Monday, October 15, 2007

The Streets of Philadelphia

I've always loved Philadelphia. I grew up just down the road apiece in Wilmington, Delaware. In my day you could take the train from Wilmington to Philadelphia for about $2.00, round-trip. I think the fare to and from New York was six bucks. That's when the rail line from DC to Boston was the Pennsylvania Railroad. Just before the advent of Amtrak.

The oldest part of town is over by the Delaware River. That's where you'll find the roots of America. Between 5th & 6th on Chestnut Street, lies Independence Hall. To this day it never ceases to stun me when I see it and recall the dramas that unfolded in that very building where this monumental and precious dream of ours was born. Nearby is the Liberty Bell, and the Betsy Ross house. If you have any breath left in your body, the sight of these sacred patches of earth will take it away.

As a teenager I'd regularly run away to Philly for a Saturday excursion. I used to take myself to the Franklin Institute, which is a great place to introduce kids (and adults) to complex science by means of simplistic demonstrations. For a real treat I'd ride the trolley out to the old Arena at 46th & Market every winter to see the Shipstad & Johnson's Ice Follies. Yeah, I was queer for ice skaters as a kid.

It also became a tradition with me to come up to Philly every year the day after Thanksgiving (keep in mind, I was 14 or 15 years old) to do my little Christmas shopping at the main branch of John Wanamaker's Department Store, on Market Street, across the street from City Hall with the statue of William Penn standing on top. The store had a wonderful pipe organ that would play concerts all afternoon during the holiday shopping season. Those where the days when department stores were owned by families and they had a sense of "community" with the people who patronized their stores. The same went for Lit Brothers and, of course, Gimbels Department Store.

There used to be a statute that no building could be "taller than Billy Penn's cap" atop City Hall but that got rescinded in the Reagan years and there are skyscrapers everywhere in Center City these days.

In the middle 70's Philly became my "cruising grounds." I was in college at Delaware at the time and Delaware didn't have any really good gay bars to speak of, and no discos at all. A bunch of us would get all dolled up at least once a month and drive up to Philly to hit the bars and discos, of which there were plenty. I had some good times in those days.

Despite all the changes over the decades, the town retains much of it's Colonial charm. The streets are, for the most part, narrow and paved with either brick or cobblestone. There are gaslights all over Center City, reminiscent of the Victorian Era. Then there is the Academy. That's what the locals call The Academy of Music. It's the oldest continuously used concert hall in the United States. In 1938 (on its 100th anniversary) it was commandeered by the Disney people in order to record the Philadelphia Orchestra for the soundtrack of the movie "Fantasia," conducted by Leopold Stokowski.

Rittenhouse Square is the poshest of the posh neighborhoods (well... it and Society Hill). On the south side of the Square are numerous apartment buildings, private residences and The Ethical Society. And that's where we had our roundup this past weekend. I saw a bunch of old friends and got to make some new ones (no, nothing romantic... boo, hiss .... but only time will tell).

Sunday afternoon I had brunch with one of my oldest friends, a man who was a college roommate of mine. We were joined by his wife, youngest child and a star border who recently moved in with them. It was wonderful to reconnect with them, to catch up on all of our lives, to relive some priceless moments and to speak of our dreams and plans.

In fact, it was a wonderful weekend to reconnect, period. With people, and places, and warm memories.

Sometimes I forget that I have warm memories. It's all too easy to dwell on the painful ones.

It's October 15th already? Jeebus, and I haven't even sent out my holiday cards yet!!!!!


Anonymous said...

I always enjoy your posts but today you had me laughing right out loud when I read your response to Bev's post on rubber bands. Your description of folding the paper made me think of the way I used to fold diapers. Very funny, thanks for the laugh.

JoyZeeBoy said...

Thank you. I don't always feel whimsical, but when I do I like to cut loose and let 'er rip.