Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Kindness of Strangers

I recently returned from my fifth (count 'em, five) Folksong Tour of Scotland and had an incredible time. We went to an area of Scotland I'd never been to before, the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, as well as returning to some old favorites, including Plockton, home of the most phenomenal scallops you have ever tasted. But before the tour even started, I had a couple of days in Glasgow by myself. It was supposed to be three days, not two--"mechanical trouble" caused my flight to be canceled and I spent the first day of my vacation in Philadelphia. But I digress. Anyway, I had to cram all the things I wanted to do in Glasgow into a pretty short time. One of those things was going to see Grit: The Martyn Bennett Story.  I had met Martyn's mother, Margaret Bennett, several times before on Ed Miller's tours, and for that reason, as well as the fact that it just sounded like an interesting show, I wanted to see it.

The show was a matinee, so I figured I would go to a couple of museums first and then make my way to the Tramway, the venue where Grit was being performed.  When you go to the Tramway's web site, they tell you pretty clearly that it's hard to get to unless you either drive (and it seemed sort of silly to take a cab) or take a train. There's not a bus stop close by, and they specifically say that it's a long walk from the nearest subway station.  However, the other places I was going first, Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Scotland Street School Museum, were both easily accessible by subway (and coincidentally the stop for Scotland Street School Museum is the closest stop for the Tramway as well), so I figured the subway would be my mode of transportation and I'd just get my exercise for the day hoofing it to the Tramway.

Except for some weird anxiety about me or someone else falling off the platform onto the subway tracks (seriously, I had to keep telling myself that millions of people ride subways every day and almost never does anyone fall onto the track), the first two stops were uneventful. I enjoyed the exhibit about Glasgow at the Kelvingrove, and had a brief but interesting look around Scotland Street School. That's when things started to get a bit dicey.  I asked the lady at the desk at Scotland Street School how to get to the Tramway, because I had looked it up and thought I had a pretty good idea, but since I have a notoriously terrible sense of direction, I wanted to be sure.  She said it was fairly complicated, what with streets not connecting and having to make multiple turns, and drew me what was possibly the least helpful map in the world.  (She also said she herself has a pretty bad sense of direction.)  I decided to just give it a try and figured it was an adventure.  So, off I went in search of the Tramway.

What I didn't realize was that not only is it a long walk, and a somewhat twisty-turny walk, but it also takes you through a less than salubrious part of Glasgow. Like a "they might not find the body for a while" part of Glasgow. Boarded up windows, overflowing trash cans, practically no people in sight even though it was Saturday afternoon--like that. Oh, and it was starting to rain, which made it all the more fun.  I considered giving up and just going back, but I really wanted to see the show, and also by this point it had sort of turned into a quest--Alison and the Holy Grail, if you will. The problem (well, one of the problems) was that I wasn't entirely sure I was even going in the right direction.  I finally saw a storefront that had signs of life, so I went in to ask for directions.  It turned out to be a place where people go to place bets, which wasn't what I expected (it looked like a little newspaper shop or something.) I went up to the lady at the window and asked for directions. She had no idea what I was talking about, but one of the customers ("punters", I think they're called) overheard me and told me how to get there. I thanked him and headed out into the (now heavier) rain.

So I was trekking along in the rain (with an umbrella--don't feel too sorry for me) when a car honked and slowed down, and lo and behold it was my new friend from the betting shop. He rolled down the window and said, "I'm going that way. Would you like a lift?" Now, I figured that a) he was probably just being nice but b) getting into a car with a stranger in a scuzzy part of Glasgow would guarantee they'd never find the body, so I thanked him and said I appreciated the offer but I was fine walking. Some more walking (uphill, by the way) and I was finally in sight of the Tramway.  When I was pretty much there, the same guy popped out of a doorway, waved at me, got into his car, and drove away.

When I finally got there and bought a ticket (I actually hadn't checked to see if there were any tickets left before I went, but luckily there were), I had about half an hour before the show started, and I was hungry, so I went to the little cafe in the Tramway. It was packed and the line was moving slowly, so I decided to get soup since that seemed like the fastest thing. By the time I actually got it and found a table, I had maybe five minutes before the show. That's when I learned a life lesson: No matter how much of a rush you're in, it is physically impossible to wolf down hot soup. 

The day's other life lesson is that, while the stereotype that I'd heard about Glaswegians being friendly and helpful and chatty is apparently true, and I'm pretty sure that the betting shop guy wasn't actually stalking me, or at least not in a creepy way, you still don't want to get into a car with a stranger, no matter how kind and/or Glaswegian he may be!

By the way, the show was amazing.

I took a cab back to the hotel--one adventure a day was enough for me.