Sunday, December 9, 2007

Free Fare Friday

Maine is doing this great thing between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day where all local public transportation in the state is free. Totally free, no trick, no limitations, just trying to reduce some carbon emissions, and get people hooked on public transportation. Personally, I'm trying to use it to get a good grasp on how the whole bus thing works while it's free. Things are a lot less intimidating once you've experienced them once, I only wish I had more time on Fridays to take free rides.

This week I decided to take the #5 bus out to South Portland and explore the mall area. I really needed a trip to the dollar store more than anything else, but used my free rides to dart around town and get a tiny bit of shopping done. I mostly just wondered around the mall, trying to avoid all of the people in the kiosks trying to sell me countless objects that I did not need. (Isn't that all the mall is really?)

I ended up walking down to JC Penney on a quest for some new socks (I'm a sock snob, don't judge me). On my way I was approached by an older lady, who was giving out brochures on pool installations, I said no thank you and kept walking, and as I did the women yelled out "I hope you have a VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS!" I turned back and said "You too," but I was sort of amazed that this woman was so chipper, doing what I would consider a crappy job, amongst all these shoppers.

I went into JC Penney, delighted that my socks were on sale, picked up a couple other things, and went outside to wait for my free ride home. As I sat there I found myself irritated by all the other people outside waiting for a bus. The 20-somethings smoking DIRECTLY in front of the No Smoking sign, the teenagers with their runny nose kids, the man smoking something (I believe of the illegal nature) only a few feet away. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse this extremely overweight woman came and stood about 6 inches from me (I was sitting on the bench) and began to fart, loudly, and remarkably close to my face...I kid you not. When I looked up at her she said only "It's a cruel world" I decided it was time to put on my iPod before any of these people tried talking to me. I had this fleeting thought about how I should try harder to love all people, but I just couldn't bring myself to engage.

The beauty of headphones is that they do not even have to be playing anything in order for people to THINK you are out of commission, I use this opportunity sometimes to "accidentally overhear" other people's conversations. Soon another woman, carrying two Hannaford bags came out and began speaking to the first woman (the unfortunate one with Friday Night Flatulence). They were making small talk, and it became clear that these women had taken the bus together before. The first women thanked the second for "the card" and mentioned that she still had it, and had written a reflection on the back, after their meeting. I really didn't think anything of this at the time.

Just then the bus pulled up. I picked a seat about half way back, and the lady with the bags came on right after me. She asked me if the seat next to me was taken. I got slightly irritated, since she had already proved herself to be a chatty woman, and there were plenty of empty seats on the bus, but I said no, and moved my bags aside.

Sure enough, the woman asked me a question, looked at me, and immediately apologized for disturbing me while I was listening to my music. It was then I began to soften. I pulled off one ear bud, and answered her question, fully expecting, to put it right back in. But instead, I found myself asking her questions, and before I knew it we were engaged in a full fledge conversation. I soon found out that she was the woman who was handing out pool fliers in the mall earlier that night. I figured if all else failed, talking to her would be my "good deed" for the day, after all, she probably needed someone to talk to.

During our 20 minute ride we talked about many things.
I found out that she lived alone, with her cat, Rebel. She had been married 3 times, her last husband was abusive, and she didn't have any kids. Both of her parents had passed away, and any random cousins she had were living in the South, she keeps in touch with only a few of them. We talked about books, and the library. I told her how she could check her e-mail at the library. We talked about siblings, and genealogy and the appropriate ways to discipline a child. We talked about pets, and Christmas trees, and dancing. We talked about my work, and she went on and on about how great that was, and how proud I should be about myself.

I found myself actually enjoying talking to this woman (something that VERY rarely happens to me), and as we got onto Park Avenue I realized I would have to leave soon, and I didn't even know her name, and so I asked. Her name was Linda, her friends called her "Jo." I told her my name, and that I hoped I ran into her around town someday. She said that if that happened she would bring me back to her apartment to meet her cat. She then said to me "You're going to think I'm crazy, but I really like making new friends, and I really like Christmas, so I'd like to give you something." She reached into her crumpled grocery bag and handed me a card, I opened it and there was a cartoon drawing of a silly reindeer (Linda said he'd dipped into too much egg nog), on the inside of the card it said "Hope your Holidays are the Best" and scrawled underneath in red pen "Merry Christmas, Jo."

I seriously almost started to cry. I'm not generally moved by things, but something about the connection I had with this woman was remarkable to me. As I went to get off the bus I had this strange desire to stay with her, or at least to find out how I could get in contact with her later on, if for no other reason than to return her kindness. I didn't though, I just said goodbye and left.

And so my friends, another story that started out with what I thought was a good deed, talking to a poor lonely old lady. However, I think I was the poor one in this situation, thinking I was better than everyone else, not wanting to hear what was going on around me. Now that I think about it, I think that's probably the most full conversation I've had in quite sometime with anyone, and it didn't revolve around all the terrible things that are happening in my life and in the world. It's amazing how nice it is to be able to have a conversation with someone, and just be able to talk, without any barriers (after all chances are you'll never see them again). Lately, I've been feeling kind of crummy, and have been giving weird elusive answers to simple questions like "how are you." I want everyone to know, I'm not actually that great, but I don't want to get into a conversation about it...unless you REALLY want to. It's amazing how when given the opportunity to focus on the joys, the challenges seem to drift away.

It seems as though Linda ,"Jo," has been spreading Christmas cheer to lots of people, and maybe she won't ever remember me, but I think it'll be a long time before I forget the gift that she gave to me.

Later, and probably less sappy days,

Monday, December 3, 2007

Breaking an Entering

It all started with a good deed (doesn't it always?) My friend and ex-roommate was house sitting for her sisters in Portland off Washington Ave this week while they were in Mexico. However, she had to work Friday night, so I agreed to go out there and check on the animals and stay the night. I had Friday off work because the furnace in my building had a hole in it, so I decided to go out in the afternoon when it was light out...probably a REALLY good thing I did.

So I got to the house with no trouble, unlocked the door and went inside. I debated rather or not I should lock the door behind me, but since I was in an unfamiliar place, I decided it couldn't hurt.

I went into the dining room, put my bag down, and took off my coat and hat and placed them in a chair. I then went to find the dog. I put on her collar, and headed to the back door, opened it, stepped out, and realized immediately that the door locked behind me. The keys and my cell phone were in my jacket, in the chair, inside the house. It was NOT warm outside. Let's just say I used a lot of words that are not appropriate for children....

I let the dog do her business while I thought about what to do. First I went around and checked all the doors twice, hoping that maybe they weren't REALLY locked, no luck. They had this deck that was several feet off the ground I had to pull myself onto to check the sliding glass door, which of course, was locked. I checked the door to the basement, still no luck.

Then I remembered that my friend said there was an extra key somewhere, I figured it couldn't be too hard to find. So I began looking in all the little nooks and crannies around the house. I even got a stick and ran it along all the tops of all doorways and places I couldn't reach in hopes that the extra key would magically fall down. I crawled onto the deck again to check the doors, I even took the cover off the grill in hopes that maybe the key would be hiding in there. Nope.

I check all of the doors one more time, and as I walked by the side of the house, I saw my jacket sitting there right by the window. I realized that if I could get the window open even just a little bit, I could slide my coat out and be warm, and have the keys. So I began my quest to pop the screen off the window. I couldn't get my fingers underneath the screen so I ended up using sticks and rocks to pry the 5 foot screen off the window. Next I pushed up on the window, and it wouldn't budge. So I got a chair off the deck to stand in, hoping that the extra height would give me the leverage to open the window. Turns out, the window was locked too.

Did I mention that the entire time I was doing this I was holding onto the leash of the 60 pound husky. I would have hooked her up somewhere but apparently she had been lost earlier in the week and they had to call animal control, so I didn't want to risk losing the dog on top of my other problems.

At this time I decided that I probably wasn't going to be able to break into the house, so I did the only other thing I could think of, which was going door to door to the neighbors in hopes that one of them could help me. I knocked on the door of the next door neighbor, who took forever to answer, I tried to explain the situation to her, and asked if I could use her phone. She was on her way out, and began making phone calls on her cell phone to explain to people why she would be late. All conversations began with "well there's this girl in my house..."

The problem, at this point, was that I couldn't remember anyone's phone number. I finally remembered the number for the Administrative Assistant on campus, I figured she could help me SOMEHOW, except that she wasn't in. The only other number I could remember was for the old Circle K adviser, who happens to be the partner of the Hall Director in the building where my friend was working. So I called and the person who answered was the ONLY person in the office who didn't know who I was, and therefore was not eager to help me, or give out any phone numbers. Finally I convinced her to give me the phone number to Residential Life. When I called Res. Life a work study student answered, who gave me the WRONG number, and not actually a USM number at all. So I called Res. Life back (good thing I wrote the number down), and someone answered who I knew, and said "You're in luck, Erica, Danielle is right here" I WIN!!

So she told me where the key was and proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions, but I didn't want to get into it at that point, because I was still in the lady's house. So, I went and got the keys, and went to grab the dog (who I tied up, and BEGGED not to move) because I didn't think the neighbors would appreciate her company. So I untied the dog, and started walking, and accidentally dropped the leash, and she started running. So I chased her down, and luckily caught her before she got too far. I let her into the house, and went back to tell the nice lady I got in, because she told me she wouldn't leave until she knew I was safe.

What a day. Luckily, it was early in the day, otherwise, it would have been colder, darker, and I have NO IDEA how I would have gotten a hold of Danielle, because all the offices would have been closed. AND turns out the nice lady next door is the aunt of Norman Thombs, Mechuwana Camp Director. The next house down is Cliff and Jane Ives who I know from when Cliff was serving at Green St. UMC. In the words of Danielle "the street is full of Methodists"....I guess I was pretty safe after all!

Later Days,