Why Philadelphia is awesome

Nov 25, 2009 • Karen

Barring divine intervention, I'm going to be moving away from Philadelphia in a week. This makes me sad. Since the summer of 2006 when I had an internship in the Philly suburbs, I've always liked Philadelphia. It was the place on the East Coast that reminded me the most of Minneapolis, primarily because of its lack of pretension; Philly's not go-go or stuck-up like New York or DC. And the trees and fireflies are pretty. Now that I've lived in Philly proper for a little while, I have more specific examples of Philly's awesomeness to point to. So I'm going to enumerate the ones that come to mind here.

Food Trucks: Most places, your street food choices are comprised by hot dogs and sketchy kebab. If you're in LA, maybe you have access to a decent taco truck. Not so in Philly. Around UPenn's campus and in Center City, you have trucks that serve ribs and catfish. You have trucks named 'Frites and Meats'. There are trucks that serve fruit salad. And there's a Middle Eastern food truck by the comics shop run by this ridiculously charming old Lebanese dude who upon your first visit insists that you get the fava bean falafel instead of the baba ghanoush because "it will make you more happy." It's cheap, tasty, and in the form of a truck: what's not to like?

Food Trucks II: There's some sort of initiative in Philly to make reasonably-priced produce accessible to everybody--since often poor urban neighborhoods don't have much in the way of grocery stores. What this means is that during business hours, there are four different trucks full of cheaply-priced fruits and vegetables parked within easy walking or biking distance of my apartment. This is in addition to the Saturday farmer's market two blocks away. In DC, most of my produce--and much of my other groceries--came from Whole Foods. But here? Who needs Whole Foods?

Rice & Spice: There's an Indian grocery store here which, in addition to selling frozen paranthas and huge reasonably-priced bags of cashews, cumin, and cardamom, has a secret restaurant in back where you can get super delicious, authentic Indian food for $4.50. What. And there's always a Bollywood movie playing. There are other cheap restaurants in West Philly that are good too, like Saad's Halal or Lee's Deli, but Rice & Spice is just full of win.

Local 44: I didn't used to like beer. Then I went to Brussels and made an exception for Belgian fruit beer. Then I went to Local 44. Everything's draft, the beer prices are reasonable, and I've actually liked most of the beers I've tried there. And they have quiz night!

Bikeability: There's bike lanes to most everywhere. Even where there aren't bike lanes, enough people around here bike on a regular basis that the drivers are mostly used to sharing the road. (Mostly. Can't expect too much...) And, except for the hill around 44th and Spruce, the area is basically flat. Whee!

Public transit: There are two trolley lines within walking distance of my apartment, one of which is less than a block away. There's also a regional rail station within walking distance. And biking up to Market and taking that subway line is no big deal. I do wish it were easier in Philly to get to places other than Center City--a trolley line down to Queen's Village where the IKEA and Target are located would be lovely, for instance--but getting to and from Center City is ridiculously easy.

Public art: There are murals EVERYWHERE. They're beautiful. Most are permanent, but some rotate: for instance, right now, there's a series of murals painted along the Market-Frankford line where each panel is a part of a love letter. How adorable is that?

Thrift stores: Up at 45th and Locust, there's a group of thrift stores all called Second Mile -- "Second Mile", "Second Mile Too", "Second Mile Also" -- that occupies like half the block. I guess they just took over more space as they got more stuff. Half a block of thrift store. What.

Phillies: I don't actually like baseball, or give a crap about most sports. But during the playoffs this fall--this is a city that really gets behind its sports teams, and the feeling's infectious! You're walking down the street and the UPenn bike cop pumps his fist and shouts, "YES!" You ask why, and he reports that the Phillies just scored two runs--he's following the game on his walkie-talkie. You can't help but whoop "WOO!" in response. The baseball stadium is at the ass end of south Philly -- way far from my apartment --yet when the Phillies made it to the World Series the cheering and honking horns made it back here. And that enthusiasm's not just true about sports. I've seen a lot of evidence that Philly natives have a lot of pride in their city and get genuinely excited not only by when it is awesome, but also by ways to make it even more awesome. I never felt that vibe in LA or DC.

Quakers: Quakers are basically great. How could a religious sect that promotes simplicity, egalitarianism, and quiet introspection bother anybody? Nelson, Sam, and I visited the Quaker meeting in West Philly last week. It was just a bunch of people in a room in someone's house--30 people sitting and meditating together on couches and the floor. It was warm and cozy and gorgeous.

And lots of other, little things. The trees waving and the autumn leaves flying in your face as you bike by UPenn. The lights on the water as you walk across the Schuykill at night. The pots of basil and cherry tomatoes that practically everyone was growing on their porch. The kids' LARPing day camp that takes place in Clark Park. The smart, sensitive local live theatre scene. Philly CarShare, the local, non-profit car sharing co-op that predates ZipCar. The cute kitties wandering everywhere. The beautiful old houses and landscaping on the professor blocks. House parties with campfires, smores, singalongs, and homebrewed beer. And on and on. Lately the weather's been really dark, rainy, and drizzly--the kind of weather that set off my seasonal-affective in Denmark. It should be telling that despite the rain--despite everything else that's been going on lately, actually--I'm still mostly happy here.

I'm telling myself that moving's not so bad. Because it really isn't. I'll go to Minnesota for a while, be there for my sister's senior year of high school and get my dose of Real Winter. If all goes well, I'll hopefully move to the Bay for grad school and find all the geeks and tech startups I ever wanted. But once I've got my career going and get tired of paying a king's ransom in rent every month... I could see settling down in Philly.

So in the meantime, I'll be sad that I'm leaving.