Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

July 27-August 2, 2006

Cover Story

wanderlust
Staggering Home

It'd be an exaggeration to say I was hallucinating. Looking back, it must've been euphoria-producing endorphins, the ones they blame for "Runner's High." Except, this was the "Out-of-Shape Guy Walking Farther Than He's Walked Since Senior Year at Haddon Township High."

It manifested itself through taste buds. Deep down inside, I must've known it was sweat. But once it hit my lips, it was so good, that salt was. Even though the commemorative Vet-demolition T-shirt was twice soaked, and Cubs hat thrice drenched, the little voices said it couldn't be sweat. No. It was a message from the exercise gods.

"This is your reward," they said. "Make it to the end, and you'll taste this just before that frigid, blended margarita slides down your contracting throat."

So, with visions of agave plums dancing in my head, I motored on. Ain't nothing could've slowed me down. The bum ankle might've been tightening up but, oh no, I had to keep on moving. Otherwise, the voices testified, the past two hours and 38 minutes would've been for naught. "If you call a cab," they declared, "there will be no refreshing, ice-cold blended drink for you. Now, stop listening to us and focus on your mission." Fine, you win.

Let's go back to the beginning; as in, strolling out the front door of City Paper's Old City headquarters at 11:37 a.m.

The aim: Walk all the way home to East Falls along the same route you drive day in, day out. Write about all the cool things you miss when you're speeding by listening to Eskin prattle on about Phillies Suck This, or Eagles Should Do That. The easy-to-miss details that make Philly's real waterfront a highlight of city life. So no, watching the chicks jog by wouldn't be enough.

The iPod: locked into The Roots.

The Gatorade bottle: filled with water.

And margarita fantasies: at this point, nonexistent.

Second to Market. Market to Seventh. And Seventh to Vine, where, behind the 676 on-ramp barriers, sit hidden piles of trash — clothes, bags of rice, kiddie toys — that have eluded the attention of our city's sanitation experts. For months. Maybe years.

Take Vine out to the Parkway. Past 11th Street, where there's a killer billboard picture of mist rising amid rocks that doesn't seem to advertise anything. Across Broad where, on a hidden patch of grass, some dude's Hawaiian-print swimming trunks are jacked way too high as he catches some rays. The sight stings the eyes.

Then, go beyond the intricately designed Family Court building at 18th Street that seems too peaceful for the battles being waged inside. Fifty-six minutes in, the sweat's producing an aroma. (OK, stench.) So after grabbing another bottle of Deer Park, it's down the Parkway, past the easy-to-miss Greek statue on the side of the Art Museum that was dedicated on July 4, 1977, "from the cradle of democracy in the ancient world, to the cradle of democracy in the new world." I wonder whether the latter still holds true.

The four-and-a-half mile stretch of Kelly Drive ahead is daunting. Behind the wheel, it never seems this intimidating. Escaping the concrete jungle, the iPod hops over to Marley. The eyes are drawn across the street from Boathouse Row, to a flight of crumbling steps that poke out from the overgrown brush and hovering trees at Sedgley.

"Come hither," they hiss. No, I'm on the move.

"Dude, you have to check this out." I know.

Up about 15 broken stone steps I traipse. There's nothing but two shattered paths that lead into deep thickets of brush. I'm feeling all like Aragorn. Will a few steps lead me toward undead spirits who know of a miraculous shortcut? Not unless the contents of the crumpled Trojan wrappers at my feet failed, leading to unexpected, albeit supernatural, offspring. Get out. Quickly.

Back on the Kelly Drive path, I see Robert "Chief" Rasmussen's red minivan. I may be the last Philadelphian to meet the chief. After all, his sign indicates he has "been in this park 63 years." Chief, 79, is the man in these parts. It's the place where he's spent most of his life, the spot where he dumped some of the ashes of his late dog Ski. (When he goes, he'll have the other half buried with him.) After a couple of high school rowers bring him a free water ice, I ask Chief how it's different today.

"All this used to be stone." And I thought my feet had it bad.

Chief loads me up with a free bottle of water and bids me adieu. Within minutes, I come to a little sliver of park nestled between the Sedgley Club and another boathouse. There, Sean Roach had set up an easel and started painting the skyline. "I drove around for two and a half hours looking for a good place to paint from," he explains. "I even drove by here twice before I saw it. I mean, look at this!" I've driven by twice a day for God knows how long and never seen it. (And the view, evidenced by the finished painting he emailed the next morning, is among the best.)

Then, not even a quarter mile down the Drive, the sound of bongos are emanating from a pagoda atop a practically vertical rock face. Past the "3.4 miles to Falls Bridge" sign, over goose-shit-strewn grass, and beyond three statues of angels playing music, I walk under what turns out to be called Columbia Bridge, built in 1834 to prevent New York City from entirely monopolizing East Coast trade.

It's 1:47 p.m. The sun is beating down on my baseball hat and, my pace slowing, the mind-set turns from enthusiasm to wondering where the next milepost marker is. A few seconds shy of 1:48 p.m., my parched tongue reaches out over my chapping lips and tastes ... salt.

Or is it sweat?

Or, is it a margarita?

The next two miles become a blur.

I talk to Reggie Harris, a 41-year-old black guy from North Philly. He stopped on the water's edge seeking fishing tips from 76-year old Larry Strunk, a white dude who had two lines cast into the water. It's determined that, in order to catch the carp, catfish, eels or large-mouth bass, a 10-pound line won't do; you'll need a 20-pound line baited with corn, hot dogs or even soft pretzels to do the trick.

Mmm, pretzels.

Pretzels have salt.

One and a half miles to go at 2:08 p.m.

The iPod goes into random. First comes the Dead. Then, I'll be damned, comes Herb Alpert's "Mexican Shuffle."

The taking-in-the-scenery part of the tour ends.

It's pick-up-the-pace time, and as I reach Midvale a huge red pepper materializes in the sky. A mirage? Hell no.

Eight miles after it all started, Johnny Manana's is a matter of blistered-foot steps away.

The steep, half-mile homestretch up Midvale to a cold shower, a couch and rest can wait. I open Johnny's door, drop the water bottle to the ground and have a seat.

The bartendress, who gives no hint that she can smell the stank, asks what can she do me for.

"The coldest margarita you got," I say two hours and 57 minutes after leaving the office.

"Do you want salt?"

Oh darlin', if you only knew.

(hickey@citypaper.net)

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