DAY 15-16 – PHILADELPHIA, PA
Ah, Philadelphia, where do I begin? Such a defining city for me, life-defining. The approximately 8 years I lived in this place were filled with plenty of high and low occurrences. Everything that happened here still echoes in other areas of my life, be it my discerning palate or the fact that I currently live in Arizona, such varied echoes.
When we disembarked the Chinatown bus we immediately breathed in that Philly air and walked over to the PSFS building to use the bathroom and go to the top floor to look at the city. I’ve been taking people close to me up there for 13 years and I’ve watched the skyline transform during that time. It is very peaceful up there, has that quiet feeling of omniscience one can get when looking down at the world from up high. After that we found some coffee and I had a phone conversation with someone in Arizona that definitely rubbed me the wrong way, but that is how it is, my rooted existence in Tempe is fucking with this experience. That has been the on and off case this entire time, but I’m trying, especially in places like Philly, to not let it get in the way, I need to try to catch the emotional residuals here. We went over to Good Dog to grab a burger, fantastic place I used to frequent, across from my favorite bar of all time: McGlincheys. A place where the homeless of the city and the lawyers of the city converge in one place, and you can still smoke. Josh thought the burger was amazing, best meal of the entire trip, I was just happy to consume some familiar food. We left and walked around in the light rain. I didn’t really plan for a place to stay here, since I know so many people, but as I put the word out that I was in town I was a little surprised at how many people aren’t here anymore, and how many bridges I’ve either singed or burned, unbeknownst to my aloof sensibility. I did manage to get in touch with Manny, a person very close to me even though we don’t see each other much anymore. Manny was the son of the woman my father was with for close to a decade after he and my mother were divorced. We grew up together, every other weekend, and we were brothers. As I started to realize that Josh and I didn’t have a place to stay I broke down and asked Manny. I don’t like to ask people for favors like that. He was shocked I hadn’t asked before my arrival, go figure, he’s a great guy, but there was a problem, he was going out of town that night.
We all met up on Market street to catch up and sit down for dinner. I just had coffee since I already ate. He brought a female friend with him, I thought she was a sweetheart. Good for him he deserves someone like that in his life. He reached out to his roommates and asked if Josh and I could stay there. They said yes and boom, we had a place for the night. We headed down there, a semi-sketch area of South Philly, dropped our stuff off and headed to Penn’s Landing, where Manny would leave us for the night. We wanted to walk around and check out the city and some of the historical sights. Earlier we had seen Independence Hall but it was raining and we still didn’t have a place to stay, so we were a bit miserable at the time. Now that the weather cleared up and we had a place, time to really soak it in. This whole trip the weather has been unbelievably nice, especially for July, we are very fortunate. We walked around Society Hill, the Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church graveyard, South Street, into South Philly. I reminisced.
520 Montrose St. Where things really started to go downhill in my life. The sloth, the drugs, the everyday existential crises, I mean shit, it was not a great time. But I’m happy the way things turned out. If I follow the trajectory of my life I obviously wouldn’t be writing this going 74 miles an hour on a highway right now and I wouldn’t be on this trip. Philadelphia was where I learned how to do everything wrong in my life, I think they refer to it as “growing up”. Except the way that I tested the waters bordered on extreme and when everything was all said and done I was drowning.
The early years in college were great, I met people at Temple that I am still friends with today, close friends. The freedom, the culture, getting spoiled by how consistently amazing the food in this city is (which haunts me for life), were experiences that obviously, I relished, and impacted me greatly. The middle years after my father died, relationships fell apart and my mother moved to Arizona, well, those were tough, but livable. Then the later years. I did graduate college, that’s a good thing. I moved a couple times, came back, left again, came back, but I just ran you know, I just fucking ran. To different cities, to different homes, to different people, but to the same experience, one of desperate flight, one that was outside of myself. But you know, what I was looking for was inside me all along. Son of a bitch.
It really is pointless to go into the stories or the consistent levels of desperation experienced in this city, so I won’t, but they were there, and I can still feel them when walking through these streets. It is similar to the feeling of being followed when no one is actually following you. You turn the corner and no one is there, just you, and the night, a streetlamp, a car doing the south philly slide. My memory transforms these buildings, removes the new condos, places trash on a clean city street, builds a factory and leaves it abandoned a century later. A part of me wishes I were more comfortable here than I am, a part of me wants to move back to try again as a new man, a part of me wants to leave forever.
We continued walking until we ended up at Pat’s Steaks, the original, and best cheesesteak in the world in my opinion. They are now up to $10 a piece, I remember when they were under $7, gentrainflation is a bitch. Josh loved it, of course he did, it’s amazing. We walked to the crash pad in a pretty suspect neighborhood, it was whatever though, let’s live a little. Manny’s roommates were great. Buddy is a great R&B musician and Tony is quite talented behind the camera. We talked our passions for a while then people went to bed. Josh crashed on Manny’s temporary bed in the basement while I crashed on the couch. I stayed up writing, listening to Tony and his girlfriend argue upstairs.
In the morning we grabbed sandwiches and coffee at Breezy’s, more amazing Philly food, with Tony and his girl. We were invited to stay another day and see Buddy’s show at night but I had the feeling it wasn’t going to work out even though I wished we could, our itinerary was just too strict. We hopped on the Subway at Federal and rode up to Temple, where I reminisced some more about my college experience. I visited the L spot where we used to hang out and smoke pot and grabbed a crepe from the crepe truck. They were just as delicious as I remembered. We then went over to the Eastern State Penitentiary to check it out. I used to live around the corner from there, more reminiscing. Then we went over to Spring Garden Street, took pictures of one of the city’s many amazing murals and walked past another place I’d lived on our way to Edgar Allen Poe’s house. We checked that out, learned some more about how sad of a life he had, poor bastard, and went to the train station. After arriving in Harrisburg we ate another delicious meal prepared by my mother, I did laundry, worked on the site some more, and went to bed.
I love Philadelphia and always will. The culture, the blue collar milieu, and the food, which is the best around, affect me in a way no other city can. The idea of moving back definitely crossed my mind more than a few times. I doubt it will happen anytime soon if at all, but I guess anything is possible.