Visiting Trane

A stay in North Philadelphia turns into a visit with John Coltrane.

It’s always a special treat when serendipity pays a visit. Even more so when there’s music involved.

Exploring North Philly Neighborhoods

I needed to drive to Philadelphia and get an overnight place to stay this past Friday night. Having had some interesting, and mostly rewarding, experiences using, I searched for a place near Fairmount Park where most of our FreeWalkers’ Philadelphia Marathon Walk would be taking place early Saturday morning. Using Google Maps and Airbnb reviews, I found a place in Brewerytown, a section of North Philly I knew nothing about.

The Airbnb photos and reviews were good for a simple, private room on N 32nd St. and plenty of parking. Best of all the cost was only $50 for the night! But, reading into the listing and reviews there appeared to be two items to reconcile. What was this section of town like? And, what did the possibility of hearing CSX trains at night mean? No reviewer seemed particularly put out by either.

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Overlooking power plant and tracks, Brewerytown is in the middle city skyline in the background.

Using Google Maps, locating the place was easy and close to the highway. You could see  signs that this was a distressed section of town, but also signs of new building among old industry. As you might have guessed, this section of town had been home to dozens of breweries in the past due to its proximity to the Schuylkill River and the German population. Today only one exists – Crime and Punishment Brewing which I unfortunately did not get a chance to visit.

The neighborhood seemed similar to the gentrification I saw recently in Brooklyn. My place was a small front room of a new townhouse close to the street, clean and sparse with all the amenities available. The owner, Tyler, was a young friendly guy and highly rated by Airbnb.

Part of my interest in any Airbnb stay is to explore the area once I get checked in. You could see that this might be a challenge because its a mixed use area with old and new residential as well as industry and converted loft space. Parts looked cool. Parts looked threatening. Using Google Maps again, I decided to take a walk. Fairmont Park was close by. And, then I saw a map bubble for The John Coltrane House. Whoa, I had no idea he was from Philadelphia but I needed to know more.

Finding John Coltrane’s House

That CSX train’s tracks literally separated Brewerytown from another part of North Philadelphia across Girard Avenue and just a few blocks away on 33rd St. Even though this was adjacent to the park, it was literally “on the other side of the tracks” and looked badly neglected. Still there were signs for and about John Coltrane there, beckoning me to find out more. I continued walking to see what tribute was there to honor the great jazz legend.

JohnColtranesignI walked about a mile to an old section of row houses needing repair and saw the home and a marker outside. It read “The John Coltrane House” which is designated as a national monument. This place was formidable for his career where he developed his unique style and worked for a time with Miles Davis. The monument on the street did not reflect the place and the place did not reflect the monument.

John Coltrane
John Coltrane

According to the website John Coltrane House…

During the years (1952-58) that Coltrane lived on N. 33 Street, the house was often referred to as Trane’s House by many Philadelphians who were part of the jazz scene and by local fans that frequented the live music bars and clubs… (stories that) Coltrane played his horn on the front porch and in the park across the street are still told by old timers in the neighborhood.

It would appear there was an effort to renew and revitalize the place in 2012. What happened afterwards? Was it a lack of money or organization?

Coltrane had his bout with drugs and alcohol and moved to New York for his final years. He had recovered from his addictions and produced some of his best works inspired by a spiritual recognition before he died at the age of 40 due to liver failure. Some speculate it was from Hepatitis due to his earlier addictions.

It’s All About the Music

You may not be a jazz enthusiast or musician but I challenge anyone who has ever heard a riff by Coltrane to ever forget it. There is something otherworldly about his tenor sax that experts agree was unique and even spiritual. Here’s a sample of “In a Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington.

Let me say that I’m not a jazz expert but more a casual fan. There is something that’s palpably different with a saxophone, especially one so sweet and longing as “Trane” played. Coltrane died much too young but the legend lives on. How lucky am I to just step into the legend? It even forced me to review and learn about his life and music for this piece. I began thinking the old building may not make it but at least his music will.

The Legacy: A Love Supreme

Picture of St John ColtraneOf course, there is one piece that even transcends all his other great work and that is “A Love Supreme“, considered to be among the best jazz music ever recorded. Coltrane’s music was so profound that a church was created as Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco that mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes and a heavy dose of his music.

You can learn more about the making of a “A Love Supreme” and the special jazz talent he worked with at the time here with this NPR piece.

When you begin to see the possibilities of music,
you desire to do something really good for people.” 
-John Coltrane

Bumping into legacy of Coltrane was pure luck…or maybe improvisation? Just as John Coltrane might have played it.

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The Physics of Drafting in the Tour de France | WIRED

For those interested in the physics… Of course this did not help me much on my epic bike ride – solo.

Drafting decreases the overall power needed to ride at a constant speed or allows a rider to go slightly faster with the same power.


How the 52 Places Traveler Stays Charged While Chronicling the World – The New York Times

On the subject of tech and power supplies…

I found this article interesting for what to take on a long journey these days. I had a Sony a6000 with a telephoto lense, a cheap chromebook and a multi-port USB recharger which all took up some weight and space. But, considering I had most of that already, did not cost anything. I could plug in each night too. Every day I had to use a power back up unit for my cell phone because I relied heavily on tracking with Google Maps.

We can do better

Robert F. Kennedy’s family held a private memorial service for friends and family at the Amphitheater at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington on Wednesday, June 6, the 50th Anniversary of RFK’s death. For me personally, it was an inspiring moment in my life I will remember forever,

Preparation for a small ceremonial visit to RFK’s gravesite

I estimated the crowd at 3 to 4 thousand on that beautiful sunny day – fitting for the tone of the ceremony. I and a group of about 10 FreeWalkers members were fortunate to have been invited thanks to the generosity of Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, RFK’s first-born and mother of Kerry Kennedy Townsend, his granddaughter, who completed our Kennedy 50-Mile Walk this past February.

The ceremony was upbeat and inspiring with several choruses and two singers uplifting us with song. Most of the content of the program was many notable individuals reciting of the words of RFK taken from various speeches he gave throughout this life.

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and Bill Clinton

Kathleen Kennedy Townsend introduced the program while Congressman Joseph Kennedy III and President Bill Clinton were the primary speakers. Kathleen and Joe spoke of the man, his personality and his love of family. Bill Clinton spoke to RFK as a leader and his legacy.

Clinton went on to quote RFK, “Tis not to late to seek a newer world.” “But, we must speak to everyone with a feeling of love and an outstretched hand.” He summarized the spirit of Bobby with what he probably would have said if he were alive today at the age of 92, “We can do better. And because we can, we must.”

I can’t help but believe that everyone who attended the ceremony was moved to some degree and maybe recommitted to the ideals of RFK. His spirit lives on.


Here’s some video of the ceremony taken by USA Today:

Here’s a link to my Facebook album on the event.

Abraham, Martin, John & Bobby

It’s a bright sunny morning here in Washington D.C. But, there’s a feeling of sadness in the air as I get ready to go to a ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery to acknowledge and celebrate a life well lived but snuffed out much too early. Robert F. Kennedy died 50 years ago today in the prime of his life at age 42, leaving a family of a wife and 11 children and a nation so torn apart by meaningless violence from wars and racial strife. It’s sadder still because these things still haunt us today.

To me Bobby’s death was even more tragic as his political skills and awareness were ascending. His opinions changed as he awoke to the injustices around him. He always had enormous strength and energy and was known as someone who could get things done. By then he had cast aside the advice of his president, party and friends and decide that he needed to correct the wrongs on his own.

The only thing left was to convince a wary public that he could bring a fractured nation together. I don’t think anyone thought that it could be done. But, we all felt that if anyone could, it was Bobby. We hoped for the best. Our agony, even today, is that we will never really know the answer. Bobby had just won the big prize of the California primary and seemed destined to lead us out of the muck we were in.

The NY Times today had a piece about Richard Holler who wrote the Dion song “Abraham, Martin & John” in between the time RFK was shot and before he was pronounced dead only hours later.

He freed a lotta people, but it seems the good die young
But I just looked around and he’s gone.
Didn’t you love the things they stood for?
Didn’t they try to find some good for you and me?
And we’ll be free,
Someday soon it’s gonna be one day.
Has anybody here seen my old friend Bobby,
Can you tell me where he’s gone?
I thought I saw him walkin’ up over the hill
With Abraham, Martin and John.

I know we all had that feeling that nothing could be worse than what we have lived through. Or if it could, what would it be?

Having met his first-born, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, this past year and her daughter Kerry, my heart goes out to the entire Kennedy family to have to relive the tragedy again, if for no other reason than to know that we all share the pain and the loss of what might have been.



Soul Sister

Yesterday, I and a large group of friends, saw Jenn Popper off on her long walking journey from Cranford, New Jersey to Gouldsboro, Maine. I could not help but recall what it felt like for me on my past Epic Bike Ride when I started and what’s ahead for her. There was great joy in hailing the beginning of the journey along with a certain amount of apprehension on what is to come.

Kickoff of Jenn’s Journey North – Lenape Park, Cranford

To give you the brief background for Jenn’s Journey North, she is determined to channel her positive energy and good deeds to reconcile a bad experience she experienced a couple of years ago in a kayaking accident which took the life of her husband Michael. Among the abundant good will she has created and causes she has helped, is a JustGiving project for Michael Popper which has netted thousands of dollars for two of her favorite – FreeWalkers and East Coast Greenway. It’s a remarkable statement of generosity and empathy that I continue to ponder.

Jenn and Michael were a close couple that anyone could see really enjoyed our FreeWalkers walks and each other. To me, they demonstrated a certain joy in life that is hard to express, yet easy to see. A feeling I think we all desire. That made the accident even more tragic and unimaginable.

Michael & Jenn

Many people wonder why one needs to walk 800 miles, or in my case, 1600 miles on a bike. Our natural inclination is to consider the goal as the reason for taking on a huge challenge. Her efforts have certainly benefitted others and will earn her bragging rights. But timing is everything. And, then there is the journey itself.

I look back on my long ride, finished just a few weeks ago, and realize that this or any goal could be considered arbitrary. The effort could have been harder or longer (or shorter). Despite my period of bad luck in the beginning, I finished with a unbelievable streak of good luck for most of the journey. The nature of a long journey is its unpredictability.

A beautiful sunset I witnessed @ Sunset Pier in Key West

What I learned was that the most joy from the journey was being fully in the moment. You have a singular objective – to get to your next location. Things that you cannot control are accepted. It’s how you work with what you have that matters. There’s plenty of time to think and maybe even consider that life is just another similar long journey anyway.

A big hug goes out to Jenn with a mixture of empathy and jealousy that you are taking a great big journey that you will remember for the  rest of your life. Make the most of it. Michael would have wanted it that way.




Things you don’t tell your spouse…until its over (secret #2)

They are an unavoidable sight when you ride the highways these days. Those colorful markers on the side of the road that catch the corner of your eye. They seem to spring up out of nowhere and vary in all respects except for their purpose — heartfelt memorials to a tragic ending for someone who was loved.


Highway memorials, (also called Descansos in Southwestern U.S.), are markers that note a place where a violent death took place. They are commonplace these days and vary state by state. Most states recognize the emotional connection a family has to a victim of highway tragedy. But, they also realize that such displays of emotion can be a form of distraction which can lead to danger too. There’s a fine balance of sympathy, public service message and distracting signage here. And, that’s not to even mention the problem of family caretakers maintaining the site with flowers and other symbols of the loved one’s life.

I think I began noticing the memorial displays in the Florida Keys along 100-mile section of Route 1 (aka Overseas Highway), one of the more dangerous roads because of the amount of traffic and speed. There’s a conundrum here because much of the Keys has an alternate bike path that runs alongside 80% of the highway but traveling it by bike requires much more time. Riding the path means slowing for various cross streets and commercial businesses, which can make that path inherently dangerous too. But there are sections, like the Seven Mile Bridge where there is no alternative path but the highway.

Even for a bicycle, stopping to view or attempting to understand the origin of the memorial is not possible or even wise. Besides, there are too many of them. After a while they blend into the road and become a passing blur except for maybe a few unique ones.

Over the years, you may have seen a white bike, usually adorned with flowers, chained to a tree or sign with a memorial plaque. This memorial is called a “Ghost Bike” and symbolizes a cyclist meeting his or her end on the highway. These are particularly meaningful to me and I would guess to anyone who rides a bike. The message is clear: “This could be you. Be careful.”

While not as common or varied as the typical roadside memorial, they can be seen occasionally in places where you least expect them to be, like a quiet country road, a beautiful turn in farmland or just a normal intersection. There are roads that were constructed without cyclist safety in mind, but in the end, any road can be dangerous.

You can’t continue to ride a long journey thinking of the possibility of danger at every corner, but you can perhaps heighten your awareness and senses. My passing thought, and sometimes prayer, goes out to the one who lost her life, to the victim’s family and even the driver, for a mistake that continues to reverberate.


Big mistakes are avoidable but sometimes they just part of price you pay for taking the journey.

Opinion | Scott Kelly: How Tom Wolfe Changed My Life – The New York Times

I love this article on the power of words and motivation to enable us to reach beyond our limitations. I’d have to say both Tom Wolf and Scott Kelly had an affect on me too. Wolf for his brilliant observations of society and Kelly for his courage and openness.

Things you don’t tell your spouse…until its over (secret #1)

Living long enough to be a senior citizen, I guess you learn a few things that you might call wisdom. One of these is what to tell your spouse, and when. It has been almost a week now since I arrived back home. It’s time for transparency. Or, is this TMI?

Mary Ann, sorry this took so long but timing is everything…

Flipping the bike

I had just come from Savannah, after spending an extra day there to take in a few parts of the city. It was Saturday, April 21 and I arrived in Beaufort SC, my next Airbnb stay after a pleasant day of riding. It was also the day I ran into my bike shop friend at Lab Cyclery on the way here. Between the last couple days and new friends I had found, I was in a good mood and ready to go out and discover Beaufort, an old ante-bellum town just above Hilton Head.

Maybe I was feeling a little too confident. I had settled now into riding alone for this adventure solo after Tom bailed out four days ago. Since the tourist area was close I decided to put on some casual clothes, my flip-flops and ride into town, without a helmet,  and go full tourist. I would just take my time and disappear into the crowd.



The hub of Beaufort is a nice commercial waterfront area just a few miles from where I was staying. To get there I’d have to maneuver on Route 21 which is busy with not much shoulder until you get to the tourist area. Beautiful old southern mansions grace the road along the harbor. The town is fairly lively with mix of tourists, residents and prom attendees milling around. Looking or a place to eat I found Hearth Wood-Fired Pizza which seemed to be busy and looked like the real deal for good pizza in South Carolina.



After the pizza and a couple beers I decided to ride back on the safer bike path, rather than the street. However, it appeared that the bike path was being paved in some areas. So I decided I’d ride it until I needed to go to the street and continue.

I’m less than a mile away and all is well until I approach a dark area of the bike path. Then, before I can even react or brake, there’s a sharp drop off in front of me of about three feet deep. The bike dips down and sticks. I flip out in front and land on the other side of the ditch about four feet away. My forearm cushions my head and I take just a slight knock. The top of my right hand is cut in a few places. A slight cut is on my left hand. My legs are fine. Nothing needing stitches, thank God! Basically, I’m just a little bruised and very much shaken. But, I’m feeling real lucky and relieved. I’ll give partial credit to the luck of “The Joker” who came with me too.

Google’s Reasonable Facsimile of Me Flipping My Bike

The moral here is always wear that helmet, of course. I’m usually cool with that and rarely will ride anywhere with out it. But, I’ve ridden the streets of Amsterdam and even the Jersey shore where we tempt our fate sometimes for a fleeting feeling of freedom. Needless to say for the rest of the ride my helmet is on my head wherever I ride.

That’s me the next day – bandaged a bit but lucky to tell the tale