Day 4: Philadelphia
To paraphrase The Hollies: The Pennsylvania Turnpike is loooooong…with maneeee a winnnnding turrrrrrrn….that leeeds us to whooooo knows wherrrrre….who knowwwwws wheeeeeeeen……..
But no complaining, as the salt-stained car rolls on. Sunshine and “Blonde on Blonde”….reminded of driving to Gainesville 4-5 years ago listening to this, and when I got to Leesburg (or as we used to call it in high school. “Sleazeburg,” heh heh), “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” had me tearing up like the Irish-American buffoon that I am…and in the moments before getting back into the car and driving back to Orlando, I wrote in one sitting a tribute of sorts to that song called “Gainesville Girls: 1996-97″ that ended up in the novel and it’s one of my favorite parts. But anyway…no getting choked up today, for this car is headed to Philadelphia.
I will say this: Whoever is in charge of the jams in the Pennsylvania Turnpike Food Court knows what they’re doing, in terms of the ol’ Dad Rock. The moment I walked in, “Renegade” by Styx played, aka “The Story of My Life.” That’s not really true, but when you’re a vagabond writer reading in anarchist bookstores in every town, you know…you’re like a badass Styx song. I guess that’s all I’m trying to say here. Sitting there surrounded by older ladies in cat sweatshirts, kids sucking down chocolate shakes, bikers, truckers, moms, dads, all your Great American Travelers, they’re playing Supertramp for us, they’re playing “Heard it in a Love Song” by the Marshall Tucker Band, they’re even getting the Led out with some deep cutz “The Wonton Song” (!!!)…all songs I love, and you combine that with some Burger King, it’s hard to resist the urge to start the classic “U!S!A!” chant. But I keep it in, because I already look messed up enough in my uncombed hair and salt-splotched pants and general road dog demeanor.
It was $31 in tolls to take the Turnpike. I had $28 in cash, and $2.90 in change.
“Need a dime,” the toll booth lady said.
“Do you take cards?”
“No. We take checks, or you can leave your license here until you pay it…”
F…U…C……Oh wait! Forgot about the quarter in my pocket. Just barely paid it off. Oosh! I mean, I’ve heard of, heh heh…”Highway Robbery,” but that was ridiculous. I don’t mean to get political here. It’s just my opinion.
Into Philadelphia. The last major city in the lower 48 I haven’t been to. Until now. I get to Alice’s. She lives in a basement apartment in the Fishtown neighborhood. And now…Philly is real. Row houses and narrow streets. Stoops and intense-looking working folks stomping down the sidewalks. I love it already. And two beers and two shots later at El Bar, it all makes sense. We meet up with her boyfriend and friends, and off we go to the reading in West “Philly.” The roads and the driving around us are very Chicago in terms of bumps and holes and aggressive stupidity and horn honking and I feel the slightest twinge of homesickness as I stare at the buildings and the streets as Dead Moon plays, and all I can think about is how much better this world would be if everyone could be as earnest and pure and intense and passionate as Fred and Toody Cole. Could I be half as good as this music tonight, reading whatever excerpt I’m going to read? No, but I’m going to fucking try.
The audience at the bookstore comprised of the people I rode with, plus the other reader, plus the bookstore owner, and a dude who came in off the street who used to live in Gainesville and wanted to talk Florida. The owner was a friendly and intelligent gentleman who told us about how this part of town was where the anarchists lived…they bought houses here in the mid-80’s when they were going for $10,000 that are now worth way-way more than that. My voice is shot…I read an excerpt that I hope gets some laffs ripplin’ around the room (I hate how everybody thinks readings have to be so serious and stuffy.) I sound like a pre-teen on the cusp of a voice change. I don’t have a cold anywhere else except in my larynx. But they laugh at the right times…and sometimes you just want to tell everyone to relax, and that it’s ok to laugh, but it’s fine.
Afterwards, we hit up an Ethiopian restaurant, then it’s back to Fishtown to karaoke. Man…what a cast of characters! There was an older lady at the bar who sang several songs over the course of the night, and her catchphrase was, and I quote, “SHUT THE FECK UP!” She would sing these nice sixties ballads, and if the patrons were too chatty for her liking, she’d shout that several times during the song. Philadelphia. I love how everyone seems to be at 11 at all times, or, as someone in our crew put it several hours later during a late-night Hot Pockets food run, “Philly is great because you can yell the most obnoxious shit on the street anytime you want to, and nobody gives a fuuuuuck.” Chicago and Philly should bone and have kids that are just like it all over the USA….just sprout right on up in all this futile-bland suburban horseshit you see everywhere else….but anyway, I sang “Beth” by Kiss, because my shattered voice has a total Peter Criss quality to it…Eddie Money even. Also did “Just a Friend” by Biz Markie and “Jackson.”
Went back to Alice’s. Kept drinking. We watched “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” In Detroit, we heard “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog.” In Brooklyn, Joel (who I’m staying with) threw on the Talking Heads. I guess I gotta return the favor; when friends visit Chicago, we’ll watch Season 5 of “According to Jim” and listen to “Chicago 17.” Up until 5, goofin’, drinking Budweiser, trying not to pass out. But finally, I made it onto the couch, where I slept until 9, when a large white cat jumped on my legs and then laid down next to me for warmth.
I couldn’t sleep, so I spent the morning fretting on how to make this “Artist Residency” thing at the Hideout not suck. Trying real hard to do better at everything. Don’t get beered up. Start there, Champ. I had a few other ideas on that old-ass couch, and I got on the phone and started emailing the people who could help, and took notes as to what I wanted to do.
By noon, we were starting to wake up. Went to get brunch, ate a pastrami omelette. My voice is Froggy from “The Little Rascals.” Back to Alice’s, it was time to go. But I had to get a picture of the book with the Rocky Statue. Said my goodbyes (and everyone I met were awesome, btw), and went to get to the statue. But Mrs. Googlemaps was trying to kill me. Twice, she sent me down roads that were one way, in the opposite directions. Fortunately, fellow drivers had no compunction about honking their horns to let me know that what i was doing was wrong. it was a pain in the ass almost of driving-in-Boston proportions, but I figured it out, took the picture, surrounded by tourists and tourist parasites selling Rocky t-shirts.
And with that…got back into the car, listened to the Television album “Adventure,” and rolled on through insanely narrow highway lanes out of Philadelphia, and into New Jersey…