This was the first time in several years that I've spent Christmas in Waterbury. More often than not, I visit relatives in L.A. or other warm climates. Snow and cold at Christmas actually seems odd to me. I've grown accustomed to sun and warmth and the smell of Eucalyptus trees, not to mention the pleasures of airport layovers (the airport at Charlotte is my current favorite layover location, plenty of things to do, perfect for making me feel like I've truly gotten away from my stress).
This was also the first year in a long time that I've had a small child to shop for. My siblings are all adults, my cousins are all teenagers, but my niece is 3 years old and loads of fun. I spent Monday and Tuesday hunting for the right gifts for her, trying to keep my shopping done early in the day, before the masses left the office and flooded the malls.
I still had shopping to do on Christmas Eve and, again, decided to try getting it all done early, before things got too crazy. Bear in mind that I am normally on holiday, visiting relatives, shopping all done by this time. I really had no idea what to expect.
The first clue came at the end of my street, trying to turn left onto Walnut Street. There was a steady stream of traffic in both directions, far more than usual. The next clue came when I turned onto Welton Street. Traffic was backed up almost the full length of the road. For a while I thought there must be an accident at the East Main Street intersection, since I could sort of see a snarl of cars in the middle of the intersection, with other cars curving around the snarl to get through the intersection. When I finally got closer, I realized there was no accident. There simply was an abundance of drivers who felt entitled to ignore the yellow lights and pull into the middle of everyone's way, blocking the box, as they say in NYC. It looked like the traffic jam continued all the way to the I-84 on-ramp, so I decided to take East and West Main Streets through town.
The strangest thing about Christmas Eve day traffic in Waterbury was a sort of inverse proportioning. Places that normally had very little traffic were jammed, while at least one place that is normally the busiest in town was all but deserted. I stopped by Home Depot to pick up some poinsettias and was astonished by how empty the parking lot was. I have never seen the Home Depot parking lot so empty, ever. And yet I still managed to run into my brother-in-law while I was there. Go figure. Waterbury really is a small town.
I finally made it home around 5 p.m., only to discover a note from UPS telling me that they had a package for me. I suspected it was a gift for my niece from my aunt, something that I really wanted to be able to deliver the next day. I got in touch with the UPS folks in Watertown, but the customer service counter was closing and the truck with the package was still out making rounds. The woman on the phone told me that the driver would meet me on Division Street, but he really couldn't wait around, so could I be there in 10 minutes or less? I panicked and couldn't remember where Division Street was, until the UPS woman said it was off of North Main Street. Duh! It's maybe four blocks away from my house! I went racing out the front door, forgetting my cell phone, not bothering to change out of my sweat pants, just tossing on my rain boots and jacket. Then I spent about eight minutes driving up and down Division Street, wondering where the UPS truck was hiding.... it finally showed up, going the opposite direction. I flashed my lights, waited for the rest of traffic to get out of the way, then back up, turned around, parked in front of the truck, and stood calf-deep in a puddle of ice-cold water in the pouring rain and dark night to get my package (good thing I had on rain boots!). The UPS driver had me go around to the other side of the truck, where I was in danger of getting run down by oncoming traffic. Finally, he found the package, and it was indeed the gift for my niece--a Princess Treasure Chest, which proved to be the gift she was the most excited about. Success!
After my UPS rendezvous, I decided I might as well swing by the grocery store, as I had a craving for manicotti but didn't have any ricotta. I arrived at Shop-Rite just after 6 p.m., and was told by a security guard(!) at the door that the store was closed. Okay. Went across the street to Stop and Shop, cruising slowly past the entrance, where I saw would-be shoppers unable to enter. Okay, fine. Surely WalMart would still be opened. Parked my car, got out, observed a man walking away from the store tell someone else just arriving that WalMart was closed. Great. Got back in my car, headed home, then decided, as I sat forever at the stop light, that KMart appeared to be opened. Sure enough, it was. KMart was the only large store on Wolcott Road still open after 6 p.m. on Christmas Eve, and it was PACKED full of shoppers, far more than any other time. Their very small grocery section was emptied of almost everything, so I still had to give up on my dinner craving and go home to a second-best dinner option. Oh well. Next year I'm sure I'll remember to do all my shopping far in advance (and if you believe that...).