Friday, July 15, 2011

Highway Blues

I miss the train.

Not literally today (although I certainly have done that in the past). Maybe more correctly, I miss the person I am when I commute by train.

Because the train made me a much nicer human being. I'd arrive at work after a half-hour of precious me-time, time that I spent reading or writing or people-watching or even creating: menus, handwork, to-do lists, short-story ideas. Occasionally I'd chat with a co-worker or even a stranger...you never know what might happen on the train.

But now I find myself dallying in the mornings, dreading the traffic clog that I know will await me at the turnpike entrance or exit, the endless jockeying for position between the semis and the SUVs and there's always some Mercedes/BMW/Jaguar driven by a fellow with an enormous ego who doesn't want to wait in line--he is, you know, more important than any of us grunts--and zips ahead, unconcerned about the college student in the dented hatchback he has pushed into the ditch. There's aggression and pointless horn-blowing (buddy, where are we supposed to go? All the toll booths are full up!).

It's gotten so that first thing, when a nurse coworker asks me, "What's up, Doc?" I have to answer with "my blood pressure" or "my stress level."

I've tried to mitigate the aggravation with books on CD--it's the only reading time I usually get and a way to make the 45 min+ drive feel like a little less of a waste of time--but that works only so far. It doesn't prevent other drivers from acting like jerks or the turnpike commission from shutting down a tollbooth during the morning rush.

I admit, the train isn't perfect either--having ridden the precise, spotless Swiss trains I am amused by what Septa refers to as its "on-time performance" give or take 10 minutes. Or how dreary the allegedly "new model passenger cars" appear. I can certainly point to times where we sat on the track in North Philly because of an accident further down the line, or the time we spent 45 minutes underground at Suburban Station and some riders became panicky and claustrophobic. But I could remain calm and immerse myself further into my book, my thoughts. I could tune out and not worry about having an accident--someone else could have the stress.

A co-worker who travels a similar route suggested that I try to drive the highways earlier in the day; he finds there is hardly any traffic when he travels at 6 AM. Which is lovely for him: he wouldn't have to rise at 5 AM and attempt to put makeup on eyes that are still closed. He's not falling into bed at midnight because a teen son needs a ride home from a friend's house, bills need to be paid, the last-minute supplies for a project have to be bought, and the ingredients for the next supper are getting prepped...

So I can start cooking when I get home after six and maybe we can eat before eight.

There's got to be a better way.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

No one can hear you scream

But that doesn't matter. The important thing is that I am screaming. And so is my 16 year old son. We are standing next to each other, looking each other full in the face, and screaming as loudly as as we are able. They are screams of amazement and delight and pure intense emotion that cannot be expressed in words. No one can hear us over the ambient noise, but we continue to scream until we resolve into laughter and exhilaration.

We are at the Wachovia Center, in the third row--I can't say we are sitting, because only a dead man could possibly sit at a time like this--and mere feet away, Pete Townshend's arm is windmilling over the strings of his guitar. We are so close we can see the part in Roger Daltrey's curls, now gray. Zak Starkey? He is hidden, hunched over his drum kit and blocked from view by the keyboardist, whoever that might be. The amazing lyrics of "Won't Be Fooled Again" swirl around us and I am convinced that Townshend is an absolute genius. Who else wrote social critique that was salient in the 70's and is still so appropriate in these waning days of Bush 43's administration? (Well, other than Douglas Adams?)

It's a little time-warping to be with my son as he discovers The Who for the first time, and I recall loving them way back when (I am still addicted to "Squeeze Box" with its humorous double-entendre lyrics). But I cherish the experience; it's a bridge between us. We don't need to be fixed to the roles of parent and child; we can be two people of diverse ages thrilled by the same experience.

Ending up in the third row was a bit of miracle as well. We bought our tickets last minute, and as thrifty folks opted for the affordable seats in the rafters. It's all about the acoustics, right? We commuted to the arena with a group of friends who would be sitting directly across the chasm from us. Once inside, the five of us (son, niece, their two friends, and I) peeled off to find our seats in the caverns; strolling down an alcove we were stopped by an usher.

"How many in your group? Five? Wait here." He went to consult with a supervisor standing nearby.

OK. We waited, curious. Had we done something wrong?

"Here, take these. Even exchange." The usher handed us five tickets to replace the ones we held. "Go down this hall, take a left..." I only half heard the directions. We descended two levels and milled around until we found another usher.

"May I see your tickets? Ah, right here." With a flattened palm he waved us down a short hallway. "You're in row C. Enjoy the show."

When you are close enough to feel Roger's exhalations...how can you NOT enjoy the show? We spotted our friends in the upper altitudes of the arena and waved sheepishly. They waved back, good sports despite their envy.

I wonder if I can trust my luck once again, three years later. Bob Dylan is coming to Philly next month, and we want to see him before he's dead.