Philly is a city of charm, too, and not just for Smarty Jones

May 15, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

I'VE BEEN chuckling about a breezy sports article I read this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer that drew a few comparisons between Baltimore and the Quaker City. The gist of the piece was that Smarty Jones, the favorite in the Preakness today and a horse based in the Philadelphia area, will be right at home among Baltimores rowhouses, traffic and general city scene.

This may be true, but the differences between the two cities only 100 miles apart have delighted me for as many years as I've been getting off a train at 30th Street Station. For starters, Philadelphia's principal railroad depot is a thing of grand ambitions, built on a magnificent scale that would have terrified Baltimoreans. We don't handle these huge piles well. In fact, in our lovely humility, we don't even try.

I can well recall how my grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan, born in Lock Haven, Pa., in 1884, escorted me on my first visit to the City of Brotherly Love. A civil engineer, he revered Philadelphia's great public works that would have been built when he was still a young man. He showed off the subway, the 69th Street El, the underground shopping arcades, City Hall, the John Wanamaker department store, the Ben Franklin Bridge, all as a preface to the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. I was in awe. We had little of this scale in poor old Baltimore.

Then, of course, he launched into Baltimore's known deficiencies. At this time, about 1957, we had no subway and mass transit consisted of two streetcar lines. Wags said the Baltimore Transit Co., or BTC, stood for Better Take a Cab.

Pops Monaghan's tour began to show some cracks when he took me into a Horn & Hardart automat. As a child, I went crazy over the idea of dropping nickels in a slot for pie and coffee. The concept was dazzling, but the eats were not.

Even then, I knew the difference between good food and the bland version served on Chestnut Street. After all, Baltimore had its own version, the Horn & Horn Restaurant at Baltimore and Guilford. To the day it closed in 1976, the food there was much, much tastier than its Philadelphia counterpart. The fabled Horn & Hardart baked beans would not have been allowed on the menu in Baltimore as they were served in Philadelphia.

I do give very high marks to several Philadelphia mainstays. The town's hoagies are vastly superior to Baltimore's submarines because of the crispy rolls routinely used there. Our sub rolls may as well be soggy kitchen sponges. We also tend to bathe everything in mayonnaise.

I'll also praise the town's public transit system known as SEPTA. Buses and streetcars arrive there to the minute. Baltimore's MTA is beat and broken down, a poorly financed system where low expectations dominate.

Now to the dangerous area of religious commentary, as both cities have tremendous Roman Catholic populations. I've observed Philadelphia Catholicism to be legalistic and rigid. In Baltimore, we are much more Southern, where every rule in the Church had a loophole we love to exercise. I've been told the reason for this is that Philadelphia's is an immigrant Catholicism but Baltimore's is an old colonial, more tolerant Catholicism.

I've also observed on my many trips to Philadelphia that it has to live in the shadow of New York. I don't envy a city that status. In Baltimore, we don't worry about invidious comparisons with any city, especially Washington, which many regard as a place of possible employment, but also a major irritant.

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