I go to Rittenhouse Square to read. Everyone else seems to have gotten the same memo: this is the place to be. Yes, the sun is out and the park is beautiful, but that’s not why we’re all here. Oh no. We’re here for one reason.
The people-watching is divine.
Hula hoopers, a brass band, a lone cellist competing for attention, I pass them in pursuit of an open bench. Passing me: elderly women who look identical to their dogs, parents chasing their freedom-thirsty toddlers. Drink it in! Drink it up! I can only read a few sentences at a time before getting distracted again.
One year ago, I moved from Chicago to Philadelphia with a rough plan in my head. That plan didn’t pan out, but something else did.
Between trips to the park, I squeeze in the rest of life. I work, writing TV and radio spots, editing meticulously, crafting web copy and brainstorming with my creative partners over where to go for lunch. I love it. After work, I climb, moving with a mix of grace and fatigue so that going up looks like a ballet and coming down looks like wacky inflatable arms guy…deflating. I love that too.
I play ultimate frisbee, I inline skate, I volunteer, I eat out with friends, I hold conversations with the dog, I research happy hour specials and I pick up new books at the library. And then I go to Rittenhouse Square to read.
I hate comparing Chicago and Philadelphia, but I can and I will: the streets are narrower in Philly; the city’s denser; no one wakes up early on the weekends; you can go a year without really learning the bus system; there’s a more even dispersal of sketchiness around the city; centuries-old cobblestones are hell to walk on in heels (but it’s doable and I’ve done it); food carts make the streets smell greasy good; there are more Amish people at the farmer’s markets; also, more tattoos—just not on the Amish.
And of course, there are similarities: tremendous parks; an impressive foods scene; notable arts & architecture; people who compare this winter to that winter far too much; a general agreement over NYC’s inferiority; pigeons.
The longer you sit in the park, the more you want fried chicken.
At least, that’s how it goes for me.
I walk to my fried chicken place—look, mom! I have a fried chicken place!—and wait in a reasonable-to-long line. It’s worth it. I bring my food back to the park and soak in the scene. This is my life? This is my life. Like the park, it’s busy and unexpected. Maybe a little odd. I’m OK with that.
Philadelphia is more community than city. It’s inclusive and friendly, but it won’t sit around and wait for you. If it’s hard to find your place, it’s only because there are so many places you could be. You make choices. You whittle it down, you open it back up, you keep exploring. Philly is full of grit and gusto, and that independent spirit? It rubs off on you.
I’ve learned quite a few things this past year. Some of it hasn’t been particularly useful, like the word jawn. But there’s one lesson I use and reuse, over and over again, from one Ben Franklin reference to the next: how to wing it. Every day I just make it up as I go along. No planning, just being ready and open, as ready and open as possible, for what may come.
Philadelphia taught me that.