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I remembered this diary item when I heard the comment about how helpful strangers are once they understand a traveler's quandary. The city in question was to be my last stop in Poland after having driven 3500 km crisscrossing the northern half, whose history is considerably distinct from the southern half, 1999.07.20, Finding my way in Szczecin was an adventure in uncharted waters. I entered the city by the street leading directly from the highway. When I realized I was indeed in the heart of town I began asking for directions. It was a comical enterprise. Most people thought I was trying to sell something and walked by politely muttering "Thank you". I began pointing to the name of the street on the folder the rental agency had given me. The first three after that said they didn't know. One man, the fourth, said I was just two blocks away. Although at the next corner there was a triangular traffic divider, no left turn was allowed. I therefore turned right. After all, turning back or going around the block ought to be just about the same, right. Wrong! It wasn't a square block and I found myself in another strange square with no idea where the one now was that I should return to. I saw a man standing on the street seemingly just whiling away the time, so I parked behind him. When I got out of the car, he was no longer in sight. I returned to my pantomime of pointing to the street name on the folder to passerby. A lady came by and stopped but wouldn't even look at the folder. I guessed she knew she would be unable to read it and found my glasses and read it to her in my best Polish pronunciation. She recognized the name but had to think how to get there. Finally another lady joined us. Together they figured it out. Their genial utterance was that it was only five minutes away. "Okay, which way?" The two of them then began saying a great deal of which I understood only a tiny fraction, which was that somewhere after a few right turns I would see an obelisk. After leaving them I even did see an obelisk, but the names didn't jibe. Not wishing to go farther afield, I again stopped and proceeded with my pantomime.

One man, after saying thank you, turned back from about ten meters away and came to me, apologizing for having misunderstood my intentions. He tried hard to think of directions for me. He even took my documents and went across the street to phone the rental agency for directions. But before he got around to it another man gave him full instructions. He then came back, actually got into the car and began telling me 'lvov' and 'pravo' ('left' and 'right') and 'proshto' (straight ahead). We arrived exactly where the instructions were supposed to take us, but that was a different rental agency. We then went into it and asked. They helped indicate where my agency was located and we went there. The man then paid the parking for me and walked with me along the street to look for the agency, which was not all that easy because there was no obvious, great big Hertz sign. Rather there was a little hole in the wall the entrance to which was thirty paces down the street. He stayed with me until I had spoken with the people to be sure all was well this time. My insistence to give him some money for a taxi back from where I had so brutally abducted him, received only outright rejections. I had, after all, taken him far away from where I had found him.

While we were engaged in all the right, left, straight business, he asked me, "English". "Yes," I said, "Canadian". He managed to convey that his sister has a son in Ontario. When I said I was from Quebec, he asked the equivalent of, "They speak French there, don't they?" "Yes," I said, "And English".

When he was sure I was in the right hands, he shook hands and left, with me repeating several times "Gin cuye," which is Polish for 'thank you".




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