Day and night in a city of stories

From dawn till midnight, the faces of Philadelphia

He wakes before dawn in a cramped cellar, wrapped in his blanket between crates of fruit. Everyone calls him Spoons.

He climbs out onto Ninth Street, a bundled figure alone in the cold. After he readies the stand and lights the morning fire can, he warms his hands above the kicking flames and pulls his instruments - a pair of spoons - from his pocket, and begins to play, the sparks fluttering like fireflies, the clack of the spoons echoing in the quiet of the Italian Market.

And everywhere a day begins.

The predawn hour can do nothing to keep SEPTA bus driver Angela Barnes from being, well, Angela. She's been driving for 27 years. Listen to her as she greets riders at her first stop of the morning at 23d and Hunting Park.

"Good morning, sweetie. Good morning, baby." Every time, with a smile.

At Suburban Station the scheduled 7:26 a.m. Chestnut Hill East local is next to arrive on Track 2. In a corner, by the fast-food restaurants, Erin Anderson provides a soulful backdrop with his clarinet.

"It's 'Take Ten,' by Paul Desmond," says the 20-year-old grad of the Girard Academic Music Program.

The light changes at South Penn Square. Under the mournful marble gaze of the Lady of Peace statue, perched high on a pedestal at City Hall's eastern portal, cops with their coffee and cellphones and court notices and prosecutors pulling their files behind them like luggage stream past what must be the safest Dunkin' Donuts in the city, past the tourist shop's displays of Liberty Bell snow globes and LOVE Park shot glasses, past Butch the newspaper hawker, and into the Criminal Justice Center.

Among the crowd walks Juvenile Probation Officer Chad Boughter, who carries the file of a kid who caught a break from a judge but now posts pictures of drugs and money on Twitter.

"I am just trying to help you," Boughter tells the teen in the courtroom as the judge looks on.

As the school day stretches into the afternoon, special-education teacher Inez Campbell leads a group of kindergartners through the halls of the Francis E. Willard School in Kensington. All of the 789 students there live in poverty. Black tarps cover the library shelves; the school librarian was let go last year.

Inez cries easily when talking about her students, how they touch her heart and how their struggles sometimes break her heart. But she never cries in front of them.

"Come on, Papi. Come on, Mami," she says to the kids as she cheerfully herds them through the halls. The kids giggle.

As night nears, the wind chime on the door of La Prieta grocery store in Germantown jangles.

Franny Gomez and her sister Carolina Barona run the store with their mother. It supports their families. Their friend Pedro worked there, too, behind the deli counter, but last month the chime jangled and a robber came in and shot him. He is in the hospital.

Alone behind the counter, the women notice the jangle of the wind chime more now.

Every Sunday and Wednesday, this space will be alive with scenes and stories of a city. Its beauty. Its cruelties. Its backbone. Its struggles. Its hypocrisy. Its charm.

Stories about us. And sometimes about people like Spoons.

Midnight approaches as he returns to his sleeping space fortified by a little beer and brandy. He turns off the bare bulb. There is work in the morning.

 


mnewall@phillynews.com

215-854-2759 @MikeNewall