Saturday, September 25, 2010
120 Miles, 10 Stories, and 47 Years...
Monday, September 20th, was my 47th birthday. In typical fashion, I spent the day indulging myself… I worked at the office until noon, ran around Kingfield doing errands, flew home to take care of groceries and check emails, and then drove to Portland for a five p.m. meeting.
You’d think, by now, that I would be an accomplished city driver, wouldn’t you? After all, in the past ten months I’ve made no less than two dozen trips to places such as Bangor, Augusta, Freeport, Brunswick and Portland. In addition to those cities, I’ve driven to smaller Maine burgs like Greenville, Dixfield, Carthage, Bingham, Brighton and Jackson. Dover, Togus, Shirley and Blanchard. Rockwood, Waterville and Vienna (pronounced VYE-enna for those of you ‘from away’…)
Yep, I’ve done more highway driving this year than at any time in my life, so you’d think I’d have a handle on the intricacies of maneuvering in multi-laned traffic, wouldn’t you?
Wouldn’t you think?
Shouldn’t I have?
My meeting was in the office of a Portland attorney. When I asked for directions, he sent me a map of his parking garage. That’s not quite what I was looking for.
I explained to him that I was a country girl, and that I couldn’t find his parking garage without more explicit directions. In typical rural fashion, I expected written directions including easily recognizable landmarks… a big oak tree with a tire swing in it, a cemetery with an iron fence—that type of thing. And each landmark with exact mileage between them. Because--as hard as this is to believe—I get lost easily.
My friend took pity on me and ‘Google-mapped’ it… an online service which I never think of using. It looked NOTHING like the map of The FARM (seen here, and google-earthed by my pal Jack...)... still, I was grateful. I printed off the map and directions and went on my way after skimming down through the fifteen commands. Being a world-class traveler, I didn’t need the first eleven individual directions, since I knew how to take highway 295 South to Portland. Number twelve said “Take exit 7 for Franklin St/U.S. 1A.” No prob.
No problem except for the road construction that began between exits nine and eight. I was funneled left through cement barriers set apart at approximately the same width as exists between the driver’s side and passenger’s side doors of my truck. With maybe twelve inches to spare. I was beginning to understand why all the tractor-trailers had been re-routed back at exit ten… The barriers changed to cones immediately before the Franklin Street exit, and I hauled on the steering wheel and got off the freeway.
On the exit ramp I pulled out my printed directions and read number thirteen. “Merge onto Franklin Art/US-1 Alt N.” It also said, “Go 144 feet” but I missed that little bit, since it was way over on the right hand side of the page, and of course, it’s established fact that I’m left-handed. Anyway, I was on Franklin Art, and all I had to do was obey the Fourteenth Directive: “Turn Right on Marginal Way”. In light gray letters below it read “Destination will be on the right. About 1 min.”
About One Minute? What the heck did THAT mean?? How far does one drive in a minute? On the interstate, I can drive one and a quarter miles in a minute. On my gravel country lane, a little over a half-mile. Downtown Portland? Who knows? Did that take into account stops at traffic lights? And I didn’t see a single speed limit sign. How fast were we going? Judging by the number of horns being beeped, tapped and rudely laid upon, everyone else wanted to drive faster than I was driving as I peered this way and that looking for a sign that said “Marginal Way”.
What kind of a name is that, anyway? Marginal Way. Marginal. Trivial. Insignificant. Minor. Well, that was just great. No wonder I couldn’t find the danged road… it was so unimportant, it must not have warranted a sign!
I knew by the time I’d reached the waterfront, I’d gone too far. (That’s because I ran out of road, there, due to the Atlantic Ocean being in the way.) I turned around and went back up Franklin Art, knowing that this time I would need to turn left onto Marginal Way. If I could find the Way, that was. At a stop light I pulled out the first map I’d received from my friend… the floor plan of the parking garage where I was to leave my truck if I ever found the blasted office building. Written on the top of that paper were the words, “The building is a brick, 10-story building…”
Oh, for crying out loud. I glanced at the tall brick building ahead and to my left. I started counting windows. Before I was finished, horns started blatting all around me. The light was green. I inched through the intersection, still counting. Thirteen windows… thirteen stories. Darn it.
No ten story brick buildings in sight. I turned left at the next intersection, five p.m. traffic surging all around me. The canyon was dark. I pulled over to the curb, rolled down my window and hailed a pedestrian. The young man came over to the truck. I asked him where Marginal Way was. He pointed me in the proper direction… one right turn, one traffic light (“not blinking, but normal” he said sagely) at which I should turn right, again. I thanked him and drove off. One right turn. The next traffic light was a blinking one. Well, for Pete’s sake. Was I supposed to ignore it and go find myself a “normal” light? And what was up with all these rude horn-honkers behind me, anyway? I turned right at the blinking light. No ten story brick buildings in view. I stopped in the middle of the street and hollered “Excuse me?” to a lady who was walking her dog. “Marginal Way?” I asked. She pointed at a great big church at the foot of the hill and told me that Marginal Way was the road directly in front of it. Whew! I could SEE the church. I thanked her and drove on.
But see…. The street directly in front of the church was Franklin Art. Gosh darn it! I’d been driving around for 20 minutes, and my appointment was in another 15. I turned right onto Franklin Art, looking for Marginal Way at every intersection. Once more, I was brought up sharp by a rather large body of water. I drove around through the ferry terminal and back to Franklin Art. While I waited for the longest red light in the state of Maine, I counted the number of stories on every building I saw, brick or not. I mean, so far the directions had stunk, big time. Chances were good that the building wasn’t brick at all, but stucco, or concrete block! And why would a set of directions include the number of stories in a building, anyway? Surely, folks can’t drive through the city every day counting how many levels of windows there are on each building! And what if some of them are like my doctor’s office in Waterville, where the ground floor is considered the second story, and the basement is the first? Did that same set of warped rules pertain to the buildings in every city in Maine? Oh, man…. I’d already passed a building with nine rows of windows…
I was almost back to the end of Franklin Art so I turned left and drove into a parking lot across from the Whole Foods store. This time, I’d get out and ask directions, and take my map with me. This time, I wouldn’t have to rush. I could listen patiently, and ask for clarification if I didn’t understand! I parked next to the low professional building and walked up to the glass door. It was locked, but it looked like a side entrance, anyway, so I didn’t give up hope. I could see that the lights were on inside… I walked around the building and spied another door. A door with no door knob, no handle, no window. What the heck? What good is a door you can’t open? I followed the concrete sidewalk and came to a third door. No door knob. No handle. No window.
Back in the truck I tried my darnedest not to cry. I had five minutes to go before I was late for my appointment. I dug out my cell phone and called the attorney’s office. His receptionist told me he couldn’t take my call because he was meeting with clients. I was pretty sure those clients were the others in my party, but I didn’t want to argue.
“Maybe you can help me… I’m sitting outside Whole Foods. How close am I to you?”
“Oh, quite close! You can see our building from Whole Foods!”
I started counting rows of windows on every building in my line of sight.
“Great! How do I get there?”
Let me simply say that we didn’t communicate very well. She said that how I got there depended on which direction I was pointed in. I told her I’d point in whatever direction she wanted me to, as long as it got me where I needed to go. She asked me the name of the street I was on. I told her I was in a parking lot and didn’t know the name of the street which ran along in front of it, but reiterated that I was directly across from the Whole Foods store, and that I’d just turned off Franklin Art. She said I should get back on Franklin Art and turn left at the next intersection. Easy Peasey.
Except that the next intersection WAS Franklin Art, and I turned left onto that, instead. And I had no choice but to go back up the ramp, merge with the traffic and travel south on Highway 295. Back into the cones. Headed towards Kittery. New Hampshire. And beyond.
It was my birthday. I didn’t want to cry on my birthday.
I made a quick plan. I would get off the next exit (I assumed it would be Exit Six, but I wasn’t betting on it.) Suddenly there loomed on my left a large office building. With the exact words blazoned across the top which were on my set of directions on how to find the parking garage! Holy guacamole… I was whizzing by my destination at 70 miles an hour! That solidified my decision… off at the next exit, and then…. back THATAWAY!
Things are never quite that easy… I made a turn onto a one way street. I’ve discovered that when one is on a one way street, one cannot simply pull into a driveway, put the truck in 'reverse', and go back the way from which one has come. No. Not in the city. In the city, one is lucky if one can even FIND a driveway, to say nothing about a road that goes in two directions! Who was in charge here, anyway!!!!!
My unerring sense of direction led me around something called a cul-de-sac, which confirmed my suspicions that an American had not mapped out the city of Portland. We’d never put 'cul' and 'sac' in the same phrase. No way, no how!
Well… once back out by the Exit 6 ramp, I turned right. I looked left. And low and behold… there was a GREAT BIG SIGN which said “Marginal Way”! I turned onto it, and several hundred feet along, I was sitting at another traffic light with the ten story brick building straight ahead and to my left. I was there. I only had to turn left through the intersection--aided by a blinking green arrow--enter the parking garage, find the designated ‘client parking’ on the third floor… and run like hell for the sixth floor, where my friends would surely be waiting in anticipation of my FIVE MINUTES LATE arrival. This--after landing in the neighborhood 45 minutes ahead of schedule.
Have you ever parked in a city parking garage? They aren’t like our country garages, where you hit the remote overhead door switch, pull in at ground-level, and park next to your work bench and your riding mower and your weed whacker. These city garages don’t have a nice side entrance door or an eight-to-twelve foot ceiling or a quietly mulling wood stove.
Oh, my God.
Row upon row of cars, arrows hanging from the ceiling and painted on the floors telling how to go UP. A car squealing around the corners in front of and behind me. I found myself crouching as I drove… claustrophobia rearing its ugly head. Following the arrows, I swung the truck to the left to go up to the next level… and there it was. A big, red banner draped across the entrance… CLEARANCE--SIX FEET.
Oh, my God.
There’s nothing quite as humiliating as having to back up in a parking garage with cars behind you. See… that means they have to back up, too. It’s a domino effect of emotion. I was deeply embarrassed. The guy in the Volvo behind me got peeved. The gent in the Saab behind him became irate. And the woman in the Fiat behind him grew enraged.
I prefer to spread the love around… It was the least I could do.
I asked two women in hospital scrubs if they could tell me if there was anywhere on the bottom levels where I could park without getting into trouble, and they pleasantly told me that since the day was over, I could park wherever I wanted to. Relieved, I turned into the first empty space I came to. Actually, I jigged back and forth several times in order to fit. There wasn’t enough room in the garage to make the wide swing which a truck with a long wheel base needs to take in order to fit square-on between two parked cars. My three friends behind me waited so quietly and patiently that I actually had the urge, for the first time in my life, to show them the longest digit on my left hand. But I didn’t. Instead, I giggled. Rather hysterically. And I swore I was never, ever, EVER going to drive to a city—or even to a big town with a traffic light—again! Never.
I grabbed my computer case-cum-carry-all. Slammed the truck door. Wiped the sweat off my face and strode to the door with the sign saying “Elevators”. I punched the “Up” button. The doors slid open and I stepped inside. All alone. No strangers to crowd me. Perfect. I pushed the button for the 6th floor and the doors closed. In the silence of my solitary conveyance, a woman’s voice said “Going up” and my heart staggered to a temporary halt.
Judas Priest on a Pony… it was a Talking Elevator! I turned my face into the corner, leaned my forehead against the wall and waited, trying to control my hysteria. I was almost at my destination, and it wouldn’t look good if I arrived in the attorney’s office all sweaty and hysterical and cackling like a lunatic.
The elevator came to a gentle stop. The invisible, melodious and articulate woman spoke again. “Level Six”.
I stepped into the lobby of the 6th floor suite. I’d arrived… and only ten minutes late, too! The receptionist directed me to the conference room and told me that my host was running a few minutes late, and that he would be along shortly. I’d been granted a reprieve, and I sighed in relief. I decided to take a minute to splash my face with water, calm down, get my bearings… restore the utter ‘cool’ that is Kazza BP. I pushed open the door to the ladies’ room and strode towards the marble sinks. As I did, the paper towel dispenser on the wall whined into gear and spit out a foot long piece of brown paper at me.
I hate crying on my birthday. So I laughed, instead.