I grew up in Center City, which always surprises people. Where?, they ask incredulously, as if the only answer could be a teepee in front of Robinson Luggage on Broad Street. It just doesn’t seem like a residential area, I guess. But any time I’ve lived in Philly as an adult, I’ve been in Center City. I always insisted I couldn’t survive anywhere else. Center City, c’est moi.
Funny, then, that I now live in Southwest Philly instead. The transition was pretty easy; the shoes are far more comfortable on this side of the river. And not only have I forsaken Center City entirely (how could anyone live there?), I now insist I can’t survive outside of my natural habitat of South 48th Street. West Philly, c’est moi.
I guess you could say I have an addictive municipal personality.
Sometimes, though, I get a jolt of my old self, and the fact that I live here—in a neighborhood I wasn’t allowed to visit as a kid—seems surreal. I think that kind of thing happens to all of us from time to time. For a brief instant, often after having inhaled something, we see ourselves from the outside as if we’re characters in a really long and boring novel. In my case, I always see myself in the morning, waking up to a bludgeon of birdsong (I believe that’s the collective noun), bleary-eyed and ready for a day of sandal-wearing, and I think: Our protagonist lives in West Philly? Really?
It’s a strange sense of dislocation, but in case I have any doubts, the sights and sounds of my neighborhood effortlessly remind me where I am.
So I present to you—with the wry, paint-peeling wit of a Huffington Post slideshow (only without the slideshow part)—a new neighborhood feature:
You Know You Live in West Philly If …
- Your building handyman annoys you by constantly blasting the radio—and it’s always NPR.
- Local band practice begins and ends punctually, unless that guy with the shekere gets too polyrhythmic about things.
- The fellow who comes to fix the roof has “VIVA SOMOZA” spraypainted on his van.
- The box of “trash” on the curb is filled with books about gender, three pairs of Rocket Dog flats, and a candlemaking kit.
- You go to someone’s house for a party and the host asks to take your coat—and your shoes.
- Your local coffee shop consistently runs out of half-and-half and clean spoons, but always has agave syrup at your disposal.
- The new chairs and tables at the park aren’t nailed into the ground or chained up because because park planners feel the residents will do the right thing.
- The neighborhood thrift store owner says she ran out of bow ties because “all the females who date females buy them.”
- The local pickup joint is in the back of an Eritrean restaurant.
- The men who staff your polling place often look like John Brown.
- Your neighbor hangs her wash on the line in the backyard instead of using the dryer—and keeps her wooden clothespins in an adorable cotton sack.
- The older residents of the ‘hood set out for their morning constitutional geared up like they’re hiking the Appalachian Trail.
- The kids at the local park forgo Tag and Cops and Robbers in favor of roleplaying games that involve foam weaponry.
- In addition to lottery tickets and rolling papers, the convenience store sells organic laundry detergent for $13 and special-orders grass-fed beef.
- You buy your produce from a French-speaking African who sells high-quality broccoli from the back of a graffitied truck.
- The white people describe themselves as “pioneers,” and they’re not making a Willa Cather reference.
- The month of May means you’re about to acquire a lot of Ikea furniture and numerous computer peripherals for free.
- A casual conversation on a neighborhood Internet forum can get ugly very quickly if someone says something mean about cats.
How about you, dear reader? Got any of these about your own neighborhoods?