In a Sow’s Ear

Gwen Petersen
Big Timber, Mont.

Remember “The Odyssey” ” the tale written by that good ol’ Greek boy, Homer, about how Ulysses wandered the globe for a whole bunch of years while trying to get back home to his wife and family? Homer and friends encountered trials, tribulations, outlandish characters like Cyclops, Sirens, Lotus eaters, a prophet and other mystical experiences ” all with accompanying mournful music and song.

I mention the above because I just got back from Philadelphia where I attended the National Society of Newspaper Columnists annual Conference. Talk about an Odyssey.

I saw wondrous sights such as the Hall where the original Constitution was forged out of the passions of bitterly fought battles, painful compromises and laborious negotiations. Where the Bill of Rights was hammered out. Visualize a room filled with the original chairs and desks, quill pens, ink pots, John Adam’s walking stick, papers and books ” all preserved in a manner as if the Founding Fathers had just taken a break from their labors and would be back shortly.

Philadelphia down-town streets are about an inch-and-a-half wide but that doesn’t slow the traffic. Steel-nerved drivers ” seemingly afflicted with Attention Deficit Disorder ” play Russian roulette with whizzing autos, buses and trucks. To make it more exciting, jaywalking seems to be the method of choice for pedestrians. In the skinny driving lanes, bicycle riders, peddling faster than a blender on high, join the bumper-to-bumper speeding autos.

I feel sure I saw a Philadelphia mystic. Smack in the middle of a line of stampeding cars, a tall, lean guy on roller blades speed-skated along zigging and zagging around slower-moving vehicles. He wore skin-tight lycra shorts and a hair net on his head ” but he did signal with outstretched arm when turning.

Homer, the Columnist Herd Boss led another even more spiritual happening. Marching at our head, he led about a hundred or so of us columnists in a race-walk to a downtown subway entrance where we descended stairs, the side walls of which were being utilized as leaning spots by somewhat dubious looking characters. Perhaps they were Siren honor-guards stationed there just to welcome columnists? Like a flock of turkeys, we followed Homer into huge cement, well-lighted depths. Though I wondered what might happen should the power go out, I jittered and jogged onward, ever onward, to where Homer the Herd Boss indicated we were to wait for the arrival of our special columnist chariot. Out of one of the world-circling tunnels the train came flying like a Harry Potter beast and halted before us. I half expected it to bow. We loaded up, grabbed a seat or hung on to a brass pole, the doors closed and the train-load of columnists went zooming into the bowels of Philadelphia. At long last, the machine halted, its doors opened and disgorged us turkeys.

By now my older-than-dirt legs were screaming; ditto my feet. I promised my appendages ” as well as my lungs ” that soon I would sit down and we could all rest. According to Homer, the point of the subway ride was to give everybody a taste of the thrill of riding such a conveyance. The reward at journey’s end would be lunch at a particular establishment which Homer claimed was “not far” from where we were spewed forth.

A mile and a half of more race-walking, then across a grassy parkland situated in the middle of a freeway cloverleaf, we fetched up at an eatery ” a sports bar bursting with loud music, blaring TV’s and wall to wall shouting Lotus eaters.

Next year the Conference will be in New Orleans. After that, I’m pushing to host it here in Montana. Please save up your used cowboy hats. I’ll need about a 150. For your own edification, feel free to look up NSNC on the Internet.

I survived the Conference and the journey and made it home in fewer than Greek Homer’s 20 years ” it just seemed that long.