Broken Spanish Isn’t Super Helpful In Quebec

They say the best way to experience a city is through the eyes of its citizens.  That being the truth or not, I had the terrific good fortune to have experienced Montreal through Chantal’s eyes.  Actually, back it up a minute: first and foremost, I have the terrific good fortune to call Chantal my friend.  She and I met because of a shared concentrated hobby (deep, abiding admiration for Barenaked Ladies), and here I found myself a few years hence, visiting her hometown.

Chantal and her daughter, Emily, scooped us up Saturday morning, showed us all the things tourists want to see, but perhaps don’t due to their distance from centre-ville (that’s French for downtown, see how multi-lingual I am now?).  Intrepid driver she, Chantal braved highway and road construction that abounded at every turn.  Every.  Turn.  You guys, I live in a winter climate.  Snow removal damages concrete and asphalt, I understand that, so I’m not unaccustomed to summer road construction, but Montreal??  They own, and I mean OWN, messed up construction traffic.

We hiked to the top of Mont Royal to see the cross, a tourist spot which also apparently is a hot spot for public group sex.  I swear I am not making that up. Read here if you don’t believe me.  Fortunately, we didn’t have to suffer bearing witness to this, and instead witnessed stunning views sweeping over the city in a verdant park.

I began this post thinking I’d detail the natural beauty and history of Montreal and Quebec City.  But the last game of my kid’s baseball season is looming, and I’m feeling emotional and thankful, so I’m focused on thankfulness.  I hope Chantal and Emily know how much we appreciated their time and local expertise, and most of all how we appreciated their company.  I don’t think I can thank them enough with words, so I’m hoping they can read my heartbeats.  Merci beaucoup and much love!  xoxo

The Queen of Quebec

A deep, sincere merci beaucoup is due to the dear lady who walked us all the way from the Gare du Palais in Quebec City to our hotel.  All the way.  Up a hill.  In the driving rain.  Did I mention the hill was steep and Mother Nature welcomed us with a monsoon?  Exiting the VIA Rail station in Quebec City, we encountered something of a downpour.  *ahem*  We stopped to ask assistance from one of the few pedestrians we encountered.  I’m one weak-ass polyglot, and when she or anyone greeted me with “bonjour” or “bon soir” my default was “hola” or “buenos dias.” So embarrassing.  Anyway, I attempted speaking to her in the very broken Spanish in my command, because I’m an idiot!, which was less useful than the little English in her command.  Apparently I can only second language in first-year college Spanish.  English was more effective, but she couldn’t quite direct us to our hotel with words.  We offered a weak merci, and changed direction.  Before we even got to the corner, she sped to catch us, then said something like, “I show you.”

And she did.  She accompanied us–saturated, lost, oh-so-obviously-tourists the kilometer or so to our hotel.  I can only imagine how pathetic and tired we must have appeared to her that she made it her job to deposit us at the Hotel Palace Royal.  We got near, and we thought we recognized the hotel from photos.  I said (OK, I tried to say) words to the effect of “we can take it from here,” but she insisted.  I felt in that moment like she was a mama wildebeest and we were the wildebeest babies she was bound to deliver across the river.  She was determined to get us there, like it was her sworn duty.  She marched (and y’all, this was not a leisurely stroll, no, she was hauling!) us to the literal front door, bid us adieu, and tears of intense gratitude stung my eyes.

A thousand thanks would feel inadequate.  I didn’t feel desperate exactly, though I surely wasn’t confident I’d locate and check in to our hotel in any sort of timely manner.  This lady, whom I’ve dubbed The Queen of Quebec demonstrated unbelievable kindness.  We made her day more difficult, surely more uncomfortably wet, yet she did something good for strangers just because.  I really hope karma takes good care of my queen.

Muchas Gracias

At this moment, I’m sitting atop my bed in a Crystal Lake, IL hotel.  Tomorrow is my son’s final baseball game of the season.  We’re here for the Summer International Classic, a tournament fielding teams from Brazil, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Japan, and the US.  It’s been almost exactly a year since my son joined this team.  In this time, he’s improved as a ball player, earned a few more Ws than Ls, had a great time with his teammates, and I’ve been made welcome into the Criollos baseball family.

My son was the only non-Latino or Hispanic child on the team, and you know what?  He didn’t even realize it because you know why?  He was becoming an improved ballplayer, winning a bunch of games, and having a great time with his teammates.  There is nothing so pure as kids playing a game they love.

There were moments I didn’t understand what was being said and I know I missed more than a couple jokes over the year, but there is no one I’d rather have spent summer with than my baseball family.  The coaches and my baseball moms are worth more than these piddly thanks I’m able to write.

I’m going to cry tomorrow, I know I am.  I’m tearing up already just thinking about what’s going to go down at around 10:30 tomorrow morning.  Muchas gracias por todo, Criollos family.  Thank you.  Merci beaucoup.

Monitor Hall Takes Manhattan

B is for Beth, who missed her calling as a travel agent. Or cat shepherd, so adept are her organization, task focus, and time management skills.

S is for Sue, whose pre-planning, on-site planning, innate navigation gift that rivals Google Maps or Magellan’s himself, and experience as a world traveler make her the girls’ weekend Allstate Agent–you’re in good hands.

BS is for, well, BS is pretty self-explanatory in the usual contexts. But in my story, together, Beth and Sue head BS Travel, an imaginary travel agency that could and probably should consider incorporation some day.  BS Travel is full-service.  They personalize the experience for their clients (Bridget, Julie, and yours truly), and that personal touch creates adventure with a comfortable safety net.

This post won’t be 5% as good as I want it to be. I want it to reflect all that is incredible about New York City and the unbelievable hubris of man, who envisioned, believed, and then BUILT Manhattan, an island of dreams. More importantly, I want my story to reflect the friendships I’ve carried three decades. You see, my NYC venture is everything to do with the girls with whom I traveled. The sights and the other eight million people, however amazing–and they are nothing short of amazing–are merely backdrop.  All right, not merely.  Merely would be underselling its magnificence.

I actually took this photograph with my iPhone.  Pretty incredible, no?

Monitor Hall is the now-razed building that housed the Speech Pathology and Audiology program at Marquette University in our day.  Hands down, ugliest building on campus.  But Monitor Hall was the home, the launch pad of thousands of friendships, including ours.  Five Midwestern girls, livin’ in a lonely world, we took the midnight train. . . No, that’s not true.  There are few trains to the Milwaukee area and we are only now embracing street cars for mass transit, and let’s don’t even go there with the streetcar debate.  Where was I?  Though we came from different backgrounds, and I was definitely the only one with hair standing 7″ off and out of my head (I mean, it was the ’80s, you guys), the commonality of our Midwestern values, collective sense of humor, the fact that none of us were trust fund kids whose parents gifted them a free ride through college, made us friends.

Last summer Julie introduced the idea of a girls’ trip to celebrate our rather round, large birthdays, but a number of circumstances prevented that from its fruition.  But Julie isn’t one to abandon her people–No Speech Path Left Behind is the motto, yo.  We, well to be honest, they, planted the seeds for this trip.  After much discussion, we decided upon NYC, and unbeknownst to us all, BS Travel was born.  Sue killed the hotel and dinner reservations; Beth, the airlines and daily activities; Julie scored the Broadway tickets, and Bridget and I hit “purchase.”  This is not to say that Bridget had as little to do with planning as I did (which, no lie, was absolutely nothing), but the big three were all over the Big Apple.

BS Travel Hits All Your Midtown High Notes

This isn’t a travelogue, because really, what the hell do I know about travel?  Yeah, um, not much.  I know that I notice things, and I’ve got a decent memory for place.  I really don’t get lost, which is not the same as having no idea where you are, by the way.  But once I found my bearings, I could find things and re-find them when needed.  Like on which side of Rockefeller Plaza the bathrooms were located, for example.  Go, me!  Rather than detail sites, I’m gonna detail US, the stars of this show.

Because props.  Dylan’s Candy Bar.  I believe I actually squealed at the wall of rainbow-colored candies.

See how the sign indicated exit?  That’s how you know we successfully entered the subway and later arrived to the surface no worse for the wear.

Downtown and Brooklyn and Broadway and and and. . .

The one place I felt strongly about visiting was the 9/11 Memorial and Museum. 9/11 was my “Where were you when Kennedy was shot?” or “Pearl Harbor” event.  As it did then, it does now continue to touch me to my core.  The museum and memorial are beautiful and deeply respectful of their reason for being.  It’s one place we didn’t take selfies, because it would have been so incongruous.  Solemnity and reverence are the two words that most registered with me there.

Oh, my heart.

Kinky Boots.  Kinky Boots! So fun, and made all the more fun seeing Tyler Glenn portray Charlie.  Watch Believer, the documentary by Dan Reynolds from Imagine Dragons if you want to learn more about Tyler Glenn, the lead singer from the band Neon Trees.  Mind.  Blown.  But I digress.  Dinner before the thea-tah was divine, and the show was a party.  Now if that woman in front of me could have just sat down and sat still. . .

The East River Isn’t Actually A River

Don’t let ’em fool you.  We cruised around Manhattan on Day 3.  Genius move, y’all, because heat and humidity are not always our friends.  And we’d walked like a hundred miles the two days prior, ’cause yeah, we’re smart like that.

You can’t help but be moved upon first sight.

Hot, hot, hot.  

We did walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, but this shot from beneath it really popped.

 It Takes A Village

Like the tee shirts proclaim, I do heart NY.  I can’t wait to return and bring my son (OK, all of my family, sure, but especially my NYC-obsessed high schooler), but at the same time I was ready to come home.  The city is too everything, and I love it.  Love it.  The city that never sleeps is truly that, but I also do appreciate a bit of peace and quiet.  Ironic that I live in the city, but I don’t live IN THE CITY either.  I was ready to be heading home, though not at all looking forward to the good-byes.

Splitting off at the Riu Hotel Saturday afternoon, hugs and “safe travels” abounded as Beth, Julie, and I hopped into our Uber back to LaGuardia while Sue and Bridget meandered toward the train station.  There were tears, but not ugly tears, just tears in celebration of a wildly successful trip with amazing women who have made good.  Monitor Hall taught and shaped us well as speech paths.  But it’s what is inside of them (do I daresay us to include myself in this elite company?), what is inside us that has guided us through life to be successful speech paths, parents, wives, and friends.  It takes a village (oft-heard on our trip because at least one of us had the heads-up at all times).  I like my village.  A lot.  My village is smart, compassionate, kind, generous, and damn good at travel arrangements.  My love to you all, girls! xoxo

Where to next time???

If I Can Make It There

I’ll make it anywhere. That’s how the song goes, right?

I think I shall begin logging bicycle rides not by the number of miles I turn, but by the number of times I nearly get killed by a distracted driver. Today’s count is two. I originally wrote only two, but then edited because really one is all ya need. OK, one is too many. It would take just one to wreck me for good, so the target is zero. Nada. Zip. I should consider myself lucky to have survived another urban cycling adventure.

And it was an adventure. For four whole miles, I pedaled south along the shores of Lake Michigan. For four whole miles I passed no one, I heard no motorized anything. My goal was to ride south to College Avenue, about six miles south of home. I made it. Here’s the tricky thing though: it is not enough, not enough by half, to merely arrive at your destination to meet your goal. You also have to make your way back home. Which I did, triumphantly for me, to the notice of no one else on the planet. 14.7 miles, coupla airhead motorists, lots of ups and downs, achy quads and triceps later. Boom. Just like the old days. OK, not at all like the old days. But strong. Fine! Strong-ish.

Waaaay over there? Looking even smaller than an ant community? That’s downtown.

The Actual big news is that I am headed to New York City tomorrow. No, there is no Barenaked Ladies concert to attend, it’s a reunion of my college friends. The four girls I spent 4+ years cramming for exams with at Marquette in the late 80s are meeting in New York City. We are now scattered throughout the Midwest and East coast, and we’ve all reached this magical, stupid age, so why not?

I’m not gonna lie, up until this morning towards the end of my bike ride, I was pretty scared. I’ve flown before by myself, so it’s not that. It’s, well I don’t know what it is, but I know that my anxiety meter was pinging into the red.

The other four girls have all been there before, so I have nothing to do but follow them around. I was not responsible for making even one of the travel arrangements; in fact, the girls were good enough even to scout out flights for me. Still though, nervous. And a little guilty. Mom guilt is a bee-otch, you guys. My son, he of MD fame/infamy/neither of those, just the kid who is DYING to visit NYC, laid it on pretty thick for a brief period. Then I reminded him how old I am, and it’s just now my first time taking a bite out of the Big Apple.

Anyway, for the first time since downloading the Southwest Airlines app, I felt not apprehension but anticipation. They promised me they wouldn’t leave the airport without me, and I’m holding them to it. So technically I can make it there. . . I do have my boarding pass, and now all I have to do is pack.

Sue, Bridget, Beth, and Julie–Monitor Hall (the ugliest building on campus) Takes Manhattan–let’s go!