Enjoying Philadelphia

The Philadelphia Science Fiction Society had me as their monthly guest speaker on Friday night. The club has been around since 1935 and they put on the fine PhilCon, with the next one coming up in December (while I won’t be there in person, I will be jealous of those who are).

Longtime member and fellow author Darrel Schweitzer gave me some background on the club, which used to number nearly 100 people per meeting. The quality of guest speaker, he told me, was WorldCon caliber. Today, about 25-40 people attend the meetings and the quality of speak has been reduced to me. Still, it’s a vital group and they are making efforts to reach out and grow the ranks.

The meetings are held at The Citadel, a converted church right on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania so attracting college kids should be relatively easy.

For a number of reasons, Deb decided to send Robbie in her stead. We took Amtrak down late in the day and were greeted by Suzanne Rosin, the lovely lady who invited me. She played guide and host for the next 24 hours and was a delight. She brought us near the Citadel and we supped on fine Indian buffet. Afterwards, we wandered into a nearby used bookstore, the first of many to be seen. Robbie made it a point to look for my books in each location and then tried to determine if my books just didn’t sell or people liked them so much they couldn’t bare to part with them since he found nary a single one all weekend.

The business meeting was dragging on when I arrived followed by a break and then, just before 9 I was introduced. For something like the next 50 minutes I chatted entirely extemporaneously. I began comparing their business meeting to the RTM, debated the merits of the Phillies or the Mets acquiring free agent Billy Wagner and then reviewed the Secret Origin of Bob from age 6 through today. Later, Robbie mentioned he was genuinely interested since I talked about aspects of my career he knew little about. The other members of the audience seemed awake and alert so I was pleased.

I then took questions for nearly 30 minutes until Suzanne brought things to a close. Then, following tradition, we walked down the block to a diner. And despite said diner hosting this group every month and despite Suzanne stopping in after dinner to remind them we were coming and needed seating for 40 set aside…we were scattered about the place.

(Digression: the quality of service in Philadelphia left something to be desired. Our waiter at dinner couldn’t make himself understood or understand Suzanne’s questions. At the diner, despite having a discussion about chocolate cake with the waiter, he brought me a lady finger cake without a speck of chocolate to be seen, before dropping an entire tray of entrees. Our hotel reservation got screwed up by not having a non-smoking room set aside or accepting the billing arrangements made in advance. At breakfast, the hotel waiter brought me one-third of the menu item as described and seemed surprised when I asked for the rest of the items.)

Robbie sat at “the cool” table he related later. I sat with the slightly older generation and had a fine time until about 12:30 when Suzanne brought things to a happy close.

On Saturday, she collected us around 10 and we debated what to do. All Robbie wanted was an authentic Philly Cheesesteak. He wasn’t into museums but did want to see today’s Philadelphia (having toured the historic sites 4 years ago). When Suzanne mentioned ESP, he got interested.

Eastern State Penitentiary is America’s first prison, built around the notion of isolation to allow prisoners to repent their sins. Closed in 1971, it avoided being torn down in favor of historic preservation. For something like two hours, we toured the place, using an audio guide, largely narrated by Steve Buscemi. It was terrific and I highly recommend anyone vacationing in the area to check it out.

Afterwards, we hit a used bookstore, got Robbie his cheesesteak and then hit two more bookstores before returning to Amtrak. Our train arrived an hour late but the ride itself was comfortable and uneventful (although, with less than 200 pages to go, I was beginning to wonder if Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was ever going to reach a conclusion). He headed straight to the Community Theatre upon our return to Fairfield while Deb and I had dinner and played catch up.

And today, today it’s laundry and leaves. Swell.

3 comments

  • Tom Galloway

    Where’d y’all get the cheesesteak? In the Penn neighborhood, I’d recommend Abner’s at 38th and Chestnut, which opened up back in ’83 just as I arrived at Penn for grad school and which was still good when I was last there in 2001. Across the river, Jim’s is probably the best in the convenient to Center City area on South Street.

  • Marc

    Glad you mostly enjoyed Philly, Bob. Interestingly enough, way back in the 60’s, when my father was a psychology grad student at Temple University, he had an internship at Eastern State. It was, as you may imagine, a Scary Place.

  • I live right by Penn’s campus. I completely forgot you’d be speaking there, or I would have come.

    (Are you sure you don’t mean the PSFS meets at the Rotunda?)

    Did you catch the name of the Indian restaurant? There’s a fairly decent one called New Delhi just over a block from the meeting hall.

    Sorry you had to learn about Philadelphia’s lousy service the hard way.

    Andy Holman