by Mary Gulivindala
“Truly, the bench is a boon to idlers. Whoever first came up with the idea is a genius: free public resting places where you can take time out from the bustle and brouhaha of the city, and simply sit and watch and reflect.” — Tom Hodgkinson
I love Chestnut Hill. I don’t know many people, though. I worked at Kilian’s Hardware for 4 ½ years, the hub, and no one knows me except painters and UPS drivers. I worked in the back in shipping. I’d meet people and say “I work at Kilian’s.” They’d reply, “I love Kilian’s; I’m there all the time; I don’t think I’ve seen you?” Hence, I’m invisible. I superficially know my neighbors, four other residents of Highland Avenue, but that’s it.
I’ve lived in many cities in the U.S and a few abroad. My favorite was New York. Chestnut Hill, I believe all would agree, isn’t really a city (except for taxes). It’s a quaint village, a short train ride to downtown Philadelphia, which is a city.
From East to West, North and South, why was NYC my favorite? Besides the museums, parks, restaurants, intellectuals, artists, fashion, etc., etc., I realized it was because of the benches. Why benches? Benches are the best place to people-watch.
What makes a great community for me are the people. I love sitting on a bench people-watching, but I’m being deprived. Bench-sitting in NYC was great; I came to know scads of people. Everyone has a routine, and I had my regulars. I’d call a friend and say, “Let’s meet at 83rd and Broadway, always with a Starbucks in hand. I got to know nannies and delivery boys, bike messengers and businesspeople. Sometimes our bench would be taken by a weirdo or a homeless person, it being their residence for the night. We’d regroup and cross the street to a different bench. Bench-sitting was my Broadway on Broadway, for free. Let the show begin. I was a known person!
Chestnut Hill has a bench crisis. I’ve counted approximately eight benches on the Avenue from the top of the Hill beginning at the train station area to Hartwell Lane, where I stopped counting, and a generous five benches on side streets. I didn’t count Pastorius Park’s benches because they are broken, and dogs pee on them, so it’s not where I want to sit. I know the Water Tower and Farmers’ Market have benches, but they’re off the beaten path, so they don’t count.
I feel pressured to be a customer to sit on a store’s bench, and timing is a consideration. If I buy a sandwich at Weavers Way, I feel I need to eat and run. This is MY thinking.
Here is my assessment of the population of benches and locations: One by the Bank of America (side street), two across the street at the train station; Starbucks has tables, not benches; the pretzel shop has a bench, I think; one at Artisans, two at Weavers Way, one on the corner of Gravers and the Avenue for the bus stop, two at the firehouse on Highland Avenue, where I would never sit, and a few across from the one “high-rise” next to the train tracks, isolated and obscured. I count the bear in front of Jenks as a bench, too. I apologize if I missed a bench; I was driving while counting.
There are plenty of little tables and chairs, for patrons, I guess. The benches here are like parking. Put a quarter down, sit; you have 15 minutes. I just can’t kick it for an hour or two on a bench. If I did, I might get the reputation as a vagrant, and Chestnut Hill doesn’t have homeless people on benches anymore since that dear homeless dude died.
Why aren’t there benches scattered throughout our village? My first thought was to prevent housing for the homeless, but we don’t have any. So I did some scouting. The corner of Highland and Seminole is a perfect spot to add some benches. The train stops there; it’s a wide intersection, and the sidewalks are bench-accommodating. In my estimation, five benches could be added to improve the sociability of the community. Three on the west side of Seminole and two on the diagonal corner.
Chestnut Hill is a dog walking, biking, running community. I guarantee if benches were put there, people would be sitting on them reading books, enjoying the weather and getting to know their neighbors. As a matter of fact, I’ll be the first one to get the bench party started. Whoever is in charge of benches in Chestnut Hill, please consider. Does anyone want to buy a bench? We’ll put your name on it, the way they do on Forbidden Drive benches. That might work.