Posted by Ellen

Blatt Tire and Service, at the north edge of Chinatown in Philadelphia's Callowhill district, deals with cars at a location long devoted to trains. The sidewalk grating is labeled as an emergency exit for the subway, and the overgrown overpass in the background carries long-abandoned railroad tracks that have been designated for a makeover into an aerial park like New York City's new Highline. 

The good news is: the car passed inspection.

Posted by Ellen

Philadelphia is standing in for New York City this summer during the filming of Paranoia, a thriller starring Harrison Ford and Liam Hemsworth and directed by Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde).

For example: here in Center City Philadelphia, on 16th Street near Locust, is a New York City taxicab, in a line of cars all bearing New York plates. Look closely, and perhaps you can make out the cars' back-up lights all lit up; this line of traffic was in fact moving in reverse, preparing for the filmmakers to take one more take.

A few weeks ago, this same outfit took over the Rittenhouse Square restaurant Twenty Manning for a day of shooting. Our own Joe Stein, who worked there, was told to take the day off but then called in early the next day to help clean up the mess that Hollywood had left behind.

Some of the people in this photo are extras who were supposed to be walking in or around this intersection as the scene was shot and reshot. Others of the people seen here are Philadelphians who just happened by, and who were supposed to be shooed out of camera range. I couldn't tell the two types of people apart, but the bossy folks wearing orange vests seemed very certain who was who. Somebody yelled at me and my mother to get out of the picture, and insulting as that seemed, we left without putting up an argument.

Posted by Ellen

The blimp sails past the Comcast Center, tallest building in Philadelphia.

Posted by Ellen

Two days ago, a major water main burst around the corner from our house, collapsing the street into a sinkhole big enough to devour a couple of Mack trucks. The water gushed out unchecked for five hours, flooding the street and the sidewalks and, of course, hundreds of basements. Our house escaped with trivial damage, but some of our neighbors' homes were devastated.

The crew from the Water Department described the event as a triple calamity: ruination of a major 48-inch water main, a gas line, and steam pipes. Young guys with the crew said it was the worst incident they'd ever dealt with; an older guy said no, it was the third worst.

Posted by Ellen

In hot weather, watering all this must be a serious chore. The greenery actually wraps around the corner from 22nd Street, shown here, onto Pine Street. Some of it is edible; all of it is awesome.

Posted by Ellen

Fifty-four arched windows catch the morning sun in this old building on Arch Street.

Posted by Ellen

I don't know how the story began, but this young robin wound up on a neighbor's doorstep the other day. People put out a bowl of birdseed, which didn't seem to interest the bird; it just sat there all huddled on the steoop, occasionally squawking for its mother.

Mama robin was in fact close by, keeping a watch from a nearby tree. Baby and mother chattered frequently, and occasionally mom flew down with some food for the baby.

A second young robin about the same size as this one was also in the area, hopping about and flying at least a little. Perhaps this bird on the stoop had lost its mobility after a flying lesson gone awry or some other accident.

Even though mama bird had not abandoned her stricken young, the situation was dire. Alone on a city stoop, the baby was at the mercy of neighborhood dogs, cats, chilly night winds, and thunderstorms. And if it couldn't fly, it would never be able to take proper care of itself.

I don't know how the story ended, but the next day the stoop was empty.

Posted by Ellen

The machine that's demolishing Mt. Olive AME Church in the neighborhood is something you can rent in New Jersey. The jaws at the business end of the thing are heavy-duty grapples; you rent a regular excavating machine on caterpillar treads, remove its digging bucket, and pin on the grapple. The two-tined jaw opens and closes against the stationary three-tined jaw, which is reinforced, as seen here, with a rod called, appropriately enough, a stiff arm.

The cultural and economic forces that are demolishing Mt. Olive AME Church and a whole host of other churches in the neighborhood are something else again. These church buildings, many of them built from stone like this one, have sat here for a hundred years or so, sometimes changing denominations as the nearby population changed. The latest wave of immigrants to the neighborhood doesn't seem very churched at all, and so the old buildings get put on the market. Developers snatch them up and tear them down for a chance to build several new houses at once, in a part of the city that's already densely built. New houses--row houses--sell readily here to people who want to walk to work and/or to stores and restaurants. The new residents evidently are not interested in walking to church.

Soon, the excavator and its grapple will be loaded on a truck to go back to the heavy equipment lot in New Jersey, and we'll see five three-story row houses rise up on this lot, with squared-off bay windows and ten-year tax exemptions.

Posted by Ellen

Felt like I was doing research for a tourist guidebook this weekend, hanging around the Italian Market. Shopped at Anastasi's, Fante's, Isgro's, and then it was time for a roast pork sandwich from George's with broccoli rabe and provolone.

But truth be told, the real significance of this kind of a weekend here in twenty-first-century America has nothing to do with research or tourist guidebooks or even with Philadelphia. It's all about blogging, of course. Bloggers can go outside and do a little grocery shopping and then eat lunch somewhere and then go home and sit down at the computer and type it all up. I apologize, I really do, y'all deserve better, and I'll try to do better by you from now on out.

Posted by Ellen

There was a lot going on this weekend in Philadelphia. The new Barnes Museum opened with $5,000 a plate gala festivities, but I dunno, I went to the 2012 Kinetic Sculpture Derby instead, in the Kensington neighborhood of north Philly.

There are lots of rules for the Derby: vehicles must be people-powered, "pilots" must wear helmets (under those beehives, no doubt), everybody must be in costume, and also: "Sculptures must be decorated in a recognizable theme, or unrecognizable, as long as it is glorious."

No electricity is allowed, "unless it’s human generated for spectacularness."

And finally, after hours of parading through miles of Philadelphia streets and attempting to cross a mud pit near the finish line, winners are selected from among the derby entrants. There is an award for nerdiness, another for artwork, another for most spectacular breakdown, and so on. But in every case, the judges are to choose "based on glory and glory alone."

First prize Saturday had to go to the weather, which was about as glorious as May sunshine can get. Beyond that, at this writing, I have been unable to find out who won but it is certain that there was more than enough glory to go around.