Art On Wheels, Part Eight (Thank You, Philadelphia)

A tad more than four years ago I was inspired to pen a piece for this publication that revolved around beautifully decorated motor vehicles. Pen it I did (click here), not expecting to return to the subject matter multiple times. However, as fate would have it, return I did. Yup, there’s no denying that I get kicks from seeking out and writing about art on wheels.

In each of the previous installments of this ongoing tale, I discovered most of my victims in the suburbs of Philadelphia. That was a matter of convenience, because I’m a suburbanite. However, for the current installment I decided to say “f*ck, no!” to the burbs and say “f*ck, yes!” to the City Of Brotherly Love itself. As a result, on the 16th of August I climbed aboard a train that took me from my little town to the city that I know better than any other.

As summer days go, it was a good one. The temperature was not oppressively hot. More important, the partly cloudy skies were blocking the Sun a good deal, which was absolutely A-OK with me. “And why is that?” you ask. Well, it’s because I instantly begin to sweat my aged ass off when I’m under an unobstructed summer sun!

Arriving in Philadelphia at 10:30 AM, I spent three hours, interrupted by a lunch break, striding along many of its central section’s innumerable blocks. When I began the scouting expedition I wasn’t confident that I’d spot enough good-looking vehicles to illustrate this story adequately. The trucks/vans/buses gods must have been sitting on my shoulders, though, because vehicles of interest entered my field of vision right from the get-go.

The first one I saw came in the form of a Peter Pan interstate bus, which was in the loading area of a bus terminal one block away from the train station that I had exited only minutes earlier. It’s a winner, futuristic in design and hues, and pretty much the epitome of confidence and cool. There’s no doubt in my mind that this bus is not to be messed with. Woe to whomever might even consider the idea.

Then, a minute after taking Peter Pan’s portrait I turned onto Arch Street, where a lovely Rosenberger’s food truck was zipping along. With no time to waste, I pointed my phone’s camera, pressed the button and hoped for the best. Happily, the picture came out clear instead of blurry.

I was on a roll. It continued on 12th Street not long after the Rosenberger’s encounter. There, two impossible-not-to-notice Philadelphia tour buses were parked a few feet apart from one another. Those vehicles are as explosively colorful as just about anything within Philadelphia’s borders. Man, it would be an honor to ride around town, seeing the sights, in either of them.


All in all, I snapped pictures of 15 motor vehicles during my trek. There were a few others I’d have liked to photograph, but they were on the move and eluded me. This page contains the portraits of nine of the fifteen.


The most invigorating aspect of my Philadelphia expedition was its by-chance nature. Shit yeah, it felt good to kick off the shackles of my structured and regimented life for a while and simply move from here to there, as loose as a goose, letting happen whatever might happen. I had no idea in advance where any decorative vehicles might be. And they sure as hell had no idea where I might be. Basically, I was on a very unpredictable treasure hunt without a treasure map in hand.

I was, of course, damn well pleased to locate as many eye-catchers as I did. The final vehicle that posed for me was a snazzy Dynatech van. After that I searched in vain for 20 minutes, and then began to run out of gas. The time had arrived to think about seating myself on a train that would bring me back to my little town.

Philadelphia has made my day so many times over the years (I lived in Philly for about 30 years before heading to the burbs in 2005). Once again it hadn’t disappointed.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

Seven Pix For Seven Months

I don’t know about you, but for me this year has been flying by at an insanely fast pace. I have no idea why. I mean, time seems to zoom when a person is busier than usual and/or is having more fun than usual. But those conditions haven’t applied to me. And yet, boom! Just like that, seven of 2021’s months are over and done, and month number eight is nipping at their heels. What the hell is going on?

January 20, 2021 
(Sunset viewed from Willow Grove, Pennsylvania)
February 11, 2021 (Willow Grove, Pennsylvania)
April 12, 2021 (Abington, Pennsylvania)

So impressed am I by 2021’s fleet-footedness, I think it’s only right to offer up an essay that photographically honors its seven departed months. One photo from each month. I took six of the pictures and would have taken all seven if such had been possible. However, seeing that it would have been a major no-no for me to snap a selfie while being inoculated against COVID, I asked my wife Sandy to document the event.

May 14, 2021 (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
June 5, 2021 (Jenkintown, Pennsylvania)

I’ve decided against using any of the dozens of 2021’s photos that I’ve already placed in this publication’s stories. As for the seven included herein, only two hold any special personal meaning, and I’ll get to them in a minute. The other five just look good to my eyes, and would have been mad as hell at me if I’d not deposited them on the internet. The parking lot scene, for example, which contains a lady so wrapped up in her thoughts that she’s oblivious to the sharp red car doing its damndest to get her attention. Hey, the car threatened to sue if I gave it the cold shoulder!

Now, on to the two pix that, plain and simple, had to be presented, and about which I’ve got a few things to say.

March 19, 2021 (Elkins Park, Pennsylvania). Photo by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

Sandy and I frantically and tirelessly tried to schedule appointments for COVID vaccinations when vaccines became available early this year. Basically, it was an exercise in frustration. But then, five or six weeks later and from out of the blue, appointments for March 19 fell into our laps. I tell you, it was a powerful day for me, one I ain’t going to forget any time soon. As the needle entered my arm I breathed great sighs of relief and shed some tears of joy.

Four weeks later my second dose of Moderna was administered, and since then I’ve felt free. Yes, coronavirus remains a major concern, but far less so for the vaccinated as opposed to the unvaccinated. Man, vaccine refuseniks, brimming with loopy and misguided beliefs, astound and annoy me. The common good is suffering because they won’t grab hold of the lifelines being tossed their way. I tell you, we reside in a world that too often is surreal and disappointing.

Due to the f*cking pandemic’s intrusion, the fireworks event that Sandy and I attended on July 4 was the first impressive show of any kind that we had been to in 16 months. (In the USA,  July 4 is a holiday that commemorates the states’ declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1776.) It took place on the sprawling grounds of a public school, in a town a couple of miles away from our suburban Philadelphia home.

We walked and walked on the school’s ball fields and lawns till we were very close to where the explosions would originate. And then we waited and waited as the skies grew dark and the time advanced to 9:40. At that point I got up from my chair to try and find someone who might know the scoop, as the show should have begun no later than 9:20. No luck, natch. So, I walked back to where our chairs were set up, looked at my phone to check the time, and said to Sandy, “It’s 9:49. I don’t think the fireworks are going to happen. We should leave.”

July 4, 2021 (Abington, Pennsylvania)

Three seconds later I was proven wrong, as the skies lit up with wonderful shapes and colors and thunderous sounds erupted. For the next 25 minutes Sandy and I oohed and aahed. In the end, we were in the right place at the right time.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Gracias.)

A Sunflower Story

What the hell is wrong with you, Neil?” my unsubtle editor Edgar Reewright shouted into the phone a couple of weeks ago. He had called moments earlier with a special request — he wanted me to compose a story about sunflowers — and I had balked at the idea. “I mean, what do you have against sunflowers? Just about everybody likes sunflowers, right? Right. Furthermore, if they were good enough for Vincent van Gogh, who, unlike yourself, was a genius, then they damn well are good enough for you.”

“Neil,” Edgar continued, “have I ever asked anything of you before? Other than demanding high payments to compensate me for the extraordinary pains I take to make your writings intelligible, the answer is no. I haven’t been myself the last few weeks, so a bright, cheerful piece about the sunniest of flowers probably will boost my spirits. Write it!”

“Listen, Edgar,” I said. “I’ve got nothing against sunflowers. On the contrary, I love them. I mean, they’re just adorable. Big and grinning, and their gangly stalks are so improbable. They’re like dogs that want nothing more than to please you, that know they’re goofy and would have it no other way.”

“So, what’s the problem, Neil?”

“Well, it’s just that I’ve written quite a few nature-related articles the last several years. I don’t want to overdo it, you know.”

“Overdo it? Neil, you can’t go wrong with nature. And I highly doubt if you have anything better to write about right now, anyway.”

“Oh yeah? Listen, Edgar, I’m planning to do a piece on the wonders of napping. I’ll explore its ins and outs: how I position my head just so on the living room sofa before nodding off, for instance. And how I awake 10 or 15 minutes later with glazed eyes, uncertain where the hell I am. Edgar, I’m one hundred percent certain that the readers of that article will be enthralled. My exciting revelations will have them panting for more.”

A few seconds passed. And then Edgar had this to say: “A short while ago I asked, ‘what the hell is wrong with you, Neil?’ And I was right on the money, because a better question hasn’t been posed anywhere in the world today! Napping? You’ve got to be kidding me! Listen up, haven’t I always strived to help you create agreeable product?”

“Yes, that’s very true, Edgar. I don’t know how you do it, but you whip my reportage into decent shape.”

“Thank you, Neil. Even though I’ll never figure you out, I have to admit that anybody who unashamedly uses a clunky word like reportage in conversation can’t be all bad. Okay then, I strongly recommend that you drop the napping idea and move on to sunflowers. Are we on the same page?”

We were.

Thus, during three walks in the latter half of July, in my neighborhood and in nearby towns, I kept an eagle eye out for sunflowers, and found about 15 homes on whose grounds they were displayed. Having strolled past hundreds of houses, though, I was a bit surprised by the low percentage that carried this form of joyful flora. But little matter. Every sunflower that I saw smiled at me. They truly were glad to see me, and the feeling was mutual.

But you know what? Despite the time I spent with real-life sunflowers, I have to admit that I much prefer a particular Vincent van Gogh sunflower painting over them. Vincent painted sunflowers a dozen times, and one of those oils hangs within the Philadelphia Museum Of Art, where I have passed hundreds of hours. (I’ve lived in Philadelphia or its suburbs for most of my adult life.) It very well might be the most popular art work in the museum. It certainly is one of mine.

Vase With Twelve Sunflowers, by Vincent van Gogh (image credit belongs to Philadelphia Museum Of Art and to vggallery.com

Vincent had the abilities to find the hearts and souls of his subjects, to bring his subjects alive in both traditional and unexpected ways. And he did exactly that when he painted the canvas in question in 1889. It is glorious and imbued with vigor. It has deep stories to tell. Sunflowers never have looked so good.

(My editor has been getting on my frigging nerves big-time. So, you know what? F*ck him! I won’t allow Edgar to edit this article. I’m going to press the Publish button right now. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

An Artsy Walk Through The Mall On A Hot-As-Hell Day

It was hot as hell in my area (the suburbs of Philadelphia) on the 30th of June. I’d gone for walks on each of the two previous days, days that weren’t exactly on the mild side temperature-wise either. But June 30 was a different ball game, one of those in which a mere minute in the sun causes sweat to pour from your face and back of your neck like lava from a mountain that is experiencing gastric distress.

However, I, an old guy who for the last year and a half has been very diligent about exercising regularly, was not about to not go for a walk. A walk was totally doable, because I live close to Willow Grove Park, a three-story, air-conditioned indoor shopping mall. Thus, in late morning I headed to the mall, to pound its avenues and corridors in A/C’ed comfort.

I like spending time now and then at Willow Grove Park, even though I rarely buy anything there. Architecturally it looks real good, and I’m always amazed by the copious amounts of eye-catching wares for sale. Plus, I almost always cross paths with some lovely ladies.

And I find Willow Grove Park to be quite an artistic environment, hardly different from art museums. For example, many merchandise displays within the stores are beautiful and creative. Even more so are the graphic artworks — posters and other printed creations — in merchants’ windows and free-standing elsewhere. Ergo, on June 30 I made it my mission, in addition to stretching my legs, to examine the state of affairs of graphic art at the mall.

I was drawn to any number of pieces. They ranged from the minimalistic (the large Sale signs, in flamboyant red, that bordered the H&M clothing store), to the complex and futuristic, qualities belonging to a poster hung within an Aerie shop.

Not surprisingly, many of the works featured human faces and, usually, additional body parts. More often than not, these creations were photography-based, but their painterly counterparts were on display here and there too. In the face/body category, the one that I found myself staring at the most was the group shot of five youngsters. It adorned the Gap Kids store. If everyone got along as well as those individuals do, the world would be pretty close to paradisiacal. And I was entranced by the two girls, their heads as close as canned sardines, aglow in a window of the Primark establishment.

A few hours after I arrived back home I began to mull over my mall experience, and damn if I didn’t feel slighted more than a bit. Shit, I realized that every human pictured at the mall was somewhere between young and the cusp of middle-age. How come someone like me wasn’t on display? I mean, what do companies have against male septuagenarians whose hairlines are receding faster than Greenland’s glaciers and whose faces are peppered with weird f*cking growths that dermatologists probably don’t even have names for? It ain’t right, I tell you! Those in power are going to hear from me!

But before they hear from me, I will bring this narrative to a close. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. And give a listen, if you’re in the mood, to mall-istic songs that I discovered recently. After all, it’s not every day that you encounter music inspired by shopping malls.

The first recording, Let’s Go To The Mall, is by Robin Sparkles, a stage name once used by Robin Scherbatsky, who is a character in the television series How I Met Your Mother (the series ended in 2014). Cobie Smulders, the actress who played Sparkles/Scherbatsky, provides the lead vocals on this pop music confection. Did you get all of that? Not sure if I did.

In the second tune, The Last Mall, Steely Dan uses a mall metaphorically to comment on humankind’s fate. Such headiness is only to be expected, of course, as the brains behind Steely Dan — Donald Fagen and the late Walter Becker — were not your everyday song-writing team. The Last Mall, sardonic and clothed in the blues, paints an uneasy picture.

Beautiful Indeed

Well, I’ve been real tempted lately to pen an essay about the repressive, heads-up-their-asses people in my country who continue to believe in demagogic, riot-inciting Donald Trump and embrace his outrageous lies about the 2020 election having been stolen from him.

On the other hand, I haven’t been real tempted lately to have my blood pressure head into the stratosphere. So, I’ll stay calm by moving in my semi-natural direction. Towards the light, you dig. What follows, therefore, are a few words about beauty, a quality I found a couple of weeks ago in, among other things, a book, a song and some flowers. Away we go!

First up, the book: Local Girls is a collection of stories, by Alice Hoffman, about Gretel Samuelson and her small circle of relatives and friends. The stories are presented chronologically, and appeared in various publications before being gathered and published in one volume in 1999.

Not exactly a novel (some stories are narrated by Gretel, the others are in the third-person), but close enough, Local Girls follows Gretel from age 11 or 12 into her mid-20s. It’s set in suburban Long Island (which is near New York City), and is not the happiest of tales. Drug addiction and serious illness are among the book’s prime themes.

Nevertheless, drollness permeates the proceedings, partly by way of the sharp observations and bon mots of Gretel, her best friend Jill, Gretel’s mother Franny, and Gretel’s adult cousin Margot. Overall, Local Girls struck me as hard-as-nails realistic, despite the inclusion, unnecessary in my opinion, of some mystical occurrences. (Hoffman, I gather, is known for doing this in her works.) The book took me by the arm and then spoke intimately to me. It is damn well alive.

What got to me more than anything about Local Girls is the absolute beauty of much of its language. Time after time Hoffman took my breath away. Before ending this short discussion of Local Girls, I’ll leave you with three examples of Hoffman’s way with words.

It was a bad summer, and we all knew it. We liked to phrase it that way, as if what was happening was an aberrationa single season of pain and doubtinstead of all-out informing people that our lives were falling apart, plain and simple as pie.

She had been thinking about sorrow for so long she was amazed to hear the sound of love. What a foreign language it was. How odd to an ear unused to such things.

The streetlamps cast a heavy glow, the light of a dream you’re not quite finished waking from.

Yes, Hoffman has more than got the touch.

Now for the song: I’ve seen Brandi Carlile on a couple of TV shows and heard her music pretty often on the radio. I think she’s good but certainly not great. However, her recording Save A Part Of Yourself, is another matter. To me, it’s fab. The song, which Carlile co-wrote and sings lead on, was released in 2012.

Save Part Of Yourself concerns a love relationship that, though ended, has not been forgotten by one of its two parties. She hopes that her ex will not throw away memories of her. Such a lovely composition, so tender and imbued with longing. Yet, it also sparkles. That mandolin riff that enters five seconds into the tune, those handclaps, the joyful whoo-hoo-hoos. I for one cannot resist them.

Save Part Of Yourself’s main message, I think, is that remembrance can help us heal and make us better individuals. Who would argue with that? Here it is, following which we’ll turn our attention to flowers.

The day in which I am described as a knowledgeable identifier of flora isn’t about to arrive any time soon. Yeah, on a good day I’m able to look at a tulip and say, “Yup, that’s a tulip.” Ditto for a pine tree and a maple tree. But my scope doesn’t extend all too far beyond that. Still, that doesn’t stop me from going out to admire nature’s wonders. Hell, I’d be heartbroken if I couldn’t.

And I’m glad when my botanical expertise expands. Such as when I learned last month that a flowering plant I was gazing at during a visit to New Hope, Pennsylvania, a funky, former artists colony to which visitors often throng, was an example of a hydrangea bush. The plant impressed me. Thus, while walking and driving around my town a few days later I kept my eyes open for hydrangeas. And I found some, photographing two of them. Hydrangeas, I believe, were at the height of their flowering powers in my region (greater Philadelphia) at the time that I took these portraits. The flowers are sincerely beautiful.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Mucho gracias.)

A Doors-Filled Story (Third Edition)

Well, here I am, dispensing thoughts about doors for the third time. Huh, doors? Damn straight! I mean, doors are cool. Or can be, anyway. And I’m hardly alone in holding this opinion. Various WordPress writers, for instance, launch doors-centric articles into cyberspace every Thursday. And they publicize the pieces by placing links to them on the No Facilities blog, of which a fine gent named Dan Antion is the heart, soul and brains. I’m part of that Thursday club today.

Okay, then. On a clear and comfortable morning in late May I visited the sprawling town of Glenside, a community in the Philadelphia suburbs about five miles from my home. Leafy, handsome residential blocks abound in Glenside. And there also are business sections that include Main Street-like corridors. Now, I wasn’t about to stroll up the front paths of homes to check out their doors closely (I wasn’t eager to hear something on the order of  Yo, asshole! What are you doing on my property? directed at me), so I confined most of my investigating and picture-snapping to commercial blocks. In the end, though, I also got pix of a couple of residential doors that were not set back from their respective sidewalks.

While I didn’t cross paths with any doors that might take your breath away during the hour I spent in Glenside, I became fascinated by the varieties of doors on public display. They ran the gamut from the solid and stolid to the utilitarian to the well-worn to the neglected. I passed at least two hundred doors, possibly many more than that, and a dozen or so of them grabbed me almost instantly. I’ve chosen images of seven of them to grace this page.

Could I possibly have resisted a sky-blue door, endearingly shop-worn a bit, whose street address (number 12) beams proudly above it? No way! I tell you, if that door were a human being I’d have smiled at it generously and then given it a great big hug. Yup, the blue door is the one I felt most in tune with in Glenside. In a low-key manner it exudes warmth and wisdom. It’s my kind of door.

Unexpectedly, the four garage doors belonging to Santilli’s auto repair shop connected with me. They’re ordinary, right? We’ve seen doors such as these a million times. Yet, as I stared at them I thought to myself they are worthy of admiration. Non-complaining and tireless, they enable important work to get done. In the doors-ian realm, these four are among the salt of the earth.

And what can you say about the rust-stained shed door that probably hasn’t been opened in years? The healthy green plant a few feet away, doing all it can to brighten the scene, knows that the door has been ignored. It’s the norm to pass by a door such as this without a thought. But I’m a softie at heart, and so my old ticker went out to it. Its life has been anything but easy.

By the way, I had no intention of having my spectral double show up in five of the photos, but that’s what happened. Yeah, I saw the f*cker aiming his phone’s camera at me from a door beneath the NAPA sign as I snapped that picture. But not till I was examining all of the Glenside pix a day or two later did I realize that he also was present in other doors, the sky-blue door and the ones belonging to Elcy’s, the antique store, and Santilli’s. “It figures, Neil,” my wife Sandy just mentioned to me, shaking her head in disapproval as she looked over this article before I hit the Publish button. “It’s bad enough that you write about yourself incessantly in your stories. Now your readers are likely to overdose on your sort-of-spitting image too. Give ’em a break, for crying out loud!”

Shit, she’s right. She almost always is. On the other hand, has a ghoul ever before rocked a Cape Cod-emblazoned cap so magnificently? I think not!

The time has arrived to bring this essay to a close. On a musical note, of course, as that’s what I did with my first two doors pieces. With each of those, I included a tune by the hippie era band The Doors. This time around I’ve decided to forego one of their blasts from the past. Instead I’ve selected a blast from the present. It’s called, appropriately, Leave The Door Open, and it’s by Silk Sonic, a new band led by pop superstars Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. The song is a throwback to the sweet soul/R&B music, lovingly orchestrated, that The Stylistics, The Delfonics and other groups filled the air with during the 1970s. I dig Leave The Door Open a lot.

I’m done! Goodbye till next time, boys and girls. Please don’t be shy about adding your comments.

Words From A Philly Fan

I’m proud and relieved to say that I am fully vaccinated against coronavirus, the microscopic beast that, for us humans, likes nothing better than to cause pain and death and to make an unholy mess of things. And though there are plenty of unknowns about what the future holds, for the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike, I’m proceeding on the assumption that the two doses of Moderna I received have done their job. In other words, protected me from developing COVID.

That’s why, earlier this month and for the first time since the pandemic began, I packaged together activities that used to be semi-regular parts of my repertoire. Namely, I hopped aboard a train, a means of transport that I deemed too risky to use pre-vaccination, and rode it for an hour from my suburban town to a station in the heart of Philadelphia, the city I know better than any other. Then, upon arrival, I took a substantial walk through The City Of Brotherly Love’s streets.

(Yeah, I could have driven into Philly at pretty much any time during the past year, but said drive is a major pain, as is finding somewhere to park in the sections I like to walk around in.)

Vivid sunlight greeted me as I exited the train station at 10th and Filbert Streets. With no game plan, no specific destinations in mind, I looked this way and that, shrugged, and let my legs and feet take me where they would. Three and a quarter hours later — a chunk of time that passed almost in a flash — I had walked upon a fair number of central Philadelphia’s blocks, covering about four and a half miles in all.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood

The area that I traversed on the Friday in question forms a large rectangle and includes a host of neighborhoods. Among them are Chinatown, Old City, Society Hill, South Street and Center City West. Old City and Society Hill, by the way, encompass much of what was within the city’s boundaries during its emergence as a major player in the 1700s. Reacquainting myself with these and other Philadelphia neighborhoods felt damn good, though my absence didn’t seem as long as it actually had been. What surprised me more than anything was that, despite all the walking I’ve done in central Philadelphia over the years, I probably never had been on some of the blocks that passed beneath my feet. For instance, had I ever before walked past or seen the enormous mural that proclaims WORK UNITES US on a building that is close to both Chinatown and Old City? I think not.

Philadelphia’s Old City neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Society Hill neighborhood

Well, the conditions were as fine as any I might have dialed up. The skies were a sweet blue, the temperature mild, and a healthy number of young ladies strolling around looked superb. Within the eastern half of the rectangle that I visited, the sidewalks were not particularly crowded. Its Old City and Society Hill areas normally teem with tourists, but not now, needless to say. Add to that the fact that mucho workers who used to be on the streets during their lunch hours are now working from home, another consequence of the virus. I saw quite a few more people, however, within the rectangle’s western half, mainly because of cafes and restaurants whose outdoor tables, in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, were packed. But not as many as I would have a year and a half ago.

Philadelphia’s South Street neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Center City West neighborhood

All in all, COVID has put Philly, and just about all American cities, I suppose, in a hell of a hole. For one thing, Philadelphia never will return to its former self should working-from-home remain a significant way of doing business. I mean, can you imagine the ripple effects that will occur if the city’s office buildings, whether modest or skyscraping, become half vacant, or worse, permanently? Man, I’m very worried about this.

Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square neighborhood
Philadelphia’s Rittenhouse Square park

However, all is not lost. The city has much going for it. Deep history. Parks galore. Handsome buildings several centuries old. Modern skyscrapers tantalizingly sleek. I saw examples of all of that during my walk. What’s more, during the last 25 or 30 years Philadelphia’s restaurant scene became world-class and its cultural offerings exploded in number. Restaurants, in general, have hung in there fairly well during the pandemic, though there have been casualties of course. And culture is slowly returning as pandemic restrictions are being relaxed more and more.

No doubt about it, I’ll head back to Philadelphia a bunch of times pretty soon. To trek again. To dine. To take in movies and rock and jazz concerts. I dig the city a whole lot, as if you couldn’t tell. If I didn’t, I’d have moved to another region long ago.

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Gracias.)

Looking Up Is Where It’s At: A Springtime Story

When my phone rang at 10 AM on April 27, I knew that I would be in for a scolding. That’s because the name displayed on the phone was none other than Dooitt Orr Else, the no-nonsense CEO of the blogosphere. I’d never had the pleasure of speaking with Mrs. Else, but I knew all about her. Bottom line: she does not suffer fools gladly.

I answered the call. “Hello, can I help you?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“Help me? I doubt it, fool. But you can help yourself. Listen, mister — and, by the way, this is Dooitt Orr Else speaking — it has come to my attention that you have yet to publish an article that centers around spring 2021. What is the matter with you? You’ve written about past springs, have you not? The answer is yes. Therefore it will be unacceptable if you allow the present season to vanish into your rearview mirror without comment.”

“Sir, you have fallen short of the contractual obligations that you entered into with WordPress. Get to work on a spring-related article or I shall be forced to revoke your writing privileges. Not that anyone would mind if I did. Over and out!”

Holy shit, that conversation, if you can call it that, left me worried. I mean, what the hell would I do with my freed-up time if I no longer were allowed to hurl my words of quasi-wisdom into cyberspace? Man, I don’t want to learn how to do yoga. And I don’t want to learn how to bake. Hence, the next day I took to the streets to see what spin I might put on spring 2021.

A lovely day it was when I began the adventure soon after breakfast. On the hazy side, yes, but there’s a charm to haziness. And the temperature was very comfortable, so I knew that I wouldn’t start sweating like a pig as I pounded the sidewalks. My plan was to admire and investigate the flora on some of the blocks in my neighborhood and also on some in a nearby area, as nature had begun to come alive gloriously several weeks earlier. Most deciduous trees were fully in leaf. And many of their flowering varieties were strutting their stuff. But what would be my focus? I wasn’t sure when I left the house, but two minutes later I knew.

I knew, because I decided to photograph a pine tree on a home’s front lawn, but not from a distance. Instead, I got real close to the densely-needled beauty and looked up. What a view! No pavement, no houses, no electrical wires were part of the scene. Nothing but the tree and the sky. The template for the walk, and for the story that you now are reading, immediately fell into place. I would look upward frequently and see what was to be found.

The natural world, needless to say, is infinitely complicated in terms of design, structure, materials, color, and in terms of every other aspect that one might think of. We reside on a planet that is an absolute wonderland. These facts are what hit me the hardest as I wandered along, stopping here and there to peer heavenward through tree branches. The branches, the leaves and needles, the blossoms on those trees so adorned, interplayed at wild angles, combining to form intricate canvases, canvases that shape-shifted whenever I changed position even slightly. Add to this the play of sunlight and the calmness of the sky . . .  the sights were truly stunning.

What’s more, most of the canvases looked like works of modern art to me, swaths of colors and in-your-face immediacy being major parts of their hearts and souls. But I also enjoyed the more delicate constructions, especially the unassuming manner in which one tree, with a smattering of white petals on its thin branches, met the sky.

For the past 18 months I’ve been walking my ass off in my and other neighborhoods, most of them in the Philadelphia burbs, doing so for health reasons and also to get off the living room sofa often enough so as not to take root on it. I’m a lazy guy at the core, though, not one who is thrilled about engaging in regular exercise sessions. But I plan to maintain the routine for as long as I am able. And looking up will help. As the title of this opus says, that’s where it’s at. Sometimes, anyway.

Okay, Mrs. Else. I’ve met your demand. Don’t call me again anytime soon!

(Please don’t be shy about adding your comments. Gracias.)

An Ode To Orange

I shall begin the proceedings by stating that this story would not have come into existence were my wife Sandy and I not subscribers to The New Yorker magazine. Thus, if you read this opus and decide that it sucks, then sue The New Yorker, not me. As always, I’m blameless!

Back cover of The New Yorker magazine

For it was about six weeks ago that I noticed the colorful back cover of the aforementioned magazine’s March 1 issue. That cover was an ad for Sumo Citrus, a variety of fruit that I’d never heard of before. Grown in California, it’s a large version of a mandarin orange, and boasts what pretty much looks like a top knot on its head. Sumo wrestlers sport top knots. Hence, the fruit’s name.

Anyway, not many days later Sandy and I were filling up our shopping cart at a Whole Foods supermarket when a table piled sky high with bright orange produce caught my eye. Holy shit, it was a Sumo Citrus mountain! Were we enticed? Yo, is the pope Catholic? So, overpriced though the fellas were, we purchased one. And ate it the next day. Yeah, it was seedless and easy to peel, as advertised, points definitely in its favor. But how about the taste? That’s the main thing, right? Well, the flavor was good. Quite good. But hardly a revelation. I mean, it tasted like an orange!

Whether we buy or don’t buy another Sumo Citrus some day, the fruit made a real impression on me because, subconsciously, the color orange remained on my mind. I love colors, just about all of them, and have published many essays on this site that revolve around one color or another: odes to blue, green, red and yellow come to mind. But I haven’t waxed poetic very much about orange. On April 5, a Monday, I decided that the time had arrived to do something about that.

In mid-afternoon of that day, off I went to Willow Grove Park, a three-story indoor shopping mall near my home in the suburbs of Philadelphia. From past experience, I knew that examples of just about every color under the sun can be found there, some on store merchandise and displays, some on signs, and some adorning the bodies of the mall’s employees and customers.

I spent an hour in the commercial wonderland, which, despite the pandemic, was as busy as I’ve ever seen it outside of the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons. A diligent journalist, I kept my eyes focused on colors, rather than on cute girls, as I scoured the premises. Some hues definitely predominated: shades of white, black, blue, grey and red, I’d say. Orange wasn’t a member of the in crowd. In fact, only purple, by my estimation, was represented less at the mall than was orange. Nonetheless, I found a fair number of examples. They were hard to miss, so flamboyant is orange.

Macy’s department store carried some ladies’ clothes, shoes and accessories in knockout versions of orange, for example, and a small number of men’s shirts in same. A vendor in the mall’s food court had shelves filled with candy bars whose wrappers exploded in orange and in other hues. And a teenager, strolling the avenues with a young lady, shone like a star in his orange shirt. In fact, he was the only person I saw at the mall who wore any orange at all. Wait a minute . . . that ain’t true! Wandering around the mall was a f*cking weirdo whose orange, black and white mask covered half of his wrinkled face. It was good of him to stop and pose for a selfie for this story. If you surmise that the f*cking weirdo was yours truly, you possibly are correct.

Why isn’t orange more popular in the USA than seemingly it is? Good question. It should be a hit. Orange is snazzy, jazzy and full of good spirits, after all. But maybe the American personality leans a bit too much toward the repressed side for orange to get its due. Its day may come, though. You never know. I’m pretty sure of one thing, in any event. To wit, my eyes will stay open for orange. Once you start looking for that color, it’s hard to stop.

I’m going to leave you with two recordings that pay homage to orange — to skies of orange, specifically. The first (Orange Skies) is by Love, a trippy rock band that was popular in the hippie era. They recorded it in 1966. The second (Orange Colored Sky) was put on wax by the one-and-only Nat King Cole in 1950.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Please don’t be shy about entering any comments you might have. Till next time!

Art On Wheels, Part Seven: And The Winner Is . . .

My editor, Edgar Reewright, couldn’t restrain himself when I told him last week that my next opus would be another entry in the Art On Wheels series.

“Neil, you’re straining my patience, not to mention your readers’ patience, with your ridiculous Art On Wheels stories!” Edgar shouted into his phone. “Good lord, one episode would have been enough, and yet number seven is in the works. What’s the matter with you? Can’t you think of something else to write about right now instead of trucks and vans that catch your attention? Sorry, fella, but I’m not going to edit this one. You’re on your own with it.”

Edgar paused for a couple of seconds before continuing. “Listen, Neil, I have to end this conversation. I’m about to head out to an appointment with my psychotherapist who, unbelievably and thankfully, is also a proctologist. He’s trying to help me understand why I deal with writers who turn out so much shit, such as you.” Without another word, he hung up.

Eh, screw Edgar! He’s a philistine. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing wrong with spending some time now and then in search of snazzily-adorned motor vehicles. It gets me out of the house. It helps me pay attention to what’s going on around me. And it pleases my artsy-fartsy side. I’d rather look at works of art in museums, true. But I’m decently content to gaze at those that rest above axles and wheels.

I used to try to track down in a single day or two all of the good-looking vehicles that I would need for a story. And, by dumb luck or who knows what, I met the goal several times. But I missed the goal for episodes five and six (click here to read number six). And was even farther from it this time around, as I needed four days in January and February 2021 to encounter enough attractive vehicles for this story. What’s more, there were a few more days during those months when, on the prowl, I didn’t find any examples of vehicular art that met my standards or were capturable.

Now, capturable is a key point. Generally I locate my victims in the parking areas of supermarkets, strip malls and other businesses. And occasionally I run across them on residential streets. Usually they are making deliveries or service calls, so getting close to them and taking their portraits at those times is a relative snap.

However, sometimes things don’t work out. On more than one recent occasion, for example, I spotted fine specimens in parking lots that I was walking or driving around in, but they were pulling out and too far away for me to photograph. And, needless to say, I often see beauties on the road while I’m on the road. No way, though, that this ol’ boy is going to try and grab their pictures when he’s behind the wheel. If I were dumb enough to give that a go, I’d pretty much guarantee myself an ambulance ride to the nearest hospital emergency room or, even worse, a journey in a hearse!

I like the designs on all of the vehicles that illustrate this essay, some more than others. Big-Lil Heads is cooler than cool. Have green, orange, white and black ever looked better together than they do on that bus? And the Target truck’s design, so goofily minimalistic, is irresistible to me. I’ve never owned a dog, but if the Target dog should become available for adoption, I’ll be first in line to fill out the required papers.

Still, as much as those two ring my chimes, neither is my favorite. I have to give the nod to the W.B. Mason vehicle. The Mason design is, to me, perfection. Bright, solid and beautifully balanced, it is impossible to ignore and easy to love. W. B. Mason, as is noted on the truck, was founded in 1898. Based in Brockton, Massachusetts for its entire life, the company distributes office and janitorial supplies, and numerous other products, throughout the USA. Whenever I see a Mason truck I find myself attracted to it like a magnet. But I normally spot them when they are in motion, not when I can have a good long look at them. February 24, 2021, then, was my lucky day, because on that date a W. B. Mason truck was sitting quietly in the parking lot that surrounds the Wawa food market in my suburban Philadelphia town.

Yes, the W. B. Mason truck is number one in my book, followed, respectively, by the Big-Lil Heads and Target vehicles. I’d be happy to learn which of the artworks on this page you think are the best. Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Goodbye till next time!