Friday June 19th – Matchbook #2 – Ortlieb’s – Philly Soul
There’s a big difference between a sense of place and a sense of belonging. One refers to a feeling in present tense, a brief moment when who you are and where you are meet cordially at a crossroad. But the sense of belonging is much different. It refers to a future, carrying with it the notion that whatever you put into a thing, a family or a city or town or neighborhood, comes back to you.
I left Baltimore on Friday morning, well rested on that comfy bunk bed. My next show was at Ortleib’s in Philadelphia. I’d play the middle slot between two bands formed from members of Plow United: (Joel-fronted) The Rentiers and (Brian-fronted, obv.) Brian McGee with a full band.
Conveniently on the way from Baltimore to Philadelphia was matchbook #2. Notice, again no address:
I decided to take the Pulaski Highway (US-40) out of Baltimore but after realizing it’s probably one long strip mall I hopped on to US-7, the highway running directly parallel. A few dozen miles down the road, US-7 merges onto 40, the route (perhaps) with Glasgow Arms Restaurant.
As I arrived into Glasgow, I searched for the restaurant on my phone but the results are mostly of vintage postcard sites. I scan down and see another search result highlighted, the 2012 obituary for John Sclavos, ‘former owner and operator (along with) his sister, a business that was started by their father’. I thought it was interesting that restaurant went through a similar ownership transition as Robertson’s in Popes Creek.
I drove back and forth on 40 a few times, passing the Walmart, the gas stations, the multiple fast-foods. There’s an old diner in the median. I consider stopping but opted for a garden center instead. Garden centers are the type of place that deal with a wide variety of their community businesses and this one seems to have been entrenched for a few years.
‘Yes, I remember that place but I don’t think it’s still around. It was seven miles west of here’
I drive seven and eight and nine miles west, nothing. I drive seven miles east then eight miles west. I stop at a Vet Hospital. I don’t know why.
‘I’ve lived here all my life and I don’t know of that place. I mean, I was born in the 70’s but still. Let me look it up on-line’
She finds the same postcards I do.
‘Maybe the Glass Kitchen is what you’re looking for. It’s an old diner in the median, a few miles east’
Shoulda followed my gut. I head back and take a seat. I order a tuna melt and ask my waitress Debbie if she’s heard of it.
‘Oh yeah. Real fancy place, had to wear a nice jacket and tie, you know. But it’s closed down now. The original owner gave it to his daughter Mary and she ran it for a number of years. It was right there out the window, right across from The People’s Plaza’
‘She sold it to someone who didn’t bother trying their hand at the business. They knocked it down right away and put in an Arby’s. Real fancy place’
Is there a place like that around here now?
‘Nah. You’d have to go to Wilmington for something like that. You’d have to go to the college town, you know how they are. Boring’
Pardon me, I didn’t catch that.
‘A bunch of bores. HA! Ya know, if ya want, the former owner is a regular of mine. I can ask her all about it’
I leave my number. Thanks Debbie.
I take US-13 into Philadelphia, slow going but interesting seeing up close what I normally see from several hundred feet, if not miles, away. As I drive, I start thinking about the previous night’s show and plan out a little different performance. Some of my favorite shows are the ones where I play a song and then tell a little piece of a story and then play another song and then add a little bit more to the story. It’s fun for me to do and keeps me loose but focused.
I decide to tell the story about what I’m doing on this trip, about the matchbooks and about what I experienced that day in Glasgow. I’m not sure about the end yet, how I can sum it up. I write down a ‘Talk List’ not a ‘Set List’. Song-wise, I’ll see what happens on the spot, what the place and crowd draws out of me.
The show is at Ortlieb’s, a former jazz club and brewery. I make a left and then a right and find myself in an area that is going through heavy construction for new semi-modern apartment buildings. I wonder if it’s a local architect. In the middle of all of that poured concrete, rebar, tyvek and shiny new windows is a thin 100-year old three-story brick building with a vinyl awning and a sign: ‘Ortlieb’s’.
Inside, there’s lots of classy wood and redness, many original fixtures and signs. There’s four table-tops enclaves to the left and a long bar to the right. Straight ahead is a door that leads to the back room where the shows happen. This is my favorite bar/venue arrangement. I prefer the music to happen in a separate room.
I played my set and felt great afterwards. The song selection happened on the spot in between natural breaks of the story. The ending also happened kinda naturally too. I told the crowd what I love most about Philadelphia: when you walk around, there’s a ton of locally owned businesses, ones that have been there for decades. For me, there’s a feeling of a very true personal investment started a very long time ago. Is this where the soul of any town comes from: interactions between people and their space and the other people around them?
I had a tremendous sense of place that night. Was it because I was playing in a building that seemed to me to have provided a tremendous sense of belonging for so many before? I don’t know. I hope these other surrounding buildings give the tenants a sense of place that propels them to search for a sense of belonging.
Then again, maybe that’s something future generations won’t need to look for in the same way.