Look Up, Young Man!

When the phone rang at 8:15 AM on Wednesday of last week I reached for my blood pressure pills and popped not one, but two. Ordinarily that’s a big no-no. But somehow I knew who was calling. And since said individual has the talents to launch my diastolic and systolic readings halfway to the Moon, a medicinal overload was a necessity. On the fourth ring I picked up.

“Good morning, Edgar,” I said to Edgar Reewright, my blog’s editor. “It’s always a pleasure.”

“Cut the small talk, Neil,” Edgar said, “and let’s get down to business. Neil, I know you. Right now, I’m more than certain, you’re at the dining room table with a cup of coffee and a buttered, toasted bagel and your vial of blood pressure pills in front of you. And you’re doing your damnedest, without much success as usual, to solve The Philadelphia Inquirer’s crossword puzzle.”

I gulped. Heavily.

“I’m fed up with having to remind you of your responsibilities,” Edgar continued. “The five or six people who look at your blog — your wife, your criminal defense attorney, your proctologist’s mistress and a couple of others that I haven’t been able to identify — have come to expect one stab at an article from you each week. And my gut feeling is that you’re planning to let them down, that you’re all set to take a week off. Neil, this is unacceptable. There are dozens of stories out there waiting to be written. Get off your unbalanced ass and start working.”

Holy crap, not only is Edgar annoying, he also was correct. And so, after politely ending my conversation with him, I gathered myself and my thoughts together, pondered this and pondered that, and eventually came up with a story idea. Look Up, Young Man! would be its title. And central Philadelphia would be where I would attempt to make it blossom.

Thus in early afternoon I boarded a Philadelphia-bound train in the suburbs, arriving in the fair city’s central section an hour later.

“Look up, Neil,” my parents used to say to me when I was a kid walking along with my eyes aimed downward. I must have been suffering from a lack of confidence in those days, reluctant to meet the world head on. Not that I’m bubbling over with confidence all these many decades later. Anyway, I don’t stare at the ground anymore when I’m strolling around. I look straight ahead or side to side.

But upward? Well, like anybody, I do some of that. But consistently for a couple of hours or more? Nah, I couldn’t recall ever doing that in my life. It’s not exactly a world-class notion, but it had appealed to me when it jumped into my mind a few hours earlier. I liked its simplicity, its openendedness. Who knew where or what it would lead to?

Pow! Moments after exiting the train station and stepping onto Market Street I gaped at what to me is one of the iconic outdoor sculptures in Philadelphia. It’s a giant replica of an electric guitar, and it rotates, as if on a spit, 15 feet above the ground at the corner of 12th and Market Streets. It’s hard not to notice this symbol of the Hard Rock Café, which is housed within one of the classic stone buildings that once belonged to the long-defunct Reading Railroad.

But I wanted to look higher than 15 feet. So I crossed to the south side of Market Street and, lifting my eyes to the skies, took in the first of five or six incredibly tall construction cranes that I’d come across during the afternoon. As I usually do when staring at one of these amazing machines, I wondered how in the world it stays balanced and how in the world anybody is able to manipulate its movements so precisely. Good thing it’s not me at the controls.

I was off to a good start. And one block later the good start continued when a sweet juxtaposition caught my eye. Philadelphia is famed for the several thousands of murals painted on the sides of buildings, and a great one adorns the lower reaches of a 16-or-so story office building near the corner of 13th and Market Streets. The mural is titled The Tree Of Knowledge. A ladder, a good item to have if you’re planning to pluck some information and wisdom from a tree, comprises a major part of the composition. I sidled up nice and close to the wall and looked up. The office building’s windows took on a new aspect, flowing gently in streams towards the heavens. And the ladder? It led the way to the levels above. I was tempted to climb it and see what happened.

Forty-five minutes later another mural, Reach High And You Will Go Far, crossed my path where 20th and Arch Streets meet. It too is a beauty, painted on the side of a three-story structure. Only a fool would argue with its message. I couldn’t get up close and personal to it though, as I had with The Tree Of Knowledge, because it is fenced-in. But I remembered to look up. And what I saw behind the mural, one block to its east,  was a giant tower, the under-construction Comcast Technology Center, that will top out at over 1,100 feet when completed next year. It is destined to become Philadelphia’s tallest building by about 150 feet. Reaching high, for sure.

All told I spent two and a half hours roaming the streets, covering several miles-worth of territory. I spent much of the time in the areas where the city’s skyscrapers are most concentrated, and also walked along many blocks whose buildings are of normal size. My eyes darted here, there and everywhere, but I kept my mantra — look up! — firmly in the front of my mind. The patterns up above formed by contrasting buildings, the wonderful reflections of sky and surrounding edifices in way-up-there glass sheathings and windows, the loving details carved into stone not far above ground level in stately three-story homes . . . all of these made me smile.

I admired the words etched above the entranceway to The Alison Building, a calmly regal structure that faces one of the city’s finest parks, Rittenhouse Square. On an ordinary day, with my eyes looking straight ahead, I wouldn’t have noticed them. “He that soweth bountifully shall reap bountifully” they read. Hmmm, sounds like something that Benjamin Franklin might have said, I guessed. Incorrectly, of course. The phrase comes from the Christian Bible. Ben, though, probably knew and liked the statement, one you definitely can’t argue with.

My stroll ended alongside Philadelphia’s City Hall, an impossibly ornate hulk smack dab in the center of town. This monolith took around 30 years to build, finally opening for business in 1901. I’ve never been able to decide whether I like its exterior design or not. Some days I do, some days I don’t. It depends on how receptive to over-the-top decoration my mood is. As I approached City Hall from the south I naturally had to look at its highest point. Namely, the hat sitting atop the giant statue of William Penn, who more or less was Pennsylvania’s and Philadelphia’s founder in the late 1600s. That hat rests 548 feet above the ground, which made City Hall the tallest building in the city until 1987, when the first of Philadelphia’s now-numerous sleek, modern skyscrapers was erected.

Well, it almost was time to call it a day. I made my way to a subway station and rode a sub into South Philadelphia, an enormous area filled mostly with row houses. There I met two of my bestest pals, Mike and Jeff, for dinner at a pub. The hours of looking up had ended. Beers and some grub were the next things on the agenda.

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60 thoughts on “Look Up, Young Man!

  1. Alyson July 20, 2017 / 3:35 am

    Oh Neil – I love these meanders around Philadelphia, a city you obviously love. We live in an old Scottish town and my husband always tells people to look up above the shop fronts in the centre of town as there is some beautiful architecture there that is rarely noticed (and a good few inscriptions too).

    Don’t know if you’ve heard of him but our much loved Scottish comedian/actor/folk-singer Billy Connolly has just had three murals created for his 75th birthday in his home city of Glasgow – A fitting tribute for him by three contemporary Scottish artists. Won’t insert a link here (just in case) but on the BBC website.

    Very funny intro to this post also – Yes my blog editor will soon be on my case if my hiatus lasts much longer!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 20, 2017 / 12:08 pm

      Hello, Alyson.
      I’ve seen Billy Connolly on the tube, probably on late night talk shows. It’s amazing that three murals of him have been painted. He’s obviously a Scottish icon.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Alyson July 20, 2017 / 4:50 pm

        Oh he is indeed – Sadly he is suffering now from Parkinson’s disease so not as fast on his pins as he used to be but still very quick-witted, and still doing stand-up! A much loved icon.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. SpiritualJourney17 July 20, 2017 / 7:21 am

    When I go into the city I find myself in awe by the historical, architectural, and ecclesiastical landmarks. Great way to take interesting photos as you did!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 20, 2017 / 12:10 pm

      Hi. Big cities are amazing places. There’s pretty much an endless amount of things to look at.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. joyce hamilton July 20, 2017 / 8:00 am

    I worked in Philadelphia for 40 years and loved walking around and “looking up”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. aladec July 20, 2017 / 8:27 am

    When I try to look up, my arthritic neck only gets my head up to 35 degrees. So I always look down. Occasionally find a penny or a dime. But most of the time I only see the weeds in my lawn.
    On a rare trip into Manhattan, it’s chewing gum, ground into the sidewalks

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 20, 2017 / 12:14 pm

      Hi. There’s nothing better than stepping on gum, and then not being able to get it off the bottom of your shoes. But it’s better than stepping on dog crap.


  5. The Artist's Child July 20, 2017 / 8:36 am

    Fantastic photos with such diverse architecture and murals. I think that looking up at great heights is much better than looking down from them. No Vertigo. Whoever has to polish that guitar must cling on to the fretboard. You certainly showed your city from a different perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 20, 2017 / 12:18 pm

      Hi. You know, my wife and I walked past the guitar late at night two days ago. It’s lit up in neon at night and is really beautiful.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. SF July 20, 2017 / 9:05 am

    Thanks for sharing these wonderful musings about Philadelphia!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. sniderjerry July 20, 2017 / 5:00 pm

    Look! Up in the sky – it’s a plane, it’s a bird, no it’s Super Blogger Neil Scheinin. Great essay. All the best. Jerry

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Fran Johns July 20, 2017 / 10:21 pm

    That’s just wonderful fun. Sent me back to memories of a college architecture class in which we visited a number of cities, rode around on buses and were instructed to look only at the second stories or higher. My blog editor also got on my back, but the result was only a few paragraphs. Go, Neil

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 20, 2017 / 10:51 pm

      Hi Fran.
      The college course you mention must have been great. A unique course, for sure.
      Take care. Thanks for stopping by.


  9. hairytoegardener July 20, 2017 / 11:03 pm

    Makes me want to visit Philadelphia. I love architecture, especially old architecture. I’m glad you didn’t let your proctologist’s mistress down. We want to keep all proctologists happy and that means their mistresses need to be happy too.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. cincinnatibabyhead July 21, 2017 / 12:22 pm

    Thanks for the little day trip to Philly. That’s cool the old “Reading Railroad” building is still there. That would have been a beauty in it’s day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 21, 2017 / 1:28 pm

      Old buildings sure can have a lot of character. Too bad, I guess, that so many of them get torn down rather than repurposed.

      See ya’, CB!

      Liked by 1 person

      • cincinnatibabyhead July 21, 2017 / 1:35 pm

        I seen a doc on NY where they tore down the old Penn station. Man do they regret that one. Later.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. andrewcferguson July 21, 2017 / 2:14 pm

    Great concept, Neil. I did wonder about the health and safety aspects of walking around a busy city looking up all the time. But that’s probably just me. Good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 21, 2017 / 3:31 pm

      I had a good time. I’ve always liked wandering around, looking at things.

      I’ll be seeing you, Andrew. Enjoy the weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. JLakis July 21, 2017 / 4:03 pm

    Oh! Thank you for updating me on the city I still harbor hard love for.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. JLakis July 21, 2017 / 4:43 pm

    The City of Brotherly love is the best Buddhist training. Joyful participation in the sufferings of the world.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. vprofy July 21, 2017 / 6:22 pm

    For years I taught a local history course. On field trips to Philadelphia and Bristol Borough, I had students looking up and also looking down. Changes in architectural details frequently show the building’s history. Imbedded in pavement and streets are many traces of history. Loved when I saw alumni who told me they explored cities as adults looking up and down. Thanks for the memory.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. marilynyung July 21, 2017 / 10:06 pm

    I love downtown Philadelphia. Such a vibrant place. Love it even after getting a $200 parking ticket one afternoon several years ago. Guess we parked our van in a non-van spot. We had just finished exhibiting at an art show at the convention center and wanted to do a little sight seeing before heading back to Missouri. Ouch. But seeing your fair city made it worthwhile. Thanks for another cool post.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. courseofmirrors July 22, 2017 / 4:47 am

    My (inner) editor only demands twice monthly posts 🙂 Still, they are an annoying bunch.

    Thanks, Neil, for this interesting tour. It expands my Philadelphia vision upwards, since lingers in my mind mainly through the sad but beautiful Bruce Springsteen song – Tom Hanks there in the background.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 22, 2017 / 7:06 am

      Hi. Many thanks for stopping by. The Hanks movie is a great one. And Bruce’s song is powerful.
      Take care —


  17. Ann Coleman July 22, 2017 / 3:02 pm

    Your blog editor sounds a lot like mine, only a bit nicer. But thank for sharing all you discovered while looking up… It makes me want to try it in my own city!

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Aunt Beulah July 22, 2017 / 4:05 pm

    I’m so glad Edgar Reewright motivated you to go into Philadelphia and look up, because a mighty fine blog post came from all that effort. My personal favorite is the construction crane. It looks so insubstantial for the work it will do. Quick question: Did you manage to do all that looking up without tripping over your shoelaces?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Still the Lucky Few July 24, 2017 / 9:25 am

    I’ve been away from my blog, but couldn’t resist writing a belated comment. This is a great blog piece! I appreciated the way you walked us through the city, and built up the suspense of discovery! Great pic of the guitar. And having it rotate is inspired!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 24, 2017 / 11:09 am

      Morning, Diane. Thanks for adding your thoughts. I’m glad you liked this story. I had a good time doing the “research” for it.


  20. Sheila July 24, 2017 / 3:18 pm

    I’m glad you were rewarded for looking up. I love how the tree in the Reach High and You Will Go Far mural is growing so high that it’s surpassing the wall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 24, 2017 / 4:59 pm

      Hi Sheila.
      You’ve got a sharp eye!

      One of these days I’m going to do a story about Philadelphia’s murals. Supposedly there are around 2,000 of them on the sides of buildings. I’ve seen many beautiful ones.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. America On Coffee July 26, 2017 / 1:18 am

    Ahhh that brotherly love shines thru inspirations of people, places and eventful occasions!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 26, 2017 / 6:56 am

      Good morning, AOC. Thanks for visiting.
      For sure, Philadelphia is a fine city overall. A fascinating place.


  22. jerseydreaming August 4, 2017 / 8:10 am

    Nice piece. I was happy to find that I’m now familiar enough with Philly to be able to recognise many of locations.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Joanne Sisco August 13, 2017 / 8:57 am

    I love playing tourist in my own city and I thoroughly enjoyed playing tourist in your city of Philadelphia a few years ago. Keep looking up!!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. jveeds August 13, 2017 / 4:11 pm

    I remember when I first moved to Philly, walking downtown and looking at all the fine buildings…and noticing that everyone else was eyes-straight-ahead. Later, I worked at Gimbels for a while but I still liked looking around as I made my way to the store.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger August 13, 2017 / 4:50 pm

      I remember Gimbel’s in Center City. I’m pretty sure there was also a branch in Northeast Philly.


  25. cath July 20, 2020 / 2:22 pm

    I always find something good in your back-catalogue. Love this story, and what a fabulous huge-sized and quirky city Philadelphia is.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, Another Blogger July 20, 2020 / 5:47 pm

      Thanks, Cath. For several reasons associated with the pandemic I haven’t been to Philadelphia since March. I miss the city a lot.

      Liked by 1 person

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