Last weekend, I was honored to be part of an episode on Senator Bill Bradley’s “American Voices” national radio program, in which I talked about my favorite sound in America, one that no longer exists—the rumbling and screeching yet somehow comforting sound of the passing trolleys on Philadelphia’s Germantown Avenue where I spent part of my childhood. My single mother and I lived in two different second-floor apartments on the avenue, one of them at two different times. When we lived elsewhere, it was in places within a half-block of the avenue and the 23 Trolley. (When I was halfway through high school, we moved to a little rowhouse about three blocks off the avenue—but that was a half-block from the commuter train station. My mother spent her last years living in another second-floor apartment on the avenue, this last one up in Chestnut Hill.)

All those years of my childhood when we were on or very near Germantown Avenue, Hélene rode the 23 to Erie Avenue and the Broad Street Subway, which brought her to her work in center city. As I got older, I took it north to school but also in the other direction to St. Vincent’s Church and to the Germantown Boys Club and the G’town commercial district, where I frequented the sporting goods store, a hobby shop with the HO trains I coveted, and a record store where I bought my first two LPs, an album of Philadelphia Mummers String Band music and another of the Black Watch Scottish Pipe Band. And movie houses, like the Orpheum, Lyric, Bandbox, and Rialto.

If you lived on the 23’s route, the trolley was with you, even if you were sitting at home. It would rattle and screech to a stop, chug with increasing noise as it built up speed pulling away from the stop at the intersection, or loudly rumble past at full speed, shaking the building. On winter nights, piling snow would clear the avenue of nearly all traffic, making the world outside your apartment eerily silent. But the trolley ran through the night, far less frequently but enough to get night-shift workers to and from their jobs. The only thing breaking that silence was the snow-muted sound of the night-time trolley slowly working its way through the snow. For a moment, you’d stir, hear it lumbering up the block, its oddly soft sound fading away, and fall back to sleep.

As I say in the “American Voices” segment, the 23 Trolley was our family car, and that sound never left me.

Long ago, they took the trolleys out of service. But that happened after the time in which Mortal Things is set. It’s 1989. Domenic Gallo works in a barber shop in the middle of the Mount Airy shopping district and lives upstairs in an apartment. The two other main characters, Sarah Goins and Mike Flannagan each live barely a block off the avenue. The barber shop and second-floor apartment become magnets for Sarah and Mike.   

Here’s the link for the “American Voices” piece about the 23 Trolley.

My five-minute segment begins at 21:40. Sen. Bradley’s shows always include a writer who speaks about his/her favorite sound or place in America.

My bit ends the show. If you give it a listen, take the time to check out his guest for the first twenty minutes or so, Leslie Hatamiya. She tells inspiring stories about her nonprofit work–LOVE the role played by community colleges in her scholarship program. She also talks about treatment of Japanese Americans during WW2, important conversations.

Other Links

Here’s one for an interview I did with Matt Crawford for the Curious Mans Podcast.

Two minutes into the telephone interview, I knew that I’d like the host, no matter what he might think about Mortal Things. Here’s what he had to say about the novel. “A truly rich story of love and loss, this is a read that pulls you in. Told from alternating perspectives, Bachus weaves three characters together expertly with details that draw you in and make you feel as if you are in their lives. A slow burn of a book that doesn’t rush the story and lets the reader think for themselves.”

And here’s a link for a radio interview on ‘Searching for Integrity’ with John Smith.

Our segment together begins around the 28:30 mark. Thank you, John.

I’ll post other interviews as they become available.

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