Monday, December 29, 2014

It's Christmastime In the City

I slept in a bit today. I didn't get moving until past 11:30. I wanted to revive my post-Christmas shopping trip. I did it once with Jessa at the Cherry Hill Mall, but I usually prefer to go into Philly. I enjoy the walk, the big Macy's, and the general festive holiday atmosphere. I wasn't the only one who decided to spend the day in the city, either. There were quite a few people, mostly college students or families with kids, taking the train into Philly with me.

Got off at 8th and Market. I briefly checked out Century 21, which took over part of the old Strawbridge and Clothier building. They looked like the same thing as Macy's - a high-end department store. Beautiful and elegantly spare, but nothing I needed (or my wallet could afford). I headed into the Gallery Mall.

Books-A-Million did have the third and fourth Ever After High books, one of the things I really wanted for Christmas, but not the first or the second. FYE was papered over with red and yellow 50-75% off signs. Sounds like they're giving up the ghost. I'm surprised they lasted as long as they did, especially with the larger Broad Street FYE within walking distance. I've gotten a few good things there over the years, but not as much as at Broad Street. I didn't see anything I wanted and went back out. I was hoping the Toys R Us Express would be open. Nope, it was shuttered. They must have closed after Christmas.

The sidewalks grew more and more crowded as I made my way down to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. What a mess! I'd never seen it so busy. I barely managed to inch my way through the teeming masses looking for a late lunch. I finally found my way to Tootsie's Salad Express in the very back of the Market building. They were basically a miniature version of Old Country Buffet, with a hot foods bar on one side and a salad bar on the other. I've stuffed myself so much over the last week or so that I wasn't really hungry. I just opted for a roll and a small salad. The college girl at the counter was very sweet. She said I looked familiar. Turned out she'd once lived in Audubon and had shopped at the Acme regularly.

Though she recommended some tables in the center dining area, I opted to take my salad and roll outside. It was chilly and windy, but sunny, and really not anything out of the ordinary for late December in Philadelphia. I enjoyed my meal at the sculpture park next to the Marriott hotel, across from Reading Terminal Market, while watching people eat their own lunches or play with their children.

My next stop was the big Macy's a few blocks down. They were even busier than Reading Terminal Market! I took the elevators up to the third floor. Though I'd like to buy some nice clothes eventually, for now, I used the gift card from Lauren to buy two new pairs of winter pajamas. One is a simple mint-green nightshirt with a white snowflake print. The other is a soft flannel berry plaid nightshirt. The green pajamas were about $18; the plaid nightshirt was on a really good sale for $10.50 (it was originally $42!). The 25 dollar gift card from Lauren covered all but five dollars.

I was originally going to watch the Macy's Light Show upstairs. By the time I paid for my pajamas, the crowds around the railings were three and four deep! I dashed to the elevators instead. The crowds were still heavy in the main room, but I at least could see over people's heads. The atmosphere in the room was electric. Even the teenage boy on my right oohed and ahhed under his breath as fairies danced, Santa rode across the top of the lights in his train, clocks tick-tocked, and teddy bears heralded the magical display. I could hear the kids' delight even around the noise of the customers.

Here's a recording of the Macy's Light Show from about three years ago on YouTube.

I ducked out of the stuffy room as soon as I could and over to City Hall. My next stop was the big FYE on Broad Street. There were a few things I wanted, though not as much as last year. The Broad Street FYE had been totally reorganized since my last visit. DVDs were now on the first floor. Anything related to music, including musicals, were moved upstairs. (Video games stayed where they were in one small section of the second floor.)

I really hit the jackpot with music. Moving the music-related media upstairs allowed FYE to greatly expand their record collection. They had a huge selection of used Broadway cast albums. I would have bought the contents of all three shelves if I had a way to bring them home. I saw albums for lesser-known or flop shows I never believed I'd ever have a chance to hear, besides digging around for occasionally pricey and often out-of-print or made-to-order CDs.

I made a rather nice haul there. The movies I picked up were the Back to the Future trilogy in the original DVD set (I've been meaning to get that for a while), the 1936 MGM disaster drama San Francisco with Jeanette MacDonald and Clark Gable, and last summer's version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The records were buy 2, get one for a dollar - everything else was buy 1, get one for a dollar. Which is why I grabbed six original cast albums and soundtracks - Tovarich (with Vivian Leigh), Bloomer Girl (with Celeste Holm), Anne of Green Gables, Two By Two (with Danny Kaye), Goldilocks (with the late Elaine Stritch), and the double soundtrack for the MGM musicals Words and Music and Good News. I also found one of those K-Tel pop collections marked down to a dollar.

(Incidentally, the other dollar items were San Francisco, Two By Two, and the Words and Music/Good News soundtrack. The Turtles were a splurge at $14, but I really did want to see that. I couldn't find the other recent action hit I'm dying to see, Guardians of the Galaxy. I may have to get that one online.)

It was 3:30 when I made my way down Walnut Street, past shoppers looking for big after-holidays sales. I took a few wrong turns, but I finally made it to Rittenhouse Square ten minutes later. I saw quite a few people chatting or playing with their dogs or kids in the park, silhouetted by the hazy gold late afternoon sunshine.

Barnes and Noble was busy too, but I was really just there for the Ever After High books. They only had the first two, The Storybook of Legends and The Unfairest of All, and the fourth book, a collection of short stories featuring the various students. I just bought the first two. I'll pick up the other two either online or at another Barnes and Noble next month or with tax return money in February.

I saw a coffee shop called Peet's Coffee and Tea as I was walking to Barnes and Noble. I stopped there to get off my knees and get a drink on my way home. They were so busy, I literally got the last seat at the counter! They were pretty much the same thing as Starbucks with a different label and more modern-style furniture. I wasn't impressed. My Iced Chai Latte was watery and the lemon iced pound cake was dry as a bone. I was mainly there to sit down and use the bathroom.

Took a surprisingly quiet 4:30 train home. I guess everyone got out early. As the train rumbled over the Ben Franklin Bridge, I was able to take in one of the loveliest sunsets I'd ever seen. Brilliant shades of crimson melded with deep purple in the soft blue sky over the traffic-laden highways and Schuylkill River. It was worth the trip to Philly just to be able to get a good glimpse of that marvelous sunset.

Rose called about a half-hour after I made it home. Though she did take Khai to visit his other set of grandparents and Craig's biological father on and the day after Christmas, she mostly spent the rest of the week sick. She says she only just got over the bronchitis yesterday. She also mentioned that she planned on taking Khai and me down to Cape May County to see that side of the family in late January, after Anny has her baby. She pointed out to me that everyone had to work. We're adults. Adults have to work over holidays sometimes. It's not practical to want to spend Christmas the same way all the time. I have to make new traditions.

On one hand, she's right that I need to not only find other things to do on Christmas, but figure out how to get to them. I'd love to go to the movies, but it would require a bus ride, and most soup kitchens are in Camden - not a good place to go alone, even on a holiday. I really need to work on making my own traditions for major holidays, with or without other people around.

On the other hand...she's missing the point. Unlike Rose, who has a son, a boyfriend, two dogs, and a cat, and can drive and see the rest of the family whenever she can spare the time, I don't have a family or a quick way to see the rest of ours. Christmas is one of the few times I can see most of my family in one place. I really look forward to it. Christmas is very important to me. It hurt me that other people couldn't try to make the effort to get together.

I cheered myself up with leftovers for dinner and Ship Ahoy, another Red Skelton musical I got from Lauren's Christmas box. This time, Eleanor Powell is the girl Skelton's infatuated with. She's a dancer with a troupe that includes Tommy Dorsey and His Orchestra (and Frank Sinatra) on a boat bound for Puerto Rico. Virginia O'Brian is her best friend; Bert Lahr is Red's. Red is a pulp fiction novelist on the boat for his health. He falls for Eleanor hard, but in a plot pulled from one of his own stories, she turns out to be a spy who is being used to carry an important machine to enemy hands. Things really get crazy when they all land in San Juan and both sides end up pursuing the lovers and that magnetic marvel.

This is somewhat similar to Bathing Beauty, but I ended up enjoying it a lot more. The plot is just as silly, but it's more fun and offers Skelton and Lahr some great comic opportunities. Energetic Powell and dour O'Brian both work a lot better with Skelton than Esther Williams. Powell was coming close to the end of her time as a major MGM star (she would retire about three years after this movie was released), but she does get some decent numbers, including one where she taps out a warning in Morse Code. If you're a fan of the stars, Sinatra, or big band music, this is definitely worth looking for at the Warner Archives. 

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