Just Another Bitch on the Bus

When students came to my classes on the first day of the semester, they were not assigned seats, and over the years, I had ample opportunity to observe them as they filtered into the room looking for familiar faces and sat with other students they knew. Some sat apart from the others until they latched on to someone with whom they shared something in common. For the first week they tended to sit in those same seats they sat in on the first day, tacitly claiming them as “theirs.” Pretty much all the students followed suit in that same implicit way.

By week two, it was less likely that anyone was going to move into ”someone else’s” seat, even when that person didn’t show up for class.

By week three, you couldn’t pry students from their unassigned seats with a crowbar.

I was reminded of my former students three years ago when Bill and I went overseas with our good friends, Joe and Mary Jane. We traveled part of the time on a bus going from place to place, and it occurred to me that bus riders behaved the same way. Even when they were stuck in seats they didn’t particularly like, they were loathe to encroach on what they perceived as another person’s territory.

Most of the time, but not always.

To ensure you’d get your proper seat back upon returning to the bus, individuals used water bottles, sweaters, town maps, anything they had handy to mark their territory – unlike other creatures of the natural world that use urine for that same purpose.

If you’ve ever watched sheep in the fields, you know they take their cue from the sheep in the lead. The first one to turn in any direction is followed by one, then another, until the whole flock is moving in the same direction. Cartoons depict actions like this as groups of animated characters blindly following their leader across a cliff, but this happens in real life, too. Remember Jim Jones, Charles Manson, Hitler, any number of leaders of religious cults?

Students coming to class the first week or two.

Our last stop of the day before returning to the riverboat was an ancient village some distance from the river where we were docked. After our tour, we had free time to roam around on our own, then wend our way back to the bus on the edge of town for our return. Bill and I arrived before Joe and Mary Jane and attempted to save the seats they’d sat in all day and which were across the aisle from ours. As there were no assigned seats, seats were technically up for grabs any time we disembarked and returned, though our guide said we could leave our things on the seats because the bus would be locked. Like the students in my class, everyone tended to return to the same seats each time they got back on the bus. If there was a mistake made regarding possession, the person who’d had the seat previously got it back.

It was going to be a long return trip to the riverboat, and we tried to save our friends’ seats, putting our jackets on them. When a couple of interlopers tried to sit in the seats we laid claim to, Bill said in a friendly way that they were taken, as the woman had never even asked. Responding to Bill’s attempt to save the seats with a venomous tone Bill generally does not take well from anyone, the wife became demanding, insistent, and rude. Her docile husband never opened his mouth. We’d seen these people off and on all week long; they were always on their own and seemed not to have made friends with anyone. Frankly, it was not difficult to imagine why.

I was amazed Bill didn’t tell her off – or rather, shove her off the bus. Bill’s request to save those seats for our friends, who would have to move several seats away, was met with pure disdain. However, Bill proved to be a model of self-restraint, the likes of which are rarely seen. When we told our traveling companions what happened, Mary Jane’s only comment was “Just another bitch on the bus.”

Classic Mary Jane: honest and direct. Funny, too – she’s knows how to lighten up a moment and deaden a fuse.

Like Nathaniel Benchley once said, most people are sheep. They do what everyone else does and they are not amenable to, or perhaps leery of, change of any kind. But occasionally you’ll run across that “bitch on the bus” and best to tread with care when you do.

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The Earth Beneath Our Feet

Laura and I have done some house-sitting in both California’s exclusive enclave of Montecito, known for the celebrities who live there, and Santa Barbara with its beautiful harbor, the Channel Islands off the coast, and the Pacific Ocean beyond. The city’s backdrop is formed by the Santa Ynez Mountains and its foothills, lit at night by lights from isolated homes dotting their landscape.

Other homes can be seen from the vantage point we occupy on top of one of these foothills, but they are well below the house we are currently minding. Save for the insects, the coyotes, and the sporadic warning of a hissing rattler poised to strike, we are out of easy reach in a realm of total silence.

A few minutes past midnight our first night there, we are awakened by a chorus of frenzied coyotes howling and barking. Within a few seconds everything begins to roll and shake.

It’s a minor earthquake, a tremor. A presentiment of possibly something more, something bigger to come.

Like the earth beneath our feet, relationships are similarly subject to tremors, warning signs that something might be amiss. And it doesn’t always take much to cause that rolling, shaking feeling. Sometimes we are subjected to little “digs” that ordinarily engender a halfhearted laugh, and we move on. But when these become more pointed, too frequent, or are delivered at the wrong time, the brief, deflective chuckle morphs into something less chuckle-worthy and more disturbing. One’s disappointment over this seemingly innocuous form of what feels like bullying should be enough to discourage a repeat of this offense.

And if it doesn’t? If the pattern of bullying or neglect continues, despite one’s pleas for reform? What message does that kind of disregard, and the tremors it causes, send? The underlying problems take on weight and begin feeling more like earthquakes shaking the solid foundations on which one thought they had been standing.

A bit rattled initially, you manage to dismiss it. But it’s disheartening to be summarily dismissed or not taken seriously. To feel that what you want, or you yourself, isn’t important. That your feelings don’t matter at all. Bullies will tell you it’s all “in good fun,” but when they push you to the point of anger, it doesn’t seem very funny, does it? It’s not a punch in the stomach or a derogatory remark, necessarily, but it’s bullying just the same.

If you’re doing or saying something that is clearly not appreciated, why keep doing it?

Disappointment becomes frustration, then anger, and causes a disengagement that takes on a permanence you failed to anticipate. The message you send says 1) you don’t take this seriously, and 2) how the recipient feels about your message isn’t important. That message conveyed may be unintended, but that is the message just the same.

We can’t play with people’s feelings, then say we didn’t mean it.

A tremor is a warning that puts us on notice. Worse things may come if we don’t heed the message it sends. The next time might be one too many. Consecutive incidents chip away at the foundation of your relationship, and each nick requires more effort to overcome the pain it inflicts. The crack becomes a chasm, and you perch on its edge watching everything get sucked into its black hole from which nothing is any longer salvageable. When we fail to heed the warning signs, when we become inattentive to our surroundings and the individuals in them, bad things can – and will – happen.

Last night’s tremor was a reminder that things could have been, and might still get, worse should we fail to do all we can to obviate problems that might arise from our disregard or complacency.

There’s a reason they’re called warning signs.

Everything and Nothing

While en route home from a three-week vacation trip, it seems I left one of my notebooks on the plane stuffed into the seat pocket of the person in front of me. Tight quarters being what they are these days, I’m surprised I didn’t notice, given the 8 ½ x 11 notepad stuck out at the top. My reading glasses, pen, and book were also there, so I’m at a total loss as to explain how I could have left that notebook behind. I would rather have left an arm behind than that notebook.

I had written two blogs and had a solid start on an essay on those pages. I’m sick to my stomach just thinking about it, in tears even. Every single writer reading these words knows exactly how I feel.

In the larger scheme of things, this is nothing, really. Yet in this particular moment it is everything. Everything and nothing at the same time.

And I have to say that it’s all right to over-react, an accusation some might like to make. Not everything has to be compared to the worst thing that might have happened. Not everything, regardless how small, has to be minimized either. Not every smaller event or setback can compare in importance to the larger things in life, but that doesn’t mean littler things don’t count in one moment in time or another. They weigh in differently, but that doesn’t mean they don’t count. Especially if they have a space of some significance in one’s life, however momentary that might be or how irrelevant to someone else.

Life isn’t all or nothing. It’s made up of loads of both big and little things. If a truly big thing had happened, I would be devastated. And no, I’m not devastated, but it is a blow to have lost those words, those thoughts, and the direction they were pointing me in at that specific moment. Moments like that don’t always arrive on time and sometimes not at all,  and the thing is, I don’t recall where they were taking me. Where they had brought me. So much information was processed between my having written them and my searching for them now. I wrote them down and put them away for later digestion. I thought they were safe.

But my brain was on overload the entire time we were gone. We were in Greece, in Israel, in Naples, Pompeii, and Rome. Cities of Antiquity, the Holy Land. There was so much to see and do. So much information to absorb. So many cobblestones to negotiate and cross.

So that which I wrote along the way was set aside as new things were being processed. I wasn’t worried about it. I’d get back to it, polish it off, and send it out when I got home.

Only it wasn’t there when I got home, was it.

I have turned the house and the car inside out three or four times, but I’m going to have to stop now so I can move forward again. Whether it’s writing about something or doing something, there comes a point when we have to move on. Do something else. Let go.

Obviously, I’ve had a bit of trouble letting go. I was hopeful I could write this and get it out of my system by doing so. If you could see how red my fingers are from holding on so tightly, how precious little tension has been assuaged by searching the same places over and over again, how stress lines have formed on my forehead as I sit here going over the possibilities and looking for new places to search, places where I still might find the notebook that’s surely waiting to be rescued.

Letting go? You can see how well that’s worked out.

On the Road to Nowhere

We didn’t do the Willie Nelson “On the Road Again” thing that might have taken us on the back-country roads of West Virginia, Kentucky, or their equivalent. Nor did we go anywhere as exotic as Mandalay (in Myanmar, aka Burma) about which Frank Sinatra sang in “On the Road to Mandalay.” But we did drive to Scranton, PA, Bill’s hometown, this past weekend to spend time with family and old friends – a combination package, more or less. Not exotic, not even what one might call exciting. But its nostalgic quotient brought to mind pleasant memories and funny stories of Bill’s youth. I’d heard most of them before, but each time we go, there’s one more thing exposed that I didn’t know. Or maybe forgot; who can say for sure?

We took my car, a Honda Accord, because the manual transmission is easier on fuel than his Acura. And the Accord has, at the moment, much lower mileage because it’s newer, a 2016, though if we keep taking it on these excursions, my numbers will rival the Acura’s quicker than I would hope.

Plus we’d had a navigation system installed (Bill’s car, of course, has had one in his) though it’s not as if we didn’t know where we were going. But its operation has offered somewhat of a learning curve, and I was using this trip to get better acquainted with its gazillion components. An overstatement, perhaps, but I’ve been left in the dust and on the side of the road like sagebrush in a desert as far as technology is concerned, so any opportunity to better the prospects of not getting lost or dying of hunger because I can’t locate a restaurant – with a navigation system, no less – are welcomed.

Frustrating, to the max, but welcomed. A challenge, so to speak.

On my system, street signs pop up at the top of the screen and blink out of existence when they near the bottom. That’s where our doppelgänger – the arrow – remains fairly constant. When the last one disappeared, there was nothing left but two pale orange strips indicating a divided highway endlessly threading a path through what appeared to be a vacuous “Beyond.”

I felt like I did when I drove through big ranch country in Wyoming. Or through Utah, in another world on another planet. Even in Kansas one sees the occasional silo off in the distance, or the intermittent Stuckey’s pit stop shop that pops up occasionally in this two-dimensional world.

If you’ve never gotten excited at the prospect of what looks like a building off in the distance, then you’ve never driven through Kansas on Interstate 70 and been thrilled at the prospect of stopping at a Stuckey’s. Looked forward to it with anticipation. Snacks, trinkets, souvenirs, gas, restrooms – what’s not to love about the place? Answer: Everything, unless you happen to be driving across Kansas.

If you’re in luck, or having a bad day depending on your point of view, the ennui that develops on this stretch of highway might also be broken by the tornados for which Kansas is well-known. At least they serve to keep your eyes from glazing over due to the sameness of it all. But if you’re driving, and getting into a center hall, a bathtub, or a basement is not in the cards for you, look for a ditch you can lie down in. When my granddaughter, Kearsti, and I drove to California once instead of flying, there were five tornados in our general area, but no ditches, not that I could have seen one in that blinding downpour. Kansas was anything but boring that day.

My first, and only, trip across that portion of The Great Plains, referred to as The Dust Bowl in the 1930s for good reason, was in 1975 with my then husband, Dick and our three children. To relieve the monotony, we made a game out of identifying license plates – could we get all 50 states? And who could win by spotting the most? We rated rest area restrooms – some interesting comments there. We didn’t have seat belts then and the kids would either hang over the back of the front seats, argue, or take naps: one took the floor (with pillows for “the hump” that accommodated the rear wheel drive shaft, one got the seat, the third got the back window sill – more accurately known as the parcel tray or package shelf (though I like “ledge” better). They rotated positions regularly to keep the peace.

If traffic and drivers’ attitudes had been then what they are now, none of us would likely have made it beyond the age of 40.

Stuckey’s was, by far, the highlight of that day, and it took all day to get across it.

Our avatar, the arrow, indicates movement. We go here. We go there. And where do we get? According to our nav map – nowhere.

But things are not always what they appear to be on the surface. Not always what they look like or what you expect.

It looked like we were going nowhere, but here’s where nowhere led us.

It led to Bill’s youngest brother, Mark, and his wife, Tina, who live in Dunmore, a Scranton suburb. It led to Sibio’s where we joined their sister, Elizabeth, and her husband, Roger for a fabulous Italian dinner and spent a wonderful family-centered evening together.

It led to, as Proust phrased it, “A Remembrance of Things Past.” Driving through old-style neighborhoods where it’s still safe for kids to walk at night. Where big old homes are close together in compact neighborhoods that allow neighbors to look in your windows and talk to each other over fences or yards that seamlessly grow into one another. Everyone knows virtually everyone else’s business and if they don’t, they have no qualms about asking – they’ve all known each other for years, watched each other’s kids grow up, shared the joys of marriages and births, and grieved together over deaths. These neighborhoods comprise large extended families. So unlike the divisive, sprawling neighborhoods of today where you’re lucky if you’ve even met the person who’s lived next to you for the last five or ten years.

Sometimes we think we’re getting nowhere, but if we keep to the road long enough, we do get somewhere. Maybe not where we’d planned to go, but isn’t half the fun of going anywhere to be found in the journey itself? If we make the most of our time – and the ways of contributing to our own or someone else’s well-being are numerous and can be enlightening, fun, cathartic – it will be time well-spent. What it takes is making a commitment to put something into or get something out of the moment we find ourselves in.

To do that, to be a positive contributor to the path we are on, we must understand that what we see in the mirror (of our bathroom or our car, though not while we’re driving, – or on the map screen itself) doesn’t necessarily reflect what it appears to. There’s always more one cannot, or perhaps refuses to, see. We must look further, dig deeper.

Clear your mind of the garbage accumulated over a lifetime. Look with fresh eyes and keep those eyes open, and give whatever moment you are in your best self.

A good thing to keep in mind, and not just when you’re traveling.

 

Up Close and Personal

I have a phobia. Well, okay, so I have more than one. Who doesn’t? And this one is a biggie – SPIDERS. I hate the way their legs move in a stealthy manner wherever they go, always leaving a silken thread to mark their territory. Yes, I know it’s not deliberate in the full sense of that word, but they do creep along one or two legs at a time making them seem all the more…intentional…in their behavior, and I find this supremely troubling.

Just finding one hanging from one of those threads fills me with waves of anxiety. Yes, I do scream on occasion because I’m startled. Like, almost every time. And I feel them sometimes when they’re not even there – but might be. Go ahead and call me a scaredy-cat. Sticks and stones may break my bones but, as the saying goes, names will never hurt me. Spiders might, though. You never know.

I’d like to blame Stephen King for my inordinate fear, but I was afraid of spiders long before I ever heard of him. He was having nightmares about spiders whose webs he turned into gold while my fear was fine-tuned by personal experience, not dreams that blew away like dusty, old cobwebs when the sun rose in the morning.

I went swimming this morning, clocking in at just over a mile which I do at least once a week. Even while I’m counting laps, my mind chases words and ideas around and I must juggle the two (or three or four) simultaneously. Mental gymnastics that work sometimes but not others. This morning I wasn’t focused on anything. Just enjoying a forest of trees on the other side of the massive windows and watching the sun rise to pour its light over the water and play on its surface.

After my shower, I reach in my locker to retrieve my gym bag, and that’s when I see it. A small spider suspended in mid-air a couple of inches from the inside of my elbow. Way too close for comfort. Jumping back, I barely suppress a scream, and a woman in front of the mirror asks “What’s the matter?”

It’s a mosquito, I say – more to make myself believe it than to convince her. I needed to believe that’s what it was, but there was something about the way it moved when I moved. As if my movement away from it drew the air it was in, toward me. It, like a spider rather than a mosquito, was moving with me and in my direction.

You can imagine my dismay.

Jumping back a step, I almost fall over the bench behind me while watching it move in mid-air laterally across the row of lockers before disappearing, its color an effective camouflage against the grayish, nondescript lockers providing its backdrop. A mosquito would do that. Setting my bag down on the bench, I looked it over carefully but didn’t want to set alarms bells ringing in the woman who was saying she could deal with a spider better than a mosquito because she was “a mosquito magnet” and always getting bitten.

Still, better a mosquito than a spider, I’m thinking. Hurriedly grabbing her things, she leaves, and I’m left to fight the battle with myself and the spider/mosquito on my own.

As I was drying my hair I kept wondering where he/she/it (covering the PC bases here) had gone, though I doubt much that he/she/it would care one way or the other. Was it too much to ask that it not be there when I turned around and gathered my things to leave?

Getting into my car, I set my bag on the seat at the same time scanning it and everything else, just in case I’d missed it somehow. I’ve heard of people having a car wreck because of finding a spider in the car, and honestly, I could envision that happening to me, too. I wanted no surprises once I was on the road.

You always have to worry when you’re in the car because spiders, pregnant ones, have the ability to find their way in via the vents, if nowhere else. And if they give birth inside – well, you can guess the rest. This happened to my daughter Laura once when she and a friend got in her car and turned on the defrost, blasting hundreds of baby spiders out of the defroster and onto the windshield (on the inside, naturally) which said spiders chose to ascend, crawling onto the roof above their heads, and – that’s right – dropping down on those glistening threads while Laura and Anna were swatting at them left and right and having hysterics which who knows how many people witnessed in that parking lot at Chapel Hill. They spent the trip home gazing at the roof instead of the street and were lucky to make it back in one piece.

An apartment I once had in an old house a long time ago had a nest of spiders, too. When those babies were hatched, were born, or whatever, I, Ms. Scaredy-Cat, suffered a full-on case of paranoia in that awful moment of clarity that began when I saw tiny little white figures writhing on my dark blue comforter. I couldn’t understand at first, but with great trepidation, looked upward and found hundreds more wending their way down on those ropes of silken threads.

Spiders are insidious creatures. Just last week I opened the trunk of my car to put something in it only to find an even bigger, uglier, more purposeful spider doing somersaults from the trunk’s lid as I raised it. I’m sprouting goosebumps just from the memory of it as I write this. It curled up its multiple legs/tentacles, seemingly independent of each other, and rolled itself into a loose ball before letting itself down a bit on its silver thread (matching the color of my car, I noted, which would have made it harder to see if the trunk interior hadn’t been black). Then it began swinging back and forth.

A nightmare in broad daylight.

Stephen King wrote a lot of his stories based on his childhood nightmares, and spiders prominently figured in at least two of them – It, a novel, and “The Mist,” a short story/novella in Skeleton Crew. If spiders didn’t bother you before, read these and they will now. Have a big can of bug spray (FYI: they make some specifically for spiders) and a roll of paper towels at the ready, too. I never use Kleenex tissues for vanquishing enemy spiders unless I have nothing else, and even then I grab at least 7 or 8 of them so I won’t be able to feel them through the layers of Kleenex.

Some of you might be wondering if I’ve ever seen that stellar film, Arachnophobia. Surely, you jest.

And for the record, I don’t do snakes either.

Star Struck

Robert DeNiro’s in town to visit his mother who is in the Cleveland Clinic (this was several years ago). My daughter’s favorite actor in all the world. She’d do anything to get a glimpse of him. So when she hears he’ll be at the Art Museum to view the Italian exhibit, she calls and asks when.

WHEN?

“Mom, Robert DeNiro’s at the Art Museum? Yeah, the Cleveland Art Museum. Let’s go up there.”

“To Cleveland? Now?” It’s early in the evening but getting dark early, and I’m, you could say, less than enthused about the idea.

“Yes, he’s there right now.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I called and the guy said he just went in.”

She’d called. I’m not surprised.

“Well, it’ll take maybe an hour or two to see everything.”

“If you won’t go with me, I’m going by myself.”

“No, no. Okay, I’ll go with you.”

Within 10 minutes we’re flying along 77 North heading toward our rendezvous, her rendezvous, with Robert DeNiro. We’re thirty minutes out and counting.

Practically jumping out of the car before it even stops moving, we run through the front doors, probably looking like the crazed stalkers we are at that moment.

“Where is he?” she gasps, nearly out of breath, the end result of running from the parking lot coupled with anticipation.

“Who?” The young man taking tickets asks.

“Robert DeNiro. I called earlier and they told me he’d just gone into the gallery to see the exhibit.”

“Oh, yeah. He was only here about 10 minutes. Then he left.”

“Left? He’s gone?” Her disappointment and disbelief are clear, palpable.

Having psyched myself up for this meeting, even if it’s just a glimpse, I’m disappointed, too. But I’m also wondering how he could have spent so little time in this special exhibit of Italian art? He’s Italian; why make the effort then rush through, not taking the time to really see what he’s looking at? To absorb each piece of art and wonder why this subject, why these colors, what is this meant to reflect? Did he go “just for show”? Just because of his Italian heritage? So he could tell his mother he went? Or to give the illusion of a depth of interest that he wanted to project but doesn’t possess?

Laura and I looked at each other. We’d risked speeding tickets and being sideswiped, jettisoning our self-respect and dignity like groupies at a concert – all for a room now devoid of his presence. Gone – that quickly. It was hard to fathom.

And if that weren’t bad enough, we got lost on the way home, of all places on a stretch of E. 55th St. that appeared almost abandoned and rather run-down. I finally pulled into a gas station and asked for help getting to the highway, any highway, just to get out of this part of town.

A man stepped up to the door and asked what the problem was.

“You know you’re in a bad area, don’t you? You shouldn’t be here. It’s not safe.”

Well no, we didn’t know that exactly, but we had noticed some disturbing changes as we put one block after the other behind us. The streets were relatively barren of cars and people. Each abandoned intersection we went through engendered a feeling of being unwilling participants in a Stephen King story where nearly the entire population of a town inexplicably disappears, leaving only a handful of survivors hiding in fear of things both seen and not seen.

The sky was dark, and a deeply eerie feeling settled in like a thick fog, creeping along the sidewalks and obscuring the way. Traffic lights continued to blink red and green but few cars were on the street and even fewer businesses were doing any, their windows boarded up, their doors permanently locked.

We explained our dilemma, and he told us how to get back, leaving us with some cautionary advice: This is not a good area for two women alone to be in, especially at night. Slow down only at intersections, and if there are no other cars, do not stop for red lights. Don’t stop for anything until you get to the highway, and you’ll be all right.

We certainly hadn’t expected that, but this wasn’t the first time we’d done something on the spur of the moment only to laugh at the missteps and problems we created for ourselves by going off the grid and doing something “normal” people don’t do. And we do laugh; we have a great time every time we do the unexpected and have ourselves a real adventure.

There is a lot to be said for the fun and unexpected surprises you can experience if you’re open to being spontaneous. We are always truly present in the moment we are in, even if that means living some of those moments on the edge because that’s so often where real living takes place.

In Case I Get Pulled Over

I took a trip to Cleveland a couple of weeks back, and though it sounds like I travelled to Burma or someplace equally distant, Cleveland, Ohio is only about 30 miles from my house. This trip was a reconnaissance mission.

I don’t do Cleveland unless I have no other alternative. That is to say, I don’t drive in the city itself. Oh, I have on occasion, but I avoid it whenever possible as I would avoid a case of Norovirus. The one-way streets, the heavier than Akron traffic, and traffic patterns that don’t always make sense – my knuckles turn white at the thought of it.

About three weeks ago, Bill said it would help him out if I drove him to Cleveland because he had work to do in three different places, two of which were sorely lacking available parking spots near his destination. And there was no guarantee an empty space in a lot or on the street could be found at the time of his appointments. It was supposed to rain that day, too, making the whole thing more time-consuming and difficult. I, the loving, dutiful, helpful wife of long-standing said yes, I’d help out.

But it was a qualified yes. I wanted a dry run to Cleveland in the middle of a Sunday morning when traffic, and the problems they cause, would be at a minimum. Bill drove so I could take notes. The GPS in the car is great but it doesn’t know everything, like what streets are temporarily blocked off, etc., and I wanted to see the layout for myself instead of watching an arrow or a miniscule car on a map of lines where not every street is identified – and inconvenient detours are definitely not.

Sunday came and I dressed casually, but nicely, though it wasn’t a matter of where I was going. After all, I wouldn’t be getting out of the car once I got there. But you never know when you might be pulled over and told to “Exit the vehicle ma’am,” so what I wore took on some significance in the event something unforeseen occurred.

I imagined detours here, no left turns there, and one-way streets always going in the wrong direction. That might be one paper bag I couldn’t punch my way out of, and poor Bill would cut a sorry figure standing on a corner in the rain, on hold, while I tried to find my way back.

Various scenarios came to mind should I be pulled over for something, say, driving too slowly, though city streets are 25 mph at best. It was conceivable I might be accused of…

  1. Loitering – lingering, seemingly aimlessly, in or about a place. Would an officer of the law believe the story I had to tell about how I happened to be, in his words, loitering. That tale, ridiculous on the face of it, would surely sound like I was lying. Hiding something more evil than even he could imagine. Wearing nice clothes, appearing well-groomed, and wearing an innocent, genial face would aid his belief in the veracity of the tale I was telling.
  2. Suspicious Activity – suspecting I was up to no good and possessed of criminal intent because he’d seen the same car driving around the same area in the same pattern a number of times. Checking for easy places to commit a robbery or, worse, looking for a place to perpetrate an act of terrorism. It’s not as if I’m sitting behind the wheel wearing a mask to obviate identification or obscuring telltale fingerprints with gloves. More than ever, I could see that clothes, and demeanor, matter.
  3. Having a wary look – one that signals I’m hiding something or engaged in illegal activity or its prelude, and trying not to show it. When all the while, the fear that grips me is making a turn that irrevocably changes my route, sending me down some street I have not rehearsed.

It’s all about blending into your surroundings, so I’m making an effort to look normal and respectable and driving Bill’s Acura, a subdued but respectable sort of car. Not a rent-a-wreck but not a flashy, statement-making Bentley either. If you don’t make an effort to become one with the tapestry, you could easily end up like the man from the United Arab Emirates who came to the Cleveland Clinic because he’d had a stroke and found himself wrestled to the ground and cuffed, whereupon he suffered a second stroke. And it happened because he didn’t think about what he was wearing, choosing on that day the traditional long Arab robe and headdress. The result was a fearful hotel receptionist calling a relative to express her fear and her relative calling authorities.

Welcome to America and the new world we live in – and they say we don’t profile here.

Yes, I could be pulled over. I could be detained, too, should something unplanned happen. Therefore, I don’t want to look suspicious. I don’t want to look slovenly. I don’t want to look like I don’t care what others think. And I don’t want to look nervous, even when I am. Dress and attitude count, and they count big time, whether that’s politically correct to say or not.

Here’s what I discovered in my practice runs. The next street after 9th Street in downtown Cleveland is 12th Street, and I can’t make a left between them. If we hadn’t come for a dry-run (that turned into three), I might still be searching for 10th and 11th. In addition, I learned that while the Courthouse run would be relatively easy, the location on Prospect would not. I’d have to be super-vigilant in that area.

D-Day. A last-minute addition, the Cuyahoga County Administrative Office on E. 9th Street. was now our first destination. Easy-peasy. An empty parking space opened up on the street less than a block from the building, and we surfed right on in. Twenty minutes later, we were on our way again. After dropping Bill at his second stop, the courthouse, I only drove my designated route once before I found a parallel parking space, a nice roomy one, in front of the DoubleTree Hotel on Lakeside Drive. I put in several quarters and waited for my summons, Bill’s call, relieved I didn’t have to drive the path he’d outlined on Sunday an undetermined number of times.

Feeling more comfortable and, dare I say, braver, I later parallel parked the car on Prospect when a space, considerably less facile in which to maneuver, opened up after my second go-round. But once I put some change in the meter, I got out to investigate my surroundings, venturing into Tower City (a shadow of its former self) before wandering by the Hard Rock Café, the J.A.C.K. Casino, the Hyde Park Grill, and Morton’s Steakhouse. I know their proximity signals they’re all in one tiny corner of the city. So what? How many of you knew that before I told you? I take solace in already knowing how to get to Playhouse Square, to Channel 8’s Studios (unless they’ve moved since way back then), and the Cleveland Art Museum. Now I can add these places to that list, though knowing is not exactly doing.

I can get there by myself – but only if I have to.