“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”
William Butler Yeats
“I think the thing to do is to enjoy the ride while you're on it.”
Franklin P. Jones
So I drove out the H-1 this morning and picked him up.
It was a quiet ride. I did most of the talking.
He didn't criticize my driving, or suggest a better route.
He wasn't preoccupied with a list of "things to be done" and "things to worry about."
We stopped at the drive-through at Wendy's, and parked under a tree while I had lunch. He didn't want anything.
I remembered that some of the best times we ever had were in cars, including those diminutive English Fords he used in his route. He drove through the various ethnic neighborhoods of Philly selling dresses, housewares, and small luxuries to housewives on the installment plan. They bought some, they paid some; Poor Italians, Poles, "Negroes" (as polite folks called them then). He knew every corner in our "city of neighborhoods."
And everybody knew my Dad, albeit under a variety of "street names." I remember:
"Johnny the Dress Man."
Sometimes, like over winter break from school, I'd ride beside him, piled in with all the "merchandise" and all the notebooks, tools, and empty soda bottles that made up his "office."
My schoolmates remained safely in suburban ignorance, but I knew the grit, cobblestones, trolley tracks, corner "tap rooms" (bars/pubs) factories, and older housing stock of the city." I also knew that everyone was not Caucasian.
At Christmas the housewives clucked over me, and fed me cookies from every culinary tradition in town! Not my favorite Chinatown, though, as that was still a mysterious and impenetrable enigma broached only for "Chinese" food (the nectar of urban life!).
When I saw this exact "salesman dad/ride-along-kid" vignette on-screen in the film "Avalon" I felt as though I was watching a home-movie! The time period, and Baltimore row houses were PERFECT!
Later, Dad got up before dawn to deliver fresh-baked Italian Rolls from the Amoroso factory. This was his transitional period. I remember riding in the big truck, and learning how HEAVY bread could be!
"I wake the birds up every morning," He said, and it was true!
A changing society saw America's cities burst into flaming Summer "race" riots.
It was a far cry from my "Martha & The Vandellas (female vandals?) 'Dancing in the Streets' growing-up years. I was SO proud that they sang "Philadelphia PA now" in the list of places where folks were "dancin` in the streets!"
Now, even we no longer felt safe in certain areas.
I'm very glad I knew that vanishing, blue collar city of breweries and lunch buckets before the decay of the 70's, and subsequent gentrification, changed my grandparent's red brick city forever.
So today I ate "street food" in the car like we always did.
Dad didn't mind.
I thought of all these memories, and more.
There was even a tear shed.
Though the Hawaiian music station was playing on the radio, I seemed to hear DooWop being sung by some kids on a corner somewhere.
My Dad, the poor kid from the streets of West Philly (neighborhoods, corners, high schools are important)
awoke his most recent mornings in sparkling Waikiki.
"Not bad for two kids from the city!" He'd tell Mom.
Last Fall, we watched the Phillies (complete with Hawaii player Shane Victorino!) win the World Series from Mom & Dad's "beach apartment."
After the bread, he got into the janitorial business.
Many were the exhausted ultra-early morning, or ultra-late at night, rides we took through our sleeping city together, surrounded by our mops, and rags, and keys. I still have a proprietary love of buildings that Kona couldn't satisfy. Luckily, my Honolulu has a gracious crop of many storeys and vintages!
Often we'd stop somewhere to grab a bite to eat, as today. I thought of all those rides as I ate: rides to school, to hospital, "down the shore" and even college visits. There were tense rides, and fun rides.
Winter & Summer; youth and middle age.
Today I had my last ride with Dad;
Bringing his ashes home to Mom
and to Waikiki. . .
A L O H A! Cloudia