Monday, March 23, 2020

Philadelphia, here I was...

Just before I left for my annual “urban infusion” month – this time my New Thing would be Philadelphia – my friend Barbara asked, “Do you ever get nervous? Arriving in a place all by yourself?”

Nervous? Not at all. I get catatonic. I vibrate with anxiety. I shake and quake and wonder why I put myself in this position, no one had a gun to my head. Whoever thought it would be “fun” to explore a new Big City on my own?

And that was before I was walking into a virus.

When Barbara and I had our conversation, my big fear was not the train from the airport to Center City, Philadelphia – I already had that covered in my head – it was getting from the train station to the VRBO apartment. Should I try Lyft?
Oh, no! remember how the Lyft guy couldn’t find where you were in Toronto? Three Lyft drivers abandoned you because you weren’t where it said you were?
And what about the VRBO place? Remember the apartment in New York where you walked in and all the mailboxes were vandalized or rusted? Even Barbara said that would be too much for her. Or the place in London; when it got dark, you realized you didn’t know where the light switches were? I called that being unglued and unstuck.
So why do I do this? I do it because it’s fun … ultimately. I think of all those British movies, the ones where a cup of tea cures every ill. They say things like “needs must.” If something has to be done, and you don’t like it, it doesn’t matter: “needs must.” The daunting things have to happen for the fun things to happen later.

And I had LOTS of fun things planned: art workshops, tours, author programs, films, lectures – I voraciously feast on culture. I get LOTS of tickets. For Philadelphia, I had a ticket to hear Hilary Mantel launch the third book in her trilogy, a ticket to the Cashore Marionettes, a ticket for a free book binding workshop, Opening Night of the Jewish Film Festival. I was loaded!

But by the night before my flight, the virus was looming. I was walking into an unknown apartment with no vast pantry of food supplies, no trove of Alaskan camping food or fish in the freezer. What if I were stuck there for 14 days? What if I were stuck all by myself without things that occupy me: books, to-dos, art supplies, clutter? What if I felt as bad as I did after my recent bout with pneumonia?

So I had a Plan B: I would phone my sister Elizabeth and head to her home in Massachusetts. I could do this Philadelphia thing.

Well, of course, NOW we all know how stupid that was.

My usual first step in my Big City adventures is to get a transit pass and head to the public library and get a library card. At the Free Library of Philadelphia, I started a conversation with a librarian: “Which room will the author visit be in?” “I think that’s canceled.” Sure enough, their website marked it as canceled. An hour into my month.

Thus began the onslaught of emails. First were the ones describing how much they were cleaning and sterilizing and providing hand sanitizer. Then came the “wait and see” emails, things were happening. Then the cancellations and closures, but you all have seen this progression, too.

Within two days, every single event I had planned was canceled … and I was stuck in a strange city where I knew no one. I tried to go to a museum, but anxiety stuck in my throat and I thought, “What am I doing?!?”

I called my sister. She came and got me. She rescued me. I am home now in 14-day self-quarantine because I came back into Alaska from out of state. Delta got me home with no change fees, my VRBO landlady refunded my rent, my daughter is in lock-down in San Francisco, and Tim is right here with me. I could kiss the ground.

Right now, I “needs must” stay away from people, wash my hands for 20 seconds, wipe all strange surfaces. I “needs must” reach out to other people in Zoom-y ways, buy take-out to keep restaurants alive, and not touch my face.

This is way more anxiety-producing than arriving in a strange city all by myself, but you’re all arriving in this strange city, too. This time, we’re all traveling together.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Monopoly of the Third Third

Did your Monopoly game have wooden houses and hotels or plastic ones? And are they green and red?

Did your Monopoly have a cannon as a token piece to move around the board? Or an iron? A wheelbarrow? A thimble? And pewter ones, not golden?

Did your Monopoly have yellow Community Chest cards? Were Mediterranean and Baltic purple?

Alas, the Monopoly of our First Third is no more, and not just because of all those variations (Boston-opoly, Big Bang Theory Monopoly, National Parks Monopoly, etc etc etc). Not only is Monopoly now cashless – with plastic debit cards! – but the newest involves voice banking. You press your token’s button and say, “Buy Park Place,” and your bank account is adjusted.

So, I asked, “How do kids learn how to make change without paper money?”

No one uses cash anymore? Oh.

One sister may have the Monopoly game we grew up with, but the box fell apart after all the masking tape holding it together dried up and fell off. Now it’s somewhere in a giant Macy’s gift box.

My Monopoly is a “deluxe” edition: my tokens are golden-colored and I have a steam locomotive, but my houses and hotels are still wooden. I think I requested it as a birthday present one year, but it suffered from two-on-one-itis and fell out of favor. (two-on-one-itis: when the other two greedy, cackling players gang up, make a deal, and leave you with nothing but going round and round until eventual bankruptcy).

During my month in London, I discovered a whole museum exhibition on board games. Monopoly was created in 1904 by Elizabeth Magie as The Landlord’s Game and was designed to illustrate the evils of exploitative landowners (yes, the ones who cackle when you land on their property). It was produced in the U.S. beginning in 1935.

More recently, my friend Steve blogged about playing Monopoly with his granddaughter, and he discovered the cashless version. So that’s what sparked my latest Monopoly investigations.

For example, during World War II, MI6 made a special Monopoly for POWs held by the Nazis. It had maps and compasses and real money hidden inside to help with escape attempts. Wow! And Neiman Marcus once sold a completely chocolate Monopoly – even chocolate money and deeds – for $600.

You can really go down an Internet rabbit hole about Monopoly: “speed dies” and documentaries, world championships and strategic analyses of which properties to buy. Even Monopoly metaphors: Don’t we all know what a “Get Out of Jail Free card” means? Or “Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.” It’s part of our language.

I once thought the most drastic change to Monopoly was when I first played with friends and they did that Free Parking jackpot thing: all the tax revenues get put there for the lucky lander. Well, the Free Parking jackpot has nothing on these variations:
  • Collecting $2 million at GO, not $200
  • Airports instead of railroads
  • Houses, hotels – and skyscrapers
  • Buying brands (not properties) 
I guess if you’ve been around since 1935 – not us! – you need a few makeovers now and then. Think of it this way: Monopoly is actually a great Third Third role model, creatively reinventing itself over and over again.

Yes, but the Monopoly my Third Third remembers will always be that Monopoly of my First Third. And yours?

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