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Jason Toews and fifi (the band)

Lansdowne Theater, March 2014


Lessons Learned

“By seeking and blundering we learn.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

1. When Driving from Springfield, MA to Philadelphia, PA, Do NOT Trust the GPS

I’ve done this trip a few times now, and I should know better. Despite that, I blindly trusted the nice Australian lady in my GPS (full disclosure: I kinda have a crush on her) and found myself being sucked directly into the gravitational sinkhole of NYC. “Severe Traffic Event Ahead,” she informed me. “Re-routing” she added sternly, before tossing me off 95 and into rush hour gridlock in the Bronx. Orthodox Jews with fur hats, Latino bodega owners in brightly-colored tracksuits, suicidal and elaborately mustachioed bike messengers, homicidal taxi drivers, and oblivious hipsters hell-bent on global gentrification all blocked my progress. I also had to pee. Two-and-a-half hours later (yes, really), I finally escaped to… somewhere. New Jersey, I think.


2. If You Are Hoping to Sleep, Do NOT Stay at a Hotel Attached to a Casino

My own personal travel agent (Robin) found me a decent rate at a well-reviewed hotel in King of Prussia (yes, that is really the name of the town). I noticed that it was attached to a casino, but I guess I just thought that would mean better restaurants, so I didn’t ask any questions. By 2AM the next morning, I was grinding my teeth and (unfairly) cursing my wife’s good name. A near-constant parade of alcoholic, polo shirt-wearing casino patrons and their cackling, mascara-smeared wives stomped up and down the hallway all night long, slamming doors, belching, guffawing drunkenly at god knows what. Twice, someone pounded loudly on the door next to mine and screamed, “POLICE! OPEN UP!” but I suspect it was not actually the police.

The hallway carnival reached its absurd apex when a young couple got in a full-on fight right outside my door. After about ten minutes of “I SAW YOU LOOKING AT HER AND I WAS JUST OVER AT THE BAR FOR LIKE TWO MINUTES AND YOU WERE ALREADY PUTTING THE MOVES ON SOME BITCH AND DON’T YOU EVEN TELL ME YOU WEREN’T BECAUSE I SAW YOU MOTHERFUCKER I SAW YOU DO YOU HEAR ME I SAW YOU AND SO DID SUZANNE (etc. etc.),” I got out of bed, pulled on my pants (only my pants, mind you – no shirt or socks or shoes or glasses), and went out to intervene. Why? Because I am an idiot.

“What in the HELL is going on out here?” I demanded, using my best Disapproving Adult voice. And at that precise moment, I heard my room door click shut behind me. After harrumphing and bluffing for another minute, I was finally forced to walk past the (now openly laughing) couple and press the down elevator button, my entire upper body flushing red with shame. Six floors down, squinting and shirtless, I made the long walk across the casino lobby to the registration desk. The woman behind the counter, bless her, didn’t ask for an explanation. “Locked yourself out of your room?” she asked, with only the barest trace of tongue-clucking mockery.

Lansdowne Theater

This was another one of Matthew Christopher’s Abandoned America workshops. The Lansdowne Theater opened in 1927 and closed 60 years later. In 2007, the The Historic Lansdowne Theater Corporation purchased the theater, with hopes of restoring it to its former glory. In the meantime, they are allowing groups of photographers and ghost hunters to come in and look around. Read more about the Corporation and their plans on their website.

It’s a beautiful place, with a stunning painted ceiling and a crazy elaborate chandelier. Matthew has taken some very evocative photos, which you can see on his site here. Mine are but a pale imitation.

On the following day, we were scheduled to shoot at Mt. Moriah Cemetery, but it rained. I had that long drive home, so I regretfully bid adieu to Matthew and hit the road.

This time, I picked a random town far to the west of NYC and set the GPS for that. Yes, this scenic route wound through untold miles of farmland and I saw more tractors and cows than on any other trip in recent memory, but it was a much happier drive for me. A mere 14 hours later, I was back home and climbing into a warm bed. Then the alarm went off and it was time to get up for work.

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  1. Greetings,
    I’m consulting to Lansdowne Econ Development Corp., and reporting on my project work, in an eNewsletter. Might you be willing to grant me permission to use one of your photos, of the interior of the Lansdowne Theater?


    • Of course. I will email you directly.

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