Feedback from Reader Rachel: This is very endearing, but I can not even IMAGINE where you ended up, or how. Next time I am giving you directions myself!
Rachel’s open house is 6:00 to 8:00. We’re all invited.
It’s three special occasions in one: holiday celebration, chance to see Rachel’s beautiful home (the house is 100 years old today!), get-together for the co-workers. Rachel is our illustrious radiant colleague who happens to be an exquisite baker. Even if I can’t eat the treats, it’s going to be fun to see what confections she’s dreamed up. Not only that, down the street at the lake there is the annual candle luminaria festival; before or after the open house, people can stroll the waterfront to ooh and aah at the homemade lanterns and other glowing floatcraft. I can’t wait to see it for myself, and take pictures. And, at the main intersection nearby, there’s an Orthodox church open for Saturday Slavonic Vespers.
I thanked Rachel for the invitation and let her know she can count on me. The online map shows how easy it is. I would print out the online map and bring it along, but maps are hard for me to follow. So instead I distill the map into linear verbal instructions to myself: bus stop, then church, then straight up the street a few little blocks to her corner. Can’t miss it!
I tuck her address and phone number in my waist pack, wash my hair and fluff it up, deck out in my red blouse and red sparkly necklace and red dress from Goodwill, the long flowing one with gold thread embroidery. Warm sweatshirt and trousers and knapsack and scarf, rainproof clogs, water jar, 2 bananas and almonds, one quart of hot succotash soup kept warm in a towel, toilet paper roll for all the bus passengers who will be sneezing helplessly and don’t carry tissues, Slavonic prayer book, rosary, red head scarf for church, rain slicker, reflective vest, and hand-crank flashlight. Onward!
The Bus 1 driver looks me over and says “That’s some assortment of gear. Goin’ camping?” He and the passengers are bantering around in the holiday spirit. It always pays to sit in the first seat and greet the driver; they’ve seen so much human nature that they always have something interesting to say. He lets me off at the transfer intersection for Bus 2, next to my favorite open-air fruit stand. The staff are working like crazy today loading cut fir trees into cars. They can use a little extra nourishment, so the succotash soup is for them. They shout their hellos and thanks, and I head on to the stop for Bus 2.
Then again, why not skip the bus and just walk the 20 minutes to Rachel’s intersection. The exercise will do me good.
Here’s the church. Vespers is absolutely beautiful. Perhaps for Mary’s feast today? Or no, they’re Julian calendar, so they wouldn’t be celebrating Immaculate Conception today, would they? At least they wouldn’t call it that; that’s a Papal Infallible idea from 1854. Oops. Well, whatever they’re celebrating, it’s very grand; Father even comes out from behind the Royal Doors to paint a cross on all our foreheads with chrism of rose petals. Then I cut out early, and start walking to Rachel’s party.
It’s a soft misty evening. The streets are full of people! Full! Teenagers on skate boards, couples hand in hand, parents with babies and stroller tots, dogs in Santa hats or jingle bells or twinkle light harnesses. They’re in a great mood, hurrying to the lakeside.
Now to find the house.
Straight ahead at the intersection, then the few short blocks…. Or maybe not so short. Maybe it’s just a few more. Is it the next one? One after? Are we there yet?
Huh… Ought to be around here somewhere. I’m losing my bearings. Better double back.
Right. Here’s the church again. That map said to go straight ahead here. Couldn’t be simpler. La la la, la la…
Did I go too far? I’m forever doing that; walking too far and missing my street and getting lost.
I double back to the church again, this time walking on the other side of the main road to check all the street signs there with my flashlight.
Back at the main intersection I start calling out “Hello, folks, which way is [Maple] Street please?”
But they’re in a hurry to get to the lake, teens couples parents babies tots dogs jingles. Nobody has time to answer. I try a few groups, then a lone jogger (he has earbuds on, and just shakes his head). Three times people stop, but they’re all visitors to the light festival, and they don’t know the streets.
Finally here’s a motherly looking little lady strolling along. When I speak to her she looks distressed, even though I keep my distance and just ask for Maple Street.
“Sorry no no English please,” she tells me sadly.
“Oh, okay. What language do you speak?” I ask her. Because in America every single speaker of no no English, they can still answer that question, no problem.
“Iran, Iran,” she shouts, raising her voice to help me understand, spreading her hands in abject apology like it’s a crater on the moon.
“Ah! Khosh amadid! Khosh vakhtam,” I shout back. “Beguid lotfan, khiaban-e MAPLE koja-e?” Welcome! Happy to meet you. Tell please Street Maple where is?
She’s thrilled. Not that “Maple” rings a bell, but at least we have a nice time exchanging many good wishes. Health! Happiness! Khoda Almighty preserve you!
Finally a teenage boy sets me straight. Dude! “Maple?? Nah, it’s way the other way. I know for sure because on Bus 2 that’s the stop where they announce Maple. Gotta follow this road all the way back, by the lake. That’s Maple.”
Really? Are my map reading skills that bad? Oh man.
Start over. Continue past the church going the other way, on and on, and — the kid’s right. Here’s Maple way down here! Now just look for the address.
But it’s a lot of house numbers away from here. Up the hill. Where are the numbers on the houses? Still quite a ways to go. Is the street supposed to curve this much? Maybe I was supposed to veer off on one of these sidestreets.
It’s so dark I hand-crank my flashlight and shine it around. And holy mackerel — just ahead, the sidewalk’s all buckled from a tree root. Without the flashlight I’d have fallen right over it!
(Navigation note: Later, back home again, wrapped in a down comforter with a cup of hot miso soup, I check the map again and see the problem. Maple crosses the main road twice in a long loop. And both times, both ends, if only I knew, I got within one block of Rachel’s house. One block.)
All of a sudden the streets are deserted. Emp-ty. EVERYbody must be at the lake. I’m over an hour late. Any normal person would call Rachel for directions. But see, I have a terrible time not only reading maps, but following directions. On the street I can see where people point, but if people tell me over the phone I get all turned around. Maybe a look at mapquest.com will help. I pull out my cell phone to enter the address. But now it’s raining. To protect the phone I have to pull my slicker hood way over my head and put the phone inside it to read the screen. But a popup ad blocks that part of the map, letting me know that the mapquest phone app is available for download to my phone. Wha?
There are really no people around. The houses are dark. Not good. My hand joints are getting too stiff to hold the phone. In fact — now the swipe screen won’t work; my fingers are too cold or maybe too wet to activate it. I double back to the church, an hour and a half late for a two hour party. Calling Rachel now and expecting her to drop everything and give me directions would look forward and foolish, wouldn’t it? Just so I can show up at the end and then turn around and leave?
Now I’m catching a chill. It’s the rheumatic kind that won’t warm up no matter how much I hop around, and the only answer is to go home and lie down. Plus there are little needle pains shooting through my feet. It dawns on me that I am not getting to this party. At all. I stop a mother and daughter and say “Help! Where is Bus 2?”
They laugh and walk me back down Maple to the stop and wish me a good night.
Two college students are waiting at the stop, looking anxious. “Do you know where Bus 2 goes?” they ask me.
So I hand them my spare bus schedule and describe the whole linear route in detail. (Of course, all I had to do was open the schedule and let them READ THE MAP. But that only dawned on me now.) They’re happy to hear about it. “Then it’s just the bus we need!”
We stand and watch the crowd pour past us away from the lake, talking over what a great time they had at the luminaria festival.
The students are conferring about the candle splashes on their jeans. “How do ya get wax out of a pair of pants?”
“Ice,” I tell them. “Put on an ice cube until the wax cracks. Flake it off.”
“Really?” they ask me.
“Dunno. It was in my mom’s home ec book. Also, if you ever spill red wine on a carpet or somewhere, quick sprinkle on some salt but without wiping or scrubbing the wine; the salt is supposed to neutralize the pigment. I don’t know whether that works either. A couple who know their wine told me that, and I never see any wine in their carpet.”
So we joke around, and they show me their phone photos of the light festival, and we catch the bus.
Back at the transfer stop I pop in to the fruit stand to pick up my Mason jar. The store is already closed. But my favorite cashiers are so tired they’re sitting on the counter, swinging their feet and chatting. “Your soup looks awesome, but we haven’t tried it,” they apologize. “We didn’t stop running all day.” But it’s an open air shop, so the jar will stay nice and cold. Tomorrow they’ll heat it in the microwave and have it for lunch. Meanwhile they wish me a good night. As they roll down the doors and turn off the lights I go to the bus stop and eat a banana.
A group of teenage boys carrying skateboards pass by. They give a curious up and down look back at me. One of them points and mutters a comment, and they hop on their skateboards and sail off. Too late, I realize what he said: “That’s what I need, a reflective vest. I’d be safer in one like that.” It’s too bad; I’d have called them back and told them just where to buy one.
I take out my toilet paper roll and start sneezing helplessly. On Monday everyone will be talking about the party. I really wanted to go too. Really did. I’m sad about all the times I’ve set out to find something or join some group and couldn’t figure out how to get there or how to find them. What’s wrong with me?
Bus 1 is 40 minutes late. There’s not a soul on the street. The rain is really coming down. I’m shivering hard, standing under the awning to the chiropractic clinic, hoping the placebo effect of their neon sign will warm me up. Across the street, the big trademark sign of the antique shop swings on support chains; it’s a grinning Genie in Aladdin’s lamp, casting swoopy shadows in the wind. My hands can’t handle the prayer book pages now. So I take out the rosary and pray the Luminous Mysteries instead, then sing part of Orthodox Vespers arranged by Rachmaninoff: Отче наш, иже еси на небесех…
Here comes a man walking toward the stop. He looks cold too.
He tells me in Spanish about his life, and many troubles. Looking for work, a cousin with a car, changing one house for another, a passport, leaving La Paz, trying to get back to La Paz again. The story winds in and around itself, plaintive and sincere, repeating rhythms like the rain on the awning.
I listen and nod. Sure. Things happen, all right.
“Then,” he concludes, nodding his head in reverence, “God the Father kissed me.”
He points to his forehead. “Two times, here. Dos besos, dos veces.” He tells it to me again and again, gravely and carefully, making sure to get the point across: this is not Jesus we’re talking about, but God the Father himself, the Almighty.
I look up at the rain, trying to imagine. “Aun UNA vez es algo enorme. Pero DOS…!” Even ONE time is something enormous. But TWO!
“Oh, this was two times,” he assures me. “Right here. And he said ‘I LOVE you. You are special to me. Porque TU eres de la gente humilde.” Because YOU come from the humble people.
La gente humilde. Well… yes. If God is going to pick out someone to talk to, that is the kind of person he would pick.
The two of us think that over, under the neon awning, while the Genie on high swings in chains still grinning.
The bus shows up and pulls over. “Had enough camping?” says the driver.
The man from La Paz walks back the way he came, into the rain.