Apr 16, 2007

Two Trolley Geeks Ride the Rails

When I hear about other families traveling to Puerto Rico, Disney World, or the Rockies, I think "We don't get out much." As a family we have travelled to Indiana and Maine, and we've lived in Virginia and visited all the Mid-Atlantic states. Oh, and we're going to Vermont in June.

But let it not be said that we aren't a venturesome bunch. In our first two weeks living here, John and I took the 109 bus to the 69th St. Terminal. We were the only white folks on it, and the quietest ones. It was like a party. Laughter and gossip encircled us. For a whole hour. Yes, that's how long it takes to get to 69th St. from our house on the 109. The only socially acceptable form of public transportation for us white middle-class people to take is the Regional Rail. There's also the Route 101 Trolley, which is more multicolored than the bus, but decidedly lower class than Regional Rail. And cheaper than the train. Many of its passengers are people who can't afford cars, people who are weary, dusty, and hardened by life. When we looked at houses our realtor said we wouldn't want to take the trolley because it "travels through rough neighborhoods."

She has no idea what a rough neighborhood really is. I guess she never rode her bike through the Richard Allen Homes in North Philadelphia on her way to class at Temple University. (Yes, I know that was dumb, and after a rock and then a full soda bottle were thrown at my head, I went back to the good old safe subway. My head is fine; they missed.) What I'm trying to say is I'm not a public transportation snob.

Anyway, Will and Jack, as I've mentioned, are train buffs. Trolley geeks. Bus schedule savants. Will had been begging to ride not just the 101 all the way to the 69th St. Terminal, but also the creme de la creme, the Route 100 Norristown High Speed Line. So I promised him we would do this on Saturday. And lo, that is what we did. We rode the 101 all the way from Media to the Terminal, then got on the 100 and rode it all the way to Norristown. Except for a dissipated old guy in the back, we were the only white folks, again.

More than twenty years ago I had a job in Bryn Mawr and lived in Center City, and rode on the 100 every day. Riding the rails with Will reminded me of those days. Everything looked almost exactly the same, which was oddly reassuring. Will pointed out all the Market St. El cars resting in the sheds. (The line is being renovated.) Fleets of idled buses waited for repairs. As we moved farther from the Terminal, swim clubs, golf courses, Main Line mansions, ancient tiny rowhouses, the Villanova University Stadium, all passed by us. We saw a large quarry near Norristown, shortly before crossing over the Schuylkill River on a high trestle. At the Norristown Transportation Center we even got to see the R6 train at its station, and then rode on a really long escalator.

Then, back to the very same trolley to ride back. The driver had moved to what was now the front of the car, which had been the back. I love the compactness and efficiency of trolleys. They can stop on a dime. Half the seats face forward, half the seats face back, no matter which direction you're travelling. Then at the Terminal we got back on the 101 for another ride. (Each leg of our ride took about 30 minutes.) Will began to flag a little, and started sitting on my lap. Still, he was observant all the way. We drove past Monsignor Bonner High School and its sister school Archbishop Prendergast, and the huge dirt swath promising a new building. We hurtled past Drexelbrook Apartments, where Will's "girlfriend" from school lives, and stopped at the all-important Drexel Hill Junction. That's where you can take the 102 to Sharon Hill.

Finally we stopped at the Springfield Mall before hurtling under the Blue Route and through the woods of Pine Ridge, and then into Media, passing only a few yards in back of the Acme. Then we were at our stop. We got off, my back a little stiff from all the sitting. "Maybe he's gotten that out of his system," I thought. But the next thing I heard, as Will clutched my hand and jumped up and down, was "When can we ride the 102?"

Apr 9, 2007

Easter Postmortem (So to Speak)

I always mean for Easter week to be more spiritual than it ends up being. I only read a handful of my Lenten readings. Could never decide what to "give up for Lent," or to do for Lent. Easter egg hunts don't help. The boys and I went to one at my Dad's retirement community. Let's just say my Dad and I differ as to whether one should give hints about egg location to crying five-year-olds. One of us believes that children should learn self-reliance, and should receive no help. The other of us believes self-reliance is grand, to a point, but that perhaps at Easter time we can teach cooperation and even a little compassion, eh? At the end we had to sit through a drawing for prizes, in which 28 children won giant scary chocolate bunnies. But we didn't win anything. The whole endeavor was decidedly unfun, I thought, although Will and Jack said it was fun later. Children can wrest fun out of almost anything.

Passover is such a coherent tradition, so unsullied by commercialism, whereas Easter has been taken over by that sinister bunny, littering the place with chocolate eggs and pastel-colored tschochkes (Did I spell that right?). We don't do Easter baskets at our house. Someone asked me if the Easter bunny visited our house and I said something like "No, but we went to church." Quite the conversation-killer.

Of course we also had a lovely meal, and here it was, served up for the usual suspects: the four of us, my Dad, my brother, his girlfriend, and two of her three children. Oh, and sometimes I just pick one cookbook to get all my recipes from, you can tell.

Shrimp and cocktail sauce, provided by Dad
Watercress Apple Salad with Peanut Dressing (Gourmet Cookbook)
Cheddar Grits Casserole (Gourmet Cookbook)
Fruit salad (provided by my brother)
Bread (ditto)
Pecan Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (April Gourmet)

John cut each of the two cake layers in two to form four layers, because he did it once before and so now it's his job forever. I decorated the cake with edible orchids, and the visiting children were shocked that they were REAL FLOWERS, not made of frosting or candy. My brother ate a whole orchid. He eats anything. Jack had one petal. The rest of the flowers were only admired from outside our bodies.

So there you have it, a typical Easter at the Dream Kitchen, served up with hope and love, and a sprinkling of guilt and skepticism thrown in. And not a little Passover Envy.