Sunday, March 3, 2019

South Philly

Hop in the way back machine with me to September 2010. I lucked out. Stumbled my way into a Federal career and picked Philadelphia as my first choice as a "Get Out Of Florida Free™" card. My rationale was that my sister lived here so I knew one person, and I had spent my entire life in easy suburban living. Dropping myself in a bona fide urban environment would be a culture shock, but like they say in poker you can’t win if you don’t put something in the middle.

Year one I spent mostly getting used to my new job and trying to keep my truck’s tires intact. They were only slashed twice, so that’s a win by Philly standards. Year two my sister got married, and the month before that happened I bought a house two blocks away on Juniper Street after realizing that South Philly is a collection of amazing smaller neighborhoods and not a bad place to hang your hat. But the thing is I didn’t really take advantage of that right away. Anytime I’ve ever switched environments - new class, new school, new job - I sit back, observe, and wait for the right moment to insert myself into the group. I think that’s one of my strengths and a key reason why I get along with the majority of people out there.

After two years of mostly focusing on my job and getting comfortable with living alone, I finally decided to venture out and try something new. Thanks to the local Philadelphia subreddit I’d learned there was a weekly happy hour at a bar two blocks from my office, right next to Independence Hall. Try something new, right? What’s the worst that can happen?

Here’s what I learned. The worst that can happen is you stay at home doing nothing and meeting nobody. But I didn’t keep that up for too long. In February 2013 I walked into Cooperage Wine & Whiskey bar and met two random dudes who are still amazing buddies to this day. And that led to meeting more people through that happy hour group. Which led to me getting more social and willing to go out alone and see what happens. Which led to me checking out a new bar called SouthHouse around the corner from my house.

Armed with newfound confidence I started discovering a community of friends and neighbors based around both of these bars. A few of the friends I met at Cooperage ended up buying houses in South Philly, and for the first time in my life I really feel like I’m part of a community. I’m 42 now and I’ve lived in 10 different states. Recently I realized that at 8 years this is the longest I’ve ever lived at any one address in my life. And that just so happens to be my very own house. Like Han Solo said, “she may not look like much but she’s got it where it counts.” It's no mansion but it's home. It’s a damn good feeling to sit back and realize that I managed to build a decent life for myself out of complete desperation 10 years earlier. Yeah, I did the heavy lifting but I also had support along the way from my mom, sister, family, the Government, and a few friends. I’ll never forget that.

At some point I even seriously stepped outside my comfort zone and tried dating, which historically has been a non-factor for me. Too many other things to worry about without that headache. Ended up with mostly misses, a fleeting hit or two, but I learned a lot and it might not have been possible if I hadn’t gained confidence from feeling like I was part of a community. My biggest takeaway from that was I realized I do pretty well as a solo individual. And thanks to the many friends I’ve made here I never really feel alone.

As someone who never really found a place to call home, it looks like I finally stumbled across one all the same. I can walk into a local bar and get into a great conversation with a stranger that just so happens to also be a neighbor, and I manage to fit in. I know how to order a cheesesteak without looking like a jabroni (seriously, it's not that hard, don't hold up the line). I studied just enough historic sports trivia to blend in with the locals who grew up with heroes like Mike Schmidt, Bernie Parent, and Eric Lindros. Most importantly, I’ve met great friends here and for the first time in my life really feel like I belong somewhere.

I wrote this on January 21st, 2019 at a local bar: Taproom on 19th. I spent most of the night keeping to myself, listening to music and thinking about old friends, as is my style. By the end of the night I was having great conversations with locals I'd never met partly due to beer and partly due to the openness and community spirit of the residents. One thing was consistent throughout the night: I was surrounded by the people and energy that makes South Philly arguably the greatest neighborhood in the world.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a partner
Sometimes I feel like my only friend
Is the city I live in, the city of cheesesteaks [citation needed]
Lonely as I am, together we cry.”


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