The city of Philadelphia at night from above

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Look, a Distraction!

I’ve been thinking a lot about my obligation to you, the reader of my blog, especially during this time of upheaval and uncertainty. I have made it my mission from the start to be honest and open, yet simultaneously positive and uplifting. I want to provide resources, advice, and comfort – but I also want to provide distraction, entertainment, and laughter, because I know we need that now more than ever. You can find posts on working from home and resisting the panic spiral on this blog, but today I want to give you something different, just for fun. I wrote this (true) story many moons ago. If you need to get out of your head for a while, feel free to escape into Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 2012…

I am directionally challenged. There, I said it, in front of the internet and everybody. I get lost easily, and I don’t just mean in big cities. I get lost in small towns, in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, on the beach – I even get lost in video games. I’m physically incapable of retracing my steps, locating true north, and navigating my way out of a paper bag. Growing up in Southern California, the best I could do was orient myself based on the ocean. Then I moved to Pennsylvania, the nearest ocean switched sides, and I was screwed for the next three years. I got used to the change just in time to move back across the country.

For Christmas my freshman year of college my parents got me a GPS. This was back in the dark ages before Waze when people still used “Map Quest” as a verb and thought printing directions off the internet was revolutionary. My GPS became more than a crutch – it was like a guide dog leading my blind behind around the city of Stockton and surrounding environs. If it wasn’t for my dear friend Lacey confiscating it and insisting that I grope my way along to Costco on memory and a prayer I would to this day have no concept of the layout of the city where I attended college. Thanks to her, I know that Pacific Avenue goes this way, March Lane goes that way, and if you’re south of Harding you’d better have a gun because the creepy stranger at the train station damn sure does (there isn’t really a story to this – Lacey and I were waiting to pick up a friend at the train station, saw a creepy stranger with a gun, and NOPE’d right out of there until our friend’s train actually arrived).

Philadelphians like to boast that their city is a grid. They are very fond of this saying, and will whip it out and slap you across the face with it if you ask for directions: “It’s not confusing! It’s a grid!” They conveniently ignore Bainbridge and Passyunk. Don’t even bother bringing those diagonal streets up – they don’t care. I spent the first year in Philadelphia being afraid to venture beyond Old City, but eventually I got the hang of the grid system and became comfortable from Girard to Washington and from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill. Beyond that perimeter I relied on two navigational systems: Google Maps, and my friend Jetta. One sunny summer’s day I took both with me to Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Jetta was attending a food and wine event with a friend (Kate). The plan was for me to bum around the beach – sorry, shore – by myself for a few hours and meet up with the two of them after their event. In the evening, I would drive Jetta home to Philadelphia and her friend would take the train home to Baltimore. Sounds simple and relatively uneventful, right? As I learned on this day, “simple” and “uneventful” go out the window when Jetta is around, and they don’t even kiss you goodbye. You turn around and they’re gone, and “complicated” and “chaotic” are sitting on your couch with their feet up on your coffee table.

I knew before I saw Jetta and Kate arrive on the beach that the food and wine event had been heavy on wine and light on food. You could hear them coming from the boardwalk. Red flag numero uno: volume (out of) control. At this point, my experience with drunk people was limited, and this was my first real taste of Drunk Jetta.

Jetta and Kate threw themselves down in the sand, laughing and shout-talking, and Jetta directed me to find her lighter in her bag so they could smoke cigarettes. I opened her canvas beach tote to find an empty bottle of whiskey. Red flag number two. It turns out this bottle of whiskey was gifted to them two-thirds-full by some random gentlemen at the event. I hope someday they read this and appreciate the shitstorm they helped to generate.

Jetta insisted on frolicking through the hip-high waves, continually falling and going under in her drunken state. I wrapped my arms around her waist and hauled her back to her feet each time – not an easy task, because at the time I was a weakling and also exhausted from hours of swimming before she arrived. The lifeguards blew their whistles and yelled every so often, but made no move to help. Fortunately, Jetta tired of splashing in the shallows before I felt compelled to strangle one of them with their stupid whistle. To this day, the sound of a lifeguard’s whistle makes me want to claw someone’s eyes out, like Pavlov’s bell. The lifeguards threatened to call the police on multiple occasions, but I assured them I had everything under control (I didn’t) and that Jetta wouldn’t be a problem anymore (she would be).

At that point, Jetta decided she would be more comfortable with her top off. A woman nearby instantly started a fight, citing her young son’s virgin eyes. Jetta pointed out that he’d seen breasts before, and in fact had them in his mouth frequently as an infant (I know that not all women breastfeed, but I’m sure Drunk Jetta wasn’t thinking about that, and this particular woman didn’t contest that argument). The child – who was probably seven or eight – was completely unfazed, and was far more interested in the sand castle he was constructing than Jetta’s nipples. Insults were shouted while Kate laughed riotously and I tried unsuccessfully to get everyone to just calm down.

While not helpful, Drunk Kate was not difficult, and not especially mobile, which was fine with me. A beleaguered-looking lifeguard came over to demand that Jetta put her top back on, and received an earful of feminist rhetoric for his trouble. I leapt up, led him aside, and explained that Jetta has a natural aversion to the patriarchy that is magnified when she is intoxicated (something I was just discovering in that moment) and that the message would be better received if it came from a female lifeguard. They didn’t have one of those, so I tied Jetta’s top back onto her person. Upside down, but it did the trick. Once again, we avoided arrest.

When we finally got in my car to embark on the return trip to Philadelphia I made a disturbing discovery: Google Maps wasn’t working. My phone was old at this point and had suffered a number of unfortunate impacts with pavement, concrete, hardwood floors, etc. Various functions were impaired depending on the day – sometimes the alarm didn’t go off even though it was set, some days I would get missed calls with no indication someone had been trying to reach me. Today, of all days, whatever internal mechanism that was needed to guide me home had failed.

“You know the way home, right?” I asked Jetta, and was relieved when she replied in a slurry affirmative. Jetta’s sense of direction and recall are incredible. She can guide you to a place she’s been one time twenty years ago without hesitation. Relieved, I pulled out into traffic.

“Turn left,” Jetta instructed at the first light, and I obliged. “Go right,” she told me at the next light, and I complied. “Go left,” she said. We continued on like this for two more turns before I was forced to acknowledge that there was a pattern forming.

“Gina, in life, when someone tells you to go left, but you want to go right, go right,” Jetta declared. At that point I realized we had a problem. Also, Jetta’s eyes were closed, and because I’d been watching the road I had no idea for how long that had been the case. We were most definitely lost in Atlantic City.

Suddenly, Jetta sat up straight and stared through the windshield, wide awake. “Don’t turn here!” she snapped.

“Okay, I won’t! Why not?” I asked, relieved to see Jetta fully alert.

“It’s not safe on Broad Street at night,” she replied.

Broad Street. As in, Broad Street, Philadelphia. I corrected myself: I was lost in Atlantic City. Jetta knew exactly where she was. Not that that’s where we actually were or anything. Minor detail.

I crossed over Revel Boulevard and faced the facts: I was hopelessly lost, in an unfamiliar area, at night, with no GPS, and the only person who could set me straight was so drunk she thought we were in a different state and was insisting I drop her off at the Wawa at the corner where in fact there was a Chinese restaurant with bars over the windows. To add insult to injury, it began to rain.

Somehow we managed to circle back onto the main drag that runs behind the casinos parallel to the boardwalk, and I was able to follow the signs to a backwoods road that seemed to be heading in the right direction. My GPS kicked in intermittently to reassure me that we were heading in vaguely the correct direction, then flickered out again before I could call up the whole route. Right about then, Jetta demanded food. I was reluctant to move too far off track, so at the first sign of a nearby fast food restaurant, I turned the wheel sharply and took us to Burger King.

“I need food,” Jetta moaned as I ordered her a hamburger. “This isn’t food!”

“Eat. It.” I said. I think she made it through half the burger before giving up and insisting that she needed pretzels instead.

Yes, I thought to myself in my all-too-limited experience of dealing with drunk people, carbs are always the answer! As it turns out, protein is the answer. Let me say it louder for the people in the back: PROTEIN, not carbs, is what your drunk friend needs. Fortunately, Wawas (Wawa = gas station/food market/most magical place on earth) pop up in Pennsylvania and New Jersey with the frequency of Starbucks in every other state. I was about to leave Jetta with the keys, then thought better of it. I lowered the windows the span of two fingers and locked her in.

I learned four more lessons that night. First, if you give Drunk Jetta a soft pretzel in the car, more of it will end up between your seat and center console than in her mouth. Second, if you are on an unfamiliar road in the dead of night, the pitch blackness is less concerning than the moments when a flash of lightning reveals the densely-wooded swamps stretching away on either side of the road (note: I had not yet heard of the Jersey Devil at this time. Thank God for small mercies). Third, there is one acceptable song on my iPod, and that is ACDC’s “Shook Me All Night Long”. Fourth and finally, Jetta can fall asleep during ACDC’s “Shook Me All Night Long”.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this departure from the usual content. We’ll be back to our regular programming just as soon as I have the headspace to create some.

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[Photo credit: CodeCopyCoffee]

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