Sunday, March 29, 2015
Well, a picture really is worth a thousand words. The picture above is actually the conclusion to this whole fiasco after it had come full circle. So let's take a trip down memory lane.
This story starts in November 2003, during my days at Messiah College in Central PA. My elder brother, Nguza, who at that point lived at Daytona Beach, Fl., invited me over to spend the Christmas vacation at his place. He had come across a few Delta Airlines 'Buddy passes', and he sent me one of them so that I could use it to get a deal on a ticket. I'm not exactly sure about the specifics of the deal...but I do remember till today that I only ended up paying $88.00 for a Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) - Orlando (Florida) roundtrip.
Best way I could describe the Buddy Pass is to say that you were basically flying on the cheap, but you were flying 'Standby' the whole time; this meant I had to wait at the counter, get listed as a 'potential' for a specific flight, and hope that the flight either hadn't been overbooked or that everyone didn't make their flight. Oh, there was that one extra added stipulation that I had to be formally dressed...so no jeans and comfort on that trip.
The trip to Florida was for the most part uneventful. My boss, Elick Yeadon, got me to the airport safe and sound (though I remember him having to rush me back home when we pulled over to PNC Bank about 1 mile out from Messiah to get some money; serendipitously, it was then that I realized that I' d forgotten my passport). Apart from that, and maybe being passed over 2 times for a potential flight, I got to Orlando in one piece, and had a great vacation in Daytona.
When it was time to get back home, again I had to depart from the airport at Orlando. However, this time it proved to be quite the hustle to find a set of flights that would get me back to Harrisburg; it was peak season for travel, which basically meant I was stuck. Finally, someone manning the counters told me that instead of hustling to use 2 flights to get to Harrisburg, I had the infinitely easier option of taking 1 flight to New Jersey and after that taking 2 buses to get to Downtown Harrisburg.
I don't tend to hear many positive things about New Jersey, but on that day I felt New Jersey was just the Godsend that I'd been looking for. As soon as I set my sights on that NJ trajectory, everything just seemed to flow perfectly; I got the standby flight immediately, and I was headed back home. Soon as I landed in Jersey, I got the information for my buses. Turned out the first bus would get me to Allentown, PA at about 11pm, and I would have to take my bus to Harrisburg later in the morning. I surmised that I could just spend the night at the bus station.
Allentown, PA was like no other town I'd come across until then (at least nowhere in the continental US). It was only 11pm when the bus rolled into town, but everything was shut down! All businesses, even the bars: the town was dead and lifeless! Oh, as for that bus station where I'd planned to stay the night...well, it was literally just a small one-person ticketing stall set up next to a bus stop where the bus could pull over. I was basically stranded!
But then again, 'when it rains, it pours'. To add insult to injury, it had snowed earlier that night and the temperatures were frigid. So I found myself trudging through the snow with my luggage in tow, formally dressed, but not appropriately layered and stuck in a strange new town at the worst possible time. I remember walking those streets and coming across some homeless guy who looked like he was balled up in a sack and sleeping in the street. The guy was snoring so loudly, so you knew he had to be comfortable. At that point, I even considered sleeping underneath someone's porch if it was all I was gonna get.
At my wits end, I just walked up to a payphone and figured I'd call 9-1-1. I remember thinking I'd better give the police officer (dispatcher) the correct impression about my situation; didn't want him to think I was pranking him and find myself unceremoniously locked up in jail. He understood my predicament, and gave me directions to a nearby 'Halfway' house. (maybe he was new to Allentown and didn't know of any other options...or he knew how dead the place was and gave me the best option).
I got to the halfway house after a short walk, and I rang the bell. The Supervisor showed up and let me in; unfortunately, he couldn't let me sleep in one of the rooms because I had shown up too late. The best thing he could do was to let me sleep in the lobby, and attend to me later in the morning. It was a chilly place, and not the most comfortable of places to sleep, but it was better than my other options. In the morning, I got to eat breakfast with some of the residents, and by 8.30 am I was already down at the ticketing office finalizing my bus ticket. Long story short, I got home safe.
Fast forward to the end of J-Term 2004, at which point we were done with our classes, and some mission trips had been set up by the school. My good friend, Collins Mwangi, and I ended up going on one of the trips together. I don't remember if we had a choice concerning the area we were posted to, but suffice it to say we ended up in Allentown
I don't remember majority of what transpired on that Mission trip, but I do remember helping to stock food products for the Soup kitchen store; I also remember that we were hosted by the kindly Mr. Garcia and his family, who took us out for a basketball game at LeHigh University (...still have the entrance ticket stub till today). And, last but not least, we ended up at the Halfway house...Yes! The same Halfway house where I'd holed up that one eventful night.
To capture the event for posterity, on January 31st 2004, I had Collins take a picture of me seated in the very same lobby chair where I slept that night - the very same picture at the start of this post. So there you have it: finally come full circle. Memories indeed!