Friday, October 31, 2008

stranger in a strange land

It's 2:30 in the afternoon and I am sitting in my hotel room, having just eating cold soggy french fries and what I am sure was a hopelessly inauthentic Philly cheese steak from room service (at $14.00 before taxes, surcharge and tip, it was the cheapest thing on the menu and came without the promised fried onions).

The sound of my typing is being drowned out by yelling and the relentless cacophony of sirens on the street below, despite the fact that I am on one of the top floors of what was reportedly Philadelphia's first skyscraper.

I am having a weird day.

My departure for Philadelphia this morning was a bit fraught, the usual clutter and chaos being compounded by last minute additions to the Hallowe'en costumes (D. is going as Wolverine and S. went to school as a hippie and will be dressing up as Sarah Palin - not my idea - this evening. Last night, he was hobbling around the house with one hand on his hip, chirping "You betcha!"). I spent a good twenty minutes looking for the theatrical makeup (for Wolverine's facial hair and a peace symbol for the hippie), only to find it in the very first place I had looked, buried under a pile of rubble.

I managed to get out the door only slightly later than planned and, after 15 minutes of desperate waving, finally snagged a cab.

I sailed through airport check-in (did you know that there is a charge for every piece of luggage now?) and security and got into the line for US Immigration. I always get really nervous when I have to go through Customs or Immigration (doesn't matter which direction), even though I never try to smuggle or hide anything. When the only female worker waved me over for my turn, I was pleased, convinced that she would be more likely to be sympathetic to the purpose of my trip.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

Agent: "What is the purpose of your trip to Philadelphia?"

Me: "I'm going to a conference."

Agent: "What kind of conference?"

Me: "Breast cancer..."

Agent: "What's your job?"

Me: "I am a researcher with a union."

Agent: "Then why are you going to this conference?"

Me: "I'm a survivor."

That's when it started to fall apart. I babbled (I do this when I am nervous) something about it being organized by Living Beyond Breast Cancer and that it was called, "News You Can Use."

And then I told her that I was on disability (I am quite sure that I meant to say something else).

Agent: "How long have you been on disability?"

Me: "Ummm...since I was diagnosed...April 2006." (this is inaccurate but I was really flailing at this point).

Then I pulled myself together and said, clearly and forcefully: "But I have a good job to go back to and my insurance company pays x percent of my wage."

Agent: "OK."

Wow. I don't know if I've managed to convey her hostility but she really was very hostile.

I was shaking a little bit afterwards.

On the flight, I sat beside M., a very nice engineer from Alabama. We talked the whole way about Canadian winters (he had spent a winter in Ontario and enjoyed it), kids, blended families, the book I'm reading (Guantanamo's Child by Michelle Shephard) and life in general. I even took a stab at explaining what it means to live in a Constitutional Monarchy and the Canadian and provinicial electoral systems.

M., an employee of the US military, expressed his frustration that, in his opinion, dissent has come to be equated with a lack of patriotism in his country (he also said that the only part of the constitution with which he didn't agree was the right to bear arms).

He also said that he's hopeful that Obama will be elected and that he will bring about real and positive change ("these things don't happen overnight"), if he can build bridges and start work on some concrete projects (he used "energy independence" as an example).

I don't usually chat on planes but M. was a very cool seat mate and the 90 minute trip passed quickly (despite the fact that we weren't offered so much as a glass of water).

At the Philadelphi airport, I grabbed my bag and made my way to the taxi stand. When I announced my destination, the driver said, "I don't know if I can get you all the way there because of the parade."

The World Series parade! In the middle of the day! On Hallowe'en!

It wasn't long before we came apon the diverse (in every way imaginable), festive and very boisterous crowds.

We drove until we literally could go no further. I relinquished my cab to an incredibly happy young couple.

"Do you have to work today?" I was asked sympathetically.

I replied, "I just got here, I'm from Canada!"


I wish sports could make me that happy.

I watched people dancing and singing, cheering and drinking. I saw strangers hug each other as they passed on the street and I saw a couple of gratuitous acts of vandalism.

Walking agains the flow of human traffic, I bravely made my way to the hotel (there were four large security guys standing outside, each with their eyes as wide as dinner plates) and checked in. I immediately went out again for wine and food. I secured the wine but quickly deduced that the only way I was going to eat was if I ordered room service (every restaurant within miles was packed or closed).

And now I find myself, a few hours later (I interrupted this post for a nap and a shower), typing in my pajamas, with a glass of wine by my side. I am starting to feel hungry again but don't really feel like venturing out again.

I don't feel like facing the last of the revelers. Or the sirens.

And I really don't feel like getting dressed.

Maybe I still have some trail mix in my bag.

You'll be hearing a lot from me this month. NaBloPoMo starts tomorrow (which is why my laptop is with me and the reason I am paying $10.95/day for internet. It's not because I'm addicted. Really).


jacqueline said...

oh dear!!! i hope things are more chilled tomorrow and sunday in philly. we can't wait to see you!!!.

Dee said...

Have a marvelous time in Philly! I hope the crowds and the noise quiets down so you can really enjoy yourself!

deb said...

ok, your post made me laugh and cry at the same time. how DO you do that??? have a fab time...totally forgot about the conference! can't wait for the updates.

nonlineargirl said...

Sounds like an intense start to your trip.

Mom2Amara said...

I want to hear more about your digs in Philly! It looked way cool.