The Uphill Slide

There is always something.



A visit to Morris Arboretum on September 12 concluded with a drive to city center of Philadelphia to see the sights. I planned to stop and walk when I reached the downtown but never found a parking place. The traffic was not bad on that overcast, slightly damp Saturday afternoon. Following the GPS from Morris Arboretum to the downtown, I passed a building that seemed to be mosaic. I missed my chance to stop, so I turned to loop back around. This is why I like to travel alone. My husband does not see the things I do and is not happy to turn around just for a photograph. I pulled along the road in front of the W. B. Saul High School in Roxborough. It has beautiful mosaic or mosaic-like murals on its walls depicting farming and agricultural themes. The mural includes a tribute to Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. I remember my father, a farmer, reading this book when it was published in the early 1960s. According to Wikipedia, this is a magnet school in the Philadelphia school district dedicated to the agricultural sciences. It is also the largest of its kind in the United States.

The route produced more photos of graffiti and murals on the walls of businesses and schools like the Anna B. Pratt Public School on North 22nd Street and the Frederick Douglass School on West Norris Street. I drove down streets that scared me even during these daylight hours. There were blocks of abandoned houses. I drove down a narrow one-lane street occupied by men sitting on stoops. The houses looked ready for condemnation, and the streets were trash-ridden as if this was their own city dump. I drove past a row of houses across the street from a power grid covering almost a city block. What effect does that have on its human neighbors? This is the city that the Pope will be visiting in just a few days, a city attempting to find housing for the homeless and route its inhabitants through this driving and parking nightmare. His visit might have been better in the fields of a well-planned Woodstock.

I was now closer to the downtown on a nice residential one-way street. There was a mural on the corner that I wanted to photograph but no place to park on either side with only one navigable lane down the street. I was suddenly stopped behind a New Jersey-plated car. A young man walked down to the car from the stoop where he was sitting. He bent slightly to talk to the driver through the window. OK, a drug deal I thought. The young man looked back at me a couple of times, and I fiddled with my phone. My nonchalance was to show: I’m not a narc…not interested in your business. The young man pointed down the street, and the car drove down to a small opening on the right but did not have enough room to park. The driver continued on and turned, probably to circle around. I decided that mural could wait to be photographed on another trip.

Now I was almost downtown and pulling up to an intersection when I noticed a mural to my left about a block away. I turned towards the mural instead of continuing on my path. I passed the huge mural on the building wall and found a parking spot about a block away. I locked my car noting a suitcase and jacket sitting under a very small tree on the sidewalk. I looked around but did not see anyone. I walked up the block to the chain-link-fenced parking lot encasing the mural. The fence said ‘No Admittance’, but the gate was open partway. I walked in defying that sign. There were a couple of cars parked in this lot with no obvious gate to enter. I snapped some photos of the beautiful “Common Thread” by Meg Saligman. The site has information on these murals throughout Philadelphia; they even offer tours, but I prefer to see murals and graffiti on my own. (Another site I found today was listing murals all over the world.) As I walked down the street back to my car, I noticed some architectural details on the building I had passed getting to that mural. This building was the Thaddeus Stevens School of Practice on Spring Street listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is in the process of renovation or conversion. According to an online search, a developer is working to convert the building to a combination of commercial and residential use. There was some multi-colored macramé woven on the fence in front of this building. I have no idea if it had any meaning or was just some random weaver looking for a loom.

I left that parking spot to head to people, traffic and history. I knew I reached the epicenter when I saw people everywhere and large stately buildings. Pedestrians were crossing in front of cars as drivers scanned for people and other drivers trying to navigate the streets and construction. I drove around the blocks recognizing at times that I had been that way before. I did not find a parking place and was getting frustrated and then worried. My gas gauge was registering in the dangerous zone, and I had not passed a gas station on any of these streets. I was not sure how far I might go to get gas, so it was time to give up on my plans. The murals were going to wait for another trip. All the photos I took downtown were with my phone when stopped for a red light or in the line of traffic. My last photo was the “East Coast Humpbacks” by Robert Wyland as I headed for the interstate to return to my daughter’s home in Lancaster.

I will plan my next trip to Philadelphia a little more carefully. I had not been to Philadelphia since I was a grade school student. I am anxious now to visit again to photograph the murals, historic sites and other interesting things that always pop up if you are looking. Cary and her boyfriend, Tyler, who once lived in Philadelphia, suggested taking the train into Philadelphia and then riding the bus. Sounds like a plan to me.

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