I tell people I lived in Ireland for a year, but the truth is that it was a year minus five days.
I tell them I lived in Missouri for a year following my return, but actually, I was there for eleven months.
The truth is, the longest I've lived since leaving Colorado after six years is right here in Lancaster, PA.
It’s been exactly a year since I stepped off the Amtrak into the Lancaster train station and met my new roommate in the parking lot. I’d later learn that the station was an eight-minute walk from my apartment, a route I’ve now taken at least six different times.
365 days since I moved into the house on the corner of Duke and Clay, situated right next to Tony and Alicia, two of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. In June, Tony would invite me to their annual summer shindig - a group of about 300 and food in from Philly. In July, I’d sit with them on the porch and have a lengthy discussion with two of our mutual neighbors about everything from travel to politics. In September, Tony and I would enjoy a lovely conversation as he drove me from Lancaster to the Harrisburg Airport to catch my flight to Springfield.
But this was last September and at first, the only person I knew in Lancaster was Danielle.
She wasn’t looking for a friend. I only needed a place to crash. We met through a messaging service on roommates.com, conversed for a half-hour and then an hour on Skype, and became roommates a mere week later. I’d say we’ve become pretty good friends now. And we attended the PA Ren Faire together in October.
I didn’t have a home church in Springfield. It was difficult to find one I loved as much as my church back in Cork, particularly because I was looking for something specific: diversity. In October, I’d meet Tim when I attended the church down the street. He’d then invite me to the evening service at One City, which would turn out to be the Halloween Trunk-or-Treat because Tim would’ve forgotten that there wasn’t a normal service that evening. I’d meet several people at the event, including Rachael, and be invited to a community group at the Schaeffers’ the following Monday. I’d attend and soon enough, as quickly as Cork Church became home, One City would, too. I’d gain a wide circle of friends in that group, but I didn’t think of that the first night.
Dropping off my luggage in my new room before Danielle and I headed to Prince Street Cafe, I didn’t know that it would take me until the next year to find a permanent position. I couldn’t imagine that I’d have four temp jobs, each one a shorter assignment than the last (until LGH.) I had no clue that I would serve twice as the secretary for the Lancaster City Council during their regular secretary’s Thanksgiving holiday. I couldn’t begin to imagine that I’d work in the phone bank of the Election Office during the PA gubernatorial election, or that I’d return briefly to the medical field (or that a few employees of the Election Office would read my blog post on my experience there.) And of course, it never crossed my mind that I might become Clerical Specialist II for that same Election Office, specializing in recruiting poll workers and communicating with Judges and Inspectors of Election from 240 precincts, throughout Lancaster. Applying for LNP, how could I comprehend that I'd one day send the newspaper pressers?
I didn’t know that I’d meet Timbrel during lunch on one of those November election days, or become enamored with her gorgeous shop, Lush Bazaar. That empty place on N. Queen would turn into Sweetish, where I’d be introduced to Tyler and Matt, but I didn’t know that, either (or that it would become my favorite sweets shop in Lancaster.) When I first walked in to Building Character, I instantly knew it was special. I did not, however, understand that my wallet would like it considerably less the following year after buying something from it almost every time I visited (it’s been several months since I limited myself to stepping in only once a month.)
And Lancaster Central Market. How could I possibly know the first time I walked in that I would buy fresh produce from there almost weekly? (Usually from Barr’s and Meck’s.)
Walking by the downtown Marriott, it didn’t occur to me that I’d attend the annual Rose and Shamrock Festival there in February. When I first heard talk of First Friday, I couldn’t fathom that it would become one of my absolute favorite events in Lancaster.
I’d never been much for eating out, but I’d heard of the Lancaster foodie scene and told myself I could get delivery and takeaway once a month. Once I had a steady income, I allowed myself to eat lunch downtown once or twice a month. I’ve stuck to that and have tried food from Sakura, Szechuan Gourmet, Cafe One Eight, Rachel’s Creperie, Your Place, Zoe’s Kitchen, Kabab Station, Grape Leaf Cafe, House of Pizza, Slugger’s, House of Tacos, Wayback Burgers, P.F. Chang’s, Roburitto’s, Aura Cafe, Souvlaki Boys, Annie Bailey’s, A Slice of Brooklyn, Commonwealth on Queen, Foltz’s Pretzels, Smiley’s Deli, El Morro and I may be forgetting a few (for some of those: thank you, Door Dash.) I can’t choose a favorite. We were asked this in group last night and I honestly don’t have a favorite restaurant here in Lancaster. I’ve enjoyed pretty much every one I’ve tried thus far, though I do have a particular fondness for the smoothies and gelato at Aura.
All I knew coming in to Lancaster was that Mom and I watched four people pronounce the correct way to say the city (Lank-KISS-ter.) Another video said there were 100 restaurants, 100 shops and a multitude of museums. The videographer showed the Market experience, but I wouldn’t know it until I felt it for myself. The camera zoomed in to the cemeteries, but I didn’t know how many I’d find in the first few months alone. I’d see the grave of James Buchanan, the only president who came from PA. The YouTube video focused on the galleries, but those galleries wouldn’t look like colorful masterpieces until I saw them for myself.
I’d attend Celebrate Lancaster in June, with food trucks lined up and down the street. I’d visit Philly again and hop the train to New York for Christmas. I’d take a tour bus to Cape May, New Jersey in July, on one of the hottest days of the summer (shout-out to Coppertone Ultra-Guard for keeping my skin nice and unblemished.) I’d see various parts of the county to check out potential polling places and enthuse about the greenery so often that my boss would start expecting the comment.
The promotional video from Lancaster City Alliance and LNP was correct.
I fell in love with Lancaster City and with the surrounding Lancaster County and for now, there’s no place I’d rather be (here in the US. You all know about the other dream.)