“I’d like to recognize some students from my district visiting today in the chambers,” announced Council President Darrell Clarke in the normal course of the council meeting getting underway. “They are embarking on a voting project, to get people out and talk about the importance of voting. So I would like to recognize them….”
He scanned the audience expectantly. “And now I’m being told that they’re not here yet!” He looked into the camera and grinned as council members guffawed. “We’ll recognize them when they get here.”
That minor blip was instantly forgotten when Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell issued her own stunner of an announcement.
“We were privileged to be at a wedding last week,” she said. “One of the members is a retired administrator with the Philadelphia School System. She got married and they decided that they would spend their first week visiting us. Could they stand?”
In the audience, the newlyweds rose to be cheered. The bride ceremoniously waved to the council while the groom thrust his palms in the air in a “raise the roof” gesture.
With President Clarke’s band of students still en route, a dozen council members crowded the front dais, with Councilwoman Blackwell taking center stage.
“You know, it’s a special calling when you care enough about people–some very disabled, very ill–to make them feel better and do better because you make them look better,” she praised the man standing next to her, the salon operator at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“He gives of his time styling the hair of patients and caregivers–” she read from the proclamation.
“–This offers a much-needed moment of relaxation to those who are continually putting their needs aside for the benefit of their loved ones,” picked up Councilman Allan Domb.
“–He also consults with transgender youth and assists them in creating their new looks,” continued Councilman Al Taubenberger.
“–Which raises morale and instills joy and dignity in those receiving his services,” finished Councilman Derek Green.
The man stepped to the microphone and paused emotionally. “Thank you, everyone,” he smiled as President Clarke declared “council will be at ease” for the official photograph.
“QUIET, PLEASE” came a yell from the rear of the chamber as council un-eased itself.
“Our next order of business is introduction of bills and resolutions,” the president ordered, kicking off an unusual dance of council members handing packets of blue paper to a courier, who then ferried them across the council floor to the clerk for a formal introduction to the body. Other city councils have found more subtle ways to do this, but in Philly, it was perhaps as well-choreographed as that couple’s wedding from earlier.
President Clarke slowly segued into the final portion of the meeting. “Are there any speeches on behalf of the….I’m stalling, waiting for the schoolchildren,” he admitted with a chuckle.
Several council members took the bait, with Councilman Bobby Henan describing his new hate crimes legislation and Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown complimenting diversity in the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office.
There were two minutes left in the meeting and only one item of unfinished business. Fortunately, all systems were go.
“Before we conclude, I would like to recognize our students. I understand they got here just in the nick of time!” President Clarke called out as the three young ladies–no doubt fresh from getting Philadelphians to vote–stood up to end the suspense.
The Harrisburg city council had a smorgasbord of issues to consider on Tuesday night. And 99 percent of them came from one kindly, train-loving citizen.
“First, my request to city council: please have police officers on Second Street Wednesday night and Thursday–and especially Friday and Saturday night. Check the Sawyer’s restaurant for noise violations. This summer when they had special music concerts, they shut off the music concert by ten o’clock in the evening at the latest. Sometimes, people are not as good.”
The aged man folded his slender arms in front of him, a large black glasses case protruding from his shirt pocket. He spoke haltingly, clearing his throat directly into the microphone–which made it sound like someone was piledriving just outside the chamber.
“Also, there are some fellows who play music instruments on the sidewalk at the pizza shop next to Zembie’s on Friday and Saturday nights. And sometimes they get loud. And my request is to please have police officers there and check on them and make sure they cut off their music by ten o’clock in the evening at the latest.”
But before you label him a run-of-the-mill city hall gadfly, I’ll have you know that this man can do more than lodge noise complaints. In fact, he’s a regular Ferdinand Magellan–traveling the globe from Central Pennsylvania to as far away as Eastern and Western Pennsylvania. And he knows a thing or two about the romance of the rails:
“Okay, another issue: I asked the city of Harrisburg and the state to support adding one additional passenger train on the Amtrak line from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh. The train we have now, it’s a good train. It’s a beautiful, thrilling ride, but the schedule requires at least one overnight stay in Pittsburgh and the hotels that I checked in Pittsburgh are awfully expensive.”
It was barely perceptible, but as he talked more and more about the trains, you could tell THIS was the thing that truly excited him.
“And one other thing: back in June, I went on a beautiful Amtrak train trip that was fantastic from Harrisburg to Philadelphia and Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., and then going across Northern Virginia and West Virginia, and then overnight to Chicago. And the ride I liked the best was going across Virginia and West Virginia and went over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Praise god and the Amtrak people! And the other railroad people also did a great job!”
Hey, Amtrak, are you hiring spokespeople? This guy praised god AND Amtrak people in the same breath! Can you at least give him free rides for life between Harrisburg and Pittsburgh?
Speaking of spokespeople, Council President Wanda Williams had her own exciting transportation announcement:
“I’m proud to say that my husband won the ‘direct support professional’ for the state of Pennsylvania,” she grinned with pride. “He was chosen among 200 other applicants. He represented the state of Pennsylvania in Chicago.”
Then, the bombshell.
“His picture is now on the billboard going towards I-83 south.”
Other council members chuckled approvingly. “Okay!” “Yeah!” they murmured.
Final thoughts: It’s a three-way tie, folks: 10 out of 10 stars to the citizen commenter, the council president’s husband, and trains. Hooray, trains!