The last time I in Philadelphia was in 2010. I met my mom and aunt there before we rented a PT Cruiser and drove to State College to attend my brother’s graduation from Penn State’s MBA program. I was underwhelmed by Philly. I was underwhelmed by the entire state of Pennsylvania – we drove from Philly to Harrisburg to State College to Pittsburgh, which was beautiful from far away, with all its bridges and trees, but once in the heart of the city, found that it was almost entirely under construction. I remember driving in circles for nearly two hours, thanks to what felt like hundred of road closures and poorly marked detours, before finally finding a decent restaurant that was….closing for the night. At 9PM. On my birthday. And Mother’s Day. We ended up driving some more, nearly into the Allegheny River until we came across the garish lights of the Spaghetti Warehouse. Done up like a country carnival, it reminded me of every bad horror movie I’d ever seen.
Philly was better. There were pretty quaint pockets of red brick buildings and cobblestone streets. Green parks everywhere, each with their own bronze statue of Mr. So-and-So Important Man who contributed to the rights and freedoms we enjoy today, and a lot of other famous landmarks my mom, aunt and I walked blithely past. We had brunch in Rittenhouse Square, saw the smaller than expected Liberty Bell, climbed the famed Rocky Steps at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and took a bus (disguised as a trolley) up and down Market St.
We walked a lot. We smiled at the old black men sitting on the park benches (in Chinatown they turned into old Chinese men sitting on restaurant stoops) and stayed at the Best Western Independence Park, which, on the National Register of Historic Places, would be remodeled two years after our stay.
I remember thinking, “I would probably never come back here, unless my kids were really into American History or something.”
But five years later, I went back to Philly with Tom. Last time I was single and had never had a boyfriend. I was still in college with one semester left and was interviewing for a bunch of jobs, but mostly I was waiting to hear back from Google. They called while I was eating a sandwich at the Reading Terminal Market. I didn’t get the job. A few days later, I turned twenty-four and told myself it was imperative that I graduate from college before I turned twenty-five. I did.
This time in Philly, I was still unemployed, but wasn’t waiting to hear back from anyone, except for maybe my parents who are traveling in Eastern Europe and have yet to answer my emails.
I wasn’t in a bad spot five years ago, but I’m in a better spot now, which got me thinking about that cliché: “Travel is a state of mind.”
Five years ago there was a lot on my mind. On top of all the school and job stuff, I observed my brother in his first relationship. I wondered if I’d meet someone sooner rather than later. Two years fell somewhere right in the middle.
Philadelphia, if I am honest, was still underwhelming. Sure, it’s hard to sell the city in just half a day, especially if the main reason for your visit is a wedding at the Sheraton. But the wedding was fun, as was the afternoon leading up to it. We walked around Old Town, revisiting some of the spots my mom, aunt and I walked by five years ago, and thanks to an old coworker’s suggestion, had some really good ice cream at Capogiro Gelato, once ranked the Number 1 Ice Cream in the World by National Geographic Magazine.
At the wedding I met some of Tom’s old college buddies and danced my face off to the most amazing wedding band I’ve ever seen of heard (Tom and I asked several of the guests who all agreed).
I took a lot of photos, just like I did when I first visited. And even though it was the same city, it looked different and I didn’t feel quite the same in it. So. I’m not trying to sell Philadelphia. I’m trying to sell a state of mind.