Road trip to the unfamiliar tests patience and allergies

September 04, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

LAST WEEK I ended this column with an account of my father's family-packed Rambler as it departed Kennett Square, Pa. The story picks up today as we crossed into Philadelphia, Labor Day, 1963.

I'll say that rarely did my family indulge in automobile trips, the sole exception being the line drawn between Baltimore and the Atlantic Ocean resorts we all knew by heart.

Other destinations were problematic. There were just too many of us - eight - and our patience on the highway was severely limited. I also believe that Baltimoreans are severely unaccustomed to travel and chafe at places they don't know well.

But, after all, we were going from one city to another, so how different can they be? Even at the sleepy end of summer, the Philadelphia we encountered 39 years ago seemed like a more progressive metropolis, busier than Baltimore, but only if you measured in quarter inches.

We stayed downtown, at the home of my mother's friend, Bertha Hollander, who had a restored rowhouse near a park called Fitler Square. We thought the whole environs of Center City Philadelphia was the epitome of urban sophistication.

I knew I was no longer in Baltimore when the beer signs at the local tavern proclaimed Ortlieb's and Schmidt's. The bus and elevated fares were higher, and the people did not seem quite as friendly as those encountered around here. Wanamaker's store was also less personal than Hutzler's or Hochschild's.

We got into trouble shortly after we landed. My sister Ellen suffered an allergic reaction to the salmon our highly conscientious hostess prepared for her batch of Roman Catholic friends arriving on a Friday. The next day was my turn to stage an allergic fit - a violent hay fever attack and several hours of heavy sneezing at the Franklin Institute Science Museum. There the curators had set up a kind of smell-a-rama sensory exhibit wherein I had a reaction to the mothball inhaler. It all seems funny now, but it wasn't at the time.

Saturday afternoon we had a road trip. This was the era of the great shopping center and the Rouse Co. was then bellowing the success of the newly opened Cherry Hill Mall. This seemed like a cool place to try until my sister Ann got separated and lost in its huge Woolworth's, a store far more confusing than anything on Lexington Street.

Locating her was complicated by the presence of a band of zealous animal rights protesters who didn't like the amount of water being given the parakeets in the pet department. As my mother searched for her lost child, the store's overhead water pipes burst and drenched the caged birds. My sister was safely located and we drove back to Center City Philadelphia.

Then I muddled things up again by snapping a key off in a front door lock in the late afternoon of Labor Day Saturday. Once the locksmith undid my damage, the only restaurant remaining open was the Horn and Hardart cafeteria in the downtown YMCA where we dined, happily, under the fluorescent tubes.

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