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.


  1. Replies
    1. It was because of you that I knew I had to provide an update. Finally snapped out of my torpor...

  2. Replies
    1. I could kiss the ground ... my refrigerator stands on!

  3. Yes, we are all in a strange city. When does the fun start?


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