Because when you’re in Philly it’s almost like being in heaven…
- Go to South Street
- The Continental Martini Bar
- Mt. Airy
- Valley Green
- Chestnut Hill
- Silk City Diner
- The Italian Market
Once upon a time in a land faraway (New Jersey) I made a road trip with my then wife Robin to Niagara Falls. On the way we made a stop in Corning, New York for a business meeting which justified our trip.
We traveled in my new convertible Crossfire which could go from 0 to 100 in under 10 seconds. It came equipped with it’s own green frog whose name happened to be Kermit.
We stayed at the Embassy Suites Hotel on the Canadian side.
While walking around the downtown area of Niagara Falls we sort of wore ourselves out. Robin commented that if I was a few years younger she would make me pick her up and physically carry her back to the hotel.
I responded that if she was a few pounds lighter I would pick her up and carry her anyway. She laughed and I laughed and we both had a good laugh.
Next day we went out to the falls which were nothing less than spectacular.
When I was in London recently I had occasion to stay at the Thistle Hotel. In the morning as I was having breakfast my waitress came over to offer me more coffee. Sure, I said, I’d love some. As she refilled my cup she glanced down at the book on the table which I had brought with me to read. She look back at me and then in her best English accent asked me, “Well did she?”
Of course to her I was the one with the accent.
“Did she what?”
“Did she stay?”
At first I didn’t know what she meant. I looked at her and then I looked at the book and then I look back at her again and then in an instant of recollection, understanding, and reckoning I said, “She did indeed.”
My waitress beamed a self-satisfied smile and flitted off to the next customer to offer them some coffee.
The next day I was off to France to drink a toast to the author of the book, Simone de Beauvoir. This I would do at the fabled Cafe De Flore in Paris.
But I still had another day in London so I thought I’d spend it at the British Museum.
On this spot in 1989 Kenya burned 12 tons of ivory worth over three million in U.S. dollars.
According to then president Moi, “To stop the poacher the trader must be stopped and to stop the trader the final buyer must be convinced not to buy ivory.”
The tusks that were burned represents more than 2000 elephants shot and killed over a four year period.
There are a million stories in the semi-clad metropolis and this is one.
Philadelphia is a city of neighborhoods, and in each neighborhood there is a distinctive culture or ethnicity. Each neighborhood has gradually become more mixed and diversified. In South Philly you have the Italians, in Fishtown the Irish. West Philly and North Philly are predominantly black. In Center City you see the greatest diversity, but it too has its own characteristics. In Kensington, where Tony’s Way is located, it is mainly Spanish, as in Puerto Rican. Tony’s Way is a little Puerto Rican bar nestled below the elevated Blue Line in Kensington.
I lived in several different neighborhoods in Philadelphia. For a while I lived in Fishtown in a little house across from the Palmer Cemetery. Fishtown is a neighborhood that adjoins Kensington. I would sometimes walk over to the Blue Line to take it into town. On the way back home when I arrived at my stop and descended the steps from the “El” I would find Tony’s Way beckoning to me in the darkness. So one night I hustled there inside.
I stepped inside of the brightly lit cantina and immediately was blasted with the sound of Latin music blaring on the jukebox and uproarious laughter. The joint was juking and very colorfully decorated with tinsel and streamers and signs of various descriptions. Very festive. The bar was in the center with seating all around. Behind the bar were a pair of barmaids in cut off jeans and tank tops.
I stepped up the the bar and ordered a shot of tequila and a Corona. That was what everybody else was drinking. I had a couple of rounds then stepped back into the night and walked home.
Since Tony’s Way was right on my way as I walked back and fourth from the El, I started to become a regular. I would go over in the afternoons sometimes and on the weekends. One day I was in there having a beer and a shot when Tony walks over to me and introduces himself.
He gave me a broad smile and stretched out his hand which I took. He had a strong grip.
“I’m Tony,” he said. “This is my place. Welcome. If you ever find you have a problem here, you see that large fellow sitting over there in the corner? That’s Ricardo. He’s my cousin. And do you see that other fellow standing over there? That’s Edwardo. He’s my other cousin. You just call one of them over and he will help you.”
He smiled again and patted me on the back and strolled off to greet the other customers. That was how it was at Tony’s Way.
One Friday night I walked over for a little entertainment and to see if there might be some Puerto Rican girls just dying to meet me.
There was line to get in. So I queued up and waited my turn to be let in. As I was waiting I noticed there were a couple of bouncers at the front door. They were frisking people, as in patting them down for weapons, before they were allowed in. Now this wasn’t too unusual for Philadelphia so I didn’t think too much of it at first. When It came my turn they just waved me in.
So I entered the establishment and walked around the bar to the other side so I could keep an eve on the door. I ordered my usual: A shot of Jose Cuervo and a bottle of Corona with a lime wedge.
I got to noticing the way the bouncers were frisking the patrons. A guy would step up to the door and they would frisk him and then they would wave him on in. A couple of girls would step up up and they would get waved through. A guy come in gets frisked. The girls get waved through.
As I’m watching this it slowly begins to dawn on me, hey! Wait a minute, I didn’t get frisked. What’s up with that? They must not have thought I was dangerous enough to frisk. Now in Philly, it’s not enough to look tough. You got to look dangerous too. So this was beginning to bother me a bit and I was feeling a little slighted if not insulted.
I turned to my fellow barfly sitting next to me and relayed my tale of woe to him. He said, relax, they probably just know you.
Ohhhhh! Yeah! I never thought of that! Well, I felt a whole lot better then and enjoyed the rest of the evening.
I moved away from Philly a short while after that incident. First to Trenton then back home to Kentucky. It’s been about 10 years since I had been to Tony’s Way, but I always had fond memories.
Recently I had the opportunity to travel back to Philadelphia on business, and while there I wanted to visit some of my old neighborhoods and stomping grounds
The first thing I noticed was the sign was down So I was’t sure if it was still Tony’s Way or not. I stepped into the bar from the bright sunlight and waited a few moments for my eyes to adjust to the light. I sat down on a bar stool and ordered a shot and a beer. I looked around and things looked pretty much the same. It was early afternoon so not too many people were in there. My eyes came to rest on a familiar character who was sitting across the bar from me reading a newspaper.
I finished my drink and walked around the bar and approached the man reading the paper.
“You’re Tony aren’t you? I don’t know if you remember me or not but a few years ago when I lived in Philly I used to come in here. You were always very nice to me. I’m in town for a short visit and I just wanted to come by and say hello.”
“Yeah, I remember you,” he said. “Your hair was a little longer then. What happened to you?”
“I moved away.”
“Where did you move to?”
“To Kentucky?” He started laughing, Why’d you move to Kentucky?”
I explained I had family there and that was my home state, but he couldn’t get over the fact that I moved to Kentucky.
“Hey Angelina!. Come over here.” He waved the barmaid over. “This guy used to come here all the time, but he moved to Kentucky.”
“Kentucky?!!!” Then she started to laugh.
She moved away from us and took another customer’s order who had just sat at the bar. And she told them what Tony had said and they laughed. Then the people sitting next to them started laughing and shouted, “Kentucky!” when they laughed. And pretty soon the whole establishment was laughing and shouting Kentucky! And no one was laughing more than Tony and me. But after a few minutes the laughter eventually died down, but it did not die down entirely for a long time for always at this table or that a new area of laughter would begin.
I drank free that day. Of course I suffered the next day from a hangover. But it was definitely the best day of my trip.
Busses in Nairobi are called Matatus. They are painted bight colors and are loud.
70% of the population use them for transportation. They are cheap and convenient, but like everything else in Nairobi, they are chaotic.
The name comes from Swahili meaning three. It is unclear as to three what, but it is commonly believed it refers to a coin worth about ten cents which would equate to 30 cents per ride.
I recently attended an exhibition at the Cincinnati Art Museum entitled Van Gogh: Into the Undergrowth. Turns out there is a whole sub-genre of painting called sous-bois, which means undergrowth, that explores the significance of the interior of the forest. Hmmm. I have been exploring the interior of the forest for years now. Here is my latest entry into this genre.
I recently visited London and Paris. I had long dreamed of vising these places as they have lived in my imagination for years from reading books. Using the subway systems of Philadelphia and New York City, primed me for the London Underground and the Parisian Metro system.
On one of my many excursions around London, I descended the steps into the underground, and encountered a smiling, red-faced uniformed attendant.
“Hello!” I said.
“Hello!” he returned.
I inquired about the best route to get to my destination.
“Take the Circle Line to Baker Street, transfer to the Jubilee Line. Get off at Southwark and it is only a short walk to the Globe.”
This was typical of my experience in the London Underground— easy to navigate with friendly attendants and patrons who were willing to answer your questions.
In Paris, perhaps the incongruity of being in a strange land made my existence there somehow congruent. I felt at home at last. Once I arrived in Paris, I approached a Parisian Metro booth and spoke to one of the attendants.
Although I did not speak the language, I was able to communicate well enough to find my way, with a few words and hand gestures.
On one of my last days in the city, I was sitting outside, having a glass of red wine at the Café de Flore on Boulevard Saint Germaine. A Frenchman who took the table next to mine, lit up a cigar and then glanced in my direction to ask if I was offended by the cigar smoke.
“Oh, no,” I said, “I understand that people who sit outside often smoke and I am not offended.”
He nodded and smiled. He took a couple of puffs off his cigar and we began talking, he in perfect English. We talked for a long time about a wide range of events including the recent terrorist attacks. I mentioned the increased security around the metro. He shared that he had just talked to his daughter who lives in the neighbourhood where the attacks occurred and she felt safe using the Metro System.
“Yes,” he cautioned, “but the police and soldiers cannot be everywhere. You have to be vigilant. In effect, we have to be responsible for our own security.”
As we were sitting there, we watched many police vehicles driving by with their sirens blaring.
“Something’s going on,” he said.
Then he pointed out that if a car were to pull up in front of us right now and gunmen got out and started shooting, what could we do about it? Nothing! He was right of course. So I concluded that the French are a little fatalistic about such things.
C’est la vie?
I travelled to London and Paris by myself because I needed to be alone. I needed time to think about my life and my absurd existence with only myself for company as I walked the cobblestone streets of Montmartre. The encounters that I did have gave me reason to believe in the possibility of happiness and the hope for humanity. I found in both London and Paris, a big smile and a hello or bonjour broke down the normal barriers humans seem to erect between themselves. You can be anonymous, but by using the universal language of a smile followed by a greeting you can still be touched by the human heart.
Jokers to the right of me, clowns to the left. You know there have been a lot of clown sightings lately. Did anyone stop and think that this might because we are in the Halloween Season, the October Country, and the Silly Season? You know why cannibals won’t eat clowns? Taste funny….just saying.