Every intelligent New Yorker should be compelled, once in so often, to run over to Philadelphia and spend a few days quietly and observantly prowling.
Any lover of America is poor indeed unless he has savoured and meditated the delicious contrast of these two cities, separated by so few miles and yet by a whole world of philosophy and metaphysics. But he is a mere tyro of the two who has only made the voyage by the P.R.R. The correct way to go is by the Reading, which makes none of those annoying intermediate stops at Newark, Trenton, and so on, none of that long detour through West Philadelphia, starts you off with a ferry ride and a background of imperial campaniles and lilac-hazed cliffs and summits in the superb morning light. And the Reading route, also, takes you through a green Shakespearean land of beauty, oddly different from the flat scrubby plains traversed by the Pennsy. Consider, if you will, the hills of the idyllic Huntington Valley as you near Philadelphia; or the little white town of Hopewell, N.J., with its pointing church spire. We have often been struck by the fact that the foreign traveller between New York and Washington on the P.R.R. must think America the most flat, dreary, and uninteresting countryside in the world. Whereas if he would go from Jersey City by the joint Reading-Central New Jersey-B.&O.; route, how different he would find it. No, we are not a Reading stockholder.
We went over to Philly, after having been unfaithful to her for too many months. Now we have had from time to time, most menacing letters from indignant clients, protesting that we have been unfaithful to all the tenets and duties of a Manhattan journalist because we have with indecent candour confessed an affection for both Brooklyn and Philadelphia. We lay our cards on the table. We can’t help it. Philadelphia was the first large city we ever knew, and how she speaks to us! And there’s a queer thing about Philadelphia, hardly believable to the New Yorker who has never conned her with an understanding eye. You emerge from the Reading Terminal (or, if you will, from Broad Street Station) with just a little superbness of mood, just a tinge of worldly disdain, as feeling yourself fresh from the grandeur of Manhattan and showing perhaps (you fondly dream) some pride of metropolitan bearing. Very well. Within half an hour you will be apologizing for New York. In their quiet, serene, contented way those happy Philadelphians will be making you a little shame-faced of the bustling madness of our heaven-touching Babel. Of course, your secret adoration of Manhattan, the greatest wild poem ever begotten by the heart of man, is not readily transmissible. You will stammer something of what it means to climb upward from the subway on a spring morning and see that golden figure over Fulton Street spreading its shining wings above the new day. And they will smile gently, that knowing, amiable Philadelphia smile.
We were false to our credo in that we went via the P.R.R., but we were compensated by a man who was just behind us at the ticket window. He asked for a ticket to Asbury Park. “Single, or return?” asked the clerk. “I don’t believe I’ll ever come back,” he said, but with so unconsciously droll an accent that the ticket seller screamed with mirth.
There was something very thrilling in strolling again along Chestnut Street, watching all those delightful people who are so unconscious of their characteristic qualities. New York has outgrown that stage entirely: New Yorkers are conscious of being New Yorkers, but Philadelphians are Philadelphians without knowing it; and hence their unique delightfulness to the observer. Nothing seemed to us at all changed–except that the trolleys have raised their fare from five cents to seven. The Liberty Toggery Shop down on Chestnut Street was still “Going Out of Business,” just as it was a couple of years ago. Philip Warner, the famous book salesman at Leary’s Old Book Store, was out having lunch, as usual. The first book our eye fell upon was “The Experiences of an Irish R.M.,” which we had hunted in vain in these parts. The only other book that caught our eye particularly was a copy of “Patrins,” by Louise Guiney, which we saw a lady carrying on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania.