Trains and Markets, and Magic, Oh my

bike tire wheel window

Last weekend was without a doubt the best Memorial Day Weekend of my life.  A few weeks ago, the “big kids” surprised me and purchased their own plane tickets to come visit me in Pennsylvania.

We started something new during Christmas travels; we now depend on SEPTA and New Jersey Transit for train transportation to and from the airport. It’s awesome because instead of spending time on I95 or the New Jersey Turnpike, I can clean like a mad woman up until the very last moment. Katie texted me two stops early so there would be no risk that she’d have to wait in the rain at the train-stop.

Somehow I managed to stay awake long enough to pick Jeff and Justin up from Trenton Transit Station. I’d like to say it was an uneventful drive, but apparently my daughter and I have a different vocabulary when it comes to driving directions and we almost ended up headed to NYC instead of Philly.

Saturday was a kick back day, the kids went to the mall and played games while I prepared the meals that had been requested for the weekend menu.  As always enchiladas were at the top of the list.

Sunday was a beautiful sunny day and I was happy to wait for a few minutes for the train and take some pictures on the platform. I always laugh when I look at pictures of my kids and me.  I’m so much shorter  than them and they’re so much fairer than me it’s sometimes hard to see the family resemblance.

wating for the train with my kids

I probably shouldn’t have let Katie sit on the edge of the platform with her feet resting on the tracks, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture. Maybe it was my way of making up for not letting her eat dirt when she was little. (that’s a funny story)

waiting for the train with feet on the tracks

Apparently my children are never too old to play complicated versions of Paddy Cake.  They  make me laugh out loud.

Grown people Playing Paddy Cake

Our first destination was Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens on South Street. It’s over 3,000 square feet of mosaic art and the walls are covered with shiny glass and mirrors from floor to ceiling, both inside and out.

Philadelphia Magic Garden outside wall

The second floor was a perfect place to check text messages and send funny pictures.

texting in the magic garden

I wonder what if the walls of the artist’s home are covered in tile and mirrors as well.

It was a great location for a mother and daughter picture.

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The plan was to go to the Italian Market on South Street after the Magic Garden, the only problem was that I didn’t know the name of the market. The Italian Street  Market is lined with shops and stores of all kinds. It’s like taking a step back in time to the days before grocery stores and malls.

We’d been there a couple of Christmases ago on a walking tour, but the only thing any of us could remember was that it was on South Street. (I can’t believe I’ve never written about it the walking tour)

I made up my mind that it was called the South Street Market and so that’s what we set off to find. After a mile and change, we reached the South Street Supermarket on the corner of South Street and something. It was pretty obvious we were in the wrong place. Everyone whipped out their smart phones and fired up Google.

Within a few minutes we discovered that the Magic Gardens is two blocks away from where we had intended to go. We were limited on time (lasagna was waiting for us at home) so I suggested we take cabs to the Italian Market. I was instantly overruled and the kids voted to continue our impromptu tour of the city and head toward the Gelato shop.

It was Justin’s first trip to Philly and he wanted to make the trip complete with a Philly Cheese Steak. We’re not sure why, but Yelp led us to Di Bruno Bros and there were no Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches. On the plus side, they did have the gourmet cheese spread that we’d hoped to buy at a shop in the Italian Market. Score!

A few blocks later we stumbled across an authentic Philly Cheese Steak shop and the day trip was complete. It was a day where nothing went according to plan, but everything turned out just right.

Meeting Mr. Train Station

“We’re here, last stop,” he said.

I blinked my eyes open, “Where’s here?”

The man in the Septa uniform replied, “West Trenton, we’re in West Trenton Ma’am.”

“That’s not here, that’s there…I’m supposed to be in Yardley.”

The assistant conductor took one look at my giant purple suitcase, carry on duffel bag, and lap-top case and said, “Let me see what I can do for you, these bags are going to be a lot of work for you to get off and on the train.  Maybe the conductor will let you just move to the front car and stay on the train while we turn around.”

No such luck, as it turned out the conductor was new and a ‘by the rules’ kind of guy, so they very nicely helped me and my bags out of the train and onto the platform.  The assistant conductor let me know that they’d be back in about twenty-five minutes and there were two ways to get to the other side of the platform.

He pointed toward a staircase and said, “The ‘safe’ route is to go down the stairs, through the tunnel and back up the stairs.  The other way is to wait until the freight train is gone and cross over the tracks.  I suggest the safe way.”

I managed to get my bags down two flights of stairs with the help of a young woman who grabbed my duffel bag and stayed out of the way while I manhandled my suitcase down the stairs. (It seemed like a great idea to buy a suitcase that is half as tall as I am at the time I bought it.  What can I say, it has wheels!)

I let myself take a breath as soon as we reached the fresh air; relieved that the tunnel wasn’t as long as some of the more frequented tunnels in the L train stations in Chicago or the subway in NYC.

One of the things I find interesting is the variety of train stations, there are no two alike.  The one in Yardley is more like a bus stop and provides little shelter from the weather.  Others have vending machines, restrooms, and heat.  The West Trenton station is somewhere in the middle.  I didn’t know what to make of the man sitting on the bench propped against a large duffel bag.  He was larger than most men, his clothes were clearly tattered, and his face wasn’t completely visible under his hood.

Being a woman traveling alone, I opted for the unlit bench outside the station rather than going inside where it had to be warmer.

“Miss, it’s cold out here.  You got at least 20 minutes before the next train comes.  Come inside where it’s safe and warm.”

Over the course of the next twenty minutes I learned about the best place in the station to sit when it’s cold as well as when it’s hot.  The free spirit who sat across from me was retired from the military and had plenty of stories to spare; including the one about the charger he built for the batteries for his Walkman.

“Yep, I built this here charger for my battries, they’re for my Walkman.  Last week some crazy fool thought I was building a bomb.  Why people got to be so crazy?”

I didn’t know what to do other than smile.

At 6:02 he said “Your train is here miss, now don’t you go falling back asleep.  It’s only a three minute train ride to Yardley.”

He held the door open for me, the conductor and assistant conductor met me on the platform and put my bags on the train.

“You just met Mr. Train Station. He knows every train schedule, every train stop, and every nuance between here and the end of the line,” said the assistant conductor.

“Huh…  Is he homeless or does he just like to ride the train?” I asked.

“We’re not sure what his story  is, but he’s there every day.  Some days he rides the train and some days he just stays in the station.  He always has his fare, is a true gentleman, and seems happier than most of us do.”

His comments gave me some interesting food for thought.

I’ve come a long way from being so nervous I could barely stand to read a page of a book for fear of missing my stop to falling asleep, missing it, and not panicking.  I’d have to say I’m glad I met Mr. Train Station, but I don’t think I’ll miss my stop again.

2A is not 2B

Track 2_section A

Today I took a trip into Philly for a new and different reason.  For once the butterflies in my stomach weren’t about missing the train.  In fact I didn’t even triple check the number assigned to my parking spot at the Yardley train station.

The ride into Center City was uneventful with the exception of the sudden outbursts that made me glad my kids are no longer under the age of five. In spite of the overly loud reprimands, I managed to stay focused on the “page turner,” Google AdWords for Dummies, by Howie Jacobsen, Joel McDonald, and Kristie McDonald.

Last month one of my unofficial dreams became very official and was the reason for my afternoon jaunt into Philadelphia.  For a while now I’ve wanted to earn a living doing something I love.

I’d spent months considering the path of freelance writing for magazines only to remain discouraged and unmotivated.  I just couldn’t get excited about generating a bazillion ideas, submitting at least as many query letters to editors, and having a fraction of the work actually published.

This summer I realized I was overlooking the obvious. It dawned on me that I had an opportunity to marry my love of writing with my business and technical experience in a way that I could earn a living.  Not only that, it was a perfect chance to help people.

Last month I joined the local Chamber of Commerce and introduced myself for the first time as the owner of Discover Your Customers.  During the midst of my rambling and less than eloquent introduction I made a mental note to work on my elevator pitch.

The first person I met was Bonnie, the organizer of the round table meeting.  Our initial conversations were emails and LinkedIn messages exchanged by a couple of night owls.  Not only did we hit it off in person and are already brainstorming workshops – she is the reason for my trip; which was to meet with a prospective new client.

I’d heard about the power of social networking and now I’m an even bigger believer than before.  During the aftermath of Sandy I got an email from Bonnie.

“Hey there,

Hope you made it through the storm without too much difficulty – do you have power?

I just heard from a woman named Linda — she was referred to me
by someone I’ve never met in person, but I’ve connected with from LinkedIn (her name’s Susan). Susan does web writing, but was too busy and told Linda to try me — but that’s not my thing, so I told her I’d check with some of the people I knew…so that’s what I’m doing. :)”

Wow, so someone I met through an online social network and happened to hit it off with in person had just introduced me to a potential client.  The very next day I got a phone call and and email.

Linda and I arranged a time to meet and with more than a few butterflies to keep me company, I followed my instincts and headed into the city.  It turns out the angst was all for naught; the meeting went well and I’m fairly certain another connection has been made.

I was so pleased about how the meeting went that I forgot to engage my travel neurosis and check, check, and check again routine.  Instead, I calmly slipped into the last seat on the bench and waited on platform 2B for my 4:25 pm train back to Yardley.  Never mind the fact that I knew I was supposed to be on 2A, it just never occurred to me to check both the track and the section number.

train arrival board

I saw a red bench, the number 2, and naturally assumed that since it was the first platform I saw, it must be 2A.  I was baffled when the 4:25 train flew by me instead of stopping. After a few moments of perplexed consideration I realized that 2B was not to be and I made my way to 2A.

track 2A

As it turns out, it was a happy accident.  The 4:47 train was an express, not a local – which meant I got home at almost the same time as I’d planned for, the train was more comfy, and I had a story to tell.

I may be well on my way to being a successful business owner, but I think there are some things that will never change.

A Tale of Two Stations

A little over a year ago I took a step out of my comfort zone and attended my first writer’s group meeting. I drove into Philly in a state of panic, nearly backed out, and ended up having a great experience. My next trip involved a lesson in how to use my smart phone for directions and I learned about the advantages of paying attention to cross streets and setting the navigation on walking not driving.

The adventure in getting lost in the city led to some great pictures and a desire to try taking the train instead of my car. My work husband explained that there was a train station so close to the location of the meeting that it would be impossible, even for me, to get lost.

Over the next several months I mastered the round trip by checking and re-checking the train schedule and coordinates no less than a dozen times for both legs of the trip. Yesterday I decided to abandon my routine of paranoid planning and second guessing in favor of the feeling of confidence based on the fact that my last several trips into the city had been so routine they bordered on boring.

I caught the 11 am train out of Yardley and without hesitation replied, “Market Street East, round trip” when asked my destination. I listened to Cold Play and smiled as I wrote in my journal and patted myself on the back for figuring out the train schedule and my new found confidence. I was even more delighted to write about giving an accurate answer regarding which train station was closest to the Walnut Street theatre along with a recommendation of a restaurant for lunch.

We stopped at the Suburban Street station and I began to have doubts, but put them aside and stayed on the train. I told myself I was in the right place and if not, I couldn’t possibly be far off. The tunnel under the convention center was my first clue that something had gone wrong. I took a deep breath, used Google maps on my iPad to get my bearings, and tried to ignore the fact that I was walking in a sauna. Twenty minutes later I saw the sign for Shops at Liberty place and for the Suburban Street Station.

I duly noted the lesson and after walking back to Market East when the meeting was over I’m sure that I won’t ever forget which station I want again. I checked the boards and made my way to the platform with seven minutes to spare.

I sat back and congratulated myself for figuring things out without having a meltdown, slipped my return trip ticket into the slot on the back of the seat, and looked out the window.

I saw gravel and graffiti instead of trees, “Oh crap, this doesn’t look familiar…” I thought. I don’t think I said it out loud but I can’t be entirely certain.

I tried to rationalize, “The train only goes north and south…how lost can I be? The woman collecting tickets didn’t say anything…so I must be on the right train…”

She called off the names of one unfamiliar stop after another and nothing outside of my window looked right.

I have Septa bookmarked as a favorite and for the first time I noticed that there is a Trenton Line and a West Trenton Line. It didn’t take me long to figure out where I had gone wrong and I was headed toward Trenton through Bristol and Levittown not Langhorne and Yardley.

I ran through some options in my mind. I could take the train back to Philly and start over, I could walk fifteen miles in my flip flops, figure out a cab, and last but not least I could cry. Then it dawned on me, Heather lives in Bristol and Donna lives in Levittown.

I sent a text to each of them, “Hi are you home by chance?”

While I waited and hoped for my phone to vibrate I started the search for cab companies in Levittown.

Hooray!

A reply from Heather, “hey! yes but about to be picked up to go to Sam’s w/m’dad. what’s up?”

“I took the Trenton line instead of west Trenton and I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to get to the Yardley station. I was hoping if I got off at Bristol you might be able to give me a ride.”

“ooh! where are you now?” she asked.

I tried to remember the name of the last stop, “Trying to catch the name of the next stop, I’m getting close I think.”

She responded instantly, “sure—I’ll tell dad I’ll meet him there. no worries! what’s your arrival time?”

“I think it’s the next stop.”

She texted, “It goes Bristol, croydon, eddington, cornwells heights…”

“We’re at Croydon now,” I texted back.

“Ok on my way!”

A few minutes later she rescued me from the heat and the wrong station. I don’t know if I’ve ever been happier to see her. In addition to getting a ride to Yardley, we had a chance to catch up a little and she brought me some new reading material.

In some ways things haven’t changed much during the last year, I obviously haven’t lost my knack for getting lost and turning it into a story. I may still get lost, but there’s a huge difference in how I handle it. I laugh instead of cry and I reach out to friends instead of panic.

Two wrong stations in one day might just be a record for me, although I’m not sure it tops winding up in the wrong state.

On the Road Again

the joys of travel

I’m beginning to think I should hang a sign from my rear view mirror similar to the safety record signs in factories, only mine would say “Number of Days Without Getting Lost is ___.” It had been ten days since the Tarot card vs Tax Firm debacle and I was feeling pretty good about the fact that five of those ten days included finding my way around an unfamiliar city without my GPS.

I made it all the way to the last day of my trip until the imaginary counter had to be reset to zero.  I’m not sure how it happened, but in spite of the written directions I picked up at the front desk at the hotel, the map on my iPad, and the detailed verbal instructions from the valet parking guy I still ended up going in the opposite direction of the airport.

Maybe it was because the directions were delivered with a southern drawl so thick I wasn’t sure if he was speaking English, or I lost my concentration when I tried to guess which car would go where as the valet guys shuffled cars around like they were playing Chinese Checkers.  It could be that directions that begin with “go south on…” rather than “turn right at Starbucks” make no sense to me, but whatever the cause, I found myself once again trying to figure out how to turn around when possible.

One thing I’ve learned is that if I stay calm and remember to breathe I can usually figure things out. And in some cases I can even save twenty cents a gallon by topping off the tank of the rental car while lost rather than waiting until I was closer to the airport.  Needless to say, I was happy when I saw the exit marked Airport Boulevard.

I followed the signs to the rental car drop off which seemed very clear up until I had to choose between All Day Parking and Short Term Parking.  I’m not sure if the guy who drove up beside me and shouted “Rental return?” while he pointed toward the All Day Parking option was frustrated or amused by my obvious confusion but I was glad he shouted directions instead of just honking his horn like the previous car that passed by me.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the number forty-seven flash on the luggage scale.  I’d managed to transfer five pounds from my suitcase to my carry on and although I try to be an optimist, I was fairly certain I wasn’t going to have the ninety dollar overweight fee waived two flights in a row.  As the gate agent reached for my boarding pass the lights in the airport flickered, the fans whined, and the airport was suddenly silent and unlit.

She handed me my ticket without looking up, “Y’all got lucky, everyone behind you has to wait for the whole system to reboot.”

Twenty minutes later they opened one security lane, powered by a back-up generator. I passed through the metal detector without so much as a beep only to learn that I’d been randomly selected to receive a special screening. I seem to be “randomly selected” for security screenings almost as often as I get lost.

I felt more than a little exposed standing in the rectangular glass cube between the security lanes and was relieved when it turned out that unlike my last trip only my bags and not my body had been selected for inspection.   I settled down some when I saw there were no changes to the schedule and I was breathing normally by the time I dropped off my duffle bag at the end of the jet way.

All seatbelts had been fastened and the flight attendants had readied the cabin.  Just as the pilot announced, “At this time all passengers must be seated,” the woman in front of me stood and her husband climbed into the aisle with a toothbrush in hand and headed toward the lavatory.

I’m not sure what was more comical, the fact that he brushed his teeth on the plane without regard to the pilot’s announcement or watching him maneuver his six foot plus body into the window seat while his wife remained seated.  I’ll give him this, he did manage to take care of his dental hygiene and still snap his seatbelt buckle in time for the final pass through the cabin.