On the advice of some good friends, I am going to give myself credit for something.  Something at which many people would not bat an eye, but which for me counts as a fairly big deal.  If only because I say it is.

This past Sunday, I went to visit a friend from Ravelry at her home in Philadelphia.  It was lovely to go and chat about yarn and fiber and other things for an afternoon, and eat yummy homecooked Thai food, and try out a new-to-me spinning wheel, and get to see lots of interesting fibers and knitting in person.

The credit-accruing part of this visit, the part that made it border on Adventure … is that my friend lives solidly in the middle of South Philly.  Yes, kind readers, that means going to visit meant braving City Driving.

I am an inveterate country girl.  Born and raised in the middle of figurative central-Pennsylvania nowhere, amid hills and woods and farms and cows and cornfields.  Lots of open space.  Lots of twisty back roads with light or nonexistent traffic.  For me, this has always constituted “normal.”

When I grew up and started working, Highway Driving gradually became part of my “normal” category of places that cars go.  All of my Big-Girl working career stuff has been located in Harrisburg, PA, which means I have spent a lot of hours and miles on the highway, commuting from my home area of nothingness to the outskirts of the nearest city.  But I’ve primarily been located in the suburban/commercial areas north of the city proper.  I’ve mainly avoiding going downtown, even in my small local city, which I daresay counts more as a largish town in he grand scheme of things.

So when I accepted the invitation to go see my friend, I didn’t actually realize that she lives in a city — a real city, not a large town with pretensions.  If I had taken a closer look at her address before saying I’d come, I wonder if I would have been brave enough to go, or would have chickened out.  I’d like to think I would have been brave, but I’m not completely sure.  As it was, it didn’t matter, because I didn’t actually realize the area I was heading into until the day before I went, when my family pointed it out to me.

Once I’m committed to something, I am able sometimes to be bolder about it; oddly perhaps, if I’m doing something on my own, I am more able to be bold than if someone else is involved.  Anyway, I persisted in thinking that it was not going to be a big deal, and telling my family the same.  I made sure to look at maps beforehand so I had an idea where I was going, which usually serves me in good stead when I’m heading somewhere new, so what else was there to fuss about? 

My dad kindly offered to let me borrow his new GPS unit — by which I mean, he said “I don’t care if you use it or not, it’s going along in your car and that’s that.”  This came after me saying something like “I don’t know how a GPS works and I’ve never used one and I don’t want to be distracted by some mechanical lady telling me what to do while I’m trying to navigate big highways and streets in town and dodge traffic and lord knows what else.”  (In my defense, this conversation happened near 11 p.m. following a late-afternoon birthday party, in which several shifting collections of 5-year-olds dragged me around my brother’s house for an hour.  I may perhaps be forgiven for being tired and snippy; regardless, I apologised to my father the next day for my crabbiness.)  Dad is of the protective sort toward his family, including his grown-up little girl, and he wanted to make sure, as far as he could, that I wouldn’t have problems.

On Sunday after lunchtime, I set off.  Starting out on highways; no problems.  Closer to the city, highways get bigger, traffic gets heavier, interchanges are more complex, exits are closer together.  Less familiar territory, but not completely unfamiliar.  The GPS was the most help here, with its clever way of telling me what lane I needed to be in for the next interchange — I didn’t know it would do that.

Getting off the highway onto Passyunk Avenue in south Philadelphia threw me into a much different world than I am used to.  It’s been a long time since I’ve visited Philly, and I had forgotten the closed-in feeling I have there, that everything is smaller and closer together than I expect.  Streets are narrow, there are tons of cars in seemingly very little space, the blocks are short in this residential part of the city.  I worked my way into the right area, grabbed a parking spot I could manage (I know the theory of parallel parking, but it’s not a skill I’ve ever needed to develop in a practical way), got out my map to check where I was, intending to drive further on if necessary — and discovered I was nearly there, before I’d even realized it.  My sense of Philly’s “smallness” had deceived me, I thought I had a good step farther to go.  Thankful for my easy, lucky parking space, and that I hadn’t had to wander the one-way streets looking for a place to land, I locked up the car and went off to have a very pleasant afternoon.

It wasn’t, in the end, a very dramatic adventure at all.  I had a bit of further trepidation leaving the city, after dark, when I sometimes have trouble even on familiar town roads.  One of my issues with driving in big towns is that I have trouble resolving details quickly enough, when everything is unfamilar; I’ll be distracted by the car pulling up alongside and pedestrians on the sidewalk, when what I really need to watch is the traffic light turning red in front of me.  This can be compounded badly at night, when everything is lights — street lights, tail lights, traffic lights, house lights, lit-up businesses, neon signs, on and on.  Especially if I’m tired, I really need to concentrate to pick out what’s important and ignore the rest.  And don’t get me started on the horrors of wet roads, with all of those lights sending great bright streaks across the pavement at me — aagh!

Thankfully, Sunday was clear weather, and I was headed out the same way I’d come in, more or less, and it went okay … barring the one traffic light I nearly missed, but I saw it in time and didn’t run the red light.  (In my defense again, they don’t have lights hanging over the streets like I’m used to, only off to the side.  WAY off to the side.  Ahem.)  Found the highway entrance, navigated the multiple interchanges back out to open road, got myself home, tired but none the worse for wear.

It wasn’t until a day later that I realized what I’d really done … drove myself into a major city and back out again, with very little fuss or drama or worry.  I’ve primarily blocked the possibility of city driving out of my mind for years, and therefore blocked a lot of other possibilities too — as I told my friend recently, they keep a lot of interesting things in cities, and so you have to learn to navigate them if you want to see those things.  I have wanted for a while, mostly secretly, often not really acknowledging it even to myself, to travel — to get to see some of the wonderful places and things in the world, and to visit some of the people I know who live far away.  But travel, especially international travel, would mean dealing with cities, and therefore it has always felt off limits, like something I would never dare actually do.  Even if I really wanted to.  After this weekend, though, it’s no longer quite as impossible as it was last week.  To me that’s a serious win, and I’m pleased.


4 comments so far

  1. Naomi on

    Yay! Congratulations!

    In the meantime, if you want to get to see some of the exciting things in cities without driving all the way in, you could drive to a suburban train station and take the train the rest of the way. That’s certainly how I prefer to get to New York…

  2. sarahw on

    I’m grinning like the Cheshire Cat. So happy and proud for you. Sometimes mountains really are molehills; occasionally molehills are terrifying. But every achievement like this is an experience that will help you deal with the next mountain or molehill, whichever it proves to be. It’s definitely a win! Hold it in memory to warm your heart and light your way on dark days.

  3. enallagma9 on

    Absolutely a Big Deal, says this country mouse! Congratulations!

  4. sherlock1973 on

    I’m a little late, but wanted to comment anyway. You know me, gotta get my two cents (that’s 1.6 cents USD)in.

    I am very proud of you for driving into South Philly. I am well aware of your feelings about cities, just from when you come to visit me (and I do all the driving :) But think of it this way… At least all the signs were in English! *g*

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