Art + Soul Food in Brewerytown

As a former resident, and general fan, of Brewerytown I decided to venture down the trolley tracks of Girard Avenue to the Art + Soul Food Fest. Rain had threatened earlier in the day, but clearing skies and a break in the week’s overwhelming heat supplied a lovely day to be on the sidewalk.


The immediate attention-draw of the event was the band setup outside the MM Partners office at 29th and Girard. They were not only the loudest portion of the fest, but they had a pretty decent crowd gathered and at one point laid down a solid Black Keys cover: a little blues on the side of your soul food.


Once out of the band’s immediate orbit, the crowd thinned and there were large gaps between the stores, food trucks, and craft sellers who had setup on the two block festival stretch. As my wife and I took laps of the area and checked out all the businesses and two of the art galleries that were open, a picture of Brewerytown’s status came clear. It’s no longer the over-hyped “next hot neighborhood” that Westrum and others tried so hard to promote five or so years ago. It’s a neighborhood awaiting its moment, awaiting that critical mass of creative, engaged people who will create vibrant businesses in the gaps. There is already a strong base; this is no blank slate waiting to be transformed.


Businesses like Best in Show Grooming were out on the sidewalk with very cool Phillies themed dog cookies and were quick with advice as I quizzed them about my own dog’s quirks. Butters Soul Food was busy winning friends with free fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. One of the new faces since my days living on Girard Ave, Colorwheel Bike Studio, was a bit of a bike-parts jumble, but nonetheless a very living and welcoming space.


I ended my wandering at Mugshots where some finger foods and beer were provided in the backyard to celebrate the end of another Art and Soul Food fest. I couldn’t stay long as there is no sidewalk access to the back and they don’t allow dogs to pass through the café (might want to rethink that one), but it’s still a gorgeous space to have a coffee, or in this case a Yards Brawler.
The event was hopeful and aspirational, and I’ve got to give it to Brewerytown for sticking with it. The beauty of the restored “Lein’s” stained glass above the Mugshots entrance provides a telling contrast to the boarded up remnants of George’s Pizza one door over. These neighbors tell of the two steps forward, one back pace of neighborhood progress in the Recession-era. It can test the patience, as we’d all like every neighborhood to be exploding with progress, but it’s important to keep an eye on the step forward and continue aspiring to another.

Calling Planet Germantown

So I fear that this blog has come no closer to having a coherent focus or even attaining a guiding principle. But the half dozen of you who wander here every now and again need something to read.

So as I covered in an earlier post I am a newly arrived resident of the Germantown section of Philly. It’s been a transition, as I’m used to living much closer to Center City, and Germantown’s public transit access to downtown leaves something to be desired. A trip on the 23 bus, probably the most direct route, takes a solid 45 minutes during the day (maybe it’s quicker at less busy times). The regional rail is fast, clean, and runs somewhat late into the night. The drawback is that it’s $7 roundtrip. This isn’t astronomical by any means, but it definitely tempts me to jump in my car instead.

So all of that to say that I’ve been trying to get to know my new home neighborhood. It’s definitely got plenty of history, mostly of the Revolutionary War variety. BUT there’s also one badass avant-garde jazz crew called the Arkestra that still holds court up here on Morton Street. It was founded and led by the super badass SUN RA himself, but since his passing it has been kept together in a smaller form. So this dude claimed he was from Saturn and made some wild freeform jazz back in his day. They lived together in a commune any hipster could be proud of, and just took in musicians and friends along the way. The house isn’t open to the public (bummer), but we can all hope that Germantown will latch onto this slice of history and promote the hell out of this chunk of coolness someday.

So I bring to you Calling Planet Earth:

Germantown Urban Farm

garden
This post comes to you from the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Vicki and I have finally come to the end of the dreaded apartment hunt. Our new place is in an old Victorian mansion that has been converted into a small apartment building. Large old Victorians are a major part of Germantown’s appeal. The blocks are lined with standard Philly row homes and turn of the century stone houses with the coolest wrought iron fences. The Belgian block main strip, Germantown Ave, has a ton of charm. The southern portion of it hasn’t experience the renaissance that it has in Mount Airy, but the architecture is certainly there waiting for some creative entrepreneurs.
Like a lot of neighborhoods, this one has seen better days, but its also seen worse. Ever since I first visited Germantown I noticed the relics of a serious garden culture. In mid-summer there are large and often overgrown flowerbeds that stand in such contrast to the concrete aesthetic of most of our fair city.
The building we will be living in is within walking distance of one of the coolest extensions of this garden culture, an urban farm. It would be shortsighted to call this a new part of urban living, but it’s a cool rediscovery of an old way of life. As immigrants from rural areas have aged or moved away, this connection with the earth in an urban setting has largely been lost until recently.
My friends Matt and Amanda own and operate a large garden on a piece of land I’d estimate to be somewhere just under an acre. The plot faces Penn Street, only a few blocks east of Germantown Ave. They bought the land last fall, and have worked tirelessly to get it cleared and prepared for planting. I’ve turned a few shovel-fulls of dirt in the effort, and the generations of buried bricks don’t make it fast or easy work. The past life of this land is somewhat of a mystery, but a 10 foot high cinderblock wall surrounds it on three sides. There are still trees to be cleared and debris to be removed, but what was an abandoned plot of land is quickly transforming into Philly’s newest farm.
Matt and Amanda had six chickens last I visited, but they hinted at a possibility of adding some more hens to the flock (or whatever a group of chickens is called). They’ve also got a hive of honeybees to make the sweet stuff.
With so much work left to do there aren’t any concrete plans for selling the produce they grow on the land, but some local restaurants have expressed interest in some locally grown veggies. Lets just hope this is the first step in a thriving local connection.
hens

rows

Craigslist Scams

Over the course of the past few months I have found myself perusing Craigslist more than normal. I am simultaneously looking for a new apartment here in Philly and searching for a new job. These searches have yet to yield any great results, but I have come across several scams. The first scam I encountered involved a job posting for an English tutor for a boy from Spain. This scam is well documented here.

phoenix pic
The second scam I encountered may be new, or simply not pervasive enough to have much coverage. It involved a condo rental in an amazing location in The Phoenix on the Ben Franklin Parkway. It was priced at about $850 for a one bedroom which is a damn near impossibly low price, but just high enough that I took the bait and emailed to schedule a showing.
Almost instantly I received an email in return that said they would not be accepting appointments without a credit check. This isn’t an unreasonable request, but the scam is this: they provide a link to a free credit report site and ask that you get your report there. However, it isn’t a reputable site like http://www.freecreditreport.com. Instead they are hoping that you will go to that site and enter all of your sensitive information. There may simply be hidden fees, or they may empty your bank account.
I smelled the scam and didn’t go to the site, but my suspicions were confirmed when I received the same form email for another condo rental on the Philly waterfront.
Be careful out there, and happy Craigslisting.

Recession Special: How to do good stuff cheap.

We’re in what they’re calling a recession people, and 8.9% of us are collecting them Obama-bucks in the form of unemployment compensation. Recession specials are the new “green” in the world of marketing, but most of it is pure B.S. Never fear my friends, I bring you some deals that’ll make your broke-ass heart skip a beat (but hopefully only one cuz none of us have health insurance).

This entry comes to you from the 900 block of South Philly’s Passyunk Ave. My friend Chris and I met up to discuss the finer points of unemployed living, and inadvertently discovered a nasty one-two punch for the discerning (and broke) drinker.
The evening began at the Royal Tavern. They offer 1/2 price on their solid draft lineup between 3 and 7pm on the daily. I kept it pretty close to home with a Brooklyn Brown Ale and Phila Brewing Co’s new Fleur de Lehigh, both at $2 a pop. The menu was worthy, but gastropub prices aren’t friendly to the unlucky 8.9% of us.

Next up, a 10 step trek to The Dive
Dive
As the name suggests, this place is bare bones. There’s a long bar in a narrow rectangular room, a bartender in a GG Allen t-shirt, and a proper amount of disdain emanating from the regulars. The Dive offers everyday value like the ever-classic can of PBR for $2, but in keeping with our “doing good stuff cheap” theme, they also offer a $2 beer of the week for happy hour. This week’s offering is Abita Strawberry Lager. It’s a lot sweet for my taste, but it did a hell of a job washing down the free pizza. What? Free pizza? Yup! From 5-7pm there’s a stack of pizza boxes full of slices that are free for the taking (honor system, 2 per customer). Finally, if all that pizza and strawberry beer isn’t doing the job quickly enough for your alcoholic ass, get a $4 Black and Blue special: one can PBR and one shot Jaegermeister.
With deals like this, me might just make it through this after all. Good luck.

Some Lines I Typed on an old Dell

philly fogThis is the first poem I am posting on this blog. I hope to post short poems here somewhat regularly. I don’t want to do this because I am a poet, as I fail miserably in that regard, but more as an expression of what I think American poetry is lacking. I instantly apologize for the presumptuousness of that sentence, but let me explain what I mean. Poetry in the United States has become a very academic art form. Poetry has no place in the popular American consciousness and everyday speech. I blame this largely on the clichéd perception of the poet as an endlessly near-suicidal and perpetually dark/disturbed loner artist. The idea that poetry comes only from these eccentric (and fictional) characters makes it easily dismissible as out of reach or worse yet, out of touch. Throughout history the great poets have been common folk figures such as peasants, soldiers, workers, musicians, mothers, brothers, wives, and husbands. We have to remember that poetry has been carried in the oral tradition for millennia; it is only recently that we put it in books that sit on dusty university library shelves.
My mission is to write some short poems and include a brief sketch of my time and place as I came up with the lines. They will be unpolished and likely of quite poor quality, but I hope to show that poetry can be a natural human response to existence rather than the rarified territory of some depressed unrelatable loner.

I was in my car with my dog driving down Kelly Drive here in Philly. For those unfamiliar with the area, it is a very windy road along the Schuylkill River that runs from the Art Museum all the way to the northwest corner of the city. I was thinking of a review I had read the day before of Terry Eagleton’s (Marxist literary theorist) newest book, “Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate.” Just as I was thinking of this I rounded the curve that usually brings the skyscrapers of Center City into view. However, anyone who has been here in the last few days can tell you that clouds and rain have been a constant companion lately. I couldn’t even see the giant squared-off behemoth that is the Comcast building. So as I thought about the way in which our most logical endeavor (science) is still preempted by all sorts of assumptions, and our concept of God is so dependent upon an infinite number of constructions, traditions, dogmas, and prejudices I made the connection between this frustrating subjectivity and the clouds that were blocking my view. Mix that with any number of ideas I have encountered in recent years from professors, philosophers, music, and a Rabbi at a synagogue where I was a janitor for awhile and out came these lines:

A face, place, or vapor?
The dark clouds of my ignorance
sit low and thick that the newly pointed grass is obscured.
But as buds are but lumps on a spring branch,
the plumb line is but perception
My mind has only my eyes,
And my eyes only vision.
What can I see beyond this illusionist’s fog?
The great beacon of the beyond,
or perhaps its emptiness?
Even I fail as point of reference.
As the boatman’s fog obscures
lantern light, marrow and soul.

Letters from Conspiracy Island

Damn Democrats and their swine flu pandemics engineered to turn America into one big pinko commie drum circle!

I don’t know which is scarier, an elected official actually saying that or the fact that I could name several people who I guarantee saw this video and said to themselves, “Damn! She’s right. I knew that Obama was trouble.” (side note: it was actually Gerald Ford, a Republican, who was President during the last swine flu panic to end all panics)