Until fairly recently, no building in Philadelphia could be taller than the statue of William Penn on top of Philadelphia’s city hall. Due to this rule, the city was forced to sprawl outward instead of growing upward like New York or Chicago. However, in 1987 a skyscraper was constructed to be taller than the aforementioned statue. This breach of…archaic proclamation…I guess, is the reason why some think Philadelphia’s sports teams began to suck. It is believed, in some circles, that the intangible spirit of William Penn, so incensed that the people of his fair city would build something exceeding the height of his monument, continues to punish Philadelphia’s denizens with team failures. The ghost of William Penn is a petty, sports-hating son of a bitch.
This anecdote was told to me by Stephanie Yuhas and Matt Conant over dinner as Caribbean music played in the background. I don’t know if they expected me to take as much joy in the tale as I did. These are the things that stick in my mind forever. Curses, ritual, superstition are very much my bailiwick. I sometimes wish that hedge fund finance or litigation were my bailiwick, but both of those sound dull as hell, and, for the time being I can pay my bills and still fill my head with nonsense. Some of this nonsense gets spun into other things like scripts and episodes of Victorian Cut-out Theatre.
It was a joy talking to Matt and Stephanie in person and I really wish we could have visited longer and seen the rest of the Cinevore crew, but having a child that’s not yet a year old, whom has traveled by plane on his very first trip and is suffering sleep deprivation, demanded a shorter visit. Frankly, I am happy we were able to meet at all, and I am grateful they could teach us about awkward families, dog thefts, sad Russian cartoons, and Latvian Army games. So now I will have to ask them things by email once again; a serviceable medium to be sure, but lacking in the inflection, timing, and Hungarian accents necessary to drive a story home.
The east coast was lovely and we saw a great deal while we were there. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so much in my entire life. We were able to see lots of sites including Longwood Gardens, which is an expansive grounds including forested areas, Parisian style fountains, a solarium filled with tropical plans. I really can’t do it justice. I assume the Du Ponts hunted human beings for sport on the compound at some point.
I was also able to see the Brandywine River Museum, which I was thrilled by simply because it includes the original N.C. Wyeth paintings for what many consider to be the definitive version of Treasure Island. As a fan of illustrative art it was a dream come true. I just realized how dorky that statement was. They really were gorgeous though.
We went to Cape May New Jersey, which, having grown up near a resort town myself, I found eerily familiar. It was as if someone took Steamboat Springs and plopped it near the coast. Whereas Steamboat is all about giving tourists a “western” experience, Cape May was all about preserving and idyllic maritime/colonial feel for people from out of town. This made me mildly uncomfortable having grown up next to a place like that, but this was tempered by a delicious crab cake sandwich and the fact that the entire place looked like Bob’s Burgers.
The final leg of our trip was spent in south Philadelphia at the home of my wife’s cousin. While we laid relatively low during the Pope’s visit, we explored some of their neck of the woods in “Fishtown” and some of the surrounding areas. We were told about a great pizza place called Pizza Brain and Little Baby’s Ice cream, both of which looked like the inside of my mind in elementary school. Seriously these places are great and if you ever find yourself in the area, you should eat there.
We also got to see downtown Philadelphia after to Pope-pocalypse and I was able to see first hand the cursed memorial to William Penn. This building also served as the set many films including Fallen. We also got to walk through the Macy’s used to film Mannequin (It’s no Manequin 2: On the Movie, but it’s okay.
Our final half day was spent killing time until our flight in the evening. I did make a return visit to The Mutter Museum which was wonderful and grotesque. We got to eat some really great pizza and see Rodin’s "The Thinker". All in all, the trip was a success.
Some things I discovered on our trip:
No one in Philadelphia stops at stop signs.
The houses are insanely old and the streets are insanely narrow.
Every time a Starbucks dies, three Dunkin Donuts sprout in its place. (This is fine by me, but my wife lives off of their “milkshakes”).
It is a working class, industrial city.
It is a hub of art and culture.
Matt Conant and Stephanie Yuhas have the largest collection of board games I have ever seen.
Philadelphians don’t stand in line. It is for this reason it’s best to be polite but firm and just do whatever you’re going to do.
The Kensington neighborhood looks like the opening to Tim Burton’s Batman. That is terrifying.
Their neighborhoods have really strange/cool names: Fishtown, Gayborhood, Eraserhood.
In the state of New Jersey you can't pump your own gas.
Residences don't use trash cans in the city. They lay their bags in front of their house.
The countryside is littered with tiny cemeteries. Some are in people’s yards.
No matter how bad things get, at least you’re not in the Latvian Army.
Both good and bad, I don’t think I’ve ever visited a city as human as Philadelphia.
There is more to our trip, and you will certainly here more about it, but for now this is all I can muster. And anyway, I get the feeling we’ll be back sooner than later.