|The Ritz-Carolton Hotel in center city Philadelphia, formerly the Girard Bank where I worked from 1965 to 1986|
In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been absent from these parts for the past week to ten days. If you’re a regular follower of my blog you know that last week I traveled to my former home state of Pennsylvania to check off one of the items on my Bucket List. Yes folks, November 9th was my 72nd birthday and I returned to the scene of my crime(s). Ah yes.
Last Wednesday, November 6th, my traveling companion (who shall remain nameless in this and future blog postings) and I traveled 125 miles (2 ½ hours) to my former hometown of Downingtown. The first leg of our journey was to stay overnight at the Hampton Inn in Lionville, a small village adjacent to Downingtown. In my previous life I used to work at this same Hampton Inn (1994-2001). The plan was to leave our car at my brother’s house in Downingtown for our next three day stay in center city Philadelphia. My brother would drop us off at the train station in Downingtown so we could catch the R-5 Thorndale SEPTA train to center city Philadelphia. There was no need for us to drive our car into center city and pay $45 and up a night for parking accommodations.
We left Delaware around 9 am and arrived in Downingtown about 11:30 am. It was too early to check into the hotel, and the day was mild and sunny so I decided that we would park our car in the parking lot at the bank where I used to work in Downingtown and take The Tour. The bank parking lot is only one block away from the apartment building on Washington Avenue where I grew up in my formative years from 1946 to 1954. We got out and began The Tour. My poor traveling companion, only now did I realize I subjected him to points of interest that were only of interest to me. But he is a kind hearted man and he bore the tour.
We checked into the hotel a little after three pm. Already I’ve forgotten most of what we did (another reason for this tour, that I could take it while I still have most of my mental facilities and before I enter my final days at an assisted care facility like a friend of mine.
Oh, I remember what we did. We had dinner at the Brickside Grill in Eagleview and just my luck it was Trivia Night. Oh how I used to love playing trivia every Wednesday night at the Brickside with a Chicken Quesadilla and an Appletini martini. Trivia Night was one of the activities that I missed the most when I moved to Delaware form Pennsylvania. We only had a team of two (usual teams are four or more) but we finished a respectable last with 28 points out of 40 (the winner had 39 points).
|Trivia Night at the Brickside Grill in Eagleview, PA|
Back to the hotel for a restful night, the next day we would be driving to my brother’s to drop off our car and have him take us to the train station.
We check out of the Hampton Inn and head off to Downingtown and Wegmans. Wegmans is another experience I miss in Delaware that I wanted to take advantage of while in Downingtown. Ah yes, brunch at Wegmans. When are you going to get a Wegman’s Delaware?
|Wegman's veggie food bar - wonderful!|
After lunch we drive to my brothers’ house to drop off my traveling companion’s car and have my brother taxi us to the train station in Downingtown, my traveling companion and I dragging our luggage behind us. We’re taking the local. And this was the “local, local. For the eleven years that I commuted daily to my banking job in Philadelphia I never took the “local, local”
I was expected a leisurely, three quarters empty train, ride on the scenic Main Line train tracks but instead I got the Calcutta Local. OMG! It seemed like every half minute the train stopped to let on my passengers who obviously don’t have a regular job (like us.) These many people don’t work? These many people are college students, retirees (like us) and who knows what? At least there was one benefit to riding the local, the train trip only costs us one dollar apiece. That’s the senior citizen off rush hour rate. I can deal with that. God, Pennsylvania was actually does something decent for the senior citizen. But then maybe it’s just SEPTA. Yeah, that’s it. It couldn’t be the state government of Pennsylvania doing something beneficial to help the senior citizen because they literally taxed me and Bill out of the state. That’s why I had to move us to Delaware. But I digress.
After what seemed like a mini-series eternity, we arrived at Suburban Station in Philadelphia. We have arrived! Ah, the noise; the beeping horns, the rude squeal of the sirens of the emergency ambulance and police vehicles; the greasy, spit strew sidewalks, the street vendors, the ever present scaffolding blocking sidewalks, forcing you out into the street to play traffic dodge. And of course the pigeons and the homeless begging for money and food but I have to say there didn’t seem to be as many pigeons or homeless on the streets from when I used to live, work and play in the city in the from 1960 to 1980.
|My Traveling Companion on the mean streets of Philadelphia|
Dragging out luggage behind us on those mean city streets, weaving our way through all manner of folks, we beeline it to the Latham Hotel at 17th and Walnut Streets. Immediately I noticed a marked difference in my former home, the city was alive! Much like Frankenstein’s monster was brought to live with electric thunder zaps, Philadelphia was alive. Wow! I loved it. My traveling companion loved it! Good decision Ron!
We arrive at the hotel and were greeted by a doorman who graciously opened the door for us and said “Good evening sir.” Well, obviously we were in Kansas anymore. Nice!
|"Your chariot awaits you sir!"|
We check in. Our room is on the 13th floor. I had done my research in planning this trip. Previous guests had advised taking a room on a higher floor to minimize the street sounds and for a better view. We were not disappointed. We had a fabulous view of the skyline of Philadelphia. Our room, while compact was nicely appointed in a modernistic design. The bathroom was almost art deco with the back lighted mirror and the rectangular wash basin. And the closet even had a safe with an easily programmed combination. One of the things I don’t like about traveling is where to put my valuables (credit cards, wallet, laptop computer and jewelry.) Here was the answer. I could sleep easier at night now not having on my mind that someone was going to slip into my room in the dead of the night and abscond with my valuables.
|The Latham Hotel - our fabulous accommodations in Philadelphia! (we were on the 13th floor)|
After we settled in, it was time to eat…..again. My traveling companion is a vegan and we were searching out a restaurant or hole in the wall to accommodate his green needs. I’m not a vegan (not a prime rib, pulsating pink center, meat eater) but I do like most vegan meals. We both don’t like seafood or fish, which is a big plus in a traveling companion. My friends who like fish, that’s the first thing they look for when they travel “Where’s a good fish restaurant?” They’re after the shrimp, salmon, trout, octopus, mussels and all that other “fishy” stuff. Thank gawd I didn’t have to accommodate that kind of traveling companion.
|A healthy veg dinner! Of course the ever present cell phone.|
We were in luck. Allison, our front desk person advised us that there was a Veg City restaurant just two blocks up the street on 16th and Sansom Streets. We venture out onto the teaming streets. One big thing I noticed in center city Philly this time that wasn’t there when I used to live and work in Philly, the city was alive! It was vibrant! What happened? When I lived and worked there, the only time the center city streets were teaming with people was when the corners of Broad and Chestnut Streets next to City Hall were the four banks of Philadelphia National Bank, Provident National Bank, Girard (now Mellon) Bank and Western Savings Fund Society. All those banks are gone now along with the cast of thousand that it took back in the day to push the paper around. All that paper pushing has been replaced with computers. No more do you see legions of lowly paid clerks crowding the streets of Philly in the daytime. Now you see a hip crowd of cool folks from around the world seeing out the coolest venues for their nighttime entertainment. Many of the former office building towers have been converted into either hotels or condos thus explaining the influx of folks walking their dogs and pushing their baby strollers (ah yes, the presence of straight people with the ever present baby strollers) on these grimy streets of center city Philly. I overheard one man talking on his iPhone (almost everyone seemed to be talking on a smart phone by the way) saying “I’m walking down this street in Philadelphia and man, this is a vibrant city!” That said it all, Philly was vibrant!
|Public transportation in Olde City Philadelphia 2013|
My traveling companion didn’t have to walk too many city blocks until we found Veg City, which was almost literally a hole in the wall. But man oh man, what great food. I got a veggie wrap which was better than any hoagie I’ve ever stuffed into my face. I had sweet potato fries with that and a smoothie. DEE-LISH!
Next up (and I have to move forward here), Saturday night and we were to meet up with my fellow blogger friends Dr. Spo, Cubby and Nate. The guys were in Valley Forge, PA where Dr. Spo was attending a shrink seminar (not his head but how to shrink others’ heads). Anne Marie of Philly (actually Norristown but what the hey, close enough) and hubby Todd treated the same Dr. Spo and the boys to dinner.
|My friends (Pat, Nate, Cubby and Dr. Spo) and I army birthday dinner at the Knock Restaurant and Bar|
Dr. Spo and his entourage arrived at the hotel Saturday evening for a night of frivolity and feasting and a little toe dipping in the gay bar scene later in the evening hours. Dr. Spo sent a text message enroute informing me that the traffic was horrendous. Uh, sort of expected that on a Saturday night in Gotham City. Then he call (or texted, I forget which) WHERE WAS HE GOING TO PARK? Um, didn’t think about that. Well, Dr. Spo is a smart cookie and he quickly figured out that he would have the hotel concierge park their rented chariot, which they did. Another text message received from Dr. Spo “We’re circling in.” I wasn’t quite sure if that was a threat or a promise. Oh well, it wasn’t long before I heard a “Tap, tap” at my door on the 13th floor of the Latham Hotel. I open the door and invited Dr. Spo and his two cohorts into our lofty aerie thirteen floors above 17th Street. After the customary introductions (none had met my traveling companion) and obligatory hugs we were off for dinner. I had chosen the Knock Restaurant and Bar restaurant at 225 S. 12th Street per a recommendation I received from my longtime friend Don who is a longtime resident of center city Philadelphia. I’ve been out of the city so long, I’ve don’t know where anything is. As it turned out, “Knock” was a perfect choice for fine Saturday night dining for five elderly gay men, long past their youthful, cruising for a bruising prime. As Dr. Spo said as he entered the dimly lit environs of the restaurant “Ah, proper dining.”
|Dr. Spo and Nate strolling the mean streets of Philly (note me in the background on Dr. Spo's shoulder)|
We all ordered drinks except my traveling companion who is not only a vegan but a tea toller (God bless him!). My friends were treating me because it was my birthday (God bless them!). I pigged it up and ordered TWO fancy dancy Grasshopper Martinis which were sweet and tasty and provided a nice little buzz halfway through the second martini. I then ordered beer braised beef tips. Yummy! Dr. Spo ordered trout, so I was back to my fish eating friends. I think Nate ordered some fishy dish too and I forget what Cubby ordered. My traveling companion ordered a salad, which was might expensive when it came time to split the $240 bill four ways. That salad cost him $60.00. Hope it was good.
|Me enjoying a smoothie at the Marathon Grill on 16th Street|
After I long and leisurely dinner during which I brought up the prospect of my imminent demise at almost every available moment which Dr. Spo reflexively batted down as he has been doing for the past year or so, my fellow dinners split the bill four ways and we were on our way for some Saturday night bar hopping. First stop the famous “Woodys” bar of 202 S. 13th Street in Philadelphia. First change I noticed in Woodys was the number of female ladies in the bar. Hmmmmm….interesting development that. I suspect there were quite a few straight folks in the bar also, prepping for the dancing later.
|Bar hopping at Woody's after dinner - me as usual running off at the mouth|
We all ordered beers and tried to stay out of the young folks way. After slurping down our beers (hard cider for me, me no beer man), I proceeded to try and navigate our way to The Bike Stop, a long time center city, nighttime gay neighborhood leather bar. OOOOOOOHHHHHH! Not to worry folks, when we finally found it on a back street called Quince, all was tame. And to think my fellow travelers were concerned that they weren’t dressed appropriately in gay dray. Gawd, Dr. Spo even had on his plaid, lumberjack, Paul Bunyon shirt. I guess the gay fashion police message hasn’t reached Phoenix yet.
|Outside the "Bike Stop". No, were weren't dressed appropriately for a leather bar. Dr. Spo came close with his Paul Bunyon shirt.|
After yet another round of beers, and answering Dr. Spo question of exactly where my traveling companion fit into my life (an answer that I will not share in this public blog), Dr. Spo called it a night. But I wasn’t done yet. I had to insist the guys visit my former place of employment, Girard Bank which is now a ritzy hotel called (of all things) the “Ritz Carlton.” I don’t know if I impressed my friends but I figured I could play my birthday trump card, which I did. Then we were on our respective ways.
We walked back to the hotel and parted ways at the entrance where the doorman was holding the door open. The birthday boy’s official celebration was coming to an end and indeed what a celebration it was. Good, kind friends took me out on the town to celebrate my 72 years on this blue ball hanging in space (I saw it in “Gravity” at the movies at the Midway in Rehoboth on Tuesday night with my traveling companion). Thanks guys for the bestest birthday celebration I’ll ever have (and probably my last one keeping in with the theme of my imminent demise).
Then it was back to our hotel room on the thirteenth floor which was proving to be pretty lucky. My traveling companion hooked up my Macbook Pro computer to the hotel TV and I saw several episodes of “Breaking Bad” with Walter White. Hey, great program! And here I thought I was cool because I had watched all the “Six Feet Under” and “Madmen.”
|The view from our hotel room of Walnut Street|
Now folks, I know this is a LONG blog posting but I’m making up for not posting for a week and while my memory is still fresh (or as fresh as it can be for an old geezer like me). There were a few adventures that I didn’t take you the reader on like my tour of my old neighborhood (and again dragging my ever patient traveling companion with me to hear my oral history).
|Waiting for Godot Dr. Spo?|
We also stopped in the Apple store right around the corner from the hotel. My iPhone wasn’t turning off properly. The good folks at the Apple store immediately replaced my iPhone with a brand new one, free of charge since I was still under warranty. That was a good thing. The bad thing was I have over 1,200 photos on my iPhone that had to be backed up to iCloud then downloaded to my new iPhone. That download malfunctioned (froze) because I immediately went out and started taking more photos even before my backed photos in iCloud had finished downloading. Long story short, I spent a lot of time in the Apple store which is a cool place to hang out but this wasn’t in my Birthday Bash itinerary. Turned out I had to extend my stay in Philly for a day (until Monday) which was good because I was loving our hotel room and all the excitement of a now vibrant center city Philly lifestyle. But the bad thing I found out the next day was that I neglected to call my brother to tell him of my change of plans. I didn’t think to call him until the darkness of early evening and by then he was almost frantic and on the verge of putting a missing persons report in on me. My mind is going folks, it really is this is why I did my birthday bash this year before I’m having someone put on my shoes in an assisted car facility.
|The view at morning from our hotel room of Walnut Street|
As I said, this is a long blog posting and even I’m getting tired of it now so I think I’ll wrap things up. I’m home now, my traveling companion is almost at his home in Toronto Canada as I type this. I gots to catch up on my sleepy time as I lost many hours over the past week from activity more suited to a man much younger than myself.
But all in all, my Birthday Bash week was an absolute unqualified success and I am already looking forward to repeating the adventure again next year, same time, same city.
|My Traveling Companion wanted a "taste" of the subway. We got it. Once was enough.|
Vacations and trips are fine folks but I’m glad I’m back and sleeping in my own bed. I’m looking forward to going back to my regular routine. But it is always nice to have something to look forward to like this trip I took this past week and perhaps even better is having good friends like I am fortunate enough to have. Thanks guys!!!
|What I do best, relax|