That’s it. Baltimore Ave. It was never really a destination, but it was certainly along the way. I used to ride the 34 trolley along the tracks from City Hall, or from 40th Street, all the way down the line to 58th or 60th and Baltimore Ave. every day on my way home. Home was Southwest Philly, a run down home we didn’t even own, but it was home so in the pantheon of memories it is a nostalgic one, full of happy tears and walks from that trolley down the way to Broomall.
Once I fell asleep, rocked by the rhythm of the vehicle, the sing-song scraping of the trolley’s bars against the ancient track, and I woke up at the end of the line, four stops past 60th street. The conductor actually woke me up with a shove and told me to get out. “That’s it. The end of the line. Baltimore Ave. Last stop,” he said, and I tried to argue, but I ended up walking six long blocks back. I tried not to be tired on the 34 trolley anymore after that because I knew the consequences.
Then there was the blizzard of 1997, or was it 1996? Regardless, I was on a train coming back from New York City at the time it started, and by the time we got into City Hall it was coming down hard, all this fluffy whiteness that looked pretty but had pretty much bogged down most of the city of Philadelphia. Trolleys were few and far between, and I knew service was soon to stop altogether, and I would be stranded downtown, so when the next 34 came I made sure I was on it. We came out of the tunnel at 40th Street to a wall of white, and it was slow going from there.
Before we had made it to 48th street it had become impossible, impassable, so a few of us guys got out and began to push the trolley, to try and extricate it from its predicament, from the slush that had looked so pretty as it had fallen from the sky, as it continued to fall from the sky. And even that only got us another 3 blocks before it was obvious we were going no further. So I walked from there through knee deep drifts of snow without snow pants. I was a block of ice when I got home.
Those are some of my Baltimore Ave. memories, but more often than not it was a quiet stretch of avenue with old men begging for change, young men selling everything from tapes to hats from ragged tables, and women in curlers pushing groceries in stolen carts on their way to the crack house, or somewhere closer. But one thing that Baltimore Ave. always had for it was character, a sense of place and time that remains even now.