“Surprise is not going to come to your house, knock on the door, and asked to be let in. To encounter it, you have to be out in the world and open to it.” Richard
“Move a muscle, change a thought” Anonymous
“You don’t miss your water ‘till your well runs dry” William Bell
Tuesday did not start out as a good day. I had in my hands my property tax assessment from the Philadelphia Property tax division, and I was not happy about it. My assessment had increased quite a lot, and I was sure it was too much. So I went online and got forms for both a new look and re-assessment, and an appeal of the assessment. I filled them out and had to get them to two different city offices. I was going to mail them, and then I remembered that Post Office schedules had become unreliable of late, and that mail delivery in Philly had also been hit by a crew of mail thieves. Reluctantly, I realized I had to go downtown and drop the two forms off in person. I was not looking forward to that at all.
Then I went outside to walk to the train station. The sun was out and gorgeous cumulus clouds were high and puffy and expansive in the sky. It was a brisk fall day, and in spite of myself, my mood began to change. When I got down to the train, I saw someone I used to see regularly when I was working and taking the train daily and earlier. He, too, has retired and we had a great catching up conversation. When the train came, we went onto separate cars, and I got out my book to read. Then at the Tulpehocken stop, a friend boarded the train, and I had another great “catching up conversation. She got off at 30th Street station, and I suddenly found myself in a good mood. I wen to the Municipal Services Building, was seen relatively quickly, and I dropped off one of the forms. The other form had to be dropped off at 6th and Walnut. As it was a nice day and my mood had changed, I decided to walk there rather than take transit. Wow!
As I was walking down Market Street, I realized I had not been on the East side of Market Street past Jefferson Sation in almost a year. I come to Jefferson Station on a regular basis, and I have visited my bank on 12th St and The Reading Terminal at 11th St. a number of times this year. But I hadn’t walked and traversed the east side beyond that in quite some time. And as I walked to the city office, went into my automatic “Downtown observer” mode. I love downtowns, and I really love downtown Philly. When I am in a downtown I am looking up, from side to side, and all around. As I walked east on Market Street, I saw both some post-pandemic changes that had happened to storefronts and buildings, and some things that hadn’t changed and brought back great memories I had not thought about in a while.
The Lit Brothers and Strawbridge and Clothier buildings are now part of the Fashion District, and they contain an inter-connected underground mall with a variety of stores and eateries. There is also a Giant Heirloom Market in the Lits Buildng-a supermarket on East Market Street! I spent some time in the market and just walking around some of the shops. And as I continued on Market Street, I began reliving some of my young kid days when my family would go the Thanksgiving Day parade, watch Santa enter the Lits Building on a fire truck ladder, and then go up to visit him and give him my Christmas list. We did that for years, often following that up with a trip to the Horn and Hardart’s Automat on Arch Street. The Lits building still looks the same, and I am glad that through all of the changes they did not alter its grand block-long structure. Downtowns need to hold onto some of their architectural history and integrity.
6th Street has the Visitor Center and the Independence Hall complex of historic buildings and museums for which Philly is so well-known. It was great seeing so many people visiting the area on a Tuesday and again hearing that mix of different languages that marks any downtown area in the country. I was able to give directions to a few tourists, and that always feels good. That is the teacher in me, and I love doing that. I also got to go inside the Visitor Center and see the displays there. I used to take my 7th grade classes there at least twice a year, and this felt like a sort of homecoming.
Finally, I reached 6th and Walnut, and I saw that that city office was in one of my all-time favorite buildings in any downtown: the magnificent Curtis Publishing Building. It is now a combination office space, condos and hotel, but it still has the original design and interior layout of when it was built in the 1890’s. It is a solid block-long building with marble stairs on the 6th street side. The stairs lead up to the lobby where one of the most beautiful and magical welcome spaces in any building anywhere awaits. There before you are wide marble floors and the stunning Tiffany glass mosaic of Maxfield Parish’s” The Dream Garden”-a whole wall of multi-colored stained-glass pieces presenting an other-worldly paradise, complete with waterfalls, flowers, trees and more. It is stunning! The mosaic was slated to be moved several years ago, but Philadelphians and the Pew Memorial Trust raised both money and a ruckus, so it is now owned by the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts. It has long been one of my must-go to places in the city-I can’t count the number of times I have been there and taken out of town visitors to Philadelphia there. It has “wowed” me for over half a century, and it still brings a sense of wonder and peace to me when I see it.
There were more wonderful things that happened, but I do not need to recount them all. Suffice it to say that Tuesday was an amazing and soul-satisfying day. I did not plan what occurred; it was not my doing. The important thing is that I was led to get out of the house and therefore get out of myself. That meant I could encounter surprise and let it lead me to re-experience some wonderful things in new ways. I could be moved and rescued from myself by the simple act of being open to what was around me. I had a great day in spite of myself. And I need to remember how that happened; being open to surprise.
those of you who are new to the mailing list and curious about previous
newsletters, go to our website and click on “John’s Blog” www.dukesofdestiny.com