Eastern Standard Time

I was passing through 30th Street Station in Philadelphia last Thursday, on my way back from Washington, and took a photo of one of my favorite details about the place: the early 20th century Art Deco-style clocks bearing “Eastern Standard Time” lettering. (You can just see Spirit of Transportation in the far lower background.)

What a beautiful little reminder of what a bigger continent North America used to be, and what a larger nation America felt like, before the time of consumer air travel, when we relied on the railroads to link together the far flung states of our ambitious republic.

I wonder, genuinely wonder, how many passersby see that “Eastern Standard Time” lettering and wonder about it from a standpoint of real curiosity or confusion about why such a thing would even need to be stated at a train station.

Enlarger of the common life

A few photos from my day trip to Washington on Thursday for Terri Schiavo Life & Hope Network purposes. It was a clear skies, beautiful sort of day. And I happened to walk out of Shake Shack and notice that Snap’s traveling Spectacles machine was vending their camera glasses to what was a fairly long line at one point.

And by the way, isn’t this just an incredible bit of poetic tribute to the U.S. Postal Service? This is how Americans used to conceive of their institutions and the public purpose behind federal and state government activities. How little regard we have even for the possibility of similarly lofty public purpose today:

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Messenger of sympathy and love
Servant of parted friends
Consoler of the lonely
Bond of the scattered family
Enlarger of the common life

Bethlehem

I visited Bethlehem on Saturday night. I’ve been to Bethlehem a few times, and like the place. The historic downtown area is my favorite from what I’ve seen so far, though there’s more exploring I have to do. After dinner with friends we visited the SteelStacks, the old home of Bethlehem Steel, which is today partially rebuilt as a tourist/convention center environment, and partially left in ruin as a monument to an America that’s come and gone. It was a fun, somewhat eerie, visit to a source of Pennsylvania’s 20th century spirit.

Shelter for the weary

I’m frequently passing through Suburban Station in Center City, Philadelphia on my way in or out of the city. Suburban Station hasn’t been meaningfully renovated since (I think) about 2000 or so, and it shows.

SEPTA has introduced digital signage for train arrivals/departures, which has been nice. Recently, brighter lighting has helped the underground station feel less dismal, but it’s also highlighted how grimy the place tends to be. Sometime soon there will be turnstiles installed for the new SEPTA Key program, which will physically restrict a portion of the station to travelers. But the atmosphere, generally, is depressing and sometimes oppressive. Both in the heat of summer and the chill of winter, homeless persons flood a place that’s designed to be a public square—a place for all people. The result is that the homeless get neither the aid or shelter they need, nor do travelers and visitors get the experience of a genuinely public space. That may change:

Though it has the highest poverty rate among big American cities, Philadelphia has one of the lowest homelessness rates, said Liz Hersh, director of the office of homeless services. Nevertheless, the number of people on the street is growing, she said, in large part because of the opioid epidemic. Along with the people without any shelter, Philadelphia has about 5,700 who reside in shelters or temporary housing.

“Three-fourths have some kind of substance abuse disorder or mental health problems and very often both,” Hersh said. “It’s a national crisis, and the wave has not yet crested.” …

Transit stations are obvious havens for homeless people. They’re sheltered, safe, and have amenities like bathrooms. The increase in the city’s homeless population has, in turn, led to more homeless people in places like Suburban Station during bad weather — as many as 350 in one day, according to a count last winter. It’s unusual, though, for a transportation authority to take so active a role in providing an alternative for a city’s homeless.

“SEPTA is pretty unique in major city transit authorities sort of embracing and stepping up to the challenge of homeless systems,” said Laura Weinbaum, a vice president at Project HOME.

Officials aren’t concerned the service center will attract more homeless people to Suburban Station, Knueppel said; they’re there already. …

When finished, the new Hub of Hope, a name borrowed from a much smaller seasonal service center also located in Suburban Station, will provide medical and psychiatric attention, legal services, showers, and laundry. It is expected to be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, with some weekend hours, year-round. Meal services will be available Friday through Sunday. If nothing else, it will be a comfortable place for people to sit and feel safe. It will be staffed largely by Project HOME workers and volunteers.

As important, though, is to create an environment where people can stop worrying about the immediate demands of survival, organizers said. That may make them open to more comprehensive services to address the deeper causes of their homelessness.

“Many times, these are folks who have been extremely vulnerable over a long period of time,” Weinbaum said. “If they come in, and we can nurture that feeling of trust, the hope is they will be open to other possibilities.”

Everything but the stars

I’m settling down after a week on of travel and hotels, so today I’m just sharing this:

“Generations brought up in centrally heated and air-conditioned homes and schools, shot from place to place encapsulated in culturally sealed-off buses, who swim in heated, chlorinated pools devoid of current, swirl or tide, where even the build-up from one’s own pushing of the water is suctioned off by vacuums so as not to spoil the pure experience of sport-for-sport’s sake… poor little rich suburban children who have all these delights, and living in constant fluorescent glare, have never seen the stars, which St. Thomas, following Aristotle and all the ancients, says are the first begetters of that primary experience of reality formulated as the first of all principles in metaphysics, that something is.” —John Senior

When most of us speak about “wealth,” too few of us mean “abundance in a holistic sense.” We often just mean, “stuff”. Or “cash”. Or worse, “expensive debt-based stuff”. Wouldn’t it be better to give up so much of the material things that chain us to a specific day-in, day-out existence, and pursue a life that lets us enjoy the wealth of nature (for instance) on a more regular basis?

It turns out that “having it all” means giving up a lot.

Oktoberfest at Frankford Hall

Spent last night at Anthem’s kickoff Oktoberfest at Frankford Hall in Northern Liberties. Lots of great Catholics of all ages came together for a night of fellowship and celebration, joined by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput and many others.

I’m impressed with what Jacob King and Megan Mastroianni and others are building with Anthem, which is an entirely reimagined Catholic youth and young adults initiative to build up the Christian community across Greater Philadelphia. I haven’t considered myself even a “young adult” for many years, but I’m happy to watch what they’re doing and hope it leads to lots of fruitful change for Christian life in this area.

The only thing I would have changed about last night? It would have been great if there was some scripture study time and confessions heard in some of the quieter spots of Frankford Hall. What would’ve been a more unexpected place for forgiveness and repentance than a beer hall?

Visiting the Museum of the American Revolution

I visited the Museum of the American Revolution in Old City, Philadelphia on Sunday afternoon for the first time. I’ve been looking forward to the Museum opening since news first broke a few years ago that it was coming. The way that the Museum has transformed what was a dead part of Old City (3rd and Chestnut) into an attractive, civically meaningful space is worth celebrating.

It was $19 for a ticket, and the entire space feels both traditional and modern, honoring the stories of the American Revolution in an uplifting way.

That was my impression from the visit: the Museum really tells the stories (plural) of the American Revolution as much as it communicates the meta-narrative of the revolution as a political and world-historical act. This was impressive, and I’m pleased in particular with the way that the story of the Oneida Indians is told, as well as littler moments like the incursion into Quebec and attempt to broaden the war there, along with the stories of prominent women and blacks in the war.

A disappointment was what felt like a propagandistic treatment of the idea of “liberty” in the American Revolution, one that spoke of liberty in the sense that it is ever expanding and implicitly destined for America to expand around the globe. The sense of the American Revolution as an essential conservative resolution, and indeed one of the only successful conservative revolutions in history, was not meaningfully communicated. There were some initial panels on the evolution of the idea of “American Liberty” as distinct from “British Liberty” and the historical role played by Britain in protecting rights—but there was not, to my mind, the necessary underscoring that the American Revolution didn’t represent a radical break with the past so much as a conservation of the best aspects and principles of ancient, constitutional self-governance and a fulfillment of Enlightenment-era ideas around the dignity and liberty of free peoples with respect to government. To some degree, I’m quibbling.

Overall, the Museum is an excellent addition to Philadelphia’s historical and educational landscape. It’s a substantial place of learning and appreciation, especially for visitors who have for too long suffered from too much kitsch in Old City and not enough meaningful history.