“Ha Ha Ha Ha!”
“How you doin man”
“Damn! This bag is huge”
“Yeah, it’s no joke.”
Our lines overlap. We share a goofy smile. Genetically. He walks me to the regional rail and realizes that the train for Center City is leaving the station. He then sprints to the train shouting “Come on!” I struggle to keep up as I waddle behind hauling my nearly 60 pound backpack. We meet on the train and he laughs at me. “Sorry I forgot you had that bag.”
I wanted to start my three month journey with a BANG. Because I am seeking wisdom, I decide that Grandfather would be the best place to start! I’ve decided that it’s been far too long since I’ve seen my grandfather. I got to see him shortly a few weeks ago. There was a death in a family. As a result I was able to reunite with a lot of family members including my grandfather. He seemed to be doing really well, and after spilling some serious words of wisdom on me I decided that I had to come back to steal more wisdom from him.
About 30 years ago, Grandfather started the October Gallery. Then it was a small residence that held black art but it soon developed into an overwhelming exhibition. Only 9 (or so) years ago October Gallery was hosting an International Art Expo for African Americans that ranked number one in scale. And he did so with no sponsors. Every year, my family would come visit him and spend everyday at the Expo. I do not recall exclusively, but Grandfather tells me that I used to come running down the stairs of the Expo with bright eyes, arms wide, calling his name. I’m sure I did. The Expos are the best memories from my childhood.
There were a few things that happened (a series of unfortunate events) that caused him to stop hosting the Expo on that scale. After that slowed down he opened a restaurant called The Lounge. There he spent six years bringing musical guests that would play their accordions and blow their horns as the local community danced the night away. And I’m not talking club dancing, I’m talking about swing and salsa, the kind that you see in movies. I only got to see the people dance once before The Lounge closed. (Now, when he and I go walking down the street the people that live in Germantown ask him to reopen his restaurant).
Because of some of the companies that Grandfather has successfully run he has been a beacon of inspiration for me. So I came to Philly to learn his secrets.
Grandfather asks me how I’ve been. He wants to know about myself. He asks that standard questions while walking me to the Reading Terminal. He asks about my backpacking trip, and my recent blog, and my mother and father.
“Hey! What are you doing!?”
“Oh, hey Mercer.”
“We were trying to find a place to sit before we grabbed anything to eat and now we find you out here eating already.”
“What can I say!? I was going to wait for you, but then I saw the cornbeef special and I thought, ‘#&$% Mercer!’”
We find Mike. One of Grandfather’s “boys”. They interact in banter that suggests they’ve been friends for a very long time. Grandfather introduced me and we carry on in boisterous conversation. I soon learned that Mike is a man who worked with my Grandfather in real estate back in the day. Mike was looking to expand his coverage to black communities and Mercer happened to be in the business. They became close and they’ve been celebrating birthdays and doing favors for one another ever since.
“How Far did you walk?”
“Yeah. You’re one of those tree huggers.”
We are joined by Monica and Thiago who my Grandfather insists on calling Trivago. Monica is a short tempered Brazilian who helps my Grandfather with October Gallery. Thiago is an artist from Brazil who speaks very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very little English. He’s staying in my Grandfather’s house while he works on a series of pieces. He and I fumble through a conversation and shortly find that we can communicate a little through Spanish. From there Thiago starts telling me about his state and culture and we slowly discover that we get along really well.
We find our desserts. Each of us get a personal cake to satisfy our sweet tooth. Mike grabs a box of cannolis and we roll out.
We convene at the hotel where Mike and his lady were staying. We weren’t supposed to stay any longer than it took to eat the last of the cannolis but we were having too good of a time. That’s where Mike gives me his one liner.
“You wanna know something Levi?”
“Nothing happens until someone sells something.”
He’s onto something. I came to Philadelphia to learn a little more about business and a little more about myself, and the first night here I’m already thrown right into the mix. I was lucky enough to take this from him. But this is a conversation for another post.
The night grows old. The only reason that we made it out was because Grandfather made some sly comment about getting to bed on time. We digress and leave the bartender a generous tip for putting up with our shenanigans. The team disperses. Mike and his lady go to their corridor, and Monica and Thiago take the smart car (which I affectionately call the gumdrop on wheels). Grandfather and I miss our train for Chestnut Hill East. So we take West instead and walk.
I already feel at home with my Grandfather. We walk the streets just talking. And I’m just anticipating all the time that we’ll be able to spend talking and all the things I’m about to learn from him. Taking time away from college to begin my learning journey has been scary but judging by the first night out. I can tell it’s going to be a marvelous experience. It’s evident that he’s prepared to give, and I think he knows that I am able to listen and comprehend.
You know how sometimes it takes some time for the reality to set in? You’re looking at the flesh but all you see is a reiteration of your dreams. That one thing that you wanted to do so badly, or that one person you wanted to talk to is finally sitting in front of you, and all you can do is replay that phantasm over and over in your head. Eventually you come to your sense and realize that you’re in the middle of a conversation.