I wasn’t running late, but I left later than I intended to, and it was eighteen degrees out with a gusty wind up to twenty miles per hour. Not really the best of mornings, especially considering that the day before the temperatures were in the fifty’s.
I had to park on the roof of the parking garage the day before since I pulled into the city after 8:30am, and today was no different. I pulled in around 8:40am and wound my way to the top.
One thing that is “nice” about the colder temperatures is that the air seems to be clearer, as though the cold air makes things appear crisper than they actually are. It makes the city look beautiful, in a way. The lines of everything jut out against the deep blue morning sky, as though they were cut into the sky with a razor.
Stepping out of my heated car into the cold makes me quickly catch my breath. The gusts were stronger on the roof. I grab my briefcase and Thermos and trek down the stairs and make it to the bottom. As I push the door to step onto the sidewalk a man approaches from my left, coming up from the basement level of the garage.
“‘scuse me, sir?”
I stop and look over. My left hand, extended across my chest, holding the door open, is already tingling from the cold metal of the door.
“Yes?” I gasp and quickly turn around the use my back on the door as I step onto the sidewalk, the Man following me.
“Do you know where I got to go about a birth certificate?”
“Follow me,” I replied, “I’m heading to the same building.”
So, we start walking. He’s on my right, closest to the building. He’s wearing a heavy flannel coat, jeans, and brown work boots. His baseball cap is worn down so much that the deep red it once was now appears to be a mix of grey and brown. Probably from baking in the sun on hot summer days, and being drenched on cold rainy days.
He began to ask me questions about how he should exit the garage when he begins the journey home. I explain that there are two exits, that he should use the 5th street exit, then make a left onto Walnut so he can make his way back to the highway. I was guessing at all of this, using any amount of power my brain could muster in the cold. I assumed that where he was from was most easily accessible by highway, not local roads. I was right.
“I’m not from around these parts,” he told me, “I’m from the country, this here’s the city.” He looks up and points all around him, as though we are in the middle of New York City, trying to catch a cab on 5th avenue, and not in humble Harrisburg Pennsylvania walking down an alley next to a parking garage instead.
“Where are you from,” I yell as we near the road. Buses from the station just a block away are speeding past, attempting to go through the intersection while the light was green.
“Lancaster, I’m from the country. I have a farm.”
We turn left and begin making our way to the corner, where we can safely use the crosswalk to go across the street.
“What do you do,” he asked.
I explain that I’m doing work for the department of transportation. “I help them manage the software that they use to manage everything they do across the state.”
“Like roads and stuff?”
“Yeah, like roads. But really anything that moves in the air, on the water, and on the roads, falls under their umbrella. It’s a lot to manage, really.”
“Oh I know. They’re working on a creek down by my home, in the country. Making it wider. Hard workers.”
We cross the street. He says that he might get lost when he needs to go back to his car. I stop him in the middle of the crosswalk and point back to my right.
“That’s the garage right there, so when you come back to this corner just make sure you are heading towards that building.”
“That’s the garage right there,” he repeated.
We walk briskly up the sidewalk. I quicken our pace, knowing that the heated office is so very close.
“Vital Records is up here on your right,” I point up at the sign, just a few steps away.
“Oh, yeah! There it is. Thank you!”
“Just go in there and you’ll be in good shape,” I stop to shake his hand, “have a great day!”
He says thank you and goes into the warm office where he was hopefully able to do the business he came into the city to do.
I walk a few more steps and enter on my right, smiling as I pass the guard (“good morning, sir”) and as I climb the stairs to my office. A man from the country came into the city, and I walked with him. That is one thing that doesn’t happen every day, and is something I certainly never expected this morning, of all mornings.
I imagine his property is extremely picturesque on a morning like this one. Frost is covering the pasture behind his two-story farm house. Perched on the window feeder he and his son built last summer is a bright red cardinal. He may even have a few horses. Who knows. He left his home in the country to come into the city, where he had a question or two about a birth certificate. I had the chance to help him, The Man from the Country.