Thursday, July 17, 2008

The City Of Brotherly Love.

Walking around Philadelphia yesterday it struck me just how much an environment can leave its imprint on people. The inspiration for this thought was the amount of ugly people on the streets of the "City of Brotherly Love". I do realize that this sounds awful. It's not a politically correct observation to make. Perhaps I feel entitled to make this judgment since I am no superstar in the looks department myself, and because I grew up damn near Philly. But the fact remains... there are legions of unattractive folks running around that city. And I'd say it makes a lot of sense that it should be that way, since its inhabitants are surrounded by such an unlovely setting. Have you ever been there? If not, maybe you should reserve judgment.

When I first announced my decision to move to the 'Burgh,the most common reaction I got was bewilderment. The populace of Eastern Pennsylvania has a collection of very skewed notions about Western Pennsylvania. I guess in their minds they imagine a cross between a post-industrial apocalyptic wasteland and a scene out of Deliverance. In their collective mind's eye, they saw Pittsburgh's citizens as toothless rednecks with the grime of the steel mills forever caking their skins. They pictured rivers on fire, and lines outside of soup kitchens. And naturally everyone was running around with goofy foam Steeler hats (well, of course that one just happens to be an accurate depiction).

Meanwhile I found Pittsburgh to be much more beautiful than anywhere in the Northeast. The rivers are clean, there is an abundance of interesting architecture, and the mountains and bridges form postcard-quality views in almost every neighborhood. The garbage men don't go on strike, and there's not much litter. Indeed there are some individuals who look like they stepped out of the 70's, but they move slow enough to be mistaken for your garden variety zombies- simply step around them and on to your destination. The reality is that Pittsburgh is yours for the taking. It's not jam-packed with human vermin trying to claw their way to the top of the social heap by way of your bent back.

In considering the general unsightliness of much of Philadelphia, one has to acknowledge the demeanor of Philadelphians. The place is corrupt, congested, and unclean. Living in such an atmosphere has to take a toll on people. That's likely why many of these urban dwellers get that pinched and sour look so permanently affixed to their skulls. They are always on the very brink of falling into the vast mire of their city. One stutter-step could make them lose their footing, and they'd be in the prone position in a dirty gutter, sleeping in their own piss. In order to avoid such a fate, they are at any time only a second away from planting their knives into the backs of their fellows.

All this should be kept in mind when visiting Philly. It's not an especially welcoming town. They don't want tourists because they don't need another body to push aside. Don't make eye contact. Don't try to make idle conversation. Don't ask for directions from anyone not acting in an official capacity. Don't make the mistake of asking a cop for help. Exhaustive planning before your visit will benefit you greatly. Get in, do your business, and get out. There are good reasons to go (cheese steaks, the Flyers, a robust and quality art scene, etc.), but Filthadelphia constitutes about 75% of the total area. And remember... the natives don't stay in place, but freely roam. Just because you are in the "good" 25% doesn't mean you are safe.

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