walk along the Schuylkill
Friday, July 1 2022
location: room 307, Sonder the Arco Hotel, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
I awoke before Gretchen and made myself coffee with the room's coffee robot. To avoid disturbing Gretchen, I set up a chair in our huge brick-walled bathroom and sat in there with my work-issued laptop doing my usual morning routine.
After playing the New York Times Spelling Bee for awhile in bed, we finally mustered the initiative to go off to our first meal of the day at Batter & Crumbs, a vegan bakery a good 20 minute walk south of out hotel. But it was a beautiful summer day and not yet terribly hot, so walking felt more like a pleasure than a chore. It was also fun to see along the way how Philadelphians set up their stoops and what not. Many had clusters of pots near their doors full of flowers and sometimes vegetables. Other stoops had pots that had fallen into neglect and were now full of weeds and even small tree saplings.
In addition to a wide variety of baked goods and coffee drinks, all of it vegan, Batter & Crumbs also stocks sandwiches and savory food produced by a third party. As you know, savory food is the only food that gets me excited. So for breakfast I got myself a disappointingly-tiny seitan wrap that contained a red cabbage "slaw" to go with my oat milk cappuccino. Stangely the music on the bakery's sound system was contemporary (or near-contemporary) pop, playing two songs featuring Lady Gaga ("Shallow" and "Poker Face," both of which I like). As we ate our food and drank our beverages, a steady stream of customers came in, many of them with dogs (in likely violation of health codes). You'd think a vegan bakery would attract customers concerned about overcrowded animal shelters, but nearly all the dogs I saw were purebred, and one even had his testicles.
We'd been hoping for Doug (from last night) to come by Batter & Crumb while we were there, but Gretchen was texting the wrong number, and she didn't make contact until after we left. He didn't live far away, so we followed directions to his place several blocks north. It was a townhouse across from a big stone church that had recently been deconsecrated.
Felicia wasn't home, but Doug was there with his two cats, only one of whom, Hawthorne, made himself visible. The house was clean and fully-adult, full of nice stuff that looked good together. It was also featured a great many animal skins, something that horrified Gretchen. The reason it was also so tidy was that Doug and Felicia have a cleaning service that comes once every two weeks, and they arrived just after we did.
After giving us a tour of all the floors (it comes to over 2000 square feet), we went out in the backyard, a small shady but inviting space. As Hawthorne charmed us with his bemused friendliness, we pondered how Doug might be able to get access to his own roof, something that would be handy considering his air conditioning system was recently relocated up there. I thought best way might be to bolt a balcony half-way up the wall and then it could be reached by a ladder.
Other things we discussed was the ongoing wave of violent crime, particularly near Temple (in North Philadelphia) where Doug teaches classes. He told us that occasionally students are killed by people trying to rob them, and that such incidents that have gotten more frequent since the beginning of the pandemic.
For Gretchen and me, our next plan was to walk along the Schuylkill River up to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Doug decided to join us for the part of that walk westward on Christian that led past a noisy power station to the river-side trail on the Schuylkill's west bank.
The walk along the Schuylkill isn't quite the Highline, but plenty of effort had been put into making it an inviting space for strollers and cyclists, with plenty fancy pedestrian bridges across the railroad tracks (which otherwise separate the river from the city). One section of the trail is actually on a bridge running out in the Schuylkill parallel to its banks (39.947360N, 75.185755W), and it was here where the oppressive nature of the sun and the complete absence of shade started to wear us down. So when we next got to a place with trees and a working water fountain, we soaked our shirts and put them back on and then lay in the shade of a sycamore tree looking at our phones. When I went into the public bathroom nearby, I was delighted to find that it used a composting toilet.
Eventually our walking took us to the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which was made famous as a place where Rocky Balboa exercised in at least one of the Rocky movies. Plenty of the tourists there today were there partly to emulate Rocky, running up the steps and then raising their fists up high. One man was actually wearing a Sylvester Stallone tee shirt.
Originally Gretchen had wanted to see some art in the museum, but all the miles of walking had sapped away any such desire. When we entered the museum (which one does from the back), there's nothing to do except buy or show a ticket. Without one, we couldn't even get into the gift shop. Gretchen lied and said we were waiting for a friend, and that allowed us to sit on a bench for awhile enjoying the air conditioning.
We'd wanted to catch a bus back to the vicinity of our hotel, but we missed it by thirty seconds. While deciding what other transportation option to try, we started walking in that direction. We ended up walking all the way back. Later when Gretchen looked at our route on the map, she saw that we'd walked eight and a half miles today.
After that, we had some nice downtime in our hotel room.
The original plan had been for us to go back south this evening to have dinner at a dive bar with lots of vegan options called Triangle Tavern. But Gretchen had discovered that there were plenty of vegan restaurants very close to our hotel. One of these, Monster Vegan, was one she'd wanted to try. So that was where we had dinner tonight. We arrived well before 6:00pm, early bird special time. This meant it was also happy hour. We were seated in a comfy back dining room featuring two large screens playing soundless clips from various campy monster movies dating from the 1960s to the 1990s. That was when I got it: the restaurant was called Monster Vegan because it cultivated a horror-theme. Meanwhile, the music coming from the sound system ranged from obscure 1980s hair metal (Lizzy Borden's "Me Against the World") to the Cure (not "Boys Don't Cry" or "Love Cats" thankfully). The music was all very white, though a good third of the other customers in the restaurant were black.
As often happens these days, we ordered much more food than we could actually eat. My chief focus was a vegan hoagie that came with "parmesan" fries. It wasn't great, but it was good enough. Meanwhile Gretchen was ordering things like deep-fried balls of macaroni and cheese and hot "wings." For beverages, Gretchen tried (but didn't order) a very complicated bitter beer, and I had dlightful Belgian-style ale called Victory Golden Monkey. I followed that up with a Troegs Perpetual IPA, which wasn't too great. Our waitress was a little befuddled by us, we could tell, and Gretchen wondered if our behavior suggested we were doing restaurant reviews for some media organization. As we were leaving, the sound system was playing "Hungry Heart," one of Bruce Springstein's worst songs, and wondered how it could've possibly ended up in the playlist.
After returning briefly to our hotel room, Gretchen and I went on a stroll around the neighborhood. I carried a paper cup containing diluted scotch as we strolled, something Gretchen didn't notice until our strolling was more than half completed.
Gretchen and me atop the steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Inside Monster Vegan.
Gretchen and me inside Monster Vegan. You can't see my missing tooth!
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