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The Benefits of Not Being a Hermit

I have a friend from college, Gretchen, who is fearless. Well, at least compared to me she is fearless - but maybe that's not saying a whole lot. She lives only about 45 minutes away, but on the other side of Philadelphia, and for some reason that 45 minutes on I95 seems SOOOOO far to me, and so I don't see her as much as I would like to. So, when we do see each other, Gretchen often suggests meeting somewhere in Philly as a halfway point.

Now, I'm considerably more afraid of driving in Philadelphia than I am of driving AROUND Philadelphia on I95, but I don't want to admit that to Fearless Gretchen, so I always say "yes!" as though I have nary a quandry about the excursion. She probably sees right through this, knowing me pretty well by now, but I keep up appearances anyway. Gretchen has no such girlish squeamishness about driving in the city. She loves the city. She went to grad school at Drexel knows little nooks and backroads and swing dance clubs (at least she did before she had kids) and would love to live in West Philly if it weren't for the schools. When she had her son two years ago and couldn't stand being in the house all day (not being a boring homebody like myself) she would take her baby along with her on trips to South Street to pick up "zines" for her book club girls to see. I had been to South Street a couple times with Tim before we had kids. I always got a kick out of "Zipperhead," which was a punk-ish kind of shop with a giant zipper painted on it's front facade (and regrettably now out of business.) Whenever I'd see CondomNation I was always faintly disgusted at the idea of an entire shop devoted solely to the sale of prophylactics, but at the same time I absolutely loved it. What a superb name, double entendre and all. If such a store has to exist, at least it has a name like that. My excursions there with Tim had been entertaining - but I never in a million years would have the guts to DRIVE there by myself with my baby. Never. Gretchen has some guts.

So, when we were trying to find a way to see each other before she got too close to her due date (being again with child) I was not surprised when she suggested meeting in Philadelphia. She picked a park called Smith Park that is close to the zoo, and I agreed enthusiastically, then hung up and begged my husband to show me how to get there.

The day of the trip came, and I had my directions and my lunch and my son and so I set out. It being before 10:00, I95 was of course a parking lot. I could deal with that better than weaving maniacs driving in and out of traffic, though, and since I was going so slow at least I wasn't likely to miss my exit. And I didn't. I got off, and yelled at Daniel to stop asking me questions while I searched for the right road, and, miraculously, I did! I got off all the main roads and only had the last turn onto the smaller road and I was there. If it hadn't been for the fact that the street name was different from the Google maps street name, I would have gotten there without a hitch. But, the street name was wrong, so I ended up driving around for like an extra half hour because of all the crazy zoo traffic, and I was very bitter. SO close to actually getting to a Philadelphia destination without incident! It simply isn't to be, I've decided.

But. The park. It was fabulous! Entirely worth the psychological trauma of driving in the city and getting lost. I've never been to a park like this. It was built a hundred years ago by the Smiths for young children. There is a three story Victorian mansion with play things for children 5 and under. Here's what it looks like:

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We went in there first and Daniel and Nat (Gretchen's son) played. I only saw the first floor, though, since we were eager to get outside.

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But the REALLY great part was the park outside. Kids 10 and under can play there, and I really want to go back with Emily because I know she'd love it. The ground was some spongy moon-walky material instead of that awful messy mulch stuff, and the equipment was equally other-worldly. There were gyroscope things (which I actually enjoyed a lot myself. You stand on them and spin and spin. Lots of fun.) and this giant net with a sort of trampoliny thing in the middle, and these giant saucers to sit on and swing instead of normal swings, and a merry go round with a cone shaped net attached to it for climbing. And more. It was fascinating.

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But, best of all, was this old fashioned big wooden slide. It was covered with open sides that could be closed in winter or rain. You grabbed a burlap sack and walked up the ramp and ZOOM, you were down in a flash. It was FAST. And big enough for the grown-ups. Gretchen was thinking it would be her last time for a while since she's getting rather ponderous, and was a little sad about that.

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The park was also really safe. There were workers posted all around, making sure people were safe and no creepy people were there who shouldn't be. They were all volunteers, and very nice. And the best part of all? It was FREE! Completely free, and so much fun. How have I not known about this place before now? It's definitely worth braving Philly driving to go again. And I think that now I've done it once, that whole misnamed-street-thing won't get me the next time and I'll finally be able to get somewhere in the city without getting lost. Hey, it could happen.

So, thank you Fearless Gretchen, my dear friend, for coaxing me out of my hermit-like existence to go to Smith Park with you! That's the kind of things good friends do for each other, I guess. Friends don't let friends wallow in boring home-bound isolation. Or something like that.

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