The Hess Report

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Philadelphia Wedding: Dark 

Okay, this isn't anything bad about the wedding and the marriage itself. This is nothing more than a gripe-fest about Philadelphia. So, if you love Philadelphia with all of your heart, this might be the time to stop reading. Also, if you don't like to my incessant bitching, this might be the time to stop reading. Otherwise...

Philly is a pit. It is a stinking pit.

I could stop there, because that sums it up pretty well, but I won't.

While I was in Philly several weeks ago, I thought of a great way to rank cities: percentage of streets that smell like urine and human feces. In Pittsburgh, it's around 1%. Even in the skankier areas. But Philadelphia clocks in (by my own unscientific sample) at 25%. And that was in the nicer areas downtown. That's right - when you walk around historic Philadelphia, you can enjoy the sweet smell of human waste for fifteen minutes out of every hour you spend there! I can only imagine what the depths of West and North Philly must smell like. It was also fun to see bags of poop laying around on the sidewalk. I've been informed that Washington D.C. approaches 40% pee-smell, but I've not been there in years, so I can't say if this is true or not.

Hmm. What else sucks about Philadelphia? Well, the traffic and roads, for one. I'm the first to admit (and gripe) that Pittsburgh is not the easiest city to navigate. Due to its bridge-laden nature, it's a "one wrong turn and you're over the river, through a tunnel and heading to the airport accidentally" kind of place. But at least the city has attempted to mark things appropriately. If you can read a map and know the standard road signs, you'll do okay. But not in Philly. In that fine city, you get occasional teensy little signs indicating the way to major routes. You get a sign saying that a certain route is straight ahead, immediately followed by This-Lane-Turns-Right sign that leaves you wondering "Do I go straight through or obey the lane convention?" Diagramatic intersection signs about which you are better off closing your eyes and guessing than trying to decipher.

Of course the traffic level itself is untenably heavy, from early morning through midnight. It's non-stop, which is a tribute to the level of commerce in and around the city, but which turns people like me, who would prefer not sit in traffic for forty-five minutes just to get to a particular restaurant or go to work, way off. The insane cab drivers don't make things any better. At least the city has managed to keep it's downtown streets in good shape. Oh, wait. They didn't. Philadelphia's city streets would make a good test for next years DARPA Grand Challenge.

I'm only going to mention the crime rate in passing. It's high. It sucks. Illustrative of the kind of mental gymnastics one has to do to live in a city like this: A couple of years ago we were visiting friends in a nicer area of Philly. I asked: "Is it safe around here?" Response: "Oh yeah. It's really safe." Realizing I should have asked a more quantitative question, I followed up with: "Do people get mugged around here?" The response: "Yeah. But it's safe." In my book, if people get mugged around where you live, it is not safe. End of story. There's no getting around it. It's kind of like asking someone if that thing in the water over there is a fish or a duck, and they say it's a fish, but when you ask them if it has feathers and quacks they say it does, but that it's still a fish. Kind o' crazy. I guess if you beat a kid enough times they end up thinking that getting beaten is a-okay.

More, random stuff that doesn't really warrant its own discussion: People are rude. Blah blah. No one uses their turn signals. Random people scream "effe this effing effe!" into their cell phones as they walk down the street. Basically, it seems to me that Philadelphia is everything that people think of when they think of city problems. Close your eyes and think of generic city problems, straight from central casting... there... got a good picture in your head? Well, that's Philly, except the reality is what you were thinking times five.

How bad do I think it is? Well, if you were to give me one million dollars in cash money a year to move my family to downtown Phildelphia, I wouldn't do it. No using the money to take trips all the time. You actually have to spend 95% of the year in the city itself. That would not be worth it to me. For ten million, and one year only, maybe. We'd have to approach it like some kind of family endurance/torture thing. It would be a tough call.

Oh, but there are great restaurants! And the arts! And there's this cool thing to do and that cool thing to do! And guess what? How about a nice hot cup of STFU! You can get all of those things in other places without all of the aforementioned horrific crap that you have to put up with in Philadelphia.

Now, I have to disclaim all of this by stating that Philadelphia is just not my kind of place. Obviously. Some people like that level of bustle and enjoy the human throng that brings it. But it's really a cost/benefit thing. They obtain great personal benefit, I guess, from having a wild abundance of retail choice and a similar abundance of business opportunity. To them, the costs of grinding traffic, obvious and striking evidence of human decay and depravity, a high crime rate, and ludicrously corrupt city officials are offset by the mentioned gains. So either I value the benefits less than they do, or I count those counts significantly more, or, more likely, some combination of the two.

It seems, however, that more people agree with me now than did fifteen years ago. Since 1990, the population of Philadelphia has dropped by almost six percent. Granted, there's a general trend of population loss in the Northeast and great growth in the South and West. But that means that almost a hundred thousand people said "See ya!" to the City of Brotherly Homicide and Bags of Poop, and it probably wasn't because they couldn't find good Chinese takeout. People are starting to realize that you can have your arts, your fine food, and your high society without all the vile crap that seems to be concentrating in cities like Philadelphia. And leaving. For places that don't suck.

There. End of my hating Philly rant. May it rest in peace.

Interesting rant on Philadelphia. How do you feel about Pittsburgh? Isn't that where you live? I'm curious about your opinion.
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