where to start.
i could go the linear way…today and the next…i could group it into activities…my thoughts i had there…humm
well let’s start with getting oriented and see what happens.
i left off with the arrival to philly, getting the basic rulelessness of philly and eating dive take-out chinese food that really hit the spot. i met the roommate and the house doggo. we caught up a bit before it was passed time to get some sleep.
i woke and listened to the city around me, then i got a text from with-in the house. it surprised me at first, but eventually i came to enjoy the quiet interactions from the comfort of soft clothes. usually it was an update on work schedules, ideas for the daily activities…
everyone went to work and it was just me and mr. dog. to get my bearings i went for a walk around the neighborhood. i found the local punk coffeeshop/cafe with lots o’vegan options (p.s. i really enjoyed this place and it was below a super cool bike shop that mostly i watched people of color go up and down the stairs with every day bikes and wearing regular clothes). i also found the all vegan donut shop, (yum), and the local co-op that i had heard a great deal about (not all good not all bad).
at some point i texted another friend of mine that i lived with for a minute back in the portland years who had moved to philly. we made plans to get together while i was in town. we had a good catch-up and they let me know about a couple of actions happening around the city that i would end up going to.
this first day (and most days i was there) the sun was shining. it was hot, but not humid and super hot. this part of west philly reminded me of portland 10 to 15 years ago. especially north portland. perhaps it is because of the cusp of rapidly encroaching gentrification of a historically black neighborhood. i could see myself trying to find a way to spend the summer here. these first few days it was super tempting to look at job and housing options for the season.
that night we met some of my friends’ friends for happy hour at the taco place and chowed on vegan nachos and margaritas…yum. the conversations were fun and lively with lots of laughter and smiles. it is always nice to get to know my friends other friends, especially friends who don’t live in the same place i do…to know friends are well cared for and loved is a wonderful feeling to me. also, one of the women hails from russia. while in n.c. i read part of a book on the oral history of punk music in russia that my friend did the cover art for. she actually knew some of the bars and places in the book. it was a super cool connection.
our days together were spent in lovely relaxed (to me anyway) ways. we went to the museum. saw a wonderfully disturbing exhibit as well as the rocky statue and footprints. it was remarkable to me how many people come to the museum just to see the rocky statue, so much so they moved the statue from the top of the stairs (you know where he ran up in the first rocky) to down and off to the side of the stairs. we walked the historic streets of philly (once crashing the filming of some t.v. show we had never heard of). we talked and caught up on what’s been happening in our lives, our minds, our hearts. we ate good food, consumed good beverages, and had lots of fun.
the moments we were off doing our own things, i walked the streets of philly, explored so many varied parts of histories that philly holds from pre-revolution to social justice actions, including an action against ICE that i went to with the other friend i have here. all the walking and wondering, the pouring over maps that listed important names as the names of parks or centers: malcolm x, paul robeson, du bois, MOVE, and mumia just to name a few. i tried to get to the edgar allen poe house, but just couldn’t get make the time for all the things.
one day i was walking around the historic area where independence hall is and the liberty bell, historic homes that had “servants quarters” i.e. slaves. i rounded a corner and spotted the “first bank” of the u.s. it stopped me in my tracks and i read the plaque. it talked about how it was proposed as a way to pay of the huge debt that this new founded country now had due to the war for “independence.” within just a few blocks i would run into at least the first 5 banks in the country. the last couple i ran into trying to escape the area. i was overwhelmed by the obviousness of the connection between war and banks and the merchant class and just how much we have not changed at all, the cycle this country spins to keep the capitalists of capitalism in control of the labor class. i needed to get away and clear my head.
there is a park by the house of the statue of liberty so i found a shady place and sat and calmed my thoughts and did a favorite activity of mine, people watch. there were people of all backgrounds speaking many languages, and i could not calm down. it was much more like a punch. normally this is a scene that warms me from the inside, but with the fascist want-to-be dictator that the u.s. has as a president right now, i was embarrassed (?), saddened (?), pissed for sure. that we as a country of immigrants (unless you are native american), that we would do any less than welcome those seeking refuge with open arms, is outrageous to me. granted these were tourists with some level of privilege ($$ everything in independence area cost money to enter except the liberty bell), and most likely would not have border issues when trying to return “home”, but i held some doubts for sure.
it was decided that we would take a day to go to the roommate’s parents house in jersey to swim, and break the city’s heat, so refreshing. what a great idea, go play and splash in a pool during the heatwave. it was a super fun day. we swam. we drank. we ate. we played games. we watched a couple thunderstorms roll by. we drove back to philly during another storm, tuckered out. i fell into a deep sleep.
i woke with the urgency of needing to make plans to get moving again. i couldn’t stay in philly. maybe i will return one day. there was a deep part of me that wanted to stay and see what i could get involved in, but i had a deeper need to get back west of the rockies. no matter how hard i try, i am not an east side of the country kind of kid. also, i could tell by the conversation i had with many people that i would most likely fall in to the cycle of working too much to make ends meet and consume things i don’t want to in the long run, and not make the time and space for the creative ventures i am trying to get started and move ever more forward.
eventually i found the route that would take me west. i chatted with my pals in oregon to make plans for my landing. and then i relaxed into my final few days in philly, and this led me to some great conversations that helped me work out some of my thoughts i’d been having while there.
my friend and i had a conversation one night about whether living so close to the deep history of the neighborhood, and racist history of philly, lent to having a sense of responsibility to that history? it is related, i think, to how i feel about living so close to nature and feeling a responsibility to protecting and making responsible choices in how i move around in my life. i mean, i can’t imagine white people calling the cops on black folks while having a picnic in malcom x park…just sayin’ but if gentrification keeps happening…
another night, at the first micro-brewery in philly that is right next to the punk cafe, i chatted with the bartender. he had recently returned to philly after going to school on the west coast. he was able to give himself the time and space to return and and come out to his family and the challenges of being a young gay black man in west philly (and the world). we talked about many things, including the similarities he is witnessing from his time in oakland and being back in philly around gentrification, housing, and wages.
but make no mistake, my last days weren’t all politics and heavy conversations. i ate a lot of vegan foods…went to the straight edge pizza place for amazing vegan “wings”. i had all the vegan treats i could get in my mouth. we went to an irish punk bar for some tasty vegan snacks and good beers. p.s. i do love me a good irish punk bar.
the morning of my departure was to be early, so we said our so longs the night before. i had decided to bike to amtrak instead of waking my friend and loading up the car for a ride to the station. this would be the only time i would bike in philly, and i am glad i did. i had been wanting to ride, but touring bikes are not really city prepared as everything is quick-release aka easy to steal. i rode away in the early morning during rush-hour traffic in busy bike lanes. it was a beautiful morning and a nice ride.
while waiting at the red cap post to be directed to where to load my bike i met a nun from a west philly church who encouraged me to get confirmed or something like that, just to be safe, like an insurance policy for my soul i guess. she was very nice about it. i told her i’m more along the lines of buddhist. she assured me that was ok, but i should still get to a catholic church. she reminded me of what dorothy day of the catholic worker movement might have been a little like. i also met a couple that would be on the train with me all the way to sacramento. little did we know what was in store for us in the coming days.
a couple of side notes. after getting into eugene, i read that the chinese restaurant we went to closed it’s doors the end of that month. rent was getting too high. the owner told the story of his family coming to the united states, and the support he has had since arriving in philly.
i also learned why a pizza shop i had tried to go to a couple times, but had a paper note that they were closed. seems that the staff believed the owners had fired a black employee for racially motivated reasons, so the staff locked up shop. the sister bar/restaurant did the same a couple days later in support. well that explained my confusion, and also reinforced my feelings that people were taking actions and not just sitting in meetings talking about the theory of racist management practices.
i can’t express just how much i am grateful for this friend, and this visit. we’ve known each other for over 20 years now i guess. we met when i lived in syracuse, and this is the second time we visited in person since i left ny. there are for sure gaps in our knowledge of the others’ experiences in those years, yet our friendship has stayed important and strong to us both. who knows where we will meet next.
i can’t wait to tell you about the adventures i’ve been having in oregon!