The Empty-Nester’s Guide To Center City

12 essential tips for adjusting to life downtown from someone who's just done it.

Congratulations! You made it. Your kids are grown. You’ve managed to save a few bucks. You still have a mostly-intact prostate. And now, you want to live the empty-nester lifestyle. You want to sell your house, dump all that old junk, store a few heirlooms, burn the furniture and start afresh in Center City. That’s what my wife and I did a couple of months ago. So to help you I’ve put together a few things that I’ve learned about living in town that you will also need to know.

There are a lot of homeless. They are everywhere and they are mentally ill. And it’s sad. There are also more than a few people who walk around having conversations with themselves. These are the Democratic mayoral candidates. And that’s sad too. Have a policy about the homeless. If you are feeling guilty then the best advice I received was that instead of giving money directly to them, give instead to an organization that can help them. For the homeless I recommend Project Home. For the city’s Mayoral candidates I recommend the Republican National Committee.

Eating out is expensive. The days of Little Pete’s and other affordable diners are coming to an end. And it’s mostly our own fault, because we’re the ones flocking into town and driving up real estate values. So as a result, we’re paying $25 for a plate of ravioli and $14 for a glass of wine that’s likely poured out of a box in the kitchen. My advice is to stick to restaurants south of Pine Street and in up-and-coming (translation: young and grubby) areas like Northern Liberties and near the Art Museum. Eat bar food. Go to happy hours if you can. And that delicious coffee at La Colombe that you always treated yourself to when you visited the city?  Meh … a cup of home brewed Maxwell House is just as fine, and a fraction of the cost.

Eating in is just as expensive. There’s nothing close to a Wegmans in town so get over it. Instead, you’re going to find little overpriced grocery stores. And DiBrunos, which is awesome. But they’re all more expensive options than you’re used to. You’ll think you’re saving by “eating in” but after the delivery charge there’s not much of a difference. Budget more for food than you think.

You better know your tech. Center City is all about mobile apps. You’ll need to familiarize yourself with OpenTable, GrubHub and Yelp if you plan on ever eating out or in. You’ll want to download the SEPTA app (more on SEPTA later). You’ll need to get very familiar with the joys of Uber. You’ll want to get the Way2Ride app for seamless paying your non-Uber taxi fares without having to learn a West African or Middle Eastern language. I’m not mentioning others, but you get the idea.

SEPTA is a public transportation system. Like me, you are probably only vaguely familiar that such a thing exists, but believe it or not, millions of people use this system every year in Philadelphia and despite a few hiccups now and then…it actually works! Taking a bus is a fun way to get around the city and cheap. Using the underground trolley is a snap to get you to the Penn/Drexel areas. The El takes you all over and there are also trains other than the R5 from the Main Line. Who knew? And if you’re over 65, you ride buses, trolleys and subways for free. Oh, carry some pepper spray with you. Just saying …

Prepare to never leave. After a few weeks you will begin to hear of places called “King of Prussia” and “Cherry Hill” and “Jenkintown” and you’ll think to yourself “where are these far-off lands that these people and newscasters speak of? I once knew them in a prior life. A life of schools and soccer games and shoveling snow.” Going to Bryn Mawr will soon seem like an expedition to the North Pole. Prepare to change all of your service providers to ones in Center City. Get referrals. Find new doctors at Penn or Jefferson. Get a housekeeper or contractor in town. This is now your life.

If you have a dog, prepare to know his pooping habits. Your dog’s poop schedule will be instrumental to your day. Previously, in your big suburban house, you just let the dog out whenever and paid no attention to when and if he pooped. Now it’s vital that you know this, lest your new carpet get pooped on. You will become intimately familiar with his poop. You will talk about his poop with your spouse. You will high five each other when he poops. You will beg him to poop when you walk him at night before bed. You will become one of those poop-picker-uppers that you vowed never to become. And you will become intimately familiar with these angels of the earth called “dog walkers” that will magically appear (for about $10 per visit) to do all of this when you’re either not around or just sick of picking up poop.

If you have a car, get rid of it. Cars suck in town. The insurance is higher than the suburbs. You’ll pay $200 to $400 (not kidding) per month to park it and experience a different smell from an unrecognizable origin each time you retrieve it from your parking garage. You’ll add 20 minutes to your trip each way by the time you’ve walked and waited for the car. Parking on the street may be an option, as long as you’re comfortable possibly never seeing your car again. Biking is not recommended because, for God’s sake, you’re not a kid anymore and the last bike you rode was a Schwinn with a banana seat. We’re down from three cars to one and aiming to Zip Car it by 2016. That should be your plan too.

Yes, there is more noise. But there’s also more energy. There are people actually eating out in restaurants after 10 p.m. on a Tuesday! There are young people in their 20s who are laughing and having fun and enjoying life. Remember those days? OK, sometimes you’ll hear them at 2 a.m. so that’s not so fun. But you’ll absorb some of this energy and yes, you will feel younger too. You may even stay up till 11 p.m. one weekday night and skip watching The Voice so that you can actually go to a free concert at the Curtis. Yes! You! And you’re going to bump into other empty-nesters who you once knew as being beaten down by life and their children back in the neighborhood but now they are smiling and laughing and full of vigor. You may even have a drink with them. Yes! You!

Speaking of drinking … yes you can. You can drink. Any. Freaking. Time. You. Want. You can drink like you were back in college. Why? Because you’re not driving anywhere! So go on … do a few shots like the old days. Pray to the porcelain Gods like you did back when you had hair. No one’s going to mind. Except your spouse, of course. A bonus: All those calories won’t stick to you because you’ll be walking more than ever.

Your grown children will think you’re kind of cool. Not totally cool because that will never happen. But they’ll be secretly happy ’ol mom and dad ditched the 4BR 2-car place and are living it up in town. “Good for them,” they’ll say to each other when you’re not around. “You ruined our childhood and now you’ve abandoned our childhood home,” they’ll say to you when they see you. Ah, kids. Thank God for Skype.

Finally — in Center City you can choose to be a king or a hermit. I thought living in town would be claustrophobic, crowded and invasive. It is not. There are more people but the great majority seem to mind their own business. We’re all walking around in our own little bubbles doing our best to stay out of each other’s way. You can talk and be friendly with lots of strangers. You can turn yourself into the most popular person on the block. Or you can do the exact opposite and ignore everyone. Like I do. But no one cares. No one minds.

It’s your choice how you want to enjoy your empty-nester life. So choose well my friend. And enjoy.

Follow @GeneMarks on Twitter.