You Know You Live in West Philly If …

Our city's neighborhoods have a talent for giving themselves away

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 …

  1. Your building handyman annoys you by constantly blasting the radio—and it’s always NPR.
  2. Local band practice begins and ends punctually, unless that guy with the shekere gets too polyrhythmic about things.
  3. The fellow who comes to fix the roof has “VIVA SOMOZA” spraypainted on his van.
  4. The box of “trash” on the curb is filled with books about gender, three pairs of Rocket Dog flats, and a candlemaking kit.
  5. You go to someone’s house for a party and the host asks to take your coat—and your shoes.
  6. Your local coffee shop consistently runs out of half-and-half and clean spoons, but always has agave syrup at your disposal.
  7. 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.
  8. The neighborhood thrift store owner says she ran out of bow ties because “all the females who date females buy them.”
  9. The local pickup joint is in the back of an Eritrean restaurant.
  10. The men who staff your polling place often look like John Brown.
  11. 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.
  12. The older residents of the ‘hood set out for their morning constitutional geared up like they’re hiking the Appalachian Trail.
  13. The kids at the local park forgo Tag and Cops and Robbers in favor of roleplaying games that involve foam weaponry.
  14. In addition to lottery tickets and rolling papers, the convenience store sells organic laundry detergent for $13 and special-orders grass-fed beef.
  15. You buy your produce from a French-speaking African who sells high-quality broccoli from the back of a graffitied truck.
  16. The white people describe themselves as “pioneers,” and they’re not making a Willa Cather reference.
  17. The month of May means you’re about to acquire a lot of Ikea furniture and numerous computer peripherals for free.
  18. 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?