“Caution: Two way traffic! Look both ways.” Readers of my earlier postings will probably not remember something I mentioned in Sheffield that was my background soundtrack for seven months. The plaintive, beseeching request emitted by the Speaker Lady at the Fitzalan Square intersection. There, all manner of chaos occurs – walkers, limpers, stumblers, the drunk, the smokers, the texters, and the extra-extra elderly. Trams in two directions lumber across the road, bells clanging in seeming irritation at being ignored by all humanity determined to cross that wide, wide street. And over all this commotion, that never tiring British woman begs and pleads: “Two way traffic. Look both ways.”
Look all ways at the culture overlaps and crashes here, is how I always thought about this crazy venue on my regular walk to the Ponds Forge swimming pool for lane swimming, or a jaunt to Wilkinson’s for laundry detergent. The taxi drivers all converged at this corner, and I presume they still do, although I’m not there, walking past, sniffing the air for butter pastry aroma, or dodging double decker busses roaring around the corner. Of course no one sees the absence of me, making my way past the Co-op grocery, squinting in to see the friendly display of tea boxes stacked in the window. I’m not missed by the Sheffield lasses, in their black tights and shorts, puffing on cigarettes, glaring about for the busses that will take them Who-Knows-Where. So many strollers, swathed in clear plastic rain covers! Hobbling oldsters barely able to stand, keeping their places in the bus queues, because no one every cuts into an orderly line in England! Blazer-coated Teddy Boys, with school ties loosened, and white shirt tails flapping will continue to stream out of the discount stores, sucking down sodas and crunching on crisps before boarding the bus for school.
I’m not there, Sheffield! But you will keep a lively pace going, I know. And here I am, back in Marin County and California, the sun is bright and high in the sky, and not one single solitary grey cloud mars the blue expanse above. Of course it seems like I’ve been away for an eternity, and not. My feet remembered how many stairs down from the bedroom to the hallway below. (thirteen) The front gate still squeaks and needs coaxing to open. The yards are bursting with green abandon. And the beloveds in my California life are resuming their real selves, not the cardboard cut-outs of memories on an eight-hour time difference.
Two-way traffic. Look both ways. Two ways to experience life. Look, listen, and remember. It’s nice to be back, and it was nice to have been away. Two ways of seeing the world, and I’m being careful: I might slip and stumble into reverse culture shock.