Camper Van Beethoven

She Divines Water

#WhereILivedWednesday: 4005 Pine St.

This post is part of #WhereILivedWednesday, started by Ann Imig of Ann’s Rants. It’s my second post in this series and I love it. Go read all the other bloggers posting about their past homes linked on her site.

4005 Pine St. the half on the right.

4005 Pine St. the half on the right.

Summer 1988. My best friend and I decided that rather than each of us go to our respective homes during the break between our junior and senior years of college, we would live in Philadelphia and get jobs. I took the train in from my college in the suburbs and found a sublet just on the edge of the University of Pennsylvania campus where lots of old row houses were shared by students. I managed to line up a job at the Penn bookstore for the summer and figured my mother couldn’t say no, just look how responsible I had been so far.

Thankfully she didn’t say no, probably because job opportunities at home were slim and didn’t pay well. The bookstore job didn’t pay all that well either but it was a respectable job and would more than cover my rent and expenses so I would still be able to save up money for the fall semester. My friend and I shared a huge room that was big enough to have two double beds in it. A real luxury for people used to cramming themselves into dorm rooms with their weirdly extra-long single beds. I think we paid $200 a month, together, for our room. The first floor had a living room that almost no one ever used, a dining room (the two of us seemed to be the only one ones who ever ate our meals there), and the kitchen.

The second floor had our room, two other bedrooms, and a bathroom. The third floor had a similar layout. I loved all the intricate carved wooden mouldings and details in the old house. Our room had louvered shutters on the windows to keep the midday sun out but let the air pass through. I was thrilled to be in the city with a bunch of other young people, no parents telling us to be in by a certain time. It was my first time not living at home or in a dorm room with your meals provided.

We would bump into our fellow housemates in the kitchen mostly and get to talking, like you do while waiting for your pasta water to boil. Sharing our floor were two other young women, one named Tracey who had a thing for Bryan Ferry, and walked with a crutch. The other woman smoked and pretty much stayed locked in her room except for when she came down to make herself a Lean Cuisine. Her mother had recently become a convert on some diet or other and ate nothing but Lean Cuisine and made sure her daughter was equally well-stocked in frozen foods. From the third floor there was the Penn student who actually lived in the house year-round, and there was William. A tall, lanky, curly-haired Wharton grad, who had graduated in 1987, gone to Wall St. for a job, and got laid off in the great stock market crash later that year. He wasn’t too upset about it because he really didn’t like finance and wanted to be in a band instead.

We loved the freedom of living on our own in the city. We even loved mundane things like grocery shopping. It was great to be able to have the city right outside your door at all hours. Just at the other end of the block was a late night place called Billy Bob’s where you could get a Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak soda at 2:00a.m. if you wanted to, just because how great is it to buy something called Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak soda at 2:00a.m. from a place called Billy Bob’s?! There was a record store just down the street from Billy Bob’s, an all night Kinko’s another block down, everything you could want. Of course, city living had its downsides too, as a homeless man named David more or less took up residence on our front porch for a number of weeks. We decided not to tell our moms about that.

As great as the house was, the jobs we’d lined up sucked. I’d been hired to prepare all the textbooks for the summer session at Penn, and then to rearrange all the books for the fall semester. What they thougt would take me all summer to do, I finished in three weeks. One day, as I was flipping through the free City Paper, I saw an ad for bike messengers wanted. Guaranteed weekly salary of more than I was making at the bookstore plus the possibility of bonuses if you busted your butt. My friend’s job had her walking door-to-door in some really bad neighborhoods. So we both traded jobs. She took a job in an office answering phones and I took the job outside on the streets.

Luckily my outdoor job was perfect for me. The place that needed bike messengers was a reprographics firm with dedicated clients, mostly architects and engineers who needed big rolls of plans copied in the pre-everything-digital days. We would be given a log with a couple of places listed, either pick-ups or drop-offs, and we would stop at pay phones and call in to see if we should make any other stops before bringing back our loads. When we got back, more would be waiting to go out. The plans usually fit perfectly resting on top of my red bike‘s drop handlebars, held in place by the brake cables. Though I considered myself to be pretty familiar with the city already, I developed a real knowledge of its streets, including lots of areas that I hadn’t ever bothered to go to before. I learned which streets were one way and in which direction. I memorized the grid and knew where all the streets with trolley tracks and cobblestones were (both dangerous to a bike). I knew where the bike shops were and which ones would help out a messenger quickly in a pinch.

At the end of the summer we all headed back to our usual places. A friend with a car helped me move almost all my stuff back to my campus but my bike wouldn’t fit. I left it with William, who’d moved down the block once the Penn students returned, promising to pick it up on the weekend. When I came back to get it, on the eve of turning 21, with a summer of independence under my belt, I felt older, more assured. William wondered how I would get my bike home and I told him I’d take it on the train. He wasn’t sure they’d allow it but I was sure. Even if I was wrong, I felt I could talk my way into anything.


This song comes from an album I bought that summer at the record store around the corner. *Everyone knows about divining…

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(I Was Born in a) Laundromat

Camper Van Beethoven – (I Was Born in a) Laundromat

I was just checking out the Radio Time Machine (thank you kottke.org) which has a slider you can move to check out what was popular on mainstream radio stations in the past. My fellow college radio DJs will remember that music played on mainstream radio at the time was awful. That’s why college radio was so important to us. Even if my college’s station was a weak AM station that you could pick up in about three dorms, we saw it as our mission to play music you were not going to hear anywhere else.

One of my fellow DJs was a big Camper Van Beethoven fan. It took me a while but eventually I came around and became a Camper fan myself. This came in handy when I graduated and moved back home to Maine without any plans for my future.

Luckily, an entrepreneurial college student had decided to open a record store that summer. This small town had a record store before but it trended more to classical and jazz and really wasn’t remotely close to the kind of record store I’d grown accustomed to in the Philadelphia area while in school. So I eagerly awaited the opening day of the new store. I think I was their first customer. Before summer had ended I had talked my way into being their first full-time employee. The owner and his two friends who had helped him get it off the ground hadn’t really worked out who was going to run things when they were in classes since none of them had graduated yet. There I was, ready to jump into the gap.

The owner was a huge Camper fan and their new album, Key Lime Pie, was coming out in September. He ordered lots of copies of it, imagining it would fly off the shelves. If you listen to the songs on the Radio Time Line from 1989, you’ll see two Milli Vanilli songs, two Phil Collins songs, three Paula Abdul songs, and so forth. While the new Camper album was the most mainstream thing they’d done to date, it was still well out of the ordinary. Needless to say we had several copies left.

Not long ago I got an e-mail from the owner of the record store. He has not only survived but grown a little chain of stores and one of those two friends who had helped him get that first store off the ground is the person who created Record Store Day. They are going to be profiled in a book about record stores and he wanted to include me as the first employee. I’m almost famous!