People used to ask if I minded the sounds of the street below our apartment in Princeton. I used to say that one became accustomed to urban noise. Little did I know. My physical therapist, who went to high school in Lawrenceville just south of Princeton, called Princeton “a sleepy little town.” Now that I’m living in Philadelphia I didn’t argue with her.
Sometimes the street lights from the square below our apartment in Princeton would shine in my bedroom. That was nothing compared to the scene above that goes all night outside my bedroom window here in Philadelphia. Across the river there are the lights of the railroad, then I-76, then Drexel, Penn Presbyterian Hospital, and sundry office buildings. In addition to these lights, there are two high-power beams on towers that seem aimed directly at my pillow. I love this scene at night, but I do have to pull the shades to get any sleep.
As for noise, on one side we have the traffic on Ben Franklin Parkway, on the other we have I-676 merging onto I-76. Many drivers think that honking will speed up the merge. Truckers blast their horns at the many idiots behind the wheels of automobiles. Across the river, railway marshaling yards rumble, clash, and clang day and night, with the occasional long moan at 3 am as a freight train passes through. Generally, none of this keeps me up or wakes me up. If I’m up, I do notice the ambient hubbub across the way. To think that I used to get irritated when the restaurant below our Princeton apartment forgot to turn off its muzak at night.
I’m also getting used to sights and smells that one does not encounter on the streets of Princeton. On my walk this morning to physical therapy, I passed a man standing in the middle of a busy street loudly lecturing the cars parked on either side. Across the Parkway the usual two homeless people were sleeping on the lawn under a tree outside the Rodin Museum. At least they seemed more comfortable than the man trying to rest with his legs over an armrest in the middle of a bench and his head on the hard iron one at the end. As I approached the door to the office building where my physical therapist works, another man stood in the gutter giving himself some sort of sponge bath under his uplifted shirt. At least he did not smell of urine like the man who sat across from me on the bus the other day. I almost said something to him as a fellow old white man, but remembered that one does not comment like that to strangers in the city. (Except in Madrid, where I remember a woman standing over a drunk lying on the sidewalk, loudly berating him for his sins.)
These sights, sounds, and smells are just the background to our new life in a real city. I’m also connecting to its many opportunities. Last weekend I was able to hear Sarah Sutton, Anne Mei’s former viola teacher, in a wonderful concert at the Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square. I’ve been going to meditation at the Tibetan Buddhist Center Thursday nights. Tonight Anne Mei and I went to a supper at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown, raising funds for two families in sanctuary at the church. There she met some of the New Sanctuary Movement volunteers with whom I’ve been doing accompaniment at the Federal Court House on Market Street.
We’re only getting started.