Philadelphia Metropolis


Walking Philadelphia

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By S. Trinh

Walking around in Northeast Philadelphia at night is disconcerting. In the morning, it's quiet, filled by the sound of cars driving by. The blocks upon blocks of cookie cutter houses seem to be a mix between quiet suburbia and busy city streets. Fast food joints litter corners; barely visited stores stand their ground on the grey pavement. Walking in the morning is strange enough, as all you see is a strangely uninhabited, working city.

I do enough of it. I walk for hours at a time; there's not much else to do for entertainment in this section of the city. Though Philadelphia has a million-and-a-half people, on my walks, I hardly see more than five to 10. They kneel on their dying lawns, trying to revive them under a cloudy sky and quiet streets. Some plant exotic plants they think will liven their yards; instead, it creates a sad juxtaposition from a truly exotic place, and the dull reality of city living.

Walking Alone.jpgStill, walking in the morning is completely different from walking at night. The night time is completely silent. No cars drive, no birds call. The air is very, very crisp, in this type of weather. Since I've been born, living my entire eighteen years of life in Philadelphia, I've only spent a handful of nights outside past 10 o'clock, and so, every time I do manage to leave my warm, safe home, it's a surprise.

I feel anxious in the streets. They are very empty; the lack of people makes me anxious in the same way that walking through a gauntlet of men staring me down makes me want to flee. Despite knowing that my neighborhood is one of the safest in the city, I finger my pepper spray that I got as a high school graduation present. Pepper spray expires, so I've heard, except having the slim tube not only gives me a slight boost of confidence, but scares away most people.

Someone told me once that bats live in Northeast Philadelphia. They live in the stadium of the local high school, and they fly everywhere when it's dark. I've never seen anything that proves these rumors true, living not even a mile away, but I almost welcome it. The distinct lack of life makes me shake with an uneasiness that I can't deaden, even while holding my weapon and security blanket in my clenched fist.

I keep walking. A late-night insomnia has prompted me to sneak out of the house, and since I'm committing this vaguely delinquent act, I might as well do it correctly. So I walk and walk, but not far away from my home. I walk under bare trees and yellowing street lights, in front of neon signs advertising pizza, and past a tattoo parlor that is appointment only. I find two state representatives in my journey to nowhere, along with a bar and a children's playground. The few blocks of Rhawnhurst that I reside in, that I roam, feel like a ghost town, abandoned by all that could leave.

I don't find it romantic, out late, by myself. It's nearly 2 a.m., the witching hour, as some say. I move my legs in front of each other, one at a time, and while it's not strenuously tiring, I find myself wondering why I walk. Am I searching for something? Am I running from someone? There are all sorts of things going on in my life right now, but all I think about are the stars. I've never been in a city that claims of less pollution; the only night sky I know is Philadelphia. I see the stars perfectly fine, bright, shining. Clearly making outlines, I can't judge between which star is brightest, but I already know which way is north.

I've always thought that Philadelphia was one of those big cities where people run to when they want to make themselves over. But walking here reminds me simply of families that build up over time, old people that spend their mornings planting crocus bulbs in their unfertilized lawns. Seeing all of these mom and pop stores tell me that each person has a history, a story of their own that has individual roots and tendrils.

I, who want to run away from who I am, don't find the city mesmerizing, new and fresh. Rather, I see this strange mix of urban and suburban, a tree that has been carved into, full of names and tags and dates and lovers. I don't find my anxiety fading, and I realize that this is because the atmosphere is not what I'm looking for at all. The worries of having a minimum wage job, barely having enough money to pay for bills and rent and tuition, all of this still lays heavily on my chest. I think of the years of debt I'll be trapped in, compared to my age, not even two decades old. The crisply cold night air does nothing to calm my thoughts, and I understand that walks don't always solve everything.

I head home. The door squeaks a little when I open it, but no one has noticed my absence or my return. I take off my shoes, undress, and go back to bed.

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