Commentary: With humor, life a little less taxing

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The food court in Philadelphia airport's Terminal F.

Bob Martin

is a retired Inquirer editor and writer

The city's new soda tax may leave a bitter taste among soft-drink distributors, vendors, and most likely consumers, but it also provides a delightful lesson in the anomalies that punctuate life in Pennsylvania.

Consider this oddity at Philadelphia International Airport: Should thirsty travelers opt for a sweetened beverage in Terminals B, C, D, E, or F, the drink will be subject to the 1.5-cent-per-ounce tax. But if they buy it in Terminals A-West or A-East, there's no such levy.

Geography lesson: Terminals B through F are in the city, but the A terminals are in Tinicum Township, Delaware County. An added attraction for consumers in the A wing: The sales tax there is 6 percent (state only), compared with 8 percent (state and Philadelphia) in B through F.

Here's another quirk pertaining to the commonwealth: The mission of the Pennsylvania Society dinner, an annual black-tie affair held on the second Saturday of December, is to unite "all Pennsylvanians at home and away from home in bonds of friendship and devotion to their native or adopted state." The operative words here are away from home, as the dinner has been held for the last 117 years at the Waldorf-Astoria in Manhattan. Gov. Wolf, who wants the wingding to move home, has skipped it for the last two years, but it's safe to say that the society is not about to budge.

"It's never going to move. It's just not going to do it," Mayor Kenney has said, not with defiance, but with resignation.

Resignation is also the best attitude for Pennsylvania Turnpike motorists who, because of yet another of the state's quirks, need to exit at Breezewood to go south on I-70. If you have the misfortune of passing through, you'll quickly wonder how this mishmash, where more than 8,000 cars and trucks pass through daily, ever came to pass.

Breezewood, the product of what is known as an "indirect interchange," is a quarter-mile bottleneck along Lincoln Highway (U.S. 30) comprising eight hotels, 13 restaurants, five gas stations, two truck stops, two convenience stores, a Starbucks, and a Dunkin' Donuts. What lures this horde of merchants? The weirdest of highway alignments; every motorist exiting the turnpike to go onto I-70 South must pass through the strip. It all dates to an old federal highway law, since changed, that prohibited a non-toll road from terminating into a toll road.

Southeastern Pennsylvania residents will say we have our own indirect interchange in Bucks County between I-95 and the turnpike. True, but that will change when the current, massive realignment project there is completed. There's no such plan for Breezewood, and don't expect one.

Reinhold Niebuhr, the noted theologian and philosopher perhaps best known for the Serenity Prayer, once wrote that "the tragedy of man is that he can conceive self perfection but cannot achieve it." If we understand that, we can better adapt to the ironies, contradictions, and quirks of life - and maybe even revel in them.

And also find humor in unexpected places, such as in a recent bulletin of a Main Line church. Promoting a discussion of Michael Sandel's book What Money Can't Buy, the bulletin says: "Sandel explores that question, 'Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale?' "

The notice adds, "Books available for $10."

Inkwire86@verizon.net

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