Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Philadelphia, again.

The funny thing about Philadelphia is that once upon a time, it was the setting for my first glimpse of adulthood. I was 16 and enrolled in a summer program for fellow media nerds at Penn. We were a group of hyper-motivated, weird kids who found ourselves and each other immensely fascinating. Living in a dorm together for six weeks - attending classes, working on projects, traveling - made for the coolest summer ever. (Yep, "coolest summer" for me involved school - go figure.) So this is what college is like, I thought. So this is what living in a city is like, I thought. I had the bug, and ended up attending college in Boston two years later, a city lover already. Boston was my first urban love, but without Philadelphia, it might never have happened.

Save for a quick weekend in college, I hadn't been back to the city since. This weekend, we hopped onto a quick 2-hour train (I'm giddy at how easy it is to do this now that we live in DC) and went to see the most fantastic play and stay with the most fantastic people. They're old friends of T's family and are responsible for things like this at our wedding:

A truly fantastic couple, H&D, married for over 30 years and still having goodbye makeouts each time one of them leaves to run an errand. Here's just one lovely thing about H&D: they say that T is the reason they ever married at all.

See, T's parents had tried and failed to set them up. They were all living in Philadelphia back then, and my in-laws arranged a meetup at a local bar. Only, the plan backfired - D went home with H's roommate instead of H. Oops.

Some time later, they were all going to a toga party and came to pick up H. She answered the door expecting to see my father-in-law. Instead, it was my father-in-law's pal D, the one who'd gone home with the wrong girl (who of course wasn't The One), and he was carrying a baby in his arms. That was little T decked out in a kiddie-sized toga. H couldn't resist the sight of D with the adorable towheaded baby. They were married six months later.

H & D still live in Philadelphia, in a 150-year-old townhouse on a great street in a neighborhood dotted with local businesses and neighbors who recognize each other. With a skyline right there. And everything walkable.

Upon our arrival, we engaged in Battle Martini: Shaken v. Stirred (I'm a stirred girl myself, it turns out).We explored historic sites, visited the building T lived in as a baby, and enjoyed delicious food. We saw a play honoring one of my heroes, and it was wonderful. We walked home and drank wine and played word games (T and I are out of practice). We woke up early and had breakfast at a little neighborhood cafe run by a French couple who are H&D's vacation buddies. Life is good for these two. Their daughter's almost out of graduate school and is moving to DC (!) in the fall. They're dialing back their workloads. They're ready to enjoy what's in front of them. The decade between 60 and 70, H told me, is what she calls "the sweet spot." They're living it.

And so throughout that weekend, more times than I could count, the Philadelphia thing hit me again. Once more, I got glimpses of what being a grown-up could look like. (Why yes, I'm still searching for that reality sixteen years later, aren't you?) This kind of life - the walking and the history and the knowing your neighbors and the local businesses and the vitality of it all - is very much the kind of life that T and I would like to build. Not to mention the kind of partnership that's at its center. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us to make it happen (DC real estate voyeurism can turn into panic and depression really quickly, it turns out), but it's what we want. Someday. Maybe sooner rather than later. Our Life Plan feels a little less tenuous having seen a model of it in action, even if the steps to get there still feel enormous and slightly mind-boggling.

So progress, then. Baby steps toward the Plan. Found, once more, in Philadelphia. Who knew?

Any "Philadelphia moments" for you all lately? I'd love to bask in everyone's inspiration for a bit. With spring in the air, life feels so hopeful right now.


  1. H&D sound so much fun! It's a really sweet story about how T helped get them together.

    So jealous of getting to go to the play about Molly Ivins - sounds incredible!

  2. Our neighborhood in DC is just like the one you describe! Love, love, love it.

  3. That Philly life looks great! Isn't DC real estate scary?! What ever you do, do not look at Baltimore real estate...they have real life cute row homes downtown for reasonable prices. I am masochistic and browse on regularly and then I remember that my commute would be 2 hours with traffic each way:(

  4. I think of Philly as the place where I became an adult, too, but for an entirely different reason. My car was broken into and then towed during a residency interview. In a rain storm. On my last day of interviews after 2 months away from home. And I had 400 miles to drive by morning. The sad thing was that everyone I met in Philadelphia seemed hardly surprised by my run of bad luck. And it wasn't the city of "brotherly love" that I thought it to be. That being said, I learned that I can problem solve under pressure, never let them see me sweat, seek out the light in others and rely on it, and that my husband is the most patient, amazing man on the phone. Whatever Philadelphia is, it certainly is a city of lessons.

  5. I consider Philadelphia the place where I became an adult too. I moved here from out of state nearly 10 years ago on a whim with $200 in my pockets and have never looked back. This city has it's grip firmly around me and I love it. It teaches me new things every day and I am stronger and wiser because of it. From the people in our neighborhood to the network of eclectic, small business owners, to the crazy unreliable public transportation to the thriving independent music scene. I wouldn't trade it for the world.

  6. Fantastic post - I completely relate to the HS summer camp at a college. Though my experience was in rural northern Missouri (Truman State) taking a class on chaos theory (math nerd here). some points in your life you realize everything that is possible and that it's so close you can taste it!

  7. Such a great post Maggie! I too adore Philly and have fond memories of visiting family friends who lived in a neighborhood v. similar to the one you described.

    I've been thinking long and hard and I don't think I've had my Philly moment yet. I am ready and open to fall in love with a city! Been making great strides in my life plan (or at least great strides in being in the right headspace to think about the life plan).

    Cheers to fun weekends!



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