Hey Ben — look at this!

For more than 50 years I have played a mental game first suggested by my Third or Fourth grade teacher. Come to think of it, it couldn’t have been my Fourth grade teacher. Miss Michaels was a cruel and withered spinster that apparently hated children and seemed to me to punish them for the limitations placed on her by a culture dictating that women could only enter teaching, nursing, or secretaral service. She picked teaching and no doubt regretted it well into her eighth or ninth decade when I was assigned to her tutelage. For an interminable school year she became my personal Javert, her hostility so overt that my parents were ultimately forced to intevene on my behalf.

So  — Third grade. It must have been my Third grade teacher, whose name I don’t recall, but whose suggestion has remained a pleasantry in my mind, as opposed to Miss Michael’s unremitting cruelty. The game has no winners or losers, just possibilities. It was a perfect diversion for 7 or 8 year olds, but I find it remarkably satisfying still, halfway through my sixties.

The game is simplicity itself — a question designed to spark the imagination and open a world of possibilities: If Ben Franklin was to return to life for one day and one day only, and you were assigned the job of showing him around the city of which he was First Citizen, where would you take him? What would you show him? What would he need to see to get a sense of the modern world?

Now, this must have been somewhere in the mid-1950’s. Born in 1949, and having started school at four years of age, I figure I entered Third grade in 1955 or 1956. There were certainly wonders galore that would have made Ben’s jaw drop: automobiles dressed in oceans of chrome, television sets with screens that were an expansive seven inches measured diagonally, radios that played music on both AM and FM bands, movies in VistaVision shown in opulent theaters offering the truly modern wonder of air conditioning. He would certainly want to see the new bridges spanning the Delaware River, eliminating the need for time consuming ferry rides for access to New Jersey. Airplanes. He would have to see airplanes with their shiny steel skins and giant propellers that made it possible for someone to fly from the East Coast to the West Coast in less than 20 hours. Ben would love that.

Wanamakers. He would have to see John Wanamakers, stand in its magnificent 13 storey atrium and listen to the five manual organ with its 72 foot diapason created for “the world’s greatest world’s fair” held in St. Louis just a half century before.

The first postmaster would appreciate the scope of the Post Office as well as its efficiency. One could send a letter anywhere in the 48 States for a purple three cent stamp, and during the busy Christmas season, homes received two mail deliveries a day. The founder of the University of Pennsylvania would be astonished at the size of his brain child and amazed at the first functional computer, the Univac, housed in an expansive basement in the University.

Needless to say, the list of wonders (and, admittedly, horrors) has increased exponentially in the intevening decades since I began to list must-sees.  Oh, and Ben? I’m sitting in the Denver Airport writing this on a tablet and in a matter of seconds, anyone in the world will be able to read it.  I wonder what Poor Richard would think of that?