Christmastime in the City

First things first, I have to record the visit that the kids and I took to the city last Saturday.

It started out as just another train trip, my older son wanting to ride the train. But then I decided to try to make a Christmas event out of it. So we rode the train over (I actually drove a few stations back so they could have a longer ride). The weather was unseasonably warm, as it’s been. We got off the train and started looking for a place to eat, since it was lunchtime. A lot of haggling later, I lied and said that McGillin’s, one of my old haunts that I hadn’t been to in forever, served mac n cheese, so I could have the food that I wanted. We got seated just in time before the Running of the Santas people flooded in. Those people plus the light-show-at-Macy’s crowd made it beyond packed. But we had a pleasant lunch, and they found other things to eat. It was really festively decorated and my older son got to watch football on TV.


Then it was time for us to go to Macy’s. Mind you, I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen the light show. It was not something we did when I was little. I had a vague idea that it went off every half hour or something. So we go in, I corral a security guard and get the skinny. Oh, it’s every two hours now. Meaning it’s 1:10 and it won’t happen again til 2. But, he said, you can go to the Dickens village on the third floor.

So I get them on the escalator. They have entered the phase of wrestling, falling down on the floor and writhing around, hiding inside racks of clothes, etc. We see where the light show happens and the big organ and I try to get them to marvel over it.

When we reach the line for Dickens village, I make a fatal error. I dither. I can’t decide if it’s worth it for us to stand in line, so we stand there a minute, deciding, and meanwhile the line suddenly gets super long. So I decide that we better not. But I’ve already mentioned that there is a Build A Bear workshop back there, so my daughter throws a full-blown tantrum. My sons don’t mind leaving, but she does Not. Want. To Go.

The next ten minutes are a blur, but I know we dropped our leftover pizza from lunch all over the floor, I ended up having to carry her, and I almost suffocated my younger son when a phalanx of strollers insisted on coming into the elevator with us and smashed us against the back of the car.

Back outside, finally, we just walk. The boys want to go home, but she doesn’t, and I am determined to see something Christmasy, goddamnit. We end up near Reading Terminal Market and I see a sign about a train display. Inside, we decide to get ice cream first. Naturally, it’s mobbed (did I mention that this is also the Army-Navy game day?), and while one child gets his ice cream right away, the other two orders slip into some kind of void, and 10 other people get served before I get the balls to make eye contact with the harried servers and say, “Um… I don’t think…”

So we walk around the crowded market getting super sticky. There is nowhere to sit. We end up standing back near the restrooms and the kids experience their highlight of the day when they see a mouse. (Rat?) It’s hot as hell in there so I command them to start moving toward the exit, but then we finally see the trains.

OK. The trains were pretty cool. It’s a huge setup with maybe a hundred light-up ceramic buildings (a church! a toy store! a radio station! a morgue!) and lots of trains going up hill and through tunnels. There was even a NJ Transit train. They were all impressed and we stayed for a while.

Then it was at last time to go home. In a final surreal bit, we wandered through the Gallery, the indoor mall at 8th and Market, that apparently is going to be something else but isn’t yet. All the stores are closed down, the escalators aren’t running, etc., but you can still go in and use the bathroom and get to PATCO. Which we did. It was like a scene from a post-apocalypse movie.

The train was late, so the kids chased each other around the platform and rolled around it, so that anywhere they failed to clean the ice cream off turned black. For my daughter, this meant both her palms, because the ladies’ room had been closed at the Zombie Mall. I stared down the tracks and yanked them back when they got too close to the edge.

Christmas in Philadelphia! Best done on a weekday.



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