I’ve suffered from insomnia in the past–usually accompanied by horrific nightmares of poltergeists and monsters–but recently I’ve been sleeping like a proverbial baby. Except on a recent Saturday, when I found myself staring at my laptop at 5:00 am. Five o’clock in the morning is an awkward time, too early for breakfast, almost too late to go back to sleep unless you’re willing to take the chance that you won’t wake up till noon. I wasn’t. Turns out that Reading Terminal Market opens at 8am. I cleaned up, got dressed, slung my new camera around my neck and stepped outside into the cool dawn around 6:15.. Figuring a leisurely pace that would let me take photos along the way, I knew I would get to the Market in plenty of time.
Try it sometime. Arrive at the Market about quarter to eight on a Saturday. Massed outside, like some kind of zombie movie scene, are a random assortment of people staring at the doors, glaring at passersby and nearly springing forward anytime a Market employee slips inside. The demographic was pure Philadelphia–an older African American woman in church hat with her middle-aged son; thirty-ish hip kid with tattoos; a couple of kind-of-weird chubby white guys, and so on. And on the other side of the glass a funhouse mirror image: young Asian girls working in Iovine’s produce, a slow-moving black man carrying a bag of onions into a kitchen, Amish women in bonnets eating their breakfast across from a Latino man furiously mixing dough in a huge bowl. I’m not a romantic about many things, but this seemed to me a perfect depiction of the city that I live in: all of these different people living, working and eating, cheek by jowl. Usually cordially, but with a certain healthy wariness. Course, we can’t forget the distinction between the consumers waiting on the street and the workers slinging hash early on a Saturday morning. Nonetheless, this Market is a microcosm and that, more than anything, is what makes me want to explore it in all of its variety. The challenge I’ve set myself is to eat at least once in every stall at the Market and record those experiences here.