The Train to Philadelphia

The unencumbered train runs up and down the rails all day long. On Saturdays it starts once every hour from the Doyleston terminal and stops at our little Oreland station at the eleventh minute. We got on it and got an all-day pass and went out to the airport, changing in the dim, underground, misnamed suburban station. We saw the airport and came back.

We went downtown however, where there are: lots of interesting places to eat, a whole Chinatown, the Reading Terminal Market, other secret venues; all kinds of passageways, under, over, through—a curious warren, downtown Philadelphia; used bookstores, at last we found a big one, and should be locating more on next month’s trip; bubble tea at a really good place for when you are tired and spent; and so much to gaze at. Plus we heard the Wannamaker organ.

Macy’s claims the store these days. The six-story atrium houses the pipes, collected—from what I can tell—on three different floors. The console of the organ seems to have six manuals and three cubic feet of stops, at least. The thing is so powerful I bet they could destroy the building playing it. It really is grand. I want to go back toward Christmas and hear more bells and whistles.

A commodious thing it is to hear an organ in a department store. There is something about the informality, the people shopping, coming and going, the majestic indifference of the music. There is something also comforting in it: it goes with the creature comforts of the place: the opulence, the overabundance, the unhurried pace and the leisure selection. It is an odd thing, but not incongruous for them to have put a symphonic organ in the heart of a department store. It gives the department store a heart; it comments on the place.

It is a very odd thing because an organ is of all instruments the most churchly. Perhaps it is part of the contrasts of downtown. I love to go downtown because you see the dignity and indignity of humanity, you get the full scope. You see the bums, the cranks, the badly-uniformed security guards, the cops, the well-dressed, the overly well-dressed, the sloven, the suburban family, the aged, the noses, the shoes, the hats, the groups and pairs and all. You see people eating, people waiting, people working, people talking, everything you’d care to see. It makes me want to write fiction being around so many people—the most stimulating thing, and a perfect contrast with the excellent library solitude of most of my days. And there is something of God’s plenty, like Chaucer I suppose, in hearing that all-compassing elegant & expensive organ in the midst of every possible known good from all over the world spread out over a good bit of acreage of prime urban real estate while people wander, amble and dart through.

There is nothing like a city, where you get so much. And here we have Philadelphia to enjoy over the years, and not far away New York, and Washington a little farther, and Boston too. We were delayed by missing a train and having one cancelled. Two hours. No problem: there’s plenty to discover there and plenty to do.

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