I just returned from my NYC/Philly weekend trip on Sunday, and I thought I’d let everybody know the latest details of my housing situation, as well as my observations from my first-ever trip to Philadelphia.
I arrived at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC around 11:30 PM on Friday, after our bus spent about the past two hours crawling through traffic on I-95 and the Buckner Expressway into NYC. Given that I had arrived at Boston’s South Station straight from work, I was already very tired and about half-asleep as I lugged my baggage through the bus terminal and toward the Times Square subway station. However, once I got down to the IRT platform level and listened as a train of R-62’s pulled into the Downtown platform, I felt the Life Force entering my body once again. New York is beginning to feel more and more like a home-away-from-home for me, and it felt good to be back in town. New York has that effect over me, almost like a caffeine buzz. I’d probably grow fatigued from it after a while, but it sure feels good in the meantime. My train finally showed up, and I took it up to my friend’s place near the 86th Street stop. I promptly crashed on his living room sofa.
Saturday morning after breakfast I headed down to Penn Station and grabbed a NJT train to Trenton, and after a short wait, the SEPTA R7 train into Philly. First observation: NJT trains are much more comfortable than SEPTA’s commuter trains, despite the fact that a couple of horny teenagers, after arguing with each other as we left NYC Penn Station, were making love to each other in the seat behind me at least until about halfway to Trenton. This was my first time ever in New Jersey, and I was a bit curious to see if NJ is really as bad as the rest of the country thinks it is. No comment…
Approaching Philly, I was struck by how horrible some of the neighborhoods are in the city, at least near the NE Corridor tracks. I’ve seen some pretty horrific neighborhoods in Chicago, but at least over the past few years, Chicago has had a rather aggressive policy of demolishing abandoned buildings in bad neighborhoods. In Philly, block after block of abandoned buildings lined the streets, many of them half-collapsed and/or burned-out. Not a very good first impression.
Once into Center City, I marveled at the magnificent 30th Street Station before heading over to the nearby stop on the Market-Frankfort Line to buy a daily visitor pass. That station’s mezzanine approaches IND proportions, and Philly seems to use a rather antiquated fare collection system. My day pass was basically a strip of newsprint with a validation sticker on it, and the turnstiles look to be the same type that Chicago replaced a few years ago.
Once down on the platform level, I watched a few of the Subway-Surface trolleys go past before my train showed up. I found it interesting that the trolleys are single-ended and use actual trolley poles; I was expecting LRV’s more like Boston’s Green Line. Finally, a train of new M-4’s showed up, and I still can’t decide whether I like the M-4’s or not. The exteriors are probably the brightest and shiniest I’ve ever seen on a subway car, and I was impressed by the cushioned seats on the inside, but there’s something about the look of those cars that doesn’t seem right. Also, the interiors seemed very cramped even though they look considerably larger than the CTA and IRT subway cars I’m used to.
I rode the train only one stop, getting off at 34th Street, and then did a bit of walking around the Drexel campus. Given that it was a summer Saturday, the entire area seemed a bit deserted and there really wasn’t much to see. I got back on the MFL subway to around City Hall, where I transferred to the Broad Street Subway southbound. My destination: South Street, even though I wasn’t 100% sure which subway stop it was closest to. I got off at Walnut-Locust, the next stop. The Broad Street Subway cars sort of reminded me of the older Red Line cars here in Boston, except with bars over the interior cabs and railfan windows. Interesting feature. The mezzanine at Walnut-Locust is absolutely huge. I went up to the street level and did some walking around before making my way over to the hip and trendy part of South Street, closer to the Delaware River. I ate lunch at Jim’s at South Street and 5th or 6th, quite possibly the finest cheesteak I’ve ever had, and then headed over to the river to rest for a bit on a bench. I then walked up to Market Street and took the MFL back to 30th Street Station, where I would soon catch the R7 train back to Trenton and NJT back to Penn.
Not a very long visit to Philly, and not really long enough to get a good feel of the city, but the overall vibe I got from Philly was fairly positive despite my initial first impressions. It seems like a very down-to-earth city that has been on the edge of death for decades, and is now kicking and clawing its way back. If nothing else, Philly is a survivor and a fighter, and I admire that a lot. I’d certainly rather be in a city that is working hard to improve itself rather than in a city that’s convinced it’s already perfect and no longer needs to change or grow.
Judging by the heading I’ve chosen for this posting, it should come as no surprise that I’ve made the decision to move back home to Chicago (more about that later). However, I still wanted to give Philly a fair chance and I’m glad I did. If for some reason my plans in Chicago don’t work out, Drexel University in Philly remains a viable option.
Having returned to NYC, I stopped for a while at my friend’s place to change clothes and catch my breath. After dinner, I headed over to the 72nd Street/CPW stop on the IND and embarked on my annual pilgrimage to Coney Island. After riding the Cyclone and the Wonder Wheel (my first time ever on the Wonder Wheel), and spending a lot of time just walking around the place and absorbing the atmosphere, all the stress and worries in my life finally began to melt away. I’m not sure what it is, but there’s something about a summer night at Coney Island that makes me feel like a kid again. Before leaving I said a silent prayer that Coney Island be around for many more summer nights to come.
Heading back into Manhattan, I took my favorite subway line, the Culver, to Jay Street/Borough Hall and then transferred to the A train back up to the Upper West Side. The station at Smith/9th Street is as magnificently raw and nasty as ever. I love that place!
Sunday morning I went to morning worship services at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, and even headed out with the young adults group over to Central Park afterwards. I met a few nice people, and felt very much at home there. It reminded me a lot of my old church back in Chicago (Fourth Presbyterian), and made me even more anxious to get back home.
By this time it was getting well into the afternoon hours, and time for me to head back to the bus terminal to catch my bus back to Boston. I said my goodbyes to my kind host and to New York, and caught the next express bus to Boston. I then spent the next 4-1/2 hours seated across the aisle from a screaming infant, while a bunch of idiot high school students were being as loud as possible in the back of the bus. Note to self: Next time, just pay the extra $30 and take Amtrak.
As I mentioned before, I’ve made the decision to move back to Chicago. Once I have a stable job and housing situation there, I plan on taking night classes at the City Colleges and getting my general education credits out of the way, and then hopefully transferring to the Illinois Institute of Technology (my first choice of schools all along). And if IIT doesn’t work out for whatever reason, Drexel remains an option.
I guess it would be pretty easy to dismiss my three months living in Boston as a failure, but I don’t see it that way. I moved out here because I thought I didn’t have any other choice, but I now realize there are some other choices available to me. If I want to take advantage of any of those choices, the time to act is now. There’s little question in my mind that it was a mistake to move here, but I have no regrets whatsoever about spending the summer here. I’ve been able to explore a new city, I’ve gotten some excellent work experience that will look good to prospective employers in Chicago, I’ve met some great people, and I’ve realized just how much I love Chicago and my community of friends there. It will be nice to be back home.
Over Labor Day weekend, I’ll be in Chicago looking for a place to live, and I’ll be loading up my U-Haul truck and driving back to Chicago the following weekend (September 8-9). Hopefully I’ll be able to find a place available for immediate occupancy this weekend and be able to move right in, but if I can’t find a place right away or the place I find isn’t available until October, I’ve got some close friends in Logan Square with an extra bedroom who have already offered to put me up while I get settled. I’d have to put my stuff in storage for the month of September, but oh well… I wouldn’t have to pay for September rent, and the extra round of heavy lifting would probably do my waistline some good anyway.
Wish me luck in finding an apartment (as well as a job and eventually getting accepted into IIT)… I’ll need it.
(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)