There is a deep mystery about Philadelphia. I shared with you a little bit of that in my first post from Philly, about my friend who couldn’t say enough bad things about the city but still insisted that he loved the place. I was reading up on Sun Ra, the legendary jazz performer and outer space traveler, who came to Philadelphia from New York in the late 60s. In his own inimitable way, he described Philadelphia as “the worst place in America” and “the headquarters of the Devil.” Yet he lived the last 25 years of his life in the city, and enjoyed perhaps his greatest acclaim during that time period.
Clearly, there is a paradox. For instance, take my last stop in Philadelphia last month, Termini Brothers. It is on 8th Street in Philadelphia, and if you’ve never been there, when I say 8th Street in Philadelphia, you’re probably thinking of some decently broad street. In fact, 8th Street is a tunnel burrowed through row homes. Not the worst neighborhood that ever existed, but undeniably cramped. You can hardly believe that a legendary business such as this exists here. But eventually, the tunnel came to rest at Termini Brothers, and if you note the picture up top, you’ll see that to the right, behind that fence, is an unusually large parking lot.
I came for the neon, and I snapped away for a good ten minutes or so, but sooner or later the scent of fresh baked goodies was going to get to me. I considered putting the camera in the car and indulging, but I figured, what the heck, I’d bring my camera along, too.
First of all, once you step inside, it’s hard to believe that this place is not, in fact, Heaven. The smell is intoxicating. Your eyes want to look everywhere at once, because there’s so much to see, so much history in the building, and so many things you want to stuff in your face. I take it all in for a minute and a girl with the name Brianna on her name tag steps behind the counter. She is smiling and friendly, completely contradicting the stereotypes of Philadelphia floating around in my head, the people who would boo Santa Claus. She suggests the cannoli, which I would certainly go for if my wife was with me and we could share. I briefly consider taking one home, but then I think it would be better to make a return trip with her. A cannoli at home is one thing, but one in a place this rich in history would be that much sweeter. For that moment, I chose a tea biscuit, which looked freshly baked and too good to pass up.
And then Brianna asks me if I’d like to take a tour.
The answer to that question is Yes, I would like to take a tour, please.
I even got a paper hat with Termini Brothers on it, which I already count among my prized possessions. So, in reality, the question isn’t if I will return, it’s when. Maybe this is what makes us keep going to Philadelphia. Sure, it’s rough in places, and I’m sure there are places that make you believe it’s the Devil’s HQ, but there’s definitely enough to balance all that roughness out. I’ll let you know when I go again, and I’ll let you know how the cannoli is.