7:00 a.m. The alarms resounds through the cozy dawn, causing Sadie to stir in her sleep. I slip away from her soft, sleepy embrace. She moans gently, and her eyes flutter open, then closed. Drat alarm. I wish for five more minutes so that I can watch her breathe.
But beyond my flat, past the hills and valleys of Upper Manhattan, Delaware awaits.
7:15 a.m. Abbreviated morning ablutions complete, Sadie and I stroll slowly around the block, catching the crisp, morning air. I some ways, we acknowledge our unspoken agreement. She lurches forward, stoic in her silence, trying to ignore the signs.
She breaks fast in the other room and then watches me dress, but when I reach to her, to kiss her goodbye, she turns her head and retreats. She knows I am leaving, and doesn’t know when I’ll be back.
8:09 a.m. Amidst my fellow urban dwellers, crowded on the subway, the first leg of my journey through the perils of rush hour has begun. The train is as silent as it can be and I marvel at the quiet solitude one can find amongst throngs of people.
The train, carrying its burden to work and beyond, rocks gently in the tracks.
8:30 a.m. Penn Station is a cacophony of jarring rhythms and swinging moods. People team through passageways like gangs of misguided fish. Squeezed here, assaulted there, redirected, and then set free into a rush of open space.
I buy my tickets, first to Trenton, then Philadelphia. The Delaware passage will have to wait until I am closer.
I board the train.
9:01 a.m. Trenton, Philadelphia, Wilmington… The train chugs along through industrial wastelands and leafless woods. Since my date has been canceled, and my time is free, I have adjusted my itinerary. I am on an exploratory mission to discover the heartbeat of this mysterious place, to see the neighborhood I’m pretending to live in, to walk the waterfront, look at art, drink a martini, and perchance, find another date.
“The most fun I ever had in Wilmington was watching it in my rearview mirror,” muses one associate, but I am excited to see this foreign land, so close, and yet so far.
12:35 p.m. I have arrived. I step off the train and into the sharp cold. My maps are faded, and the street names impossible to discern. I follow my nose to the waterfront, a space I’ve read about – an urban revitalization project where the young, hip, and lively gather.
12:45 p.m. The river is brackish, and narrow, the water front small. A micro-brewery and a Crab Shack line the walk. I am peckish and search for a small sandwich shop, a place to purchase a morsel. Finally, towards the end of the walkway, there is an ice cream shop. I stop in for a cup of tea.
A soap opera plays on a television in the corner, and a wizened old man shuffles towards me. He takes my order: a black tea to go.
1 p.m. The tea, finally planted in my hands, after a healthy fifteen minute wait for its preparation. Water flows slowly in Wilmington, Delaware.
Invigorated by its warmth, I cradle the styrofoam cup between my hands and venture back into the cold. A woman in a jogging suit nods a tired hello as she waddles by.
1:15 p.m. I arrive at the art installation, a well though out, sometimes harrowing, sometimes beautiful melange of modern works. The sole visitor of the space, I am pleased to drink in the work.
At the end of my slow stroll through the building, I ask the woman at the gift shop for directions to a martini. She looks at me blankly. Her co-workers tells me there’s a nice brewery on the water. I thank them and move on.
1:45 p.m. I stroll up Market Street and again see signs promising revitalization, particularly in terms of selling real estate. I stop for another cup of tea and ask after Trolley Square, the neighborhood of young professionals and hispters, the place where my alter ego lives.
“It’s very far from here,” the barista declares. ” At least a twenty-minute walk.”
Conditioned as I am to walk on the small island I call home, I am not worried. I ask her if there is a place to drink a martini. Another blank stare.
“There is an Irish bar there. And a nicer Irish bar across the street.”
I thank her and move on.
“Trolley Square is considered and urban oasis,” writes one inhabitant, but once I get there, I can’t find it.
“I’m in Wilmington, Delaware, looking for a date,” I say answering a call on my phone.
“Oh God,” my dear friend replies. After three moments of silence, she hangs up.
2:25 p.m. I begin my journey, a slow walk, back towards the train. I am still hopeful that I can find a martini and perhaps a local with whom I can sit, but the more I walk, the less I see.
There is a grave yard, packed with white stones by the highway. And parking complexes filled with empty cars. Even though the walk signs offer 49 second warning about the changing light, a car honks as I step into the cross walk. I consider pointing out the impatient driver that I still have 32 seconds with which to cross the street.
I wonder if people take themselves so seriously here because there’s nothing else to do.
And as I stroll back towards the train, hoping beyond hope that a martini will find me, I realize I can count the number of people I’ve encountered on this day on both hands.
4:30 p.m. On the train, safe passage to Philadelphia, Trenton, New York, I close my eyes once more, first to wonder at the strange adventure, the neighborhood that doesn’t exist, the cars lined up, each in a row, sad and empty, the riverfront struggling to grow, the brackish New England water, and the slow man making my tea slowly.
Could it be that Delaware is a suburb of Philadelphia?
My mind wanders to Sadie, sleeping in her bed after a full day with friends. And I hope she will be happy to see me upon my return.