Friday, June 17, 2022

The Importance of The Route 23



“Clang, clang, clang went the trolley...” 

My Long Love Affair with Route 23 

I am Philly born, Philly bred, and I love this city. Yes, it has its problems, as does every city and most places in the country. But I love the many neighborhoods of this city, its history and culture, and  the logical and clear way much of the city is laid out. It is easy to navigate, and that is a very good thing in a place with so many people. Public transit is a key to any city’s economic and social success, and Philly has had a good transit system for some time. It has been the key to my getting around and enjoying this place, and I am very grateful for it. I still depend on this system for much of my daily and regular activities. Several times a week I make use of the regional rail lines near me-The Chestnut Hill West and The Chestnut Hill East-to go into town. I also make use of the Route H bus a couple of times a week. And just about every day of every week I spend some time on the Route 23 bus. Going to the pharmacy, going up to Chesnut Hill for coffee or a meal, going to Germantown to the Regional Library, going grocery shopping; just about every day that route gets me somewhere I need to be or connects with some way of getting me to where I need to go. My life would be very different without the 23, and it has been that way for over 50 years. 

I went to a local public elementary school-I could walk the 6 blocks to and from Dunlap Elementary School easily. But I went to Masterman Junior High and Central High School, and attending those schools meant I had to become familiar with Philly’s public transit. I used the subway, the busses, the trolleys, and the elevated in junior high school, and I became rather adept at figuring out how to get to where I wanted to go. But it was high school that really increased my use and reliance on public transit and especially the 23. Central had students from all over the city. A lot of my friends lived in Mt. Airy, Germantown, Chestnut Hill, Center City, and Lower South Philly.  The 23 connected all of those parts of the city, and it also linked up with a number of bus routes, subway stops, and the Market Steet elevated. So I learned to use it to travel much of the city. After I left high school and started playing music, the 23 became an essential part of my music life. The Philadelphia folk and coffeehouse scene had exploded, the 23 helped me get to and experience a lot of it. I could get to the weekend coffeehouse on the 2nd floor of Diane Bryman's rug shop in Chestnut Hill, and I could travel to World Control Studios and Hecate Circle in Germantown. As it ran all night and travelled from Chestnut Hill to South Philly, I could take it from one spot in Chestnut Hill or Mt Airy or South Street, and hook up with buses that could take me back to my parents’ home in West Philly. After I moved out of my parent's home, it allowed me to get to and from my various apartments in West Philly, South Philly, or Center City. It was my reliable transport just about wherever I needed to go. 

The 23 was a long route. Traveling over 13 1/2 miles, it was once the longest streetcar route in the world. Being such a long route, it went through many of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods. So when I taught high school classes in urban studies, I made the 23 an important part of the curriculum. In the first week of the class, we would ride the 23 for at least half of its route. I would have the students count the number and types of churches, bars, hair salons, playgrounds, and schools we passed. They would also count the abandoned factories and shops we passed as a way of beginning to understand how cities grow and change economically. They would also write down each time they thought we were entering a different neighborhood and what indicated that to them. That long ride would form the backdrop for the first two weeks of the course, and it influenced just about everything else we did. 

I am thinking about all of this because while waiting at the 23-bus stop outside Lovett Library, I saw an announcement of something called “Along the 23.” Along the 23 is a collaborative art project that seeks to present and explore scenes from various people, activities, places, and neighborhoods along route 23. A lot has changed since I started riding the route; it is now a bus route, and its length has been shortened by about 1/3. But it is still the most used and the most diverse SEPTA route, and this arts program is designed to explore just that. Watching the various dance videos and seeing the artwork and photographs that are a part of the project made me remember all of the discoveries and realizations about my city that that route has allowed me to see and experience for over a half century. It connected me once again with important parts of my past and helped me consciously appreciate the role that something as ordinary as a public transit route has had and can still have on a person's life. The link to the “Along the 23 Project” is below. I hope you get to visit the project and think about the role transit and other seemingly ordinary things have had on your own life. For the ordinary is often what makes the extraordinary possible. At least that is how it has been with me and the 23. Enjoy  

Make Music Philly  

 Organized by the Make Music Alliance and Make Music Philly, Make Music Philly is a city-wide event that recognizes the solstice, and celebrates humanity and our unique ability to make music in many different forms and styles. It is an interactive event; you participate in it and don’t just view it. Check out the website ( ) There you can find listings of events to attend and participate in, whether it is singing with a barbershop quartet, being part of a drum circle, exploring a particular culture’s national music, or more. Check it out-get active and celebrate one of humankind's longest and most ancient traditions by making music, Philly, on the day of the solstice.