UnCommonly busy on Sansom


It's 45 degrees and I'm not out here on Sansom Common alone. I'm the only one working, though. The others are out here for recreation.

I've got on my alpaca coat, my mohair scarf, lined gloves. Warm would not describe how my nose feels. So why are those people sitting outdoors on Sansom Common, eating, drinking coffee, searching through book bags?

They, it turns out, are not cold. And they actually have time to talk for a few minutes. Try to talk to perfect strangers along Locust Walk. You have to run alongside them as they dash to their next class. They slow down for nothing.

But here on Sansom Common, the pace is slow, the space is restful.

Take Abdel Awadalla, munching on his lunch in front of XandO. First he apologizes for not being a student. What he is, is a neuropsychology fellow at CHOP.

Why are you out in the cold? I ask.

"Because I brought this lunch from outside and I do not want to get inside because I did not buy anything from them," he says.

Is this a spot you like to come to?

"Yes, because I am a Muslim, we have a prayer here."

Here turns out to be Hill College House, a block to the east, where Muslims congregate on Fridays for prayers.

Peter Pagast, 29, has his own reasons for being in the neighborhood.

"It's not that cold. I'm dressed for it. I'm painting. A lot of my work's outside." He's painting a mural at University City High School for the city Recreation Department's Mural Arts Program.

Besides, he says, waving a cigarette, he doesn't think he's allowed to smoke in XandO. I forget to tell him about the upstairs smoking section.

Soon a young woman sits down and pulls out books, searching through her book bag.

Why are you out here in the cold?

"I was just looking for my telephone," Stacey Penn (C'99) says. "I have to call my friend. I haven't spoken to her in like three weeks." She's not cold, she says; besides, in five minutes, she'll probably go into the bookstore.

Do you stop here often?

"I go to the bookstore almost everyday. It's pretty quiet in there. I do my reading for my classes. And if I get bored, I can just pick up a book or read a magazine or something. And I can charge everything I want to eat on my PennCard."

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Originally published on February 11, 1999