As I write this I am in Philadelphia looking out at a distant runway of the Philadelphia International Airport. I have been here more hours than I care to count. Oddly enough, my mind is on W.C. Fields, one of the great comedians of the first half of the 20th century.
Fields was a contemporary of Mae West, Al Jolson, George M. Cohen and others who traveled that performance circuit called vaudeville. Most of those theaters were in the northeast part of the country, and Philadelphia was a usual stop on the circuit. No performer relished facing the raucous crowds of the theaters of Philadelphia. It was not unusual for people to be pelted with tomatoes, booed off the stage and otherwise mistreated. That hasn’t changed much today, as the sports fans of the city continue that negative tradition. Players on professional sports teams who visit Philadelphia are often verbally abused so, like W.C. Fields, they view the city with a goodly amount of trepidation.
Philadelphia was so much on W.C. Fields’ mind that when he died his gravestone epitaph said, “All things considered, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” If you miss his meaning and his humor, he is saying that despite the difficulty of playing Philadelphia if given a choice between that play date and the grave he would, reluctantly, choose Philadelphia.
In my work I often fly the East Coast. Philadelphia is the hub for U.S. Airlines. Most other airlines that fly to the smaller cities in upstate New York use that airport as a stopover and a place to transfer people to smaller aircraft.
My experiences in Philadelphia are more and more reminding me of the sentiments of W.C. Fields. I have been held up overnight by weather, which I can forgive, and my bags have ended up in Chicago, which I can’t. Once I arrived before noon and found my connecting flight to South Carolina cancelled. Seeing three other flights on the schedule before 6 p.m. I was sure I could be transferred to one of those. One by one all were cancelled. At 6, they put me on a flight to Charlotte where, at least, Ruth could drive up and retrieve me. While taxiing to the runway they discovered an oil leak and two hundred passengers were again stranded in the terminal. If you are counting, that is 0 for 5 in scheduled flights to the Carolinas that afternoon.
Another time W.C. Fields said, “I once spent a year in Philadelphia. I think it was on a Sunday.” That Fields quotation may fit my situation more than the previous one. As Pogo in the funny papers said, “I resemble that remark.”
Page 2 of 2 - Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges in universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at email@example.com.