Two Sunsets By The Bay

It’s not as if there haven’t been enough sunset stories published over the years. Shit, their numbers probably run in the tens of millions. Nevertheless, I’m unashamedly adding to the mega-glut right now. And why not? Sunsets can be spellbinding. We watch primo ones quietly, maybe even reverentially, giving them the respect that they deserve.

From my experience, clouds, more than anything, are what make or break sunsets. Our friend the Sun, when setting, needs clouds to absorb, reflect and refract its light. To make things interesting, in other words. But not too many clouds, as the Sun ain’t got a chance when sheets of clouds abound. As for cloudless skies, well, they are canvases upon which sunsets do not rise above the meh level. When the white-hot fire ball heads downward on a cloudless day, the color and pattern possibilities for the upcoming sunset are limited.

And then there’s location. Needless to say, it counts for plenty when it comes to sunsets. If you’re in the middle of Manhattan, for instance, where tall buildings thrive, you are barely going to be able to see sunsets, whatever their quality, let alone appreciate them. On the other hand, if Cape Cod Bay is nearby, as it was recently for me and my wife Sandy, you’re f*cking golden.

Cape Cod Bay, enormous and fed by the Atlantic Ocean, abuts the northern coast of Cape Cod, a lengthy peninsula that’s part of Massachusetts, USA. We were on the Cape, vacationing our asses off, for a two-and-a-half week stretch that ran from mid-October to early November. During the trip, among a host of activities, we walked and hung out on four of the numerous public beaches along the bay. Over the years we’ve been on quite a few of the Cape’s other bayside beaches too, and have yet to be disappointed. The sands are clean, and masses of seagrasses are plentiful in many sections close to shore. And the waters themselves are inspiring, partly because of their vastness. Staring out at the bay, to me, sometimes seems like staring into infinity.

Our vantage point for the first of the two great sunsets we saw on the Cape this year was First Encounter Beach, in the township of Eastham. It’s one of my favorite Cape Cod Bay beaches, possibly my top pick, though the competition is stiff. There we were on a comfortable mid-afternoon, admiring our kite as it did its carefree thing way overhead. The bay’s waters had receded profoundly, leaving many acres of mudflats in their wake. Great beauty surrounded us, and we knew it.

First Encounter Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)
First Encounter Beach (Eastham, Cape Cod)

After reeling in the kite, we took a stroll upon the sands. Then we made our way back to our car, contemplating dinner. But it wasn’t dinnertime just yet, and sunset was scheduled to take place in about 20 minutes. So, we decided to stay, a wise decision, for we soon witnessed a sunset that we are unlikely to forget. At its beginning, and made possible by well-positioned clouds, bands and assorted streaks of oranges, golds and greys filled the western sky’s lower regions prodigiously. The greys took a back seat after a while, allowing the brighter colors to go wild. The darkening sky, at that point, was absolutely aflame. What a sight!

The second excellent sunset arrived a week and a half later at the bayside swath of territory known as Corn Hill Beach. It’s located in the township of Truro, which is far out on the Cape and, unlike Cape Cod’s 14 other townships, totally rural.

I’ve been a big fan of Corn Hill Beach since discovering it around 15 years ago. Like First Encounter Beach, it faces due west, perfect for sunset-watching. What’s more, the views from Corn Hill Beach, when you look seaward, are wide and unobstructed. A wonderful place.

Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)
Corn Hill Beach (Truro, Cape Cod)

Both Sandy and I agree that, as far as we can remember, we’ve never seen a sunset such as the one at Corn Hill Beach. The sunset appeared to be foggy and misty, despite the fact that nowhere else, in any direction, was fog or mist visible. Light on its feet, the sunset was the ideal partner for the bay waters moving gently beneath it.

We absorbed the sunset and its surroundings for 20 minutes, then returned, a bit downcast, to Corn Hill Beach’s parking lot. For we were fully aware of what we’d be losing soon. The natural world in all its glory is readily available on Cape Cod. Alas, back home in the grossly overdeveloped suburbs of Philadelphia, where we’d be in 48 hours, such is not even remotely the case.

Some Walks Are Better Than Others (A Cape Cod Story)

Well, another Cape Cod vacation almost has reached its conclusion, as my wife Sandy and I will be back home just as this story hits the presses. We have had a wonderful time. We’ve done a lot and seen a lot on the 65-mile-long peninsula that we think of as our second home, and which we have visited almost annually since the late 1990s.

In some important respects, Cape Cod (which is part of Massachusetts) far surpasses the suburban jungle, in Pennsylvania, where we reside most of the year. You can find genuine peace and quiet on Cape Cod, for instance, and gorgeous waters, sands and marshlands too. In our overpopulated and overdeveloped home base? Fuhgeddaboudit! If health care were better than it is on the Cape, we would consider moving there permanently.

We pursue all sorts of activities on Cape Cod. We stroll through charming villages, play mini golf, fly our kite at beaches, watch sunsets, eat and drink well at taverns and restaurants, go to movies, concerts and plays . . . holy shit, I nearly feel guilty about how good I have it on the Cape!

If I had to place one activity above the others, though, it would be immersing myself, via hikes, in the natural world, which exists abundantly on Cape Cod. These explorations usually set my mind at ease and my heart aflutter. That being the case, I try to make a walk part of my game plan for nearly every day that I spend Cape-side. Now and then I trek alone. In most instances, however, Sandy is my companion.

We’ve been on a number of especially good walks these past two weeks. Magic, or who knows what, was in the air, elevating the experiences to special heights. We oohed and aahed in unison and fed off one another’s energy. And we each made a few pretty sharp observations about Nature that wouldn’t have occurred to the other party.

One of those excellent hikes took place on the eastern coast of Cape Cod, where the Atlantic Ocean, sands and sky make beautiful music together (except when raging storms are doing their thing). They are in harmony because most of the Atlantic coastline is government-protected territory, meaning that hotels, boardwalks, amusement rides and concession stands ain’t to be found. That’s just the way I like it. Another bonus is that not too many humans are on the beaches in the off-season, which is when Sandy and I visit the Cape. I’m down with that too.

There we were, then, on the stretch of coastline known as Nauset Light Beach, located in the town of Eastham. This particular beach is one of my favorites on Cape Cod, partly because of the mighty sand cliffs that back it. The cliffs, ranging from about 30 to 80 feet in height, are part of a chain of cliffs that covers at least half of the approximately 40-miles-long Atlantic coast. They never cease to amaze me. And that day, at Nauset Light Beach, I was struck especially hard by the deep grooves and primordial shapes that storms have sculpted in them. Those storms have pummeled all the cliffs on the Cape’s Atlantic coastline for time immemorial. It’s estimated that they strip away an average of several feet of sand from the cliff-faces every year. As a result, houses and other structures at cliff-top level keep growing closer to the edges of the cliffs. Over the years, some structures have had to be relocated farther inland, and some currently are in worrisome situations. Nature, in no uncertain terms, rules. (Erosion is an ongoing process and concern on many sections of the Cape’s sandy coastlines, not just its Atlantic Ocean side.)

The skies were cloudy as Sandy and I made our way along the beach, sometimes stopping to gaze at the uneasy waters. A strong wind blew, but it didn’t bother us. On the contrary, it energized us, boosting our awareness of the surroundings. As pompous as it sounds, we came pretty damn close to becoming one with Nature, as close as suburbanites have any right to be. We absorbed the unceasing roars, gurgles and hisses of the ocean, the imposing grey skies, and the haphazard array of stones, shells and driftwood on the beach. Everything seemed perfect, exactly as it was meant to be.

Our mini-adventure at Nauset Light Beach went by in a flash. We’d have stayed longer, probably should have stayed longer. But we had other places to go, other things to do. Till we meet again, NLB!

Philadelphia Delivered Once Again: Art On Wheels, Part Ten

So, what we have here is a Philadelphia story. It is one of many I’ve penned in which The City Of Brotherly Love has starred or played a supporting role. Were it not for Philly, the contents of Yeah, Another Blogger would be pretty damn scanty.

For employment reasons I moved to Philadelphia in the mid-1970s, taking a liking to the city right from the get-go. I resided within its boundaries for about 30 years. And when my wife Sandy (whom I met in 1990) and I moved away in 2005, we deposited ourselves in a sleepy town not far at all from Philly, because we wanted to be within the city’s magnetic field.

Yeah, I absolutely dig Philadelphia. Even now, deep into my retirement years, I do one thing or another there anywhere from two to six times each month. Concerts, museums, parks, restaurants . . . the city is loaded with them and with other enticements, and I can’t resist.

One of my favorite activities is to wander around Philadelphia on foot, exploring many of its sections, not just the downtown ones. I become invigorated when pounding their sidewalks and other walking paths, no less so these days than I did during my young adulthood and middle age. I might be older than dirt, but my shoes were made for walking!

A recent Philadelphia walking adventure took place on a mid-September summer day. The weather was mild, guaranteeing that I wouldn’t sweat like a frigging pig, and the skies were a friendly shade of blue. I boarded a train in my town at 9:36 AM and found myself, 45 minutes later, inside a station in the heart of Philly. After taking care of business in the station’s men’s room, I headed for the streets. My mission was to keep my eyes open for, and to photograph, enticingly decorated vehicles. Yes, the time had arrived for me to begin creating the tenth installment of a project I’ve become enamored with: Art On Wheels.

Philadelphia’s Chinatown neighborhood, one block from the train station I exited from, is a funky, lively area replete with Asian restaurants, produce vendors, nail salons, Chinese-American attorneys’ offices, and on and on. Within moments I was strolling its streets, positive that a cool truck or two would enter my field of vision in no time. When that didn’t happen, though, I began to get an uneasy feeling that my quest for vehicular beauty was destined not to pan out.

Not to worry! Twenty-five minutes into the walk, as I crossed from Chinatown into the city’s Callowhill section, a winner presented itself to me. Has the combination of orange and white ever looked better than it does on the Harbour Textile Service truck? I think not. Bold and confident, the design proves that simplicity can pack a punch with lasting effects. The Harbour vehicle is one of my two favorites from that day.

All in all I spent three hours, interrupted by a short lunch break, on the streets of Philadelphia, my aged legs covering a total of six miles. Besides Chinatown and Callowhill, the stroll took me into four or five other neighborhoods, including Spring Garden. That’s where I made the acquaintance of La Marqueza, a gorgeous food truck that I like as much as Harbour Textile Service and maybe more. It was parked alongside Community College Of Philadelphia. Man, I gazed upon La Marqueza hungrily, allowing its vibrancy and warmth to raise my spirits. Then, off I went in search of my next victim.

By adventure’s end I’d taken the portraits of about 15 vehicles, later deciding that only five were worthy of immortalization. Ergo, those five decorate this page. The final notable one I saw belongs to Foreign Objects, a craft brewery in Monroe, New York. That truck, far from home, is endowed with delicate and wispy artwork, not at all what you’d expect a beer truck to display. All I can say is, “damn straight, I’ll drink to that!”

In closing, I’ll mention this: The first seven editions of Art On Wheels are set in the suburbs, where I had to drive all over the f*cking place to find worthy specimens. Screw that! I’d rather locate them via foot power in Philly, which is what I’ve done since then. That’s why I’m sure that at some point next year I’ll return to the city I know best for Art On Wheels, Part Eleven. I’m already looking forward to it.

A Colorful Self-Discovery Story

When, via Yeah, Another Blogger, I began launching stories into cyberspace back in April 2015, I didn’t realize that, over time, the writing process would increase my knowledge about who the hell I am. I’ve found this to be kind of neat, an unexpected bonus. After all, I’m an old f*ck who, since his teens, has been a champ at moving unsteadily through life. So, you better believe I happily embrace any aha moments that arrive. It’s good when the lights turn on.

For example, while penning an essay (Hippieish Notes From The Information Desk) a few years ago, it became clear to me that the values of the hippie era — those heady days of my youth when freedom, open-mindedness, peace, love and understanding were put into practice by millions upon millions of young folks around the world — shaped many of my basic outlooks. Somehow this truth had eluded me consciously and, were it not for writing, probably would still be lost in the extensive foggy regions of my mind.

Which brings us to colors, a subject I’ll now present as a second example of my increased self-awareness. I’ve written about colors numerous times, having devoted pieces to red, orange and the beauty of flowering trees, to cite several instances. While knocking out the first few of my color-centric opuses, I came to appreciate more fully than before that colors are really important to me. They get to me emotionally, some color schemes relaxing me, some exciting me, some causing me to stare in wonder as the words oh, wow slip from my lips.

But my relationships with colors go farther than that, for, while writing, it also dawned on me that I encourage colors to affect me, by seeking them out pretty damn often. I’d feel a bit less alive if I didn’t. “Pursuer of colors” is an occupational title that I’m proud to have on my resumé.

Well, one morning a couple of weeks ago, as my bony ass sank deeper and deeper into my living room sofa, I decided that rising to my feet might not be a bad idea. Nor would a pursuit of vibrant hues to brighten up the day. That’s why I promptly stood up, exited the house and drove a few miles to Glenside, Pennsylvania, a fine town whose commercial corridors are studded with every type of small business you can imagine. I arrived there at 9:00 AM, under soothing blue skies.

Now, in my neck of the woods, which includes Glenside, neutral colors rule: the tans, browns, greys and blacks that, in one combination or another, fill buildings, paved roads and sidewalks. And greens are dominant too, the deep greens of foliage, specifically. As much as I like those tones, they never have, and never will, send me over the moon exactly.

Of course, plenty of happier hues, the ones I was on a mission to locate, also exist in Glenside. After pounding the pavement for an hour, I found a dozen or more scenes bright enough to put a nice big smile on my face. Five of the scenes illustrate this story.

There was no denying the power of the Sunoco gas station, for certain. Its signage, an in-your-face rainbow of colors, all bursting with life, won me over from the second it came into view.

As did a subtler composition, one that centers around avocado green umbrellas. The umbrellas, belonging to a café at the Glenside railroad station, added a ton of juice to a setting that otherwise would have been described as drab, man, drab. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them.

All in all, though, I felt that there was one clear winner, a striking combination of Beauty (a dreamy mural) and the Beast (a mottled, pale-orange-tinged trestle, emboldened with wide black and gold stripes to lessen the chances that motorists will plow into it). When I saw the mural peeking out from behind the trestle, which supports overhead railroad tracks, I was taken by the incongruity of the overall display. An incongruity that totally works, however. The mural and the decorated trestle are partners. They feed off each other’s energy. The music they make together might be on the dissonant side, but despite that, it’s a composition that hits all the right notes.

To The Deck!

How fortunate am I to live in a house that has a deck? Real fortunate. I like the deck a lot, though I don’t take advantage of it as often as I should. About eight feet above ground level and attached to the rear of my abode, it extends fully from one end of the house to the other. From the deck I have an assortment of scenes to look at, including partial views of man-made stuff on nearby properties: brickwork, garage doors, sheds, recycling bins, etc. But who cares about any of that? Manufactured items I damn well would look at carefully, though, if they were there, are swimming pools and hot tubs. But only if gorgeous girls were occupying them. Some day, after I’ve bit the dust, a pool or hot tub or two undoubtedly will appear, and gorgeous girls will put them to good use. Shit! Bad timing on my part.

Luckily, I have worthy viewing options. For instance, when on the deck in daylight I sometimes gaze at the sky and at the trees in my backyard and on other lots, all the while listening to the birdies do their chirping thing. That’s one of my go-to ways of trying to become one with Nature. And, you know, sipping on coffee, and grooving to human music in addition to the avian variety, tends to make that combination of activities even better. Which is why, after plopping my ass down on a deck chair, I had a swell time one recent Saturday morning.

Ah yes, the trees. The deciduous ones are voluminous right now here in Pennsylvania, where summer is in full swing. As I admired a collection of trees from the deck, their leaves as green as green can be, I nearly rose from my chair and bowed down to them. Trees project a majestic aura. I don’t take them for granted.

The skies were wonderful too. A dreamy shade of blue, with strands of clouds lolling about, they put me at ease. What’s more, though we were in the midst of a heat wave, the early morning temps hadn’t yet gone haywire. I was as comfortable as I’d be on a crisp autumn day.

In need of caffeine, I wasted no time saying hello to my mug of coffee. As I did so, I tuned in to the birdsong. Although I didn’t spot any of our feathered friends, it was obvious they were out there in abundance, because an a cappella opus, consisting of trills and staccato bursts, bounced energetically through the air. Now, I’m a f*cking dope when it comes to birds. I can identify only a handful by sight and only one species (crows) by sound. Nonetheless, I dig the music they compose. Who doesn’t?

Amazingly, typical neighborhood noises were absent or minimal during the 40 minutes I sat outside. Human voices (belonging to kids in a house opposite mine) didn’t arrive until the 30-minute mark. Motor vehicle growls and screeches were few. And not a single canine bark rang out. What? How was that possible? There are a million dogs in my immediate neighborhood, and they ain’t famed for being quiet.

Anyway, as it turned out, bird calls were not the primary sounds to reach my ears, because I decided after a few minutes on the deck that the scenario I was part of might reach a higher level if recorded music were added to it. I was proven correct when I dialed up some SiriusXM satellite-radio channels on my smart phone. Nearly all of the songs I heard hit the spot, two in particular: Goodbye Mr. Blue, by folk-rock star Father John Misty, and Chill On Cold, by little-known blues and soul singer BIGLLOU Johnson. They were released in 2022 and 2021, respectively. Goodbye Mr. Blue is a moody contemplation on a failed relationship. Chill On Cold talks about a lady whom guys would be wise to avoid. I think it’s cooler than cool, and that BIGLLOU deserves to become popular as hell one day.

That’s a wrap, ladies and gents. Here are the tunes. Till next time!

A Family Gathering And A Desert Walk (My 300th Story)

It’s good to be around your relatives, is it not? Yeah, it is, but only if you like them! Well, my wife Sandy and I are crazy about my brother Richie and his wife Sara, and their oldest son Ben and his wife Amanda, and the latter couple’s two young boys. Ergo, we had one hell of a fine time recently when we gathered with this family grouping in Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is where Richie and Sara reside.

Now, being Pennsylvania denizens, Sandy and I don’t get to see the folks listed above all that often, as they live so damn far away from us. Especially Ben and company, who call Hawaii home. So, when earlier this year the Hawaiian crew decided they would visit Richie and Sara in a few months, well, Sandy and I wasted no time in making our arrangements to join the upcoming celebration. We arrived in Santa Fe, via American Airlines, on the 31st of May.

We spent three days with the entire clan and, after Ben and company decamped for Hawaii, four more with Richie and Sara. The time flew by at lightning speed, as time is wont to do. Sandy and I did all kinds of fun things with the family. You know, shooting the shit, eating swell meals, playing with the kids, going here and there and there and here, etc., etc. It almost didn’t matter what was going on, though, since everybody was just plain glad to be together.

One activity in particular rang my bell exceedingly well. It resulted from Sara asking me, soon after Ben and his crew began their journey home, if there was anything special that I wanted to do in New Mexico. “Nah, not really,” I thought to myself. But all of a sudden I realized that there was: Below the surface I’d been itching for a desert experience, one that might rival the trek through Plaza Blanca that knocked my socks off when Sandy and I visited Richie and Sara in New Mexico four years ago (click here to read about it).

Right to left: Richie, Sandy, Sara, Alfie. (This photo and the other photos are from the Nambé Badlands.)

When I told Sara that the desert was calling me, almost at once she said that the Nambé Badlands was the place to go to. Man, turns out she was spot-on correct. A day later, there the four of us were (plus Richie and Sara’s trusty dog Alfie), strolling around this stunning wilderness together. Nambé thrilled our eyes and graciously allowed our feet to take us where they might.

The Nambé Badlands is a dizzying configuration, straight out of a surrealist’s mind, of gullies, canyons, hills, level grounds, and sculptural rock formations. It encompasses a huge chunk of territory about 20 miles north of Santa Fe. Sandstone and limestone are among Nambé’s main inorganic ingredients, and a highly surprising number of juniper trees, most of them roughly ten feet in height, pepper the landscape. We arrived at 9:15 in the morning, when the Sun was already more intense than we’d have liked it to be, but less so than it was when we bid adieu to the desert an hour and a half later. The skies were painted a sweet blue, and few clouds were on display. As totally expected, we spotted not a single drop of water on the premises.

For the most part, our group hiked on dusty trails, upon which we crossed paths with a dozen or so other humans, several of whom were zipping along on their sturdy bikes. The trails were easily followed. But I couldn’t resist going off-trail a couple of times, wandering down crumbly hills to peer more closely at canyon sides and dry gully beds. I toyed with the idea of making my way down to a bed or two, but in the end chickened out, though, to tell you the truth I think I could have done it. On the other hand, climbing back up without incident probably would have been a near impossibility for me, an old f*ck whose body contains more rings than 99.99% of the trees on Planet Earth.

Yeah, hell will freeze over before I’ll be mistaken for Indiana Jones. But so what? I lost myself for a while in the Nambé Badlands, my tensions and jumbled thoughts slipping away like yesterday’s news as I grooved on the wonderland surrounding me.

With any luck, some day I’ll be back.

(Girls and boys, this is my 300th story. I’m more than stunned that I’ve typed as many words as I have since launching this publication in April 2015. If I decide to throw a party to celebrate my unlikely feat, I’ll invite you all!. Here’s another important announcement: Anyone who enjoys mysteries that have a social conscience would do well to check out Murder At The Crossroads: A Blues Mystery, which was co-written by my friend Debra Schiff. It came out this year. A lot of info about the book is available by clicking here.)

Six Pix

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times before, in articles buried in this site’s musty archives, I know virtually nothing about the technical aspects of photography nor about the cameras, lenses and associated equipment that make serious photographers drool. Nonetheless, I get a bang from taking photographs, because I like looking at things while walking around, and often feel compelled to document what I’m looking at. Most agreeably, the cameras I’ve used over the years in this pursuit have allowed me — a lazy f*cker who can’t be bothered with complicated stuff — to snap away with a minimum of effort.

First there was the Kodak Pocket Instamatic, which served me well during the pre-digital 1970s and 80s. I took a zillion pictures with it. The Pocket Instamatic was small and worked automatically, producing a nice image nearly every time. Aim and shoot was all you had to do, a pretty perfect set-up for yours truly.

A long dry spell set in for me after that era, my wife Sandy taking over the photographic duties. However, in late 2015 I obtained my first smart phone, an iPhone, and soon fell heavily for its camera. The camera was as easy as pie to use and, no need to mention, was digital. Thus, the small hassle of getting rolls of film developed (as was the case with the Instamatic) didn’t exist. Absolutely my kind of camera!

Willow Grove, Pennsylvania (March 2022)
Goods on display in the Lids store, Abington, Pennsylvania (January 2022)

That iPhone was traded in some time ago for an updated model, which I’ve put to use a whole lot. This year alone I’ve pressed its button several hundred times. A fair number of the several hundred resultant images have appeared on this wobbly publication’s pages, but the vast majority haven’t.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (March 2022)

And so, in honor of the fact that we currently are hauling our asses through month number six of the year, I am decorating this article with six previously unpublished pix, all from 2022, that pleased my eye recently when I scrolled through the photos residing within my phone. I’ll limit my commentary to three of them.

Mt. Airy section of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (March 2022)

Isn’t the mural gorgeous? It was created under the auspices of Mural Arts Philadelphia, a quasi-governmental organization in Philadelphia that, since 1984, has orchestrated the painting of several thousand outdoor murals throughout that fair city. This one is in Philly’s Mt. Airy section. I took the picture in March as I was walking to a nearby tavern for a rendezvous with my great pals Jeff and Mike.

And you know what? I noticed while writing this article that the name of the mural, painted on the lower right corner, is Walking The Wissahickon. Well, as fate and/or coincidence would have it, my wife and I did exactly that — we walked The Wissahickon, aka Wissahickon Valley Park — about seven weeks after I took the mural’s portrait.

Wissahickon Valley Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (April 2022)

Man, the park, which extends for more than five miles through northwest Philadelphia, a swath that includes Mt. Airy, is damn well more gorgeous than the mural, as it should be. Sandy and I were there on a lovely spring day, admiring the greenery and the robust creek (Wissahickon Creek) that flows through the park, and adroitly sidestepping the occasional piles of horse shit that bless the main trail. Not having had a true Nature experience in months, we dug the heck out of the hour and a half that we spent in what I consider to be the crown jewel of Philadelphia’s parklands.

Michener Art Museum, Doylestown, Pennsylvania (February 2022)

I’ll bring this opus to an end by talking ever so briefly about the photo of Sandy and me posing before a mirror in the Michener Art Museum, a superb institution in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. There we are, squashed within the mirror’s confines, our faces half-obscured. Yet, despite all of that, we look pretty damn good, no? Gorgeous even, no?  I think so. And those of you who don’t agree should leave the room right now!

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Till next time!

A Flowering Trees Story

Nobody is ever going to mistake me for a botanist, that’s for damn sure. By which I mean that I don’t know shit, basically, when it comes to plants. Yeah, I can identify a few trees and flowers. And I might exclaim “hey, there’s a fern!” when I see one. Beyond that, however, please don’t press me.

Nonetheless, I enjoy spending time outdoors among flora. Who doesn’t? We all want our minds to be expanded, if not blown, you see, even if we know it only subconsciously. And what better way to allow this to happen than to initiate close contact with Nature’s fibrous wonders, absorbing their good vibes?

With that in mind, on the morning of April 27th I eased my aged ass from the living room sofa, hopped, more or less, into my car, and drove to a pretty neighborhood in a nearby town. Specific sorts of flora — flowering trees — not only were on my mind, they were the reason for my mini-expedition.

I’m not sure why, but I didn’t pay much attention to flowering trees until fairly recent years. A big oversight on my part. Since then, though, I’ve made it a point to check them out in April and May, which is when they do their unfurling thing in my part of the globe (I live in Pennsylvania, USA). Their blossomy performance is, of course, a winner. What’s not to like about shades of, primarily, pink, purple and white? Those hues sure liven up the green-dominated landscape around here this time of year.

What’s more, knowing that the performance doesn’t last forever imbues it with poignancy. Poof! — before you know it the petals are gone. Until a new production is staged the following year.

Well, I wandered through the neighborhood for an hour, gazing at the flowers on magnolia, cherry, dogwood and other trees. They looked good. After 30 minutes, though, I found myself disappointed by the relatively modest numbers of those trees. At least half of the properties I passed that day contained none at all, in fact. Man, how cool would it have been if I’d seen 10 or 20 times as many? Very. The blossom experience then would have overwhelmed and enveloped, like an ecstatic fireworks display.

And so, with intensification as my goal, over the next half hour I got much nearer to the flowers than I had previously during the walk, within inches in most instances and nose-to-nose twice. The strategy worked. From those vantages the blossoms made a hell of an impression, intricately designed and decidedly gorgeous as they were. And they instantly became my friends, wanting only to please. “Hello, Neil,” they whispered, “thanks for visiting. We’re at your service.”

“You’re the best,” I whispered back.

“But don’t linger, old timer,” they added. “You won’t be a happy sightseer if someone storms out of their house, yelling at you to get the f*ck off their property.”

True! Thus, I kept my up-close-and-personal sessions short. Thank you, blossoms, for having my back.

Sitting at my computer keyboard now, a number of days after the events described above, I’m wondering what came over me halfway through the stroll, as I’d never felt let down before by any aspect of springtime. Maybe the rotten state of affairs in the world — Russia rearing its ugly head; the growth of fascism in many nations, including my own — was wearing on me, putting me in need of big jolts of beauty. In any event, I’m back to my normal self. Grumpy, as usual, but appreciative too.

Let’s close the proceedings with a tune that, title-wise, is a perfect match for this essay. I discovered it a couple of days after my close encounters with flowering trees. Ordinarily I’m not a big fan of bouncy songs. But the more I listen to Cherry Blossom, by pop and country star Kacey Musgraves, the more I like it. Beneath the sugar and gloss it has a strong layer of soul. Likening herself to a cherry blossom, Kacey hopes and prays that her relationship with her new boyfriend, whom she’s mad about, will hold, that the wind won’t blow her away. I’m pulling for her.

Two Hours In Philly: Art On Wheels, Part Nine

Writing is a mysterious enterprise, to be sure. Story ideas, characters, themes and other writerly considerations often emerge unexpectedly from neighborhoods of the mind that you barely know about. I find that to be enchanting, to tell you the truth, because the unanticipated, if of the right sort, is nothing but a good thing, no?

Along those lines, little has surprised me more, blog-wise, than the birth of Art On Wheels. Intrepid soul that I occasionally am, I said yes to the proposition when one fateful day in 2017 a from-out-of-the-blue idea — to scour my region for attractively-decorated vehicles and to report on them — came to me. It’s an oddball activity alright, but, as it turns out, has suited me just fine, as I’m into art and also into wandering around while looking at things. So, here we are at edition number nine of the series. Who’d have thunk it? Live and f*cking learn!

For the first seven Art On Wheels stories I did 90% of the wandering via my car and 10% via my feet. I located my victims in the suburbs of Philadelphia, for the most part in loading docks, strip malls and large parking areas. But for part eight of the series, and for this ninth story, I changed my approach: I explored strictly on foot, which is my preferred mode of travel, and, ditching the burbs, opted to see what I would see on the congested streets of Philadelphia.

Not being one who enjoys freezing his ass off or getting soaked to the frigging bone, I selected a sunny and mild day, the 11th of April, for my expedition. Off I went that morning, boarding a choo-choo that transported me from my little town to The City Of Brotherly Love, where I spent two hours pounding the pavement in the Old City section and two neighborhoods to its north — Northern Liberties and Olde Kensington. All three areas indeed are pretty old: Some of the buildings went up during the 1700s and loads date from the 1800s. The 20th and 21st centuries are well-represented too, including present-day creations . . . these neighborhoods have been undergoing a new-housing boom.

But I wasn’t in Philly to concentrate on the structures that cover its soil. As focused as a hungry tiger, and moving briskly along the blocks, I scanned my surroundings carefully for wheeled constructions whose bright colors and/or stylish designs couldn’t be dismissed. I found about a dozen, fewer than I was hoping for, but enough to make my day. The portraits of six of them illustrate this page. Almost needless to say, though, more than one of the fine specimens frustrated the photographer inside of me, as they were in motion when I spotted them. “Stop, you bastard!” I nearly yelled at each of those. But they wouldn’t have obeyed even if I had opened my mouth. Alas, by the time I got my phone’s camera in position to try and immortalize them, they were too damn far away. That’s the way it goes in the big city.

I’ve examined carefully not only the photos I took on the 11th, but my opinions about them too. Initially I’d have said that the Sweetwater Brewing Company truck (above) is untoppable. You don’t run across such attention to detail and such a majestic array of colors too often, do you?

Driver’s side of graffiti truck.
Passenger side of graffiti truck.

However, since then I’ve revised my evaluation. Maybe it’s because I’m in a free-wheeling mood. Maybe it’s because I have the late artists Jackson Pollock and Helen Frankenthaler, abstractionists of a high order, on my mind. Whatever the reasons, I now am awarding the gold medal to the truck, painted deliciously with graffiti, that sat on a narrow Olde Kensington street. Its driver’s side is a testament to the power of black on white. The passenger side of the canvas, partially obscured by hand trucks and wood pallets, keeps the black on white motif going, and also explodes with controlled bursts of gold and burgundy. Does this truck belong to one of the construction workers who was hammering away very nearby? Whatever the case, its owner should be proud.

That’s it for now, boys and girls. I’d be glad to hear your thoughts about the works of art on display in this story. Till next time!

To The River!

If, like me, you’re an oldster fortunate enough to be in halfway decent shape, it behooves you to indulge your interests pretty damn frequently. That’s because time sure as shit ain’t on your side. I mean, I envision myself doing my thing for plenty more years to come. But who the hell knows?

Anyway, doing my thing partly involves taking a healthy number of walks, an activity I’ve enjoyed for decades. Villages, forests, beachy coastlines and cities are among my favorite locales to poke around in. When it comes to the latter, I’ve racked up far more miles within Philadelphia than any other. It’s the city I know best, having lived in or near it for most of my adult life.

My latest Philly trek began on the Ides of March an hour after I boarded a train that transported me from my little town, Willow Grove, to Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. From there it was a short walk to my destination, the Schuylkill River, a lovely, narrow waterway that has its origins in Pennsylvania coal territory and flows southeastward for about 100 miles before reaching and, eventually, partially transecting Philadelphia. At the bottom of Philadelphia, the Schuylkill (both SKOOL-kil and SKOO-kil are accepted pronunciations) says goodbye by emptying into the mighty Delaware River.

With the construction in recent years of walking/biking pathways and parklands that border the river in central and southerly Philadelphia sections, most of the Schuylkill’s east bank in the city now is accessible and available for recreational use. Yet I hadn’t walked alongside the Schuylkill in a long while, a big oversight on my part.

The Philadelphia Museum Of Art is near here.
The Schuylkill Expressway can be seen in this photo.
The power plant is on the left.

And so, taking advantage of the Ides’ mild temperatures and blue skies streaked with happy clouds, I stretched my legs nicely while looking here, there and almost everywhere. The views were quiet and charming in some areas, such as those near the Philadelphia Museum Of Art. But most of the time I was very aware of the busy, often gritty city surrounding the river. On one long stretch across the river from where I walked, for instance, cars and trucks whizzed by non-stop on the Schuylkill Expressway. And an imposing power plant a block or two from the river wowed me as I neared the pathway’s current southern terminus (funding hasn’t been arranged yet to create pathways and parklands from the current southern terminus to the bottom of the city).

All in all, I walked about three miles, which is one-quarter or so of the total length of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill riverwalk. And I trod a short distance above the river too, having climbed the stairs that lead to the South Street Bridge’s walkway. (The South Street Bridge is one of many bridges in Philadelphia that span the river.)

Downtown Philadelphia as seen from the South Street Bridge.

Man, the sights were impressive from the bridge, because, duh, it’s way up there. As always, I was amazed by the undeniable fact that downtown Philadelphia is a place where towering modern structures and old buildings imbued with character get along absolutely just fine. And the heavy volume of those skyscrapers caught my attention more than it usually does. There weren’t all that many of them until the 1980s, you know. Since then they’ve sprouted vigorously.

What really made my day, though, was the human component. The pathways and lawn areas were by no means overrun, but substantial numbers of people, all of them on their best behavior, were around. I saw walkers, some of them with dogs, some of them pushing baby carriages, some unencumbered. Plenty of bicyclists too, and two guys fishing. And at least 30 joggers, a majority of whom were cute twenty-something ladies. Did I mention they were cute? Girls, wait for me! I know you’ve been praying for a wrinkled, balding geezer to join you.

After giving the matter a little thought, however, I think I’ll skip jogging. For one thing, I don’t enjoy getting sweaty. Plus, jogging might be dangerous to my health, precipitating a meeting between me and my maker, whoever or whatever it might be. Such an occurrence, needless to say, would suck, suck, suck.

I’m going to stick with walking.

(A note: Riverwalks have been constructed along much of the Schuylkill River, not just in the river’s Philadelphia leg. If you’re interested in learning more, click here.)