We ‘re up at 3 am to be out of the house at 4:15 to make our 5:30 flight. No time for so much as coffee; the line is long and typical in south Florida, apathetic counter help shuffles and plods. The plane stops at Atlanta but there’s just enough of a window to hit the head, stretch the legs, and climb back aboard. So it’s not yet 10 am and we’re standing on the Philadelphia streets, ready for breakfast.
My brother picks us up and we go for scrapple and eggs at the Oregon Diner. Coffee, at last. Good coffee. The brother has a meeting at the historical Union League on Broad Street, so we head over that way, park the car, and troop in to look around. Guido and I, uninvited guests, are promptly ejected by a security thug who informs us that blue jeans are not allowed.
I propose removing them and touring naked. Security advises we should do whatever the hell we like, “but not here.”
Now we have a few hours to kill so we start walking the downtown streets, looking at all that’s changed in 3-4 years since we were there last, and all that hasn’t in 300. Pretty day in June, although a bit chilly for us (even though I’m still wearing my pants). Then nature calls. Softly at first, but, well, scrapple, y’know? And all that coffee.
This is a genuine problem in downtown Philly, notorious for its shortage of facilities. And we sure can’t go back to the Union League. It’s early enough for lunch, although the last thing we need is more food. Grab a beer somewhere and take turns in the loo? But then I get a stroke of sheer genius.
We’re in a part of town cluttered with medical facilities, from full-scale hospitals and emergency rooms to urgent care centers and walk-in clinics. My idea is to stumble in grabbing my guts and telling them I’m experiencing trouble breathing, and while they attend to me, Guido should ask to use their bathroom, which is almost certain to be clean and secure.
Guido offers me the appraising look she uses when walking the dog and examining its stool for parasites before scooping it up. But I’m inspired, and dart into what turns out to be the Benjamin Franklin Emergency Medical Clinic. A red-and-white uniformed medical associate looks up from behind a formidable counter. Can’t breathe, I tell her, breathlessly. I notice Guido has entered behind me, still shaking her head.
Medical Associate gets right to work. “When did this start?” she asks crisply, fishing out a sheath of papers for me to review and sign. Which I counted on to pull this off — this is American health care at work: endless, time-consuming bureaucratic nonsense taking precedent over everything else, no matter how pressing the emergency. Without waiting for a response, she hands me a pencil and directs me to a table to complete my homework. Guido accompanies me, grumbling threats (“You think you can’t breathe now?”) but then, as I sit down and start, she goes back to the desk for directions to the rest room, and off she trots.
Just about 10 minutes go by — remember, as far as Medical Associate knows, the old man who just limped in might be experiencing cardiac arrest or a stroke — and I’m still laboring through these opaque forms which in a civilized country wouldn’t be required because my complete medical history would be available with my consent at the touch of a key. Guido returns to the reception area, awaiting my next act. I delicately approach Medical Associate, ensconced once more behind her computer screen, and ask if I may use the bathroom. She directs me, and I meander off……
…… only to return in a few minutes with a light-footed gait and big smile. I gather the wad of papers, mostly incomplete and unsigned and return them to M.A. I explain that between the exhilarating paperwork and cathartic bowel-emptying, well, I feel just fine and dandy now. Just to be sure I’ll make an appointment with my internist when I get home, but for today, well, thanks for your hospitality and I’ll be on my way.
We leave her quickly and speechless.
“I’m ready for that beer, now,” Guido says through gritted teeth, a block later.