Saturday, August 29 2009
setting: Edison Motor Lodge, Edison, New Jersey
Aside from the relentless traffic noises coming from US Route 1, our room had been fairly quiet. Strangely, I'd heard ocean noises for a time; perhaps they'd been coming through the wall from someone trying to drown out the traffic. I should mention that our room was very new, as in just constructed, and smelled mostly like off-gassing plastic. We would have actually preferred a slightly less-new room, preferring to accept risk of biological infection in place of a fraction of the risk of carcinogenic exposure. It's possible to minimize both simultaneously (particularly in rural settings), but in urban environments it's usually a zero-sum game.
Luckily for me, coffee is available in New Jersey gas stations even if beer is not. The gas station coffee I drank this morning wasn't the best gas station coffee in the world, but it had the desired effect.
Since we were in Edison, we went to the Thomas Edison Museum. It's in a smallish building and we didn't expect our time there to be long. But once in the door, the middle aged woman who had been overseeing a pair of teenage interns in their letter stuffing accosted us and eagerly gave us an enthusiastic tour. I find the lightbulb a bit prosaic, so I was mostly interested in the phonographic equipment. But then it turned out that Edison had also invented the mimeograph machine (which is shares traits with both a phonograph and a xerox machine). It was a flattering to have our tour guide (who was probably fifteen or twenty years older than us) assume that we didn't know what a mimeograph was. (I probably received my last mimeograph handout in eighth or ninth grade, circa 1982.)
As for the phonograph players, I was amazed by how loud they were. Though the sound was tinny and treble-rich, it was possible for the horns to make it fill the room. Some models even had elaborate dampers serving as adjustable volume controls. Inside, the phonograph players were as exquisite as watch mechanisms, with no expense spared for small improvements in quality. The better models came complete with self-stabilizing centrifugal weights to ensure accurate playback speed. This makes sense, as phonographs are a record of a pressure changes over time.
On the drive into Philadelphia, the sound coming from our car's exhaust system grew steadily louder and seemed to be migrating to higher resonance frequencies (occurring at higer RPM).
Our destination in Philadelphia was the gentrified center-city near the Delaware waterfront (a part known as Queen Village). Our friend Doug and his new girlfriend Felicia had just bought a loft apartment on 2nd Street. We hadn't met Felicia yet, though both Doug and Felicia had already been to our house. Doug had been there a good half dozen times going back to our wedding and both Doug and Felicia had been part of a series of house/dog/cat sitters while we'd been visiting the Pacific Northwest back in June.
Doug let us in and we walked up several flights of stairs to his loft. Oddly, one of those flights was actually inside his unit, connecting an first level only large enough for a small office. The upstairs main floor, though, was a big space with fourteen foot ceilings, an open floor plan, and a modern kitchen with topend surfaces. Felicia was off getting a hair cut, so we dawdled away the time by going up to the roof, where we had a 360 degree view of the squat downtown skyscrapers and the Delaware River, among other things. (The access hatch for the roof is the bright silver rectangle located here: 39.938315N, 75.146138W.) The roof was nothing more than a thin rubber membrane and I suggested Doug put down some sort of decking if he and the missus planned to drink a lot of beers there.
Then Felicia arrived. She was a thin strawberry blonde with a cheery smile and a forehead hidden behind bangs. I was starting to suffer from blood sugar problems, so we set out into the streets in search of more coffee and food. The neighborhood was reminiscent of the West Village of Manhattan, but more hipster and less gay. People had nearly as many tattoos as one sees in Portland (the center of all that is hipster and not especially gay).
Unlike Portland, though, none of the brunchy places had many options for someone seeking a vegan lifestyle. There was no vegan cream cheese to be had, and from what I could see of the bagels, they were thin, non-symmetrical, and excessively-large holes. But I had to eat one or remain unpleasant to be around. I actually prefer living in a country with regional differences, where it's just impossible to get certain kinds of foods of any quality in certain cities (though the impossibility of getting a good burrito on the entire East Coast is a regional difference I could do without).
We hit the streets again and at some point ducked into a bookstore with more bookshelf space than books. They'd adapted areas of surplus shelf into showcases for individual books, and this was how I came to pick up a copy of a coffee table book about the Mütter Museum, a collection of anatomical oddities and two-headed babies in jars. Opening the book to a random page, I came to a perfectly-symmetrical skeleton of a siamese twin having one large head (facing the photographer) and two bodies (facing each other). I flipped to another page and it was a photo of someone with extreme scoliosis, and that was that, I had to put the book down. I'm squeamish about things like that.
Back at the loft, we all started drinking beers even though it was still early in the afternoon. This was definitely a Doug and Felicia thing (and perhaps normal for a Sunday in most parts of America), though it was a litle unusual for the social groups I now run with.
Doug, it turns out, is something of a compulsive cleaner. This is the sort of trait that can lie completely dormant for an entire youth only to manifest with the first possession of real estate (my fetishizing of tools is a similar trait). As we were drinking, he was puttering around, cleaning surfaces that didn't appear to be dirty. All the stainless steel in the kitchen already gleamed like cylon armor, and the electric stovetop looked immaculate, though Doug had been unsatisfied with his ability to clean it and now wanted to replace it. More obviously troublesome was the dishwasher, whose door couldn't be opened fully without a terrible grinding clunk. Doug thought perhaps if only a bit of trim could be moved down, the door wouldn't make that sound. But the trim was held by an allen nut, and though Doug had a set of allen wrenches, he just happened not to have that particular size. This set up a comedic theme for the rest of our stay, with me ribbing Doug occasionally about what tools he should have now that he's a homeowner. I kept adding ludicrous ones to the list such as "pottery kiln" and "iron smelter."
Meanwhile a terrible thunderstorm was raging outside. At some point the sun broke through and Felicia and I ran up to the roof to look for the inevitable rainbow, but it was weak and only about twenty degrees of arc.
For dinner we dined at a fabulous vegan restaurant called Horizons. It was, I think, the best non-ethnic vegan meal I've ever had at a restaurant. I knew it was going to be good when I saw how pervasive mushrooms were in the menu. The place was popular with demographics one doesn't normally associate with vegan cuisine, such as the large table of young Jersey douchebags at the table next to us (not they were actually douchebags or from New Jersey, that's just how they looked to me; I could easily picture them donning backwards baseball caps and leaning out of a banana-colored Hummer to yell mainstream-affirming observations at pedestrians).
Skyscrapers of downtown Philadelphia, viewed from Doug and Felicia's roof.
Gretchen and Doug on the roof. Gretchen is explaining why eating dairy is just as bad as eating beef. (See the video.) That tree in the background is an enormous ghetto palm (Ailanthus altissima).
In front of the bookstore on 4th Street. See the Google Street View.
Another view from that spot along 4th Street.
Two cats and a dog in a window along a street in Queen Village.
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