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.

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.)

A Doors-Filled Story (Fourth Edition)

A lovely day it was indeed. The Sun beamed and gleamed. The skies, nary a cloud within them, were an expanse of blue at its finest. Unexpectedly mild for winter (51°F/11°C), a steady breeze on hand to keep me refreshed, the afternoon of February the ninth presented to me a perfect opportunity to go out and peruse doors in Hatboro, a town in the Philadelphia burbs that’s a couple of miles from the one I call home. I grabbed the opportunity.

Doors? Yes, doors are a favored subject for a fair number of WordPress scribes, including, occasionally, yours truly. I’ve written about them three times before. And, it should be noted, the hub on WordPress for all things doors is the Thursday Doors project run by Dan Antion on his No Facilities blog. So, if you click here you will be directed to Dan’s handsome site, where links to the writings of and photographs by doors enthusiasts may be found.

As I drove to Hatboro I was confident about what I’d find, because I’ve been there a multitude of times over the years — to shop, to dine, to stretch my legs on its sidewalks. It’s a down-to-earth community with pleasant residential blocks and a commercial area that, though hanging in there, has seen better days. Sure, maybe a unique or snazzy door or two awaited me. But no more than that, I figured.

And you know what? I was right. Of the hundreds of doors that passed before my eyes that afternoon as I wandered around many of Hatboro’s streets, alleys and parking areas, nearly all were of one standard style or another and also plain as can be in the color department.

And you know what else? I was absolutely fine with that, as I’ve long believed there is value and beauty in just about everything if I look hard enough and, when needed, adjust my way of thinking. After all, who am I not to admire the seemingly ordinary? I mean, I understand what it’s like to be ignored. I ain’t exactly Bradley Cooper when it comes to looks, you dig, proof of which is the fact that I can count on two hands, probably one, the number of times in my life that a girl has given me the eye. And those occurrences were decades ago. Shit, now that I’m pretty damn deep into my senior citizen era, there ain’t a chance in the world that I’ll ever again be gazed upon with interest, unless it’s by somebody working on a doctoral thesis about old farts. Boo hoo, man! Boo f*cking hoo!

Ordinary and admirable
Ordinary and very admirable

Among the “ordinary” portals that made a real impression on me in Hatboro, two of whose portraits I’ve included above, my top pick is the one identified by a nice big 3A. It more or less stopped me in my tracks because, I now realize in hindsight, its grey-green coloration struck an oceanic chord within me. I’m an ocean lover, and over the years I’ve seen the Atlantic’s waters take on a hue similar to 3A’s. Plus, how could I not fall for a door with a newspaper sticking out of its mail slot, like a tongue looking for attention?

Still, there were two doors that I preferred to 3A, both of which struck me as being a step or two above “ordinary”: a swinging door made of wood planks and metal, and the front door to a house. The latter, alive in orangey-red and decorated with a display of shadows that dazzled, easily garnered the gold medal in the doors competition that day.

In honor of Hatboro’s très cool red door, I’m going to end these proceedings by presenting an equally cool song titled — what else? — The Red Door. It was recorded in 1952 by a group led by tenor saxophonist John “Zoot” Sims and was released the next year. Zoot, who co-wrote the tune with Gerry Mulligan, takes the first sax solo. Mulligan, by the way, doesn’t appear on the recording.

Sims, a hell of a musician, was a presence in the jazz world for about 35 years (he died in 1985, having made it to only age 59). I had chance after chance to see him perform in New York City clubs during the 1970s and 80s, but, stupidly, let them pass me by. I’ve regretted those decisions ever since.

Here then is Zoot and his compadres on the lovely, swinging tune that The Red Door is. Enjoy.

Cold Fingers, Cold Beer

Holy shit, being a writer can be numbing! That’s what I discovered a week and a half ago when I strolled around my neighborhood as darkness was settling in. Earlier that day my region had received its first snowfall of the winter (I live in a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Dedicated journalist that I occasionally am, I decided to see how the powdery white stuff looked in moonlight, and to document my walk in words and with photos.

Well, it took me only a minute to realize that I wasn’t in a winter wonderland. Yeah, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but the effect was much less charming than I’d thought it would be. And what I’d been hoping especially to see — softly glowing snow clinging to tree branches — was virtually nowhere to be found. The day’s steady breezes had emptied the trees.

There were some worthy scenes, however. For instance, a number of households had not yet taken down their Christmas lights, so I stopped to admire those displays. And, 20 minutes into my walk, I watched a few kids sledding down the hilly front lawn of an apartment building. They were having fun. But you know what? I wasn’t! And that’s because my f*cking fingers were freezing!

Sure, I wore gloves during most of the walk. But I had to take them off every time I decided to snap a photo. Otherwise, there was no way I could have aimed my phone’s camera properly and pressed its button. Thus, my hands were exposed intermittently to 25°F (-4°C) air.

That shouldn’t have been enough to cause my fingers to become comatose. But somehow it damn well was. So, after being on the streets for almost half an hour, I knew I needed to get inside. Picking up my pace, I strode to my block. In front of my next-door neighbor’s home though, I chose, like a fool, to torture myself a little more by photographing the Moon, which was peeking through a tangle of tree branches. Then I walked the remaining 50 feet to my house, where I struggled to muster enough finger coordination to insert the front door key into its designated opening. Ten seconds later, finally, success! In I went.

Yup, having cold fingers sucks. Big time. On the other hand, having cold beers is a pleasure. In fact, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. I’d be in mourning if beer disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Though I’d enjoyed beer for many years (mainly mainstream lagers, such as Budweiser), my appreciation of the beverage rose to a higher level when, in my late 40s, I discovered that there were far more styles of beer on the market than I’d realized, and that the quality of many of them was steps above what I’d been used to. I have the craft beer revolution to thank for all of that. It began in the 1980s and really took off during the following decade, which is when I fell under its spell. Today, the revolution is at a high point. I mean, so many breweries worldwide produce primo beers.

Some of my pals.

Stouts, porters, pilsners, India pale ales (IPAs), and on and on . . . I pretty much like ’em all. And I look forward to downing one of them with dinner most evenings. I’m salivating right now, thinking about which brew I’ll have tonight. A quick look into the frig tells me my choice likely will be the Dogfish Head brewery’s 60 Minute IPA, an aromatic and seriously bitter quaff that’s refreshing as hell. I tell you, in these times of climate change, COVID, authoritarianism and racism, to name but a few problems bedeviling humankind, it’s wonderful to have something to look forward to.

The time has come to wrap things up. I’ll do so with songs that mesh, title-wise anyway, with this narrative. First up is Cold Fingers, by the late great Tony Joe White. Much of his music, Cold Fingers included, sounds primordial, as though it was born in our planet’s bowels. Tony Joe was something else. And then there’s Blake Shelton, a country music star and a pretty talented cat. Generally I’m not a big fan of today’s country music, overblown as much of it is. Though Blake’s Straight Outta Cold Beer leans in that direction, it tells a realistic story and packs a wallop. I like it.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Feel free to comment. Here are the songs:

Scenes That Caught My Eye, Tunes That Caught My Ear

Two years ago, due to a health issue that required attention, I upped the number of walks that I take. I did so because, as everybody knows, the medical experts among us are convinced that regular exercise can improve the functioning of our internal machinery, thus extending our lives. Well, since then I’ve gone a-walkin’ hundreds of times, as I’m not in any rush to bid adieu to the polluted planet that we call home.

A lot of the walks, for convenience’s sake, have taken place in my neighborhood, which is in a town a few miles from Philadelphia. Though I like my house, which is as cuddly as a toddler, I’m totally aware that my hood ain’t exactly the most exciting locale in the world. And that’s putting it mildly. Let’s face it, when you’ve seen one suburban block you’ve pretty much seen them all.

So, to break up the monotony I sometimes head to one or another nearby village when a pounding-the-pavement session is in order. Yeah, they’ve got more than their share of typical residential blocks too. But, unlike my town, they also contain old-timey business sections, always of interest, not to mention the real possibility of unexpected sights. The other day, with all that in mind, I hopped in my car and drove three miles to Hatboro. I was psyched to stretch my legs there and to see what I would see.

I spent an hour scouring a good bit of Hatboro, exercising ye olde legs more than I had expected to. I was into it, my eyes looking up, down and all around, in search of this, that or the other thing as I strode along. Man, I felt good, breathing freely and fully, and admiring the nip in the air in addition to the sights. Importantly, I also made sure that my phone’s camera was ready for action.

In the end, I pressed the camera button about 20 times, documenting some of the types of scenes that I’m prone to immortalizing. Those with strong contrasts of colors, for instance, or with lines and planes that intersect wildly. As I’m also drawn to well-proportioned minimalistic configurations, I was brought up short by the section of a parking lot whose three yellow metal posts peacefully guard a small building. It’s plain, but I like it.

What’s more, when I’m in the right mood, as I apparently was in Hatboro, I get a kick from the absurd. On the grounds of a funeral home, of all places, a dog statue rocking its woolen scarf like a fashion model fit into that category just fine.

The walk in Hatboro was pretty swell, but a few days later I heard two songs that pleased me far more. That’s not surprising, considering that music has the potential to awe and transport like nothing else. Sure, literature might blow you away, as might art, as might sex, as might nature’s splendors. For me, though, music trumps them all. Not every piece of music, of course. Hardly. But when a musical composition gels with me just so, off I go into the stratosphere, riding gently on the wings of a most mysterious power.

That’s what happened when B-Side, by Leon Bridges and Khruangbin, visited my eardrums. Whoosh! In no time I was airborne. Later that day, Cautionary Tale, by singer-songwriter Dylan LeBlanc, caused the same to occur.

Lyrically, B-Side is a love song and Cautionary Tale is the musings of a guy who has lost his way in the world. But the words of both numbers, which could use some tidying-up anyway, hardly matter to me. What does matter are the steady grooves that embrace and won’t let go, the dancing interplay between the instruments, and the fact that Bridges’ and LeBlanc’s voices are at ease in the ethers. In other words, each of these tunes has a feel that I can’t ignore.

B-Side came out this month and is part of a continuing collaboration between Bridges, who has immersed himself in soul and other musical genres since breaking onto the scene in 2015, and the trance-rock trio with the unpronounceable name. Cautionary Tale reached the marketplace in 2016. It gets played now and then on radio stations that I listen to, proving that I’m not the only one who finds it worthy. I’d be happy to hear what you think about these recordings. Or about exercising, photography or any damn thing at all. Shit, I’m not particular!

 

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.)

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.)

Going To Pot?

A recent Tuesday found me hauling my wizened ass around my hilly neighborhood for half an hour, something that I do on a lot more days than I care to. By which I mean that the frequent treks usually are not particularly exciting. However, brisk walking, and the huffing and puffing induced by climbing hills, supposedly are good for you. Thus, I’ll continue to haul said ass diligently, in the hopes that the pace at which the sands in my hourglass fall to the bottom will be nice and slow as a result.

As it turned out, though, the neighborhood walk had several things going for it that made it a good deal better than tolerable. I’m referring to three songs that came my way via The Many Moods Of Ben Vaughn, a podcast, as I pounded the hood’s blocks. I’d heard these recordings, all of them great golden oldies, many times before. But, quite unexpectedly, I was hearing them with fresh ears.

Specifically: How was it possible that I’d never fully noticed the gleeful whooping that saturates Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love), by the Swingin’ Medallions? Or the fact that the instrumentation on Peggy Lee’s delicious rendition of Fever comprises nothing more than an upright bass, finger snaps, spare drumming and, of course, Peggy’s voice? Or that there is wispy vocal harmonizing, seemingly from a galaxy far, far away, on T. Rex’s Mambo Sun?

The answer, I think, is that I was in a state of heightened awareness, allowing me to pick up on the above. And I’m glad that I did, as I’m a sucker for beauty and wonder, and seek them out religiously. Yup, that’s who I am and what I do.

As strong as my orientation and inclinations are, though, there was a time when beauty and wonder struck me with even more force than they do now. I’m referring to a lengthy stretch of years that began during the heart of the hippie era. Back then, a major key to my finding enhanced enchantment in the world was — and I’d be surprised as hell if any readers guess incorrectly — marijuana, a product beloved by millions upon millions over the centuries. I wasn’t anything resembling an around-the-clock stoner. I picked my moments. But in toto I spent a goodly number of enjoyable hours in the arms of cannabis-created highs.

Not recently though. Nope, pot hasn’t been part of my life for many years. (I gave up cigarettes in 1985 and, though I can’t pinpoint the year, probably nixed cannabis around the same time, not wanting to have smoke of any kind enter my lungs.) But I’m reconsidering that position. Maybe it’s time for me once again to become a pot man. That’s what I started thinking about soon after hearing the songs mentioned above. I realized that if I had been agreeably stoned that Tuesday, not only would the previously-unnoticed aspects of the recordings have jumped out at me, I’d have been easing myself into the flow and taking in just about everything around me. Ah, how great it would have been!

I’ll absolutely be judicious in cannabis’s use, however, should I once again indulge. As there’s no denying that I’m an old guy with a sometimes-erratic system, there’s a real chance that strong strains of cannabis would wallop me upside (or should I say inside?) my head, rather than mellow me out. Hence, my game plan would be to take only one or two tokes of a mild variety of pot, and be satisfied with wherever they lead me, even if it’s not to the heights of yore. I’d do this once or twice per week at first, and see where it goes from there. Well, we shall see if this scenario some day comes to pass. I’m betting that it will.

In a moment I’m going to roll into a metaphorical joint the thoughts I’ve enclosed on this page and mentally puff away on them with gusto. But before I do, let me leave you with YouTube offerings of the three songs that inspired the reverie you’ve been reading. They have the power to improve your day. Oh wow, man . . . they’re outta sight!