Today Is the Best Day to Be Working in Center City

It’s January 2nd, 2017 — observed New Year’s Day this year — and most people are off. It’s a dystopian future without the dystopia!

a rainy Center City day on January 2nd, 2017

Photo | Dan McQuade

I used to start work at 6 a.m. Every morning I’d wake up at 5, shower away my grogginess and walk to the Comcast Center. Downtown is different at that hour. It’s dark. Stray or outdoor pet cats, usually hidden by the bustle, are out prowling the streets. The only people I’d regularly see in the morning were the friendly drug dealers and sex workers on 13th Street. Occasionally I’d pass a worker setting up a food cart. Otherwise, I was mostly on the streets alone.

I’ve lived in Center City for eleven and a half years. Only during my childhood in the Far Northeast did I spend more time in one neighborhood. I love living here. Even my side street is usually full of activity. And my walk from my place in Washington Square West to the Philadelphia magazine offices at 19th and Market is usually full of sights and sounds.

Except today. Most offices are closed today, but not Philly Mag. My walk to work reminded me of those early-morning walks to the Comcast Center. There’s just one food cart on Market Street. The only downtown regular I saw is the guy who preaches at the northeast corner of 16th and Market. Center City was busier on Christmas Eve and Christmas night.

The new Wawa at 20th and Market was empty. Suburban Station was empty. Many office buildings, including the Beneficial Bank building that our offices are in, are almost completely empty. The hallway lights aren’t even on here. Outside, the rain and fog are keeping even more people away from the streets. It’s empty.

I love Center City for its bustle, its variety of people, its mixing of high and low cultures. Being downtown without many people is eerie. It’s also quite cool.

I’m reminded of the opening of Cameron Crowe’s Vanilla Sky, where Tom Cruise’s character drives into a completely empty Times Square in the opening of the film. Two coworkers of mine said it seemed like the parts of the city that were deserted over Pope Weekend. It’s like working in a weird alternate universe Center City.

If being downtown on a day like this actually bothers you, there is one place that’s a respite: Reading Terminal Market. I expected it to be like the rest of Center City, but when I stepped in for what I thought would be a quick lunch it was still crowded.

No matter the day, the Reading Terminal Market will always be crowded. Even the Terminal wasn’t the scene it usually is: I had elbow room there for maybe the first time I can remember.

That this empty streets day is coming the day after Center City is as crowded as it is all year is an added bonus. It’s a taste of the post-apocalyptic future seen in films and novels, with the added bonus that everything will be back to normal tomorrow. It’s a dystopian future without the dystopia!