in Sackville NB, I took a Poetry course from Dr. Albert Furtwangler. My chief memory of the class as a whole was the enthusiasm with which I approached the class and my concomitant lack of preparation. It was a seminar class and while I rarely – if ever – actually read the material before coming to class, I certainly participated most enthusiastically when discussing it. One of the particular poems discussed in this class was a poem called “The Red Wheelbarrow”.

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

–          William Carlos Williams

I was incensed by this poem! Enraged almost. It was just not so. The reason for my outrage revolved specifically around the phrase ‘a red wheelbarrow/glazed with rain water’. No wheelbarrow of my acquaintance was a) red or b) so pristine as to let water glaze it. Generally wheelbarrows were mucky things, rusty, dented with a wobbly wheel. They sit outside collecting rainwater and rusting until they are needed to shovel muck and move mud. As a farmers child I KNEW what wheelbarrows really looked like.

And so the germ of an idea came to me. I would write a real poem about a farm. A poem incorporating the dirty barn, the manure gutter, spider webs, feral cats and farting cows, a poem that did not whitewash the world, but showed it as it was. As this idea began to take hold my idea became grander in scope. I would write this poem – this reality poem before reality TV was even a blip in the eyes of TV producers everywhere – and it would be a sonnet! And so, I did.


The cows bellow, it’s late, they want their food.

The calf bawls, butting his milk-bucket, hoping

He will get more milk. Slowly, a new mood

Settles. The cows fed, the calf stops crashing

Against the wooden stall. Still, the cats,

Prowling, hungry, wait for the foaming milk,

Too many grey, lean shapes. The farmer’s mouse-trap,

Barns will always have many of their ilk.

The long legs grip the milk-bucket, the head,

Pressed against the cow’s flank, as the warm

Milk sizzles in. Or is delightedly

Squirted towards a kitten’s sleeping form.

Home surrounds the milker, as the scent

Of the barns lulls him, and he is content.

So. Didn’t I just do exactly what W.C. Williams did in The Red Wheelbarrow?  Isn’t mine just as romanticized an image of the barn as his is of the wheelbarrow? You tell me.


Favourite things

One of my favouritests of favourite things to do is to re-read a treasured book. Re-discovering a wonderful phrase, or finding something new I’d missed on the first go-round  means that I always have stacks of books around, books I have often read multiple times, but know that I’ll want to read again. Case in point, in the 10 years after finishing my undergraduate degree I re-read the Lord of the Rings trilogy every summer.   I’m a science fiction/science fantasy nut, my current favourite authors are (in no particular order): 1. Charles de Lint, 2. Guy Gavriel Kay, and 3. Alistair Reynolds. Interesting for a girl who loathed her Can Lit courses, but two of those three (de Lint and Kay) are both true-blue, dyed in the wool Canadians.  In fact some of de Lint’s earlier books were set  in  Ottawa, with characters like the very shy penny men giving Ottawa an Alice-in-wonderland feeling as if anything could and often does happen just around the corner.