“One of the most beautiful parts is I-95 separating us from the city,” Larry Wright tells me, and with that, I’ve finally discovered that even some of the dumbest things we’ve ever done — such as building a highway that walls off downtown from our river — actually make sense. If you live where Larry lives.
We’re talking in his den — aka the bar at La Veranda, Pier 3 on the Delaware. Larry spends time in his den pretty much every day. Home, though, that’s Grand Finale, sitting right out the window, a 44-foot Chris Craft, a stinkin’ yacht, if you want to get technical, though Larry doesn’t like the word: “I tell people I live on a boat.”
He’s a man of a few pounds and a few years — “Let’s just say I’m as good-looking as I was when I was 40” — with five grown sons. His wife died back in ’91, and Larry held on for quite a while in his corner-lot house in Washington Township over in New Jersey, with a big yard, a swimming pool, etcetera.
He’s a banker by trade, and a few years ago, Larry saw that it was a good time to sell, but not to buy. Why not make the leap? He’d been a boat guy for some time, keeping his down in Ocean City. Parking Grand Finale here is a way to live both in Philly and a gated community — it’s tougher to break into the marina than the Union League — with Old City just a stroll over the highway, that albatross that we’ve already mentioned.[SIGNUP]
Home: It’s like stepping down into somebody’s cool clubhouse — although getting there is a little tricky, because even on a gentle winter day the boat’s rocking a little, and Larry himself misjudged once after some ship came by too close and the wash had Grand Finale bobbing up and down — he fell, dislocating a hip. “More pain than childbirth,” Larry says. Massaged with “painkillers and alcohol — not necessarily in that order.”
We step up on her and then down we go, past a glass door thick enough to take a .45 slug: There’s two bedrooms, and a full kitchen, and a living room — with six feet six inches of headroom — a back patio (okay, the aft deck), and the fly bridge, where you sit up high and drive this baby. Though Larry doesn’t take it out much. When he’s not working, he sits up on the fly bridge winter mornings, enclosed by plastic windows, enjoying his coffee, maybe playing Jerry Blavat’s oldies, no reason to be anywhere else.
Since he’s got a tub and three TVs, and computer and fax and copier and scanner behind louvered teak doors. He’s got a wet bar (duh—except that his wet bar features a deep bin for beer and soda and ice that, when the ice melts, gets dumped right into the Delaware. Ditto shower run-off. There’s a holding tank for other stuff). He’s hooked up to city electric; it goes out, Larry’s own generator could keep him happy for a week at 71 degrees.
We watch a little afternoon TV, me and Larry. Out a window, the world is bobbing gently. Bad weather isn’t a problem — the marina is a little cove, surrounded by several-story buildings. Once every two or three years, when the wind is due west, then it can get a bit rough. “A little swaying in the middle of the night, though,” Larry says. “Now that can be pretty pleasant.”
It’s a sweet spot: A girlfriend used to sit on the deck, offer bread to the wildlife, and catfish two feet long would take it, right out of her hand. Out on the river, that’s a harsher world. I ask Larry about patrols out there.
“Oh, Jesus Christ!” To Larry’s way of thinking, the Delaware is a little over-policed, with city and state cops from both PA and Jersey, and the Coast Guard, and Homeland Security. “I was out on a friend’s boat at night, about 9 p.m., and the Coast Guard comes up, pointing 50 mm guns at us. They came on board and inspected it. Why? Well, the reason is, a boat that size — it was 45 feet — if it’s filled with explosives, it could take out the Ben Franklin Bridge.”
Ah, but a midsummer’s night dream: It’s 2 a.m. Larry takes a glass of pinot up to the fly bridge. Maybe it’s Sinatra now. Hasn’t been the case for a while, but if he’s got some company, well, who doesn’t like a water view? But alone, it’s almost as good. Out on the water, if the tide’s up, ships from all over the world slip by. And the rest of the world, the citified one to his back:
Larry can’t hear a thing. It’s dead quiet, save for the tiniest hiss of traffic on 95.