(View map larger HERE.)
I can’t give you a compelling narrative to frame the shape of my Independence Pass trip. My plans were loose and I mostly ignored them. By 7pm, I’d ridden 45 miles by bus, train and el and walked somewhere between 7 or 8. But a narrative? A lesson? Some great insight into the Philadelphia, mass transit, America, humanity? I got nothing.
I’ve spent my life building a mega-narrative about this city. This trip was a small part of that. Even without a nice 3-act arc, or some life-changing catalytic experience, it was still a fun day of interesting observations and imagery. You can skip straight to that HERE or you can read my blow by blow recap first:
I broke the only group rule we had before we even started. I had a quick event shoot early in the morning, which I drove to. That meant that after our meeting at Bill Gray… err, 30th Street Station, I drove back to my house, grabbed some lighter lenses, and headed to Germantown Ave to catch the 23. Forty-five minutes late and 10 miles from our official starting point, I was on the bus.
My first stop was at Allegheny Ave, where I headed east on foot. I drive this stretch a lot and have explored bite size pieces by foot, but I have never walked the two miles from Germantown & Allegheny to Kensington Ave.
At Bob’s Crab House on 3rd Street, I got my nickname for the trip: Philly Underground Paparazzi. The guy who gave me the name didn’t want his photo taken and I didn’t push it, so I guess I’m not a very good paparazzo. I did appreciate the name though.
At 2nd Street I stopped off at Freddy and Tony’s for mofongo: a ball of fried, green plantain and pig skin. I took it to go, and ate it at the always-interesting corner of Front & Allegheny. You can see a little of that in the photos.
From Kensington Ave, I rode the el to Frankford and the 14 bus to the northern edge of the city. According to maps, there’s a state park up there. I was there to confirm this strange rumor. It turns out the maps are technically accurate, but otherwise misleading. Without a trail to explore at Benjamin Rush State Park, I was pretty quickly forced back out onto Southampton road. Walking west across the Boulevard, I traced the former campus of the Byberry State Hospital/current location of becursed open fields and Northeast Philly “Maintenance Free” tract housing.
I’d run out of water and it was over 90 and muggy, so after about a mile, I sat under a tree and waited for the 84. To the west, I could get on a train to Olney and repeat my lunch from the 2009 installment of this series, or eastbound I could check out the mouth of the Pennypack Creek behind Holmesburg Prison on the Delaware River. There were some growing clouds in the distance and I was hungry, so I went west.
With a few minutes to spare, I debussed at Bustleton Ave and walked the rest of the way to the West Trenton Line’s Forest Hills Station. This part of the city was entirely new to me. Things of note I saw in the farthest of the Far Northeast included: a full size, fairly modern fire engine in someone’s back yard, an almost comical number of American flags, an abundance of vinyl siding, mysteriously red soil. If you’d knocked me over the head and I woke up there, I probably would have guessed that I was in Atlanta.
From Forrest Hills, the inbound train exited the city the and snaked through the NW crotch suburbs of Moreland > Abington > Jenkintown > Elkins Park > Melrose Park… Fern Rock, Philadelphia.
Trying to keep ahead of the rain, I made as straight a shot as I could by foot from Fern Rock to 5th & Olney. At 5th, I stopped in a Trinidadian restaurant where I got goat roti five years ago. The place was still there and it was still in the same family, but had different owners and a very different vibe. The dancehall DJ was gone, replaced with a bright and sparse dining area and a handful of tables. The roti was good—chicken—but better in my last trip. That said, it was still the perfect place to sit and watch a violent summer storm. The owners were curious about my sunburnt, sweaty and disheveled self wandering in with my camera, but didn’t want any photos of themselves for this article. Another Underground Paparazzi failure.
Still raining hard, I took a slow ride on the 47 to 8th & Market. I wandered a bit in the drizzle and got back on the el at 11th Street. I rode it out to 63rd for the classic photo op, then back to 40th to kill off the last 30 minutes with a slow stroll back to 30th Street. When I walked in the door at Bridgewaters, it was exactly 7pm. It’s worth noting that on this day, on my trip, SEPTA performed flawlessly. All routes were on time and stayed on schedule.
Now for the easter egg. How many of you read all that? To you, thank you and congratulations. For your effort and interest, I’ll give a free print from this series to the first 5 of you who write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. THANK YOU AND GOODBYE!
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