We met about 14 years ago and it was love at first sight. I had never been to a city in the US with such European flair, walkable streets filled with people, restaurants, coffee shops, trendy stores and bars. I had never seen architecture that spanned centuries, with brick facades and charming window boxes.
I was smitten.
Over the next decade I came to love much more than the architecture of you, though. Yes, you are beautiful but you are deep. You have a history and importance in the story of modern culture that can barely be rivaled. Written on your streets are the stories of our country and the people who made it. But your historical importance didn't end over 200 years ago. You've been an important figure through the Victorian era and Civil War and storied parts of the Underground Railroad. You have had such a rich culture around music, with an ongoing love for jazz and soul. Music is in your bones. You're the home of The Roots, Will Smith, Patti LaBelle, Erykah Badu, Diplo, Jill Scott, Darryl Hall & John Oates, Amos Lee, the incredible Philadelphia Orchestra... the list goes on.
But where does anyone really feel culture? In the food. And Philadelphia, this might be my favorite thing about you. Yeah, people know you can make chopped beef, onions and cheese on bread taste amazing but until you really know, you can't imagine the quality of talented chefs and restauranteurs and culinary gurus that line each street. Its hard to have a bad meal with you, Philly. You some how balance a loyalty to cuisines, be in South Philly Italian or Chinatown hot pot, with an ongoing, global influence with continued favorites like Zahav, Parc, Suraya, Double Knot, and Amada with an ever-growing new scene of innovative and refreshing establishments. You're commitment to taste will never get old.
As you and I grew together, I explored you more. One of the most stunning things about you, Philly, is the sheer awe of your location. Like many old cities, you sit proud on a wide river, the Delaware. But another, windy, smaller river flanks you as well - the beautiful and storied Schuylkill. It weaves along your Western banks, carving a channel and hugging new trails and neighborhoods. Its where our universities home their row boats. Its where new walking paths meander and family movie nights take place. Its where some of the most stunning bridges cross. It makes channels and historical significance to the NW Philadelphia towns. I will never tire of following it along Kelly Drive.
It connects the wider state of Pennsylvania and its history. And if you follow it, anyone would be amazed by where it leads. Leaving the cobblestone streets, within an hour you are in charming river-front towns, further still are mountains and ski resorts of the Poconos. These mountains bring many areas and towns with lovely brooks and small rivers, waterfalls and rolling hills. Travel two hours to your North, and you are in your sister city of New York City. Travel two hours to your South and there will be your brother, Washington DC. And yet if you cross just an hour to the East, there is the Atlantic Ocean with its sea-side towns and sandy beaches. How can all of these wonders be in one place?
Of course, I'm not the only one who is in love with you. Many, many people call you home, some for generations. Over 1.6 million of them, actually. And these people are a highly diverse population to give you some love. And thats even more of a reason to love you! Your people are fierce, honest and generally hard working. Innovative yet loyal to their histories.
As our time together went on, I left your boundaries and explored your greater area. Just as remarkable as your city limits, your suburban homesteads were similarly rich. From the grand Main Line estates I saw in the Philadelphia Story to the Victorian train line towns and boroughs, the charming architecture and rich history of these places were a beautiful transition from the tight rows of your city streets. Further yet, the rolling country side and old farmhouses of Chester County made me remember my own home growing up on acres of Illinois farmland. Again, the plethora of experiences in a small geographical area will cease to amaze.
So, Philadelphia, how amazing you are and how in love I still am, a decade and a half later. You've changed, so have I, but my love is still strong and always will be.