Later tonight I'll return to Seattle, but this weekend I've been in and around Philadelphia for Jay and Kristina's wedding. The wedding itself was nice -- happy bride and groom, wedding band with a heavily invested sax player/tambourinist, tables named after planets in the Star Wars universe. All the usual niceties.
What's more interesting to me is the weird ambivalence I feel every time we return to Philadelphia these days, which we do at least once or twice a year since Chris's parents live in the area and we both have tons of friends there. I spent nine out of the ten years between 1992-2002 in Philadelphia, going to both college and grad school there. All in all I'd have to say it was pretty positive experience. I mostly had a pretty good time there. Sure, the place is semi-dirty, it has a total fuck-you attitude, and the motto of its public transit system is the modest yet in-your-face-obnoxious "We're getting there." But all of those things are, or were, part of its own particular kind of charm.
Living in Seattle there are some things I miss about Philadelphia and the east coast in general. I miss having
a reasonable public transit system, however unambitious and craptacular. I miss being in a place where I don't have to drive everywhere. I even miss Eagles fans even though I hate the Eagles; I miss living in a place where people care about football. I miss living in a place with a deep sense of history and little streets with row houses and trees. I miss having a real autumn. Most of all, I miss the lifestyle I had when I lived there, and I miss my friends.
But increasingly with each trip back, I notice the shit I never liked about the place a lot more than the stuff I miss. I notice the way it smells in the morning when the wind carries the stink from the refineries southwest of the city and washes it all over everything. I notice that subway stops reek of old urine. I notice that everything is really, really dirty. I notice that the city is all muted grays and browns and there is little of the lush green to which I've become accustomed. The drivers are needlessly aggressive and the highway onramps are designed to maximize accidents. The fuck-you attitude feels a lot less charming than it once did. I still have some friends here, but most of them have moved on.
And so I'm left with these mixed feelings where I like coming back and I don't, and where I feel bad for the part where I don't. It feels like visiting a place where I used to live, but not like coming home.