Once again it seems that it has been too long since I last wrote to you. I’m developing a bit of a habit that compels me only to write as I see that something significant is taking place. Not that I intend to openly admit that my life is somehow subpar in the thrill seeking and excitement department. There’s simply been a bit of a lull in the level of “interesting” generated by current events. All that to say, not much has happened…
But, as I said, a new adventure has begun. I left my home today destined to embark on what will surely be one of my more significant “new experiences.”
Let me preface this portion of the story by confessing that I have never been on a train before. A local train to Manyunk doesn’t really count in my opinion. That being said, I had to take a train to New York. I boarded my train with a flutter of excitement and a twist of nerves. It could have been my lunch, but whatever it was, I tried to ignore it. I ducked into a seat by the window and waited for the train to depart.
I leaned back and stared out the window. There was a soft whir from the air vents inside the car. I watched as a hanging light swung idly in the light summer breeze. The platform was deserted. For some reason I began to think about the many people who had stood there before me. Wondering where they were going and where they had come from. I imagined a crowd of those strangers animatedly milling about on the empty platform. The train began to pull away and, with a blink, the strangers vanished and I joined their ranks as another wayfaring soul destined for anywhere but there. Harrisburg passed before my eyes.
When plans for New York first began forming, I was to be accompanying my boss, however, he had to go to California. So here I am; alone but excited. Once I reach Penn Station, it’s a relatively short taxi ride to my hotel where I’ll unpack and get ready for the start of the conference. I’d rather not bore you with details about said conference, so suffice it to say that it’s a marketing conference for e-commerce businesses. It looks like it is to be equal parts information and elbow-rubbing. I’ll be there until Tuesday night and back at work on Wednesday.
For now, however, I can only tell you what is happening or what has happened because I haven’t a clue what I’ve gotten myself into. I’m on a train and that is as far as I have gotten. A sojourn into the City That Never Sleeps is certainly worthy of documentation and I’m fairly confident it will be a good deal different than Philadelphia, which I know about.
It seems I have stumbled upon the “real world” of professionalism that is all to often alluded to by high school teachers, parents and professors alike. It seems to loom just outside the realm of understanding until it throws itself right at your feet when you weren’t even looking for it. You are left with little choice but to step forward and take a dive into the deep. Here it goes…
I find it hard to believe that it is already the middle of November. I had just reconciled myself with October’s hasty passing only to turn and catch the fleeting days of early November passing me by as well.
Where has the time gone?…seriously…I want to know. I remember entering the city wide-eyed and overwhelmed. I hadn’t a clue where I wanted to go or needed to go, let alone how to actually get there. Sure I can laugh now, and I might even chuckle, in spite of myself, at the same bewildered expression on the faces of people I see on the street practically spinning in circles attempting to orient themselves; much to no avail I might add. For those of you who have successfully acclimated to city life and graduated from “country mouse” status, you know what I’m talking about. The world that was once a terribly daunting prospect bearing the name Philadelphia has since won me over. It is no longer about surviving, but rather enjoying, appreciating, and living. I’m happy to say that I am comfortable here. The fears of change and the unknown can sometimes cast shadows on the wonderful things that are to be embraced. Gradually my eyes have been opened to the beauty, the humor, and the good of the city. That is not to say that there isn’t the dark, the danger, and the more depressing parts of the city. But it is the stark contrast between the two sides that offers an odd novelty to urban life.
I often laugh at the little experiences where I spot the city’s sense of humor. I should preface this little anecdote by clarifying that I do not find poverty funny, on the contrary it is quite sad and I struggle with it’s very blatant presence on a daily basis. That being said, I shall continue. One day my roommate and I were approached by a man as we were returning from Fairmount Park. He wasn’t looking at us at first, but as we neared I inadvertently made eye contact. I quickly looked away, glancing around, pretending as if it had never happened but it was too late. The deed was done. I remember thinking to myself, “good grief, here we go again.” As the man closed the gap between himself and his would-be benefactors, a large smile spread across his face. “Excuse me gentlemen, God bless you!” he said, wasting no time playing the “God” card. This guy knew what he was doing, he knew the tactics and phrases to use to make it nearly impossible to deny him. The phrase “God bless you” was one such phrase that became somewhat of a recurring theme. “I’m from Trenton, New Jersey and I’m trying to get something to eat. Could you help me out?” he asked. This was quickly followed by another “God bless you.” My roommate, Chris, was not to be fooled. It was impossible to trust that our monies would be used for said food so Chris suggested that he let us buy him food somewhere. This was, for some reason, not to the man’s liking. He replied, “no, I just want some money to buy some chicken and rice.” We explained that we were aware of that and were willing to take him to the diner not two blocks away and buy him exactly what he wanted. It was becoming clear what was going on. He then attempted to distract us with some obscure tale of his suffering from diabetes, having just lost three toes to the disease…and another “God bless you.” He apparently subscribed to the common misconception that the more details you add to your story, the more plausible it becomes. False.
Again we asked if we could buy him some food at the diner, and again he asked for the money. It seemed we were at an impasse. The stalling continued for a while longer until a random man yelled from across the street, “Stop tellin’ people you lost your toes! You ain’t lost no toes!” A look of horror sprang into the hungry diabetic’s countenance. He looked in anguish at the stranger across the street as if to say “Why would you say that! I had them fooled!” He then literally hung his head and walked away, ashamed. There was a notable absence of the familiar “God bless you” as he departed without farewell.
As the tension lifted, we resumed our travel. I laughed at what a strange interaction that had been. Looking at it now, the only thing missing was that Seinfeld-esque slap bass line as the scene from the city sitcom comes to a close. The city says “relax”, I say “I’m working on it…” Thank you, city, for your sense of humor, strange and uncomfortable as it is, I’m still laughing. Good one.
Experiences like the one I just narrated used to be dreadful. I attempted to avoid encroaching on the limits of my comfort zone with excruciating care. However, Philly was not about to let me off that easily. Playing on my ignorance and insecurities was something that city life has done with a passion. Every time I build my walls back up around me they are completely demolished with a wild abandon. You might think of a little boy and a towering structure of blocks. The bigger the building the more fun the little boy has destroying it. So was the relationship between the expectations, and comforts of mine, and the city. After so many tries and so many failures one learns to adapt and embrace. I would not call my life in Philadelphia a harmonic existence by any means, but it is dynamic, exciting, and new. I am a part of the city just as it has become, very much, a part of me.
Well this has certainly been a long time coming. I never intended for these entries to be so few and far between. It has been too long since I last wrote and to be honest these past few weeks have sped by. Here I sit in Saxby’s contemplating the tragic change in weather and wondering how in the world it is already October. Time is funny like that, it just…keeps…going. By total coincidence it has been one month to the day since I last wrote you anything. So here goes.
Without further ado I give you the next latest greatest installment of Between You and Me.
Like I said this month has been a whirl of life to say the least. Equal parts adventure and school. There may have been more time spent adventuring than I should admit to, but we’ll just say that there has been no shortage of interesting encounters both in the city and my studies.
After the first few weeks here we were given free reign to really do as we pleased. Our hands were held no longer as we ventured out into the city on our own. With this new found freedom and the sheer number of possibilities available the feeling I had was something of an oxymoron; coldly hot, lowly high, etc. I was excited to explore this city, but that feeling of elation was quickly checked by the realization that I had little knowledge of how to get there. So I embarked on my initial missions into the city with a pocket well stocked with SEPTA tokens.
This past month has shown me a number of ways that people handle living in the city. Some are content to sit comfortably within the safety and security of our walls. They rarely venture out on their own and would rather wait for some sort of social outing to enjoy the city with the strength of numbers accompanying their sense of individuality. Still there are others who enjoy city life and seek to embrace it at all costs. They are the ones that refuse to jeopardize the urbanite mentality by extracting themselves to return to suburbia. It is as if suburban life might threaten to neutralize the experience and wash the city right off of them. It’s as if you are savoring the taste of the last bite of your favorite dish and you dare not chew a piece of gum or brush your teeth for fear of the inevitable eradication of that delicious moment.
Philadelphia is a great city and it deserves to be explored one way or the other so over the past few weekends I have endeavored to leave campus and do just that.
Regardless of how you might view the prospect of living in the city, there is something you forfeit by not at least partially exposing yourself to it. The city is a people watcher’s paradise. There are so many stories, so many styles, and so many secrets. It would be a shame to take that for granted. The other day I went to Washington Square by myself to do some work and to simply be in the city. The parks are something of an oasis in the midst of bustling sidewalks and blaring horns, towering buildings and the grid-like streets. Right in the middle of these massive structures, cold and hard making up the cement jungle of the city, you can sit on a park bench, smell the dirt and grass, hear the birds in the trees above and watch the people passing by. It is a literal breath of fresh air. It is places like these that I find to be the most entertaining. It is a movie of moments playing out before your very eyes. All you have to do is look; blink, and you might miss something.
On this particular day, there were two weddings in the vicinity of the park. I watched as the first wedding emptied from a magnificent building on the corner with large pillars and a long red carpet stretched beneath the cascading white staircase at the front entrance. I listened as the yelling and laughter grew louder, echoing across the park. The crowd of suited men and colorfully attired women parted and cheered as the newlywed couple emerged. The groom was smiling from ear to ear, holding his wife’s hand tight. The bride was a vision beaming with sheer bliss, you could tell that her dream day had come true. It was a moment that I shared from a distance but it had a fairy tale quality about it that nearly made me say aloud “and they lived happily ever after.”
From my bench in the park I turned to see a different wedding party that had gathered around the fountain in the center of the park. They were having their wedding pictures taken. The newlyweds posed happily with each other, gazing at one another. This time I was a little closer and could hear some of the conversation. They were discussing the logistics for the rest of the evening. As happy as they were you could tell that the day would be long and the actual ceremony was only half the battle. But there was a reassurance, watching them, that they would make it just fine, it would be tiring, but the way they looked at each other you could tell that it would be fun, and it was so incredibly worth it.
These unscripted moments are what make life so beautiful. Countless worlds combine day to day. Sure, some worlds collide, I know how the saying goes, but on this particular day, everything seemed to go together perfectly. I’m not just talking about the weddings, I’m talking about those moments that made my day. While I sat there enjoying the cool of the evening and absent-mindedly mirroring the smiles shared by the newlyweds and their friends, I understood that these moments that I share from a distance or directly, are the things that will stay with me forever. I care about goals and ambitions, and I care about the past but when you remember something you don’t really replay the entire day from beginning to end, you remember those sharp and vivid moments that maybe only you noticed. Everyone has their moments.
There have been a number of other memorable occurrences over the past month and I fully intend on documenting most if not all of them for you, but I wanted to share some of my recent little moments with you. More and more I’m finding that there is a certain cinematic quality to life. These moments make my movie. Keep your eye out for your moments, you’ll know when you see them, but enjoy them for the way you feel, the way you share that moment is just another moment in your very own movie.
We have finally finished the first week of school. No casualties to speak of and overall I’d say I’m fairly optimistic about this semester.
Aside from being in a new city at a new university, the first week of school was pretty generic. It closely mimicked most first days of school but on a more magnified scale. I witnessed the usual scrambling madness as everyone desperately searched for the right building. It was a proper mess. I managed to navigate my schedule with surprising ease. This allowed for a good bit of extra time which I happily devoted to watching the masses milling about. You’ll notice that people watching is one of my favorite activities and past times.
The first day jitters were afflicting students everywhere in pandemic proportions. They raced about looking for their classes, afraid to be late, but all too scared to ask for directions. I could sit in one spot and see the same people walk back and forth in front of me with that same prideful disillusionment. It was amusing to say the least. Imagine hundreds upon hundreds of students walking about with brisk determination, frantically glancing at their schedule in one hand and clutching a map of the campus in the other.
The campus bookstore was no less hectic. The checkout lines wrapped around the store and in between the long aisles of textbooks. I had to laugh at a very small voice that rose loud and clear above the din. From the rows of books and students alike emerged a short girl hunched over attempting to sustain the weight of the enormous backpack quite obviously filled to capacity mounted on her back. In comparison to the girl, the scale of the bag was so exaggerated that it almost seemed like a cartoon. Despite the weight of the small mountain on her back her voice rang out clearly, she was talking on her phone but apparently had lost the signal. It wasn’t the way she looked that made me laugh so openly, it was that she was trying to talk to her mom on the phone and had been cut off. Above all the other noise in the store she could be heard almost shouting, “Mom?…mom?…..mom?” repeatedly. She didn’t just try three or four times though, she would take a step and then shout “Mom” into the phone, which of course received no reply. This went on for quite some time, the obvious failure of the first ten attempts did not deter her from trying another five or six times with similar effect.
The first few classes are usually dedicated to going over the syllabus and introducing ourselves. This semester was no different. But there was a different feel in these classes. The environment was still the same but the dynamic was totally changed by the people and backgrounds presented in those classrooms. In one of my classes a girl walked in maybe 15 minutes late. The professor asked if she had just added the class and wondered what had made her so late. Without hesitation or shame she replied, “I just gave birth last week and I had to take my baby to the doctor.” There was a totally legitimate response if I ever heard one. I am not naive but I was floored by her nonchalance. She was younger than I was and it sounded like it was a perfectly normal situation to her.
In the very same class the teacher asked how many students came from families that still ate dinner together. Less than half of the class put their hands up. It was another eye opener. I was one of those hands. Eating dinner with my family is something that I had to do growing up and I often argued against it thinking that is was unnecessary but I realized that it is a privilege that these kids never experienced. These may seem like really arbitrary things, but it said something about the culture that we now live in. It was a testimony to the changing times. It seems that I will be learning just as much, if not more, from the people I am around as the professors in my classes.
Some of the best things to write about are just little events that happen during the day; the little wins, the small victories. I love hearing the stories and perspectives of other people. Not necessarily on major issues, but rather what their lives are like. This is not at all intended to be a journal or diary; rather, you might think of it as a narrative. This is my mind’s narration, the subtitles of my conscience. These are my thoughts…
The first week of classes has been a bit of an adventure; it’s only been three days, but adventurous nonetheless. Each day has brought something new and interesting into my path. For the most part that is a good thing, but, like most people encounter, there are those little annoyances that tend to manifest themselves at the most inopportune moments…without fail. In these situations the most you can do is shrug, it’s usually better that way. I’ll talk more about those in later posts.
Thanks for reading, there will be more to come, I’m sure.
I’ll fill you in a little on the situation as it’s been a while since Thailand. I’ve been looking for a chance to write about something that could be of interest to some, rather than the day to day in the suburbs of Harrisburg where my exploits tend to be more on the tame side. Going to Starbucks, getting gas, and working doesn’t normally make the breaking news category so I’ve decided to wait for my next great adventure. So for my next trick I give you the City of Brotherly Shove. I will be living in Philadelphia for the fall semester and studying at Temple. I think it’s fair to say that this constitutes itself as an adventure.
Now here’s where it will get interesting. I am less than familiar with the city life, I’ve grown up in the suburbs, graduated from a small private school, and now go to Messiah, a small-ish liberal arts college. There’s no city in me at all…none. But this fall I will set forth to conquer this fair city and what it has to offer. Like I said, this is where it gets interesting.
- (August 27)
I arrived in the afternoon and, in a somewhat hasty fashion, unpacked and moved in. So far it seems that I have not forgotten anything. Surprisingly, and to my chagrin, clothing was my greatest obstacle. I actually filled my dresser with shirts alone and was left stacking and cramming all other articles of clothing in any other spaces available.
After we got moved in we were taken to get our Temple ID cards. Now, I was thinking about putting up a picture up of my card to boast my legitimacy, but the picture is, as is typical, awful. It seems that ID pictures and the like have an innate ability to make every single person look their worst, regardless of any and all preparation. So, for now, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I’m official.
After we got our IDs and toured the Temple campus, we returned to Messiah’s Philly Campus which consists of three row homes on North Broad Street across the street from Temple’s main campus. There we got to choose where we wanted to go for dinner. We signed up for our choice of ethnic cuisine. I surveyed the options ranging from Middle Eastern, Greek, Thai, Indian, Vietnamese, and Mexican. I was considering Indian, but the sign up sheet was filled right before I got there, so I missed that one. I knew Thai would be good, but it wasn’t speaking to me, so I passed on that as well. I figured Mexican wouldn’t hurt and I was guaranteed to find something that I liked. So I played it safe and went with la comida mexicana.
The groups went their separate ways and after a quick trip on the subway and a deceptively long four blocks, we arrived. The place was pretty much empty and the menu was almost entirely in spanish…didn’t see that one coming. English was a parenthetical statement. The girls I was with ordered fajitas and a burrito, but I decided to choose a road less traveled and I ordered the “Sarape”. I hadn’t a clue whether it was on a tortilla, or a platter or something totally different, but the ingredients sounded good. When the food arrived it was clear that my guesswork had paid off. It was a huge plate of food. Rice, beans, and pico de gallo were spread across half of the plate. On the other half was a mass of meaty, melty goodness. Chicken, bacon, and ham, mixed with sizzling bell peppers, and onions all smothered in warm melting cheese. All this was to be rolled in a tortilla and enjoyed. Believe you me, enjoy it I did.
After dinner I felt more like rolling home then walking. I was ridiculously full. Thankfully the trip home allowed the food in my stomach to settle. We arrived back at MCPC and were reunited with the other groups for dessert. I know you’re thinking “I thought you said you were full”, and I promise you I was. I think the faculty wanted to stuff us this weekend because after these first few days we’re sort of on our own. So they treated us to the taste of Philly cuisine in a big way. Dessert almost did me in. I had a piece of red velvet cake, and I ate slowly as to avoid bursting. Dessert was a bitter sweet moment for me; overly filling but incredibly good.
After dessert we mingled and played some Minute-to-Win-it sort of games to the hilarity of all. Marbles and pencils were rolling and falling, I kept my eye out for the wayward rubber-band ball ricocheting off the walls; it was ordered chaos at its finest.
After the games slowed, the rest of the night was ours to do as we wished. It was getting late so I decided to head to my room and prepare for bed. Sleep was not to be had however, at least not according to the frat house a few doors down. Straight from the greek life stereotype there was blaring music, laughter, and of course not a single person could actually communicate without yelling, so add that to the dull roar and you get the noise from next door.
I laid in bed listening to the party die down. Everyone seemed to get the idea that it was time to go home save for the two token drunk girls. They sang and sang as loud as they could. Not a single note formed any sort of melody, nor were the lyrics in any way coherent, but they didn’t care. They projected their ill-tuned musical across the block for another thirty minutes and then that too died away with giggles and guffaws.
I fell asleep to to the chirp of the crosswalk signal, sirens in the distance, the thumping bass of a passing car, and the purr of Broad Street traffic. It was my Philly Lullaby. It’s going to be different here…
Since I am under the proverbial gun of time, I will really have to try to record in somewhat lesser detail. For those of you who have taken the time to read my posts, as long as they might be, I thank you very much and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading. With that being said…the saga continues.
I left you with the conclusion of musical chairs, and so I continue with a rather interesting relay race. Three columns were formed with five chairs making each column. On each chair was placed a plate with a food item. I can’t be sure what the first chair had on it, it looked like powdered sugar or flour, I didn’t stop to taste it. The second chair a piece of bread on the plate followed by a banana on the third. There was a plate of potato chips on the fourth and lastly, a cup of orange drink on the final chair. I was completely clueless as to how this relay was to be played, and I readily awaited the start, camera in hand, poised and ready for action. All that to say, I stood by the chairs and waited for the game to start.
The teams were created and formed lines mirroring the chairs. After a short explanation of the rules, the whistle blew and the relay commenced. At the first chair the contestants were given the task of finding an object hidden within the powdery white substance. Hilarity ensued as the competitors were rapidly enveloped in a cloud of white as, with a lack of strategy, they blue directly down on the plate, causing the collection of powder to fly back up into their faces. Repeatedly they blew and at long-last, found the object. After raising the object as proof they moved on to the bread. Who would have thought that something so mundane as a piece of bread could be so amusing. One piece of bread is small enough to seem trivial and easy to consume, posing little threat to a victorious run. However, it is large enough that, after a few bites, the eater realizes it’s actually quite difficult to eat quickly. I could see that the contestants were having the very same revelation as their faces suddenly became very determined, chewing furiously.
After the bout with the bread, it was on to the banana. This again shared the same principle difficulty as the slice of bread. But once again our determined players powered through it with relative ease, save for my brother. He hates bananas. As he began to eat the banana, his eyes teared up, and I could tell he was going to be sick. It was all he could do to reject that feeling and bite by painstaking bite, he finally finished it. I, frankly, was seizing in uncontrollable laughter. Sure I felt bad for him, but it was only a banana. I’ll repeat it one more time for emphasis…he hates bananas. There, I think you will find the humor and so justify my hysterics.
After the banana there was a small plate of potato chips which was a relatively easy objective and the contestants were able to move quickly through that stage and on to the last which was a refreshing cup of orange drink that I can assure you was well deserved and certainly well received. After making it through the numerous tasks they ran back to their line, the plates were quickly replenished, and as soon as they were tagged, the next person began again.
After the relay race, there was the ever popular water balloon toss. This I will spare you from most detail as there was very little to discuss as it is. It was a lot of fun to watch but I do believe that we have all seen a water balloon being chucked through the air only to drench the brave opponent who dared to attempt catching it. Some were better than others at catching water balloons, but nevertheless this game, by nature, will get one wet. Perhaps the most enjoyable aspect of this game was the look on the faces of those about to be bombed by the balloon. There bodies were charging to the point of impact while their faces said “What the hell are you doing? Reverse Reverse!”. It was like a child holding a jack-in-the-box, he cranks the handle and knows that something will pop out at him, but he just doesn’t know when, so he cringes in anticipation. That is the face of a water balloon catcher.
After the balloon toss, it was time for the final game of basketball. Thai students versus American students. The Americans won, although it wasn’t the prettiest looking game of basketball I have ever seen. Again, most everyone has seen a game of basketball played before, so I will forgo the narrative and leave it with an American victory and high spirits all around. It had been an enjoyable release and refreshing day of something other than schoolwork. The rest of the day was ours to enjoy. It was a beautiful thing.