Part 3– A Drive to Brooklyn and Beyond: Philadelphia, the N.J. Turnpike… and Brooklyn’s Doorstep !

So much for encountering hospitality at the gas station– what a nice welcome to the Philadelphia area, the city that so heavily promotes its brotherly love!  How NICE it was to be able to leave that unpleasant experience behind in Chester. I found a McDonald’s on my own in the Pilgrim Gardens neighborhood, where I freshened up and dined on shoestring potatoes before heading over to my friend’s apartment in nearby Germantown.

After a wrong turn off Lincoln Road, which incidentally is fraught with crazy drivers doing at least DOUBLE the posted 25 mph speed limit, I arrived at Tyson’s. What a gracious host! His compact apartment became mine as well as his, and it was fun seeing all his paintings and things that I’d remembered from his time living in Florida. It’s in an old building on a residential street, filled with everything he loves looking at. He’s got the right idea: display it, don’t store it! And then dust it!

After a dinner at a favorite local restaurant, which was just a couple of blocks past the neighborhood mental institution, we settled in for a long chat. Tyson is a tour operator and docent in Philadelphia, and knows the area’s history inside out. What’s great is that he relates it to you in his Georgia drawl, tempered with the vocal resonaces of his Virginia Eastern Shore ancestors. Tourists love it.

The next morning, after breakfast at a little restaurant built into a local train station, Tyson gave me an impromptu tour of the Tulpehocken Station Historic District in Germantown, which reinforced my faith in brick buildings: those things have been standing for over a hundred years in many cases, and it’s no wonder. Look at the way they’re built!

The Lister Townsend House (1887)– “The Castle”
The Atonement Reformed Episcopal Church
The Queen’s house, built in 1851 for Maria Christine, Queen of Spain. Architect John Fallon directed the construction of this Gothic Revival structure in the event the Queen had to seek refuge in another country.

An ancient wrought iron fence.

The Ebenezer Maxwell House (1859)-- one of the homes Tyson works at.

Me, in front of Benedict Arnold's House (1762). He was the second owner.

Tyson in front of Laurel Hill Mansion, where he is a guide and historian. East Fairmount Park.

This is where actress Grace Kelly grew up at 3901 Henry Avenue in the Mt. Airy neighborhood.

I loved Philadelphia, and I didn’t even have to stand in line to see the Liberty Bell. Besides, I saw it with the Cub Scouts back in the 1960s, and I hear that it hasn’t changed much since. And I had to get back on the road… Brooklyn was over two hours away yet.

… actually, Brooklyn was closer if you drove like I did on the New Jersey Turnpike. Amazing! I had been aware of the fact that I would be subject to its multi-lane craziness, and I was well-prepared with change for the toll fees. I wondered if I’d be on a race course, and I wasn’t disappointed– everyone was going beyond the speed limit, and everyone was on their cell phones. It was like being in the road show version of Jersey Shore, surrounded as I was by sporty little cars filled with big hair, sunglasses, and attitude. (You can tell, really.) It was fun– I raced along with them all, my ball cap pulled firmly down over my ears, sunglasses in place, chewing gum going a mile a minute… and it was thrilling speeding UP and off the highway into a rest stop at one point. And then you speed back onto the turnpike and before you know it you’re at Exit 13 for the Goethals Bridge into Staten Island.

You can’t easily see through the guard rails along this bridge, I think because they don’t want you to know what lies on either side of the road through here: serious industrial New Jersey. Factories and refineries and smokestacks blanket the land, and New Yorkers’ wisecracks about “Cancer Alley” come to mind. It didn’t seem as smoky as it did back when I was a kid, when we rode the ferry to Staten Island from Brooklyn, and then drive a few country miles to New Jersey. Back then, Better Living Through Chemistry was a mantra that everyone adhered to religiously…

After a few curves through Staten Island, the western tower of the Verrazano Bridge appeared over the hills, and in just a few minutes and I would be in Brooklyn. Even though everyone cursed Robert Moses when he rammed the bridge and its approaches through pristine Bay Ridge, we still feel a grudging bit of civic pride in that monstrosity. It’s overkill, definitely; it didn’t have to be so grandiose, but there it was… with Mom waiting at its Eastern end.

Next stop: Brooklyn !

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4 responses

  1. Someday I will venture to Philly and ask Tyson to give me a tour. Love the photo of the old wrought iron fence and its shadow!

    I hate the NJ Turpike. That old Maine phrase “you can’t get there from here” also works on I-95 in NJ!

  2. Whoops. How did I skip right over this post? I have a question about thatBenedict Arnold’s house. Those two buildings behind and to either side that match the home? Were they guest houses/ coach houses?
    Love it…safe haven for a Queen! Oh the excesses!

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