When Fall Comes to Philadelphia

Most of the year, Philly isn't hospitable to life. But, damn, our fall is perfect.

Photograph: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

Photograph: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock

I can’t help but feel a bit guilty this time of year.

During the unofficial last weekend of summer, I’m always antsy. I’ll go to send-off barbecues and last-call beach days, but I’m checking the clock. While everyone mourns the end of the agreed-upon Season of Fun and Happiness, I can barely contain my excitement. Back-to-school blues? Even if I could afford grad school, I’d be feeling just fine right about now. Because as soon as Tuesday rolls around, as far as I’m concerned, it’s fall.

Beautiful, perfect, we-owe-you-one-God fall. And fall in Philadelphia no less.

Most of the year, Philadelphia seems to have — how do I say this — the absolute worst fucking weather known to the absolute worst fucking man. Maybe it’s our positioning on the Eastern seaboard or maybe it’s our Wing Bowl, but either way, geography or karma, things can get pretty rough around here.

The summers are humid and swampy, right up until the very end. The springs are downright smug, demanding our gratitude for little more than a couple of frost-bitten, meth-addled crocuses. Last winter was so bleak that I holed up and watched a weekend-long Rosemary & Thyme marathon. (You’d think there were only so many times those British biddies could find a dead body in the garden, but you’d be wrong.) Nine months out of 12, you could be forgiven for looking in the mirror and wondering why, exactly, you choose to live in a place that is actively and enthusiastically trying to kill you.

That said, for me at least, it’s all worth it for mid-September through late November. Because while Philadelphia might not be The Best at much, when it comes to fall, we simply crush it.

Our leaf game is second to none – just flashy enough to make you stop and appreciate this little slice of the world, but not desperate for attention, New England-style. The breeze is glorious, warmed from the summer yet wise to winter. Apples? How about warm apple pie, sunk in a milkshake. Haunted houses? Please, this is Philadelphia. We’ve been here since the beginning of this whole America thing, murdering and pillaging and regretting away. Our ghosts have real-deal unfinished business (and, in all likelihood, syphilis).

With the possible exception of, say, Maui, I’d wager that there’s no better place to spend the season. And honestly, I feel bad for anyone who wakes up in Maui every day, walks outside and thinks, “Yes, another perfectly normal and unremarkable morning.” That person might live in paradise, but I know the joy of putting on my winter coat for the first time and finding a stale Reese’s Cup in the pocket. In Maui, I imagine nothing short of a unicorn kitten could spark such wonder and awe, such deep gratitude to the universe.

The few times I’ve considered packing it up and leaving this city in the rearview, it’s fall that has made me pause. A friend of mine thinks he has a solution to our shared hangup. He’s planning to open a bar in Los Angeles that simulates autumn on the East Coast, from the sleepy-sun lighting to the faintly woodsy smell to the crispy air. When you step in, he promises, you’ll think it’s October in Philly. Which I have to admit sounds pretty great – except that when you step out, you’ll know it’s L.A.

Happy fall, Philadelphia. Now let’s get this started already.