My adventure in Camden

Tonight was the first tech rehearsal for Barnum, which we are re-mounting as part of Camden County Parks Special Events this weekend, Thursday-Saturday June 21-23 at 8pm. This is our performing space:

Wiggins Park |

Wiggins Park is a leisurely half-hour bike ride from home. Not like the uphill hour-long trek to Philadelphia School of Circus Arts. So why wouldn’t I be green and bike over?

The bridge. That’s why.

Chris’s (and most of my friends’) first concern was the safety of biking in Camden, or rather the lack thereof. I thought about this, and I decided that

  1. I’ve grown an awareness from having lived most of my adult life in urban areas with rough patches (hello, New Haven and Philly), and
  2. I’m speedy on my bike.

So I should be okay, right? I googled “is it safe to bike to camden waterfront” and didn’t find anything informative. I looked at maps of crime stats in Camden (like this one) and felt encouraged by the lack of reports in the areas I would be biking. I memorized the directions and general layout of my route to Wiggins Park. I packed only a water bottle, my Barnum props, and my cell phone, so that in case anyone mugged me, I didn’t have anything really worth taking. So yea, I should be okay. Right?

Ready to face the unknown, I headed across the Ben Franklin Bridge. I biked through Rutgers-Camden campus to Cooper Street and toward the riverfront. Nothing looked out of place; everything was tidy and the landscaping well-maintained. If anything, the quiet and lack of people seemed a bit eery.

I made it to rehearsal and let Chris know I reached my destination without a problem. The daylight had been plentiful and showed me no signs for concern. At the end of rehearsal, however, night had fallen. I reviewed my route back to the Ben Franklin Bridge, retracing my steps. I biked quickly through the tidy but once-again deserted streets. Then, at the Bridge, I discovered the fatal flaw in my plan: The Ben Franklin Bridge is closed to pedestrians at dusk. More precisely, the sign read:

Courtesy of Philly Bike Coalition


 How did I miss that on the way over?

Fortunately, a Rutgers police officer was nearby, so I asked him about other options to get home. He said the PATCO rail could transport both me and my bike. Great! But wait. Oh, right. I had chosen not to bring any money with me, in case I was mugged.

I ended up calling a cab to get home. I waited by the Rutgers-Camden School of Law and talked to the security guard to pass the time. A few oddly-behaved strangers passed by, but nothing more alarming than a typical night in Philly. When finally after 30 minutes a cab came, we had some trouble getting my bike into the cab. I had to take off my quick-release front wheel, and I briefly dropped and lost a spring part of the attachment. But we eventually got settled and made our way over to Philly.

In the 10-minute cab ride, I learned a bit about my driver and his business. His name is Toby, and he’s lived his entire life in South Jersey. He likes to sing, especially Elvis. I told him about our circus musical. During the cab ride, Chris called, and I asked him to make sure he had cash so I could pay my cab fare. Overhearing me, Toby explained that some cab drivers will refuse to transport passengers without cash on hand, for fear that the passenger will run off without paying. When finally I came home, Henry ran out to greet me, and then he decided to say hello to Toby too. We paid the cab fare, and I learned a very expensive lesson about the Ben Franklin Bridge.

So tomorrow, I will bike over with money to take PATCO back home.

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