Swim in the City

I made a trip to Center City Philadelphia on August 9 – my husband was going to a meeting and I took the opportunity for a chauffeured ride in.

I worked in the city for quite some time, but those days are in the distant past – 25 years ago I left office work. Still, those days at work here were some of the most important of my life. The memories are vivid and the streets of the city are full of places I have known for a long time.

I’ll give you a little tour of something new and old, all at once. Let’s start at 18th and Market, where my husband’s office was until his fall in December, 2016, and where he was going to his meeting today.

I started walking east toward City Hall along Market Street. City Hall is set in the very middle of the original plan of Philadelphia. Its location was originally the center square of five (the other five are still open space).

In the 1870’s construction began on City Hall and it took about 30 years to finish the building. It is monumental, to say the least, and a really interesting place. Courts and other functions are now handled in other more modern buildings around the square, but it is still full of offices, including the mayor’s.

In the early 80’s I used to cut through the building on the way to my office in the winter, coming from the train. That way I got to walk about a block in the nice overheated halls before I went back outside for the quick sprint to my office.

Anyway, I went east. Took a little detour through the Penn Center complex, but always there is City Hall in view.

But…things have changed here, too, at least outside the building. What used to be a grim granite plaza of varying levels, punctuated by non-fountaining fountains, desperate trees, and a lot of trash, is now a welcoming space. I’d been here last fall for the holiday events:

But I had no idea that in the summer – the plaza is a splash park! Fantastic!

There were tourists, locals, adults, kids…and one park policeman on lifeguard duty. I wondered if he wished he could take his shoes off and stand in the cool water.

There were “paths” through the jets to drain the water – I walked through the site for a while. This version of Dilworth Plaza, as it is known, is much better than the one I remembered from those years back.

OK, I’ll stop now. More later on.

City Life and Some Thoughts

I went into Philadelphia on August 9. My husband had to go to a meeting and so I hopped aboard the opportunity. I thought I’d take a walk through some old haunts.

I don’t go into the city much now, but I worked there for over a decade in the 80’s and 90’s, and my job required me to go all over the town, in the car and on foot. But the Center City and historical district areas were where my offices were – I never changed employers but I worked in a lot of different locations.

I started to work in Philadelphia as a newbie full-time grown-up in 1980. I wasn’t born here but this is where I have spent my life. So you can imagine that many scenes have layers of memory for me. I could go on and on and in such fascinating detail! But I’ll just do a few sights here, and maybe I’ll have some more to tell you about later on.

Today, I think I’ll show you common sights on the streets.

First up, people. People are always walking around everywhere.

I encountered a guy on a street corner shouting out a non-stop stream of words. City life has taught me not to let on that I am paying any attention, even when I am.

In my experience, people talking to themselves on the street fall into a couple of categories: they are preaching or speech-making, religious or political, to passersby; or they are in their own interior worlds and speaking to the people there. I realized on this trip that I needed to add a category: people who were talking on their Bluetooths.

I saw some of each classification during this day.

There are lots of places to get something to eat if you are hungry. I’ve had my share of meals from the food carts on the street.

You might need a magazine, bag of candy, lottery ticket…so you stop at a newsstand.

I saw groups of motorcycles all huddled together and I didn’t know what they were doing. Just parked on the street like that! I caught on quick after I passed a couple of similar locations. There are designated motorcycle mini-mini-parking-lots now. Like this one.

I also remarked to myself about how many more bicycles there are. Bikes are parked all over and there are plenty of official bike racks (as opposed to chaining your bike to a convenient tree). And I wasn’t counting the bike-share locations. I will tell you, in 1980, no one rode a bike to work.

Pipes still grow right out of the sidewalk; that hasn’t changed. I liked this group. It looked to me as if the big ones were protecting the little one.

I watched this bus unload itself. It stopped right on Market Street at about 8th; the people poured out, the suitcases were wrangled out of the hold by the driver, riders were waving papers and asking questions, lots of people on their phones, and people going further on the journey sitting in the bus in comfort, looked like to me (I sidled up and peered in a window as if I were looking for someone…no one paid any attention to me).

I didn’t know Megabus stopped in Center City; I’ve seen their buses at the train station, though, wheeling around the building in a flashy kind of way. Now, I made some bus trips in my teenage years; for instance, I remember very well being let out at a gas station in rural Indiana to be met by the people I was visiting, suitcase pulled out of the bus’s stomach by the driver, who kidded me about how heavy it was. Take away the double-decker shiny blue, the phones, the city location, and this scene felt familiar.

All right. That’s enough for now, I think.

Tiny Travelogue

I don’t go far from home. I don’t travel much. I like being home. And lucky for me there is a seemingly endless supply of things to explore right under my (geographic) nose.

Today we decided to explore the Morris Arboretum. It was established on the grounds of Compton, the summer home owned by the wealthy Morris family starting in 1887, who collected plants and were interested in furthering horticultural education; it is now part of the University of Pennsylvania. Not located near the main campus, though – it is only about 15 minutes from my house.

We became members not too long ago – I thought it might be a good place for walking, especially for my husband, as he continues to gain strength after his knee injury. Believe it or not, in almost 40 years of living close by, I had never visited the site, though I had often thought of doing so in recent times, because I drive past it on my way to Chestnut Hill College (of poetry marathon fame!) all the time.

It is expensive for a single visit, but a membership could pay off for the two of us after three visits – and being members makes a quick stop just for a walk much more likely. I signed us up.  Today was a reconnaissance mission.

It was a stunning day – sunny, warm, and low humidity. We parked in the lower lot – other people had the same idea as us to visit the gardens on such a nice day – and walked up the hill to the main building. I noticed I could see the roofs of Chestnut Hill College across the way – it is next door.

We walked around the upper areas following paved paths past manicured lawns and many trees. I found some details interesting:

Small structures dotted the area as well as sculptures:

There were other attractions, such as a garden railway exhibit and a treehouse/walkway structure; fernery; rose garden. Today, these areas were crowded with families; even if they hadn’t been, they didn’t much appeal to me. If this had been all there was to the place, I would have been lukewarm on it. I will say, though, the level paths would make a nice circuit for an easy walk (or run, if you came on a non-crowded day).

We made our way back down the hill to the wetlands area. This section was deserted and quiet. Just birds, insects, trees…

Now I was interested. Look at this milkweed.

A bee was working very industriously at this flower head.

This dead tree’s stark appearance amid all the greenery made it a landmark.

Mowed paths guided us through this section. There was so much to look at.

My assessment of the arboretum: I thought the main area tame and uninteresting. The wetlands, fantastic. I could see visiting that section often just to see the changes in the landscape. I much prefer walking on grass to asphalt. Wilder to manicured. Full of detail to edited. I’ll come back and concentrate my attention on this area, I think.

It would be a great spot for a walk after a poetry marathon session or for my husband to visit during lunchtime. I’m glad we checked out the arboretum.

Day After Thanksgiving, Part 3

Here is the last installment of the trip into Center City Philadelphia that my husband and I took on the day after Thanksgiving. When I left off in the previous post, we had walked down Chestnut Street to Dilworth Park to visit the Garden Maze and to check out the craft fairs. There was one more thing to see, though, and you might have noticed something about it in this picture:

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Ice rink! Ice rink!

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I’ll tell you right away, I didn’t skate. I last got out on the ice in 2004 and in that session I broke my elbow. With my balance issues and the memory of how long it took for that elbow to heal, I have no business ice skating, but…I do like to watch others doing it!

This rink (sponsored by a large orthopedic institute, something I found amusing, especially since the doctor who treated my broken elbow is associated with it) is a real ice rink, not an artificial-surfaced one. And it’s here all winter, open day and night. I’d love to see those sparkly little lights in the evening…We spent some time watching people go around the circle, all kinds of people, with all levels of skill (including none). When you look at the pictures, notice  the smiles.

Above the scene, William Penn stood, as he has since 1901, at the top of City Hall Tower, and took it all in.

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Well, that’s the end of the travelogue. After we finished at Dilworth Plaza, we did take in a little shopping – but for art supplies, at the Dick Blick store a couple of blocks away. It’s a treat for me to go to the store itself rather than buying online, so I can’t count it as shopping, exactly…and at the store, I won a $5 gift card when I spun the wheel for a prize. Couldn’t do that online!

Then we drove home. Nice day we had, wasn’t it?

Day After Thanksgiving, Part 2

More about how we spent an afternoon on Friday, November 25, in Center City Philadelphia. When I left off in the previous post, my husband  and I were walking east on Chestnut Street. Where were we going?

Our destination was Dilworth Park, where City Hall is located. Named for a former mayor, the park is one of the five original ones put into the street grid when the city was laid out by William Penn. It was appropriated for the location of City Hall, a massive building constructed from 1871 to 1901. The structure is as solid and imposing as a mountain and is a city landmark, although many city office are now located in more modern buildings nearby.

Dilworth Park was recently remodeled and is now used very often for city events and festivals. Right now it is hosting the Wintergarden and the Capital Garden Maze, and that is one of the sites I wanted to visit in the city.

The Maze is an installation of plants, topiary, and twinkly lights and will stay in place all winter. It’s a project of  Greater Philadelphia Gardens, a consortium of 30 regional gardens.

We spotted the event from across the street. The white tents are those of a craft fair also taking place on the plaza.

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Here is the entrance.

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We saw people sitting in café areas – the weather was gloomy but mild enough to sip a hot drink and talk to a friend. And the birds like the leftovers the people drop…

Then we came to the Maze. It was filled with people exploring it.

There are some fantastic topiary animals.

I was intrigued by the metal markers scattered in the beds. Each names a garden in the consortium as well as its mileage and direction from this location. I think this is a nod to the fact that this park is the center square of Penn’s plan, and is as such the very center of the city, from which distances are measured.

The plants in the boxes are ones that grow well locally and will have something to show of themselves all winter.

City Hall is a giant hollow square – and right now the courtyard is filled with another craft festival. We took a quick look inside. And, I took a picture of the tower. This is the landmark local people think of when they picture downtown Philadelphia; the historic area is a mile to the east, away from the main business and shopping area, and not the place residents go to as often as Center City.

All right – more later!

Day AfterThanksgiving – Part 1

Today, Friday, November 25, is Black Friday. Lots of people think about shopping. Me, I don’t. I don’t like shopping and so a special day for it doesn’t excite me. But, being the day after Thanksgiving, my husband took the day off, and so we decided to get out into the world, avoid shopping, and do something for fun.

We decided to take a trip into Center City Philadelphia. I had a few sights in mind to check out. I’ll take you along with me in the next couple of posts – I took a lot of pictures.

I worked for many years in the section of the city where we were going. I have 35+ years of memories everywhere I go around here. Things have changed a lot in that time. I marvel at the new buildings and I celebrate each renovation or repair to old familiar ones. But the city always feels the same to me – as I walk down the sidewalks I am the same person who came here in 1980 and has never left, and never wants to.

Starting off, we parked the car in a garage, ate a quick lunch, and walked down Chestnut Street going east. This street now is a major shopping street, revived after a decline of decades. Plenty of people with shopping bags and lots and lots of tourists. You wonder how I can tell who is from out of town, and I answer: I just can. And then I laugh and I tell you the secret – it’s in how they approach crossing a street. If you are from around here, you barge out. If not, well, you are more cautious about stepping off the curb, and your hesitation reveals you…

Buildings along this street are a mix of old and new.

I like to look at store windows. What they do to make them intriguing. And then, I enjoy looking past the display into the stores themselves. First, some glamor.

Now, people at work. In this shoe store, the man was buffing up pairs of expensive

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You also have to look up sometimes if you want to catch what is going on. Here is what I saw when I stopped to pay attention to this hair salon located on the second floor. Street life goes on while upstairs, the stylist concentrates while the client sits in the chair, ready to be transformed.

I passed this sign on the street for a needlework shop. The store is on the second floor and so it needs a street-level presence. To get to this shop you have to follow the instructions on the sign. I might have walked by the sign, not being interested in needlework, but – I visited this shop with my friend Diane several years ago. What a warm colorful place it was, I remember.

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I noticed the tile details around the windows and doors of a store. It’s not usual to see this kind of decoration. Our climate is hard on tilework. You can see the effects of seasonal changes on this sample.

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A lot of people ride bikes through town. There are bike parking stands everywhere. And I’m not counting the bikes for hire that are available – these are bikes that belong to a particular person who’s elsewhere at the moment, while the bike waits.

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Well, that’s it for today. I’ll tell you more next time.

Memory Lane, as in a trip down

The Fourth of July is the midpoint of summer to me, even if technically the season only got going about three weeks ago. With it being on Monday this year, it was nice to have a three-day weekend. My  husband and I decided to mark today by taking a walk along the Schuylkill River trail, incidentally collecting a symbol for our Montco trail challenge, though we don’t need one, we’ve met the goal of five.

No, mostly the idea appealed to me as a chance to revisit a place that was very important to me when I first settled in Philadelphia, the town of Conshohocken. Though I don’t live very far away, I don’t come here often, and usually I’m passing through on the way to somewhere else.

This municipality is situated in a bend of the Schuylkill, about 14 miles from downtown Philadelphia. My history with the town begins in 1980. I was working for Philadelphia National Bank, aspiring to become a commercial lender,  and was assigned to work as a trainee in the regional office here. The division handled small business loans; my enjoyment of the work I did here in this office determined the direction of my banking career. I went on to specialize in small business commercial loans for a large part of the next fifteen years or so.

I haven’t spent much time here in the past few years and so I thought we’d enjoy a walk through the borough. As a note, my husband also worked for the bank, although in a different group; that’s how we met, and this territory was familiar to him as well. Not to mention that he grew up only a few miles from here! We really have a history with this area.

All right. We picked up the trail at the Spring Mill train station.


This section of town was entirely industrial during my tenure here. Factories of all types, large and small, were arrayed along the river bank. I was familiar with this kind of structure from visiting customers here.

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But the town has changed and changed a lot since my time here. There are a few relics of the industrial past along here:

but the majority of the river area is now pricy apartments and high-rise office buildings.


We walked along the trail up to the Fayette Street bridge, Fayette being the main street through town. The office buildings surround this area now but when I was working here, it was a mixture of warehouses and factories. I crossed this bridge on my way to work every day, and I have some memories of trying to get up the icy hill in winter in my rear-wheel-drive 1976 Monte Carlo that still give me the shivers.

 

Here is a view looking into West Conshohocken – the old and the new.

We left the trail and walked up Fayette. Many things have changed on the main street as well. But the bank building in which I worked is still there, now used by a successor of PNB, Wells-Fargo. I took a picture of the front of the building and then of the side entrance- I shared the office with the windows to the right with two other people.

I have many fond memories of my time here. In those days, before internet banking and all the other changes in how money moves, the branch was very busy all the time. An office full of tellers, customer service people, and commercial lenders served the needs of the businesses, their employees, and the local residents. It was usual for me to arrive at work, before the bank opened, and have to make my way through a crowd of people waiting to go in. The large staff was mostly female and almost all lived within walking distance of the office. They took me, a young out-of-towner, under their collective wing, advising me on where to shop, to get my car fixed, best delis, and so on. If it snowed, I would get phone calls before work telling me to be careful driving. I can’t say enough good about my time in this office.

So. My husband and I walked on through town. Here up on the hill, the traditional Conshohocken landscape still exists – a mix of rows and twins, light industrial, garages, and modest singles. The town was built for the Italian, Irish, and Polish blue-collar workers of yesterday, but prices are high now – it’s a popular location to live. There are also plenty of new builds. I took pictures of what was familiar to me about the place.

We ended up back at the car – Conshohocken is not geographically very large, but it’s huge in my memory. I am glad to have taken the time to look around again, and at a pace that gave me time to remember details.

Exploring and Seeing A New View

My husband and I have taken Montgomery County, PA, where we live, up on its challenge. Its trail challenge, that is: visit five county trails, walk or run or bike on them, collect the symbol as evidence of your visit, and if you do this by September 4, you will get an achievement award, a medal.

Well, I don’t really need a medal, but I love the idea of visiting more trails. So I looked up the listing. We think we’re going to try to do all of them, if we can. So far we have collected two, pretty easily, since we visit them in our everyday lives – the Pennypack and the Green Ribbon.

Today we decided to try another one. The weather was hot and sunny, just beautiful, and a good day for walking. We chose the Cynwyd Heritage Trail, about 25 minutes from home, in Bala Cynwyd, PA. We had our reasons for picking this one, and I’ll tell you in a minute.

We drove to Bala (you say it Balla Kinwid, with the ‘a’ like the one in Al, although there’s a Philadelphia pronunciation sometimes heard – Balla Kinwood – and people often shorten it just to ‘Bala’). Our route took us into Philadelphia via the section called Manayunk – a former industrial area along the banks of the Schuylkill. We crossed back into Montgomery County over the Green Lane bridge, drove a short distance, and parked at the Bala Cynwyd Park. A Sunday morning baseball game was in progress:

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Right away we were able to collect our symbol:

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And we got on the trail. It’s the roadbed of an abandoned section of commuter rail, reclaimed as a trail through the efforts of a dedicated volunteer group, grants and awards, and a testament to the interest people have in our area in creating and expanding a bicycle/walking trail network. It begins at the Cynwyd commuter rail station and passes behind houses, parks, and even a tennis club. I also noted the mile markers; they are similar to old ones we see scattered around on major roads, made of marble, with mileage to Center  City Philadelphia carved into them.

The Cynwyd trail is not long, only 2 miles, but it’s well-used by local people, and it connects with a very popular trail, the Schuylkill Trail, that runs between Valley Forge and the city of Philadelphia.

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And how it makes this connection is why we wanted to go on this walk.

Let me back up a bit. In Manayunk, just before crossing the river, we passed under an enormous railroad bridge, the freight line above us long abandoned. The bridge fell into such disrepair that chunks dropped off it and nets had to be set up to protect those going underneath it. As long as I can remember, that is how things have been.

Not any more. This bridge has now been repaired and repurposed as a bike/pedestrian bridge. An access to the Cynwyd trail was built. It opened not long ago. We’ve been wanting to make the trip over this bridge and today – we did.

We were able to see things from a perspective never before possible for us.

Here’s the bridge itself – it’s called the S bridge because of its curving shape.

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We saw the Green Lane Bridge where we had crossed a short time ago in the car, and the Manayunk Canal.

And we got such a great view of Manayunk. This section of the city was filled with industry and packed with small rowhomes for the workers, all arrayed up the hill. Now industry is gone, but it still has many long-term residents – Poeple who live here stay here. And the area has become popular, especially for younger people and apartment dwellers – there is new construction, we saw, along the river (raised to avert flood damage).

And maybe my favorite view – the river, the expressway, a freight train on a rail line – all snaking along toward downtown. I’ve never had this view of things before and I was really taken by it.Schuykill Expressway 1 6-16 small

So, we walked back to the car. I’ll leave you with these photos of the S bridge from ground level, taken from the Green Lane bridge on our way home. You know, I’ve driven this route many times and seen this view of the intersection – but never having done it with the perspective of knowing what things look like from above, to add to it. There is new territory to be explored and new vistas opened – right under our noses! And all we had to do was – look.

Reality and the Other Reality

I am fascinated by reflections. Here’s the latest to take my notice.

At 30th Street Station in Philadelphia a few days ago to catch a train, I saw this scene in front of me as I got out of the car on my way into the building.

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It occurred to me to turn around. I saw this:

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So, as you know, I took pictures of both scenes. And I have really enjoyed going from one reality to the other and comparing them. I’m not sure why, but this pairing has really captured me. One thing that comes to mind is – I wonder how it feels to look at yourself in the mirror, all day, every day – and you know you are always going to be doing so? Unless someone pushes in front of you someday, of course…

(Rail) Road Trip

I haven’t traveled much in the last few years – my various health issues got in the way. But now I’m on my feet and using them. Yesterday I took a day trip to Washington, DC, to spend some time with my son.

The idea was that I’d take the train from Philadelphia to DC, meet my son, tour his office (my first time seeing it), eat lunch, walk around, and come home. And this is exactly what happened. Take a look.

My husband drove me to the station. It’s not far from his office. Normally I would take the commuter train to 30th Street Station to pick up the Amtrak train, but this was a nice luxury.

We parked the car and went in. I was early, as usual – I do not like to hurry when I am traveling. My train was the Palmetto, eventual destination Savannah, Georgia.

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With time to kill, we wandered around the station. Lots of people going places this morning. Lines for trains stretched everywhere.

Eventually it was time for me to get into line and then head down to the platform to wait for the train.

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We got underway on time. I had an aisle seat, a bit of a disappointment since I usually spend the whole trip looking out the window. Well, I looked anyway – I had a pretty good view. At Baltimore, my seatmate left and I took her place. Then I could take a couple of pictures through the window.

We came into Union Station on time. I was interested to learn that the engine on our train would be changed from electric to diesel for the rest of the trip to Savannah. But, I was leaving the train and so I’d have to do a comparison some other time, maybe! I got off and saw my son right away.

We walked through the station. The actual working part of the station is a modern mall-like place built under the old train shed, I think. Could have been anywhere in the US, but very convenient. We got a snack, then went out through the older part of the station.

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Union Station, Washington, DC. It’s very large, it’s beautiful, and people just walk through it on their way to somewhere else. The lively part of the building is the modern section behind it. I admit to being less impressed than I thought I would be, and I prefer the look of 30th Street in Philadelphia – less polished, but purposeful and busy.

We hopped on the Metro to go to my son’s office. Another goal of mine was to get a grip on the Metro system and how it works, so that I can visit and go places on my own. I am happy to say I found it clear to understand and easy to use. We got off at Foggy Bottom – my son works in the Watergate building. I am old enough to remember Nixon and Watergate; I would not have thought I’d ever have a personal connection to this place!

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I think this building could use an update, myself, but it has a great location.

As we walked to the office, I saw this yellow apartment building. Look at those roses and peonies, and what about all the BBQ grills?

And this little group of houses really caught my eye, especially the yellow one. My son was patient with my exclamations and stopping to take pictures.

After this short walk we arrived at the Watergate. We toured his office and I met a lot of people, all very nice to me. I don’t guess mothers visit the office too often and I enjoyed the celebrity.

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We went up on the roof and looked across the river. Interesting fact – my daughter-in-law works in one of those buildings over there. I asked my son if he ever considered coming up here on the roof and waving so that she could look out a window and see him, but – he had not thought of it and didn’t seem to find it as intriguing an idea as I did…

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Well, now it was time for lunch, so we had a bite, and then decided to walk through Georgetown a bit. We stopped at a café for a Nutella/banana crepe and sat in their little garden out back for a while.

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Then it was time for me to head back to the train station. We decided to walk part of the way. Along the way I saw another yellow house I liked (I don’t know why so much yellow today – maybe it was the contrast with the gloomy skies?); a relic of a gas station; and this man washing windows, oblivious to everything but getting a nice clean surface to the glass.

Once again I waited in line for my train. My son very kindly stayed with me until it was time to board. Since I was quite early, I was at the front of the line, and I got a window seat this time. The train was crowded and people settled in for their trip – this train was on its way to Boston. As is usual in traveling, by now I was tired, so I just looked out the window and enjoyed the scenery. The trip goes by so quickly and you are home before you know it, so you have to pay attention.

I had a great day. Thanks to my husband and son, I felt very cared for, and I enjoyed making a little journey. Until next time!

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