Sunday Morning ~ Road Trip
Kokomo kea mnzako mdi kamba wako. ~ The helpfulness of your friend is your provision for your journey.
~ Chewa proverb
October 20, 2019
I’m on the road this week, and the journey started with an opera last Sunday. Each summer I host some musicians in Bar Harbor, one of whom plays the violin for the Metropolitan Opera. For several years now he’s been offering tickets and this was the week I took him up on it. He gave me two premium tickets to see Porgy and Bess which was playing at the Met for the first time in 30 years. Jake agreed to go with me and I drove from my brief visit with the grands early Sunday morning to his apartment in Brooklyn and then we headed over the Triborough Bridge to Manhattan. I’ve done this drive many times and it’s about twenty minutes; with terrible traffic it’s an hour. I wanted to be there in plenty of time to park the car in mid town and walk over to Lincoln Center, with time to grab a bite to eat. We allowed two and a half hours. It was a beautiful day and I envisioned strolling along in the sunshine to meet Leszek, get our tickets and have time for a chat. He said there might be a chance he could take us backstage before the performance. All very exciting.
Well, it started out great. As we drove over the bridge I had warm fuzzy memories of running over it a year ago to the last borough in the marathon. I was all smiles thinking of it. Then we got stopped by a police barricade as I tried to cut across town. They directed me north, the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. We kept trying to go west and every single intersection was barricaded. I wondered if there’d been a terrorist attack but no one looked particularly anxious. The police looked a little bored actually. Finally, we got as far west as Fifth Avenue and we traveled south, again me reliving the glory of running down that stretch a year ago to the finish line, basking in my forty thousandth place finish. Seriously. I came in forty thousandth. There were ten thousand more behind me. But it was grand. But way before we got to 57th where I wanted to turn right and where I have always found a parking space, which is free on Sunday, they made us turn east again! What?! It was getting later and later. We thought we’d still be fine just wouldn’t have time for a walk. A half hour later the lunch plan was canceled, too. At this point I was getting worried about making it there at all. As I slowly got corralled back to Madison Avenue I thought if I found a parking spot I’d just take it and we’d walk. And then they sent us south again! We were getting further and further away and my calculations of how long it would take us was getting scary. These tickets cost more than my round trip airfare to Europe and if we were late they wouldn’t seat us at all. I was getting panicky. I saw a spot where the car would just fit, took twenty back and forths to tuck it in there, and we ran thirty blocks to Lincoln Center with me in heels. We made it with three minutes to spare. So that was fun. The opera was fantastic and I felt rather special in our box once we caught our breath and the sweat dried. Afterward we walked back to the car at a leisurely New York pace to find all the other cars gone and my little mini sitting there with a $115 ticket. It was a no standing zone. Didn’t notice that sign as we parked and ran but it was better than missing the opera and I was grateful the car wasn’t towed. Ah, New York, New York.
Monday morning I moved the car to the most beautiful parking space uptown and, because of the holiday, it was good there until Friday! Ruth said I should stay the week, because how could you give up that parking space? We walked to my favorite spice shop on 9th Avenue and then across town stopping at some new green spaces near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which, are really a marvel. Ruth then went off to a medical appointment and I headed to the fashion district. In the past I’ve have spent many a happy hour there stocking up on fabrics and notions. It’s heaven. Entire stores stocking only thread or buttons. It is a dream. But when I got to the area I couldn’t find any of the stores! The whole area was filled with coffee shops, handbag stores, psychic readings, Starbucks, appliances, noodle shops, and copy centers. It was incredibly disorienting and depressing. I finally found one little old store and asked the proprietor if all the fabric stores had closed. English was not his first language and with a thick accent of some sort he answered, “Yes, closed for the holiday.” I said, “No, closed as in gone. I can’t find any of the shops I used to go to.” He then understood and replied, “Yes. Closed or moved.” I walked about ten miles up and down and found a few of the old stores seeming out of place next to their new neighbors. It just wasn’t the same. With a sense of loss I put my pins, zippers, and thread in with the spices and went to meet Jake and Ruth for dinner.
The next morning I reluctantly removed the car from that most beautiful (free and un-ticketed) parking spot and headed for Philadelphia. I spent a wonderful afternoon and evening with a good friend from my early Malawi days. A Medical Mission Sister, she was working in Lilongwe, the sole obstetrician for the entire country when I was a Peace Corps volunteer. She did this with great humility and sense of humor. I was a scared 22 year old with an unplanned pregnancy. I wasn’t scared of the pregnancy; I wanted that. I was scared because Peace Corps had threatened to move us from our remote location in the far north, to a place closer to a city. We didn’t want to move and argued that if women in Karonga can have pregnancies there, why can’t I? Nowadays they’d just send me straight home, but then the big fight was to stay in the community we’d gotten to know and love. The idea that I was a privileged white person who’s pregnancy was more important than the women in Karonga was intolerable to me. Myrtle was reassuring and supportive and advocated for me and I got to stay in Karonga. I’ve always been grateful for that and for her loving presence in remote corners of my life. To spend a good part of the day with her, and later Sister Helen, was a treat.
Then it was two days with the architect students at Jefferson University who are working on plans for health and maternity centers in Malawi. That was totally fun and fueled my longing to be back on a college campus teaching. Good to know the vibes were there. We had a conference video call with Malawi and got to see my colleagues! The technology I tell you. It’s like NASA to me. My last night in Philly was spent with a friend from my Women’s Health Center days. Al Vernacchio is a fantastic speaker, teacher, TED talker, author, and all around great guy who’d come to Bar Harbor to speak on healthy sexuality. We’ve stayed in touch and the timing worked out for wine and a meal in a great restaurant walking distance from where I was staying. More good vibes.
Friday I headed south and though it was possible to make it to Kathy’s in Tennessee in one shot, the thought of a twelve hour drive made me feel my age. I don’t like to drive on unfamiliar roads at night anymore. I just don’t feel safe. It’s like having to admit my 1990’s skirts don’t button at the waist anymore. I hate to say it, but it’s true. So I got an Airbnb in the mountains in southern Virginia, and as I drove up to the house, the Deliverance theme started playing in the back of my head. The location was spectacular and the house looked amazing and I could imagine George and I joking about the place if he’d been there, but it was a little eerier being alone. I shook off the creepy feeling and punched in the door code. I was greeted with a gift shop-like scene with ruffled pillows scattered among the fake flowers and fruit. Millions of cutesy bible themed knick knacks covered every surface. On the walls were framed family photos and if you’ve ever seen the spoofs on family photos, this was it in real life. Framed photos of little kids who looked like they should have had soccer balls in their hands, instead had huge rifles. Little kids! I mean like six years old! Big framed family Christmas photos had guns in them. Every male adult held a weapon, smiling and looking directly into the camera. My first impulse was to bolt. Several of the photos in frilly frames standing on shelves and bureaus I laid face down. I couldn’t sleep with those guns pointing at me. Every woman in the photos was smiling ferociously with one hand on the shoulder of the gun-holder. Most of them wore white dresses. I counted six open bibles around the room and read some of the passages to see if there were some message being relayed. I left the door open for awhile thinking I may have to run out. But it was clean. Super clean. It looked like a second home in the country with a basement apartment. No one was upstairs that I could tell, and there was no cell service. The reviews were good. I repeated that to myself several times. The reviews were good. And the view was glorious so I settled down, and went for a long walk along the country road. Wow. It’s good to get out and see who lives among us. I thought about going into town to get supper but it was more than ten miles away and I definitely did not want to return to that place after dark. There was an old bag of popcorn on top of the microwave so I popped that and drank herbal tea while watching a family of deer graze with a beautiful sunset showing off in the distance. I slept surprisingly well.
Yesterday I drove 90 miles through the mountains as the mist rose off of ponds and rivers and flocks of geese flew south over head. The foliage isn’t dramatic here but the scenery was spectacular. Five hours later Kathy and Michael were waiting for me with a southern home cooked lunch and then it was girlfriend time. Life is good.
Later I’ll drive to Nashville for a gig at Vanderbilt tomorrow and some tourist time with Chris and Sarah who fly in from UK tonight. Zack was born thirty-six years ago today. How the world has changed since then. On this road trip, every motorist I passed who’d stopped to help someone along the road made my heart swell. There are so many good people. I felt deep down that we’re going to be ok.
Love to all,