Going Downtown, Part 4

southstreetSaturday dawned as dark as the other mornings because I woke up at 6:15, even after getting to bed as late as I dared on Friday night, but the day itself promised to be a beautiful one, with a promised balmy temperature and sunshine. Which was all good for us because we had a full day planned outside, and it would apparently be gorgeous enough for us to enjoy it fully. I kept my fingers crossed.

Then we were out the door again heading for Center City, for another pass at South Street, down around 2nd street where I used to go so often I think I wore a path there in the late ’90s. So many memories crept up as we passed one landmark after another. There was the Ritz theater, the coffee place that used to be Xand0, the park where I would sit for hours writing poetry and people watching, the giant hotels that always reminded me of the twin towers, all of that and more on our way to South Street, and the glory of the pumpkin festival, which just happened to be taking place there.

Now, there’s a pavilion-type building as you enter the final stretch of 2nd Street before you get to South, and we used to go through it as a pseudo rite of passage when we came that route to South Street on Friday nights. It was under this pavilion that a slew of vendors were set up, farmer’s market-style, and people milled about checking out the goods and services. Ironically TD Bank was also there plying its wares and trying to get people to sign up for money market accounts by offering free plastic banks. Hmmm.

To the left of the pavilion was a giant triangular structure made of huge metal poles. It had a swinging apparatus attached to it at the top and a woman in a leotard was swinging from the rope, practicing her routine. A fish truck was camped down the way from the activity, and there was a line already at it. Kids wove in and out of the crowds playing “catch me if you can,” and “hide and seek.” It almost felt like a small town festival, which is really what Philadelphia is after all, a collection of small towns that make up one gigantic one.

Fall-Pumpkin-Fest-at-South-Street-Headhouse-District-2014-ARTICLEWe had fun, too, the kind of fun that’s usually reserved for teenagers who are discovering the real world for the first time and get caught up in its escapism. Traveling from stall to stall we checked out all that was offered there, including a particularly sharp cheese that I can still taste if I close my eyes. Then she show began, put on wonderfully by the Philadelphia School of Circus Arts, which I had no idea even existed. There were so many apparatuses that were hooked and unhooked, and so many acrobats doing some defiant tricks and extravagant scenarios high up in the air. It made me dizzy just watching them perform to songs by Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and others.

Then it was off to South Street proper, past a hotel that must have been ridiculously expensive, despite the fact that I saw no doorman, beyond a Rita’s Water Ice that was closed for the season, but that could have been raking in money on such an Indian summer day, even past Jim’s Steaks with a huge line out the door. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever passed by Jim’s without seeing a line out the door. Take that, Geno’s. In the Starbucks we saw a middle-aged man with what I could only assume were his three teenage kids all on cellphones, all waiting for their lavish orders. He casually whipped out a hundred dollar bill and paid for them all, got $50 dollars and some change in return, and it didn’t even phase him. We got no coffee.

It was odd to walk down South Street and not see some of the staples of my ’90s weekends there, but change must come, and change has definitely come to that iconic street. One thing that kept me feeling warm and fuzzy, though, were the places that didn’t change, that still defiantly stake their claim even after all these years to some of the most eclectic real estate in the country. But yeah, my feet were getting tired. I’m not used to walking so much. It was time for us to find some food and a moment’s rest, so we kept searching until we found both.

Sam

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