It started with a trip to Edmonton International Airport. I was running late, as usual, and had to take a cab. That being said, I got there in plenty of time. The techo-gidgetry of the place wowed me, poor Ontario hick that I am, what with not having to get a person to give me my boarding pass, but rather doing it via computer. I was pretty impressed with the relaxed nature of the flight via West Jet.
As I left, my poor Alberta was celebrating its centennial, and the vultures who run the place were using the event as an excuse to slap one another on the back. I can't wait until the next big anniversary for the country as a whole, when we'll watch the federals do the same. Heaven help us all.
I arrived in Toronto airport with plenty of time to spare. The question remained, however: How would I get to the Greyhound station for the next leg in my arduous journey? Well, after much wandering around, staring at taxis and bugging the people at ground transport, I was told that there was some kind of downtown shuttle that would take me directly there.
What a mistake! After buying my ticket and entrusting myself to the bus driver (the most dour and taciturn man on earth), we toodled about Toronto for over an hour. I almost got off at the wrong stop. Instead of politely pointing that out to me, he just scowled and shook his head, then pointed back at the bus door.
After my arrival at the Station, I booked my ticket (getting charged about half of what I had been told by the Greyhound people over the phone, which was a nice surprise) and had about three hours to kill. I misspent these wandering around, looking for (and finding) an internet cafe, spending about an hour in there, wandering around some more, getting dinner in a Chinese restaurant *that seemed pretty genuine), having a few drinks in a local bar....
Anyway, I got on the Greyhound, first for New York, the Philadelphia. It was an uneventful trip, until we got to the border. Thereupon, I was grilled by American customs: Just where did I meet these 'friends' in the US? Through a conference in Edmonton? What sort of conference? For the whom? The IWW? What sort of organisation is this? A labour organisation? Oh...
I was asked questions along these lines thrice. It did not help that I had a lot more baggage than would normally be useful for a three day trip. I felt like a criminal, egads! A criminal syndicalist!
The rest of the trip to Philly was uneventful. I met some cute American girls on the bus from New York, though. Fasion design students or something like that. One had been to Egypt. I wished I'd chatted more.
Upon arrival in Philadelphia, I was overwhelmed by the vibrancy and the colour of the place. It seemed a lot dirtier than Canada, but also indefinably more alive. I caught the public transit from the Station (passing by the Hard Rock Cafe) and made it to the Rotunda, where the IWW events were taking place.
I was in business meetings (or, that first day, sleeping) for most of my time there, but when possible I explored the place. Each little neighbourhood in that area of Philadelphia had its own shops and restaurants. The city seems to have a thriving arts and cultural life. Many of the houses seem much older than what we are used to in Canada, even in the eastern part of our country, though perhaps Quebec is different. Anyway, the Philadelphia houses that I saw tend to be very ornate looking from the outside, often looking like miniature castles.
The African-American community in Philadelphia seems very proud, and one often see shops with names like 'Abyssynia Hair Salon', etc. There is, concurrent with this, a large Muslim population. The area I was around most often had several incense and perfume stores that also doubled as marts of devotional items for Muslims, such as prayer beads, the Qu'ran, etc. There was a beautiful mosque near where I was staying. Alas, I did not get a chance to take a closer look or take any pictures. I was pleased and a bit surprised at the level of mixing between Americans of African, European, and other ethnic groups. As a Canadian, I had imagined a much more tense atmosphere, though there is a perception of some segregation that goes on. It is hard, as a foreigner, to say.
On the other hand, people of all ethnicities seem much warier than in Canada. Most houses have bars on the windows, and many restaurants will serve customers from behind bullet-proof glass. Cab drivers do the same. Even the IWW is strict about keeping the front door locked.
Anyway, the rest of the trip went relatively well. The meetings were occasionally tense and tedious, but much good work was done. I visited with several IWW members, and got to see the South Street Workers' Project, an ongoing effort to organize workers on Philly's trendy South Street Strip. I even lucked out and talked a bit with Utah Phillips, the famous IWW folk singer. I enjoyed a real Philadelphia steak and cheese sandwich (they're not all real). It was excellent. During my last day, I did get to visit an incredible art exhibit -- this beautiful mosaic project, made out of shards of ceramic, old rubbish, etc. It was extremely lovely, and I did get a few pictures of it.
My trip back went all right too. A gentleman suddenly snatched up one of my bags at Philadelphia Greyhound station, but turned out not to be a thief, but someone who earns spare change by helping people carry bags. I didn't really need or want the help, but he seemed an honest old man, so I did give him some money. More sinister was the potential mad man at New York Station who pretended that he was going my way, and wanted to prevent me from asking the Greyhound people myself for information. I think he was crazy but harmless, but he might also have been a thief or worse, since I suspect he wanted to get me off alone somehow.
All part of travelling in big cities, though - probably wouldn't notice it in Edmonton.
Anyway, after another thirteen hour ordeal (possibly more -- we were held up at customs for an hour and a half), I got back to Toronto, and grabbed a bus to Kitchener-Waterloo, and hence home.
Home, you ask?
Well, home, Cambridge, is another story....