So, you know when you break up with someone after a really long relationship, and you”ll go seemingly forever without seeing or speaking to them?
Days flow into months and years and then completely out of the blue you bump into each other, and it’s OF COURSE the day you leave the house without showering, wearing your wood stacking clothes and/or the holey sweater your bird uses as a toilet. So they pretend to be happy to see you, as much as you are to see them, except that they look REALLLLLLY REAAALLLLLLLLLLLYY GOOD. Like WAY better than they ever looked when you were together. Like they got some plastic surgery or something – maybe Botox? – but not the bad kind, the really expert kind done by the best surgeons money can buy, and instead of sporting that old hairdo they had for their entire life (until you broke up) they’re now meticulously coifed. And wearing designer clothes that haven’t just been dry cleaned and pressed but are so brand new you can still smell the “new clothes” smell coming off of them.
That, my friends, is Philly.
Last month was my birthday. If you don’t know me, then you don’t know how much I LOVE MY BIRTHDAY!!!! And this year, instead of celebrating it at home in Maine, my beloved family made a plan to get together and celebrate in style. Where? Well, Philly of course!
Five years ago, when we left Philadelphia for colder climes, Philly was pretty much the same as it’d been the previous umpteen decades. Okay, maybe a bit cleaner. But really, fundamentally, the same. We lived in a “gentrifying” neighborhood. One that allowed us to buy a house, live in it for 8 years, then sell it for over THREE TIMES what we’d paid. I kid you not. When we moved north in 2009, leaving all of our friends and family and the only home we’d ever known behind (as well as three stray porch cats), we didn’t realize that Philadelphia would undergo a magical transformation worthy of HALL OF FAME fame. But it did.
When we left Philly, the South Street Bridge had just closed for construction. The waterfront along the Schuylkill was, like a majestic butterfly still in its pupae state, just beginning its metamorphosis. Old City was still just that – an old part of the city, a little nicer than some of the rest maybe – but not that nice. The area north of city hall, pretty much without exception – from Broad Street, all the way to Temple and on, was still gritty. Fishtown and No Libs had reached the stage of indie hipster that was still novel, even tolerable.
But when we returned last month, HOLY SHITOLY.
Philadelphia had transformed into something I’d never imagined. It looked so GOOD. And not just GOOD, but GREAT!
We spent the better part of Sunday driving around town, taking in not only the old hood, but all the sights, and as the blocks whizzed by I found myself feeling less and less comfortable, and more and more.. resentful. Seeing all these new people, young, beautiful, happy, enjoying MY TOWN. It didn’t even look like my town anymore. Gone were the filthy street corners of my youth, the dive bars and the broken park benches. In their place were riverwalks, and cosmopolitan lighting, hip sidewalk cafes, and block after block of boutiques. We crossed over the bridge where I used to see a homeless man masturbating, and instead of scrubby bushes and soiled underpants, there were neon-clad joggers and cyclists, families pushing small children in strollers, lovers walking hand in hand, all blissfully unaware of the jiz beneath their feet. I was almost .. dare I say it.. JEALOUS. That night, as we watched the Eagles tromp the Giants, 27 to zip, and swayed to the Boyz II Men halftime show from our front row seats at the Linc (THE ONES MY DAD WILL WILL TO ME BECAUSE WE BLEED GREEN AND DON’T YOU FORGET IT), I felt acutely aware of all that I’d lost, moving to Maine.
Thankfully the maudlin mood didn’t last long. Because for all its spiffy newness, there are things about Philly that will never change. Like the people. I woke Monday morning to – not only a new year of life, but to news! At breakfast, my dad related the story that was all over the Philadelphia media. Apparently, the night before, at the very same football game we’d attended, a drunken Eagles fan in a fit of temporary insanity (let’s hope) helped herself to a disabled man’s prothetic leg. And then, of course, not really needing an extra, left the leg on the subway. As we sat digesting that little morsel, swallowing it down with some of the WORST tasting water I’ve ever had — something I truly couldn’t appreciate either until moving to Maine — I realized just how lucky I am. To be able to appreciate my hometown for all it offers, while staying the hell out of dodge, well it’s pretty close to perfect.