Tag Archives: Philadelphia

Ghosts of Philadelphia

While my feelings toward Chicago began as very positive and slowly became more negative over the years, my feelings toward Philadelphia are much more difficult to categorize. Chicago now seems relatively bland and homogeneous to me, but Philly is a city of polar extremes. In the same way that Philly contains stunning beauty and horrific ugliness only a few blocks apart from each other, I look back on my time in Philly as some of the best and worst days of my adult life.

Philadelphia first came onto my radar screen in 2000, while I was still in Boston. I had been living in a summer sublet in Brookline while trying to trying to find permanent housing in anticipation of starting classes at the Boston Architectural Center that fall. I thought I had secured a place to live down in Jamaica Plain, but those arrangements fell apart at the last minute, leaving me with very little time to find something else. (It didn’t help that I was now competing against a billion returning college students for the same twelve apartment vacancies.) Boston sort of rubbed me the wrong way anyway, so I took this as an opportunity to leave the city altogether.

Before I left, though, I had found out about the architecture program at Drexel University, which was structured in a way similar to that of the BAC: Students work full-time during the day, while attending classes in the evenings. At that time I thought it was the perfect scenario for me; I could go to school and pay my bills. During a weekend visit to New York, I made a side trip down to Philly to scope out the city for the first time. Given that SEPTA’s R7 train goes through the worst of North Philly’s ghettos on its way to 30th Street Station, my first impressions of Philadelphia were somewhat less than stellar. Drexel’s architecture program and Philly’s affordable housing market were strong attractions, but I decided to shelve those ideas and give Chicago a second chance. I moved back to Chicago a week after Labor Day, having spent just three months in Boston.

The next two years back in Chicago turned out to be one dead end after another, though, and Philadelphia was looking better and better to me. I visited Philadelphia a couple more times and explored more of the city, I got accepted into the architecture program at Drexel, and finally moved there on Labor Day of 2002. At first I rented a bedroom across the river in South Jersey, and a few months later I got my own one-bedroom apartment in Philly’s verdant East Falls neighborhood. In the meantime, I had begun classes at Drexel, I was working full-time for a mid-sized architecture firm in Collingswood, and I had developed some close friendships within the Canterbury Club, the Episcopal campus ministry for UPenn and Drexel. I had also purchased a newish car, and I had begun corresponding with an attractive woman from out west (on whom I soon developed a major crush). Things were looking pretty good, and my only regret about moving to Philly was that I hadn’t moved there straight from Boston two years earlier.

In addition to the positive life changes, Philadelphia itself was turning out to be a fascinating city to explore. The downtown area is loaded with historical sites and colonial charm, while some of the outer neighborhoods and suburbs were lush with varied topography and mature trees. Fairmount Park should be the envy of every American city; imagine mile after mile of Chicago’s Lincoln Park waterfront combined with ravines, waterfalls, and hiking trails like you’d find in the Appalachians. Most of my social life revolved around the beautiful Penn campus, and we often branched out to a variety of interesting bars and restaurants in town. Within a few weeks of my arrival, I seemed to have discovered everything in Philly that I had found lacking in Chicago.

Things were going pretty well for the first six months or so, but the cracks began showing soon enough. The first major problem was my workload: Between my full-time job and my part-time classes, I felt like every ounce of my energy was being sucked right out of me. I was able to keep up with it for a while, but it eventually began taking its toll. Putting in a full day’s work at my job became harder and harder, as did putting in the required effort on my school assignments. I felt like I was falling further and further behind, and my long-simmering clinical depression began to rear its ugly head again. A nasty case of food poisoning in January was quickly followed by a month-long bout with the flu, which sent me reeling physically.

The fatal blow came on my birthday in March. My love interest out west had earlier announced that she would be visiting Philadelphia on her spring break. I have a bad habit of getting my hopes up way too high when it comes to relationships, and that bad habit kicked into overdrive when she announced her visit. She’d come visit in March, we’d finally meet face-to-face after months of instant messages and phone calls, we’d fall in love, and we’d live happily ever after. With everything else in my life finally working out well for a change, why should this be any different?

She arrived, we met, we had a good time, and… A day later she called me at work to slam the brakes on the whole thing, without explanation. All my high hopes came crashing down, and I was in shock. I knew all along that I had been setting myself up for a huge letdown if things didn’t work out, but I had fallen hard for her, and those are the times when any sense of logic or rational thought goes right out the window. To make matters worse, for the past few weeks I had been wearing my feelings toward her on my sleeve at work and around my friends, and the implosion of that relationship became a very public spectacle. My Canterbury Club friends took me out for my birthday dinner that evening, but I managed to single-handedly turn the party’s mood into that of a funeral. I don’t think my friends appreciated being dragged down into my dysfunctional relationship issues, I sensed a subtle cooling-off of a couple friendships afterwards.

The relationship meltdown by itself probably wouldn’t have been enough to send me into a downward spiral, but combined with everything else, it was the final straw that set a vicious feedback loop of anxiety and depression into motion, and I felt my life spinning out of control.

The first casualty was school. I abruptly withdrew from my classes in April when I found myself utterly lacking the energy to finish a major project before its due date. I was already up to my ears in tuition debt, and I had no hope of repaying it before the next quarter’s registration deadline. I also felt that my performance at work was seriously slipping, and that I needed to put every effort into keeping my job.

It was too late. I got fired in May, and with a bureaucratic snafu in collecting unemployment benefits, my financial house of cards began to rapidly collapse. The states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Illinois were each telling me that I needed to file my unemployment claim with one of the other two states. Then, it turned out that my former employer had never reported my income to the state of New Jersey, making me ineligible for benefits until I could get more paperwork filled out and verified. I finally began receiving benefits after several months of navigating a warren of red tape, but by that point I had gone the entire summer of 2003 with zero income. Job interviews were few and far between, and given that my car had been repossessed in July, my work options were very limited.

One afternoon in August I received an eviction notice from my landlord’s attorney, informing me that I had a week to vacate my apartment. By this point I felt like I was completely backed into a corner with no escape, and that every endeavor I had attempted in my life had been a failure and would always be a failure, be it work, school, relationships, financial security, or even simple friendships. I decided that I was going to get very drunk that evening, fill my bathtub with hot water, climb into it, and slit my wrists.

Before doing so, though, I went to Evening Prayer at St. Mary’s Church, which had been my one daily routine during this time. Mainly I just wanted to let God know that I’d soon be meeting him face-to-face so that I could tell him to fuck off in person.

During my walk to the train station and on the ride into 30th Street Station, I began to realize just how dangerous of a place I was in, and that I needed to get myself some outside help, fast. I probably should have gone straight to a hospital, but God knows what they would have done to me once I arrived and told them what was on my mind. (And given that I had no insurance, God knows how much it would have cost me.) I had the feeling it would only make my problems much worse. I began hoping that I’d bump into one of my Canterbury Club friends at the church. That didn’t happen, so afterwards I walked down the street to the house of a couple friends who lived nearby.

By some miracle they happened to be home, and had invited some other friends over for a barbecue out back. They had recently gotten married, and there was a large keg of Yuengling left over from the wedding reception that needed to be consumed in an appropriate manner. They invited me in, and I actually had a pretty good time. One of the other people at the party happened to be a landlord in Philly, and when I told him about the eviction notice, he explained how the process works in Philadelphia, that what my landlord was doing was illegal, and what steps I needed to take to keep my apartment.

The group of us spent the evening sitting on the deck out back, passing around a glass boot filled with beer. When a person finished off the boot, they’d have to tell a story to the group before refilling the boot and passing it on. I got very drunk that evening, but instead of opening up my veins in my bathtub, I crashed on their living room futon for the night. I still felt incredibly shitty about life, but at least I had gained some breathing room.

My friends probably have no idea how close I was to suicide that evening, but I’ll be forever grateful to them for answering their front door when I rang the bell. I honestly don’t know how this story would have turned out if they hadn’t.

Having hit rock bottom, things began to improve very slowly. My first unemployment check finally arrived, retroactive to when I had first lost my job. I was able to catch up on my rent, buy some groceries, and head up to New York to purchase an old Volvo beater in Queens for $300. More importantly, I finally began regular counseling and medication at a community mental health clinic in my neighborhood. It was a slow process and nothing changed overnight, but the clouds eventually began to lift to the point where I could start taking steps to rebuild my life over the next few months.

One of those steps involved becoming more aggressive in my job search, and I made the decision to move up the road to New York City. My closest friends in Philly were making plans to head off to seminary and wouldn’t be around much longer. The job market for architects in Philly was dismal, and I had begun to mentally associate Philadelphia with all the misery I was going through. The city itself has an inferiority complex so thick you can cut it with a knife, and Philadelphia’s notorious self-loathing hangs like a dark pall over the city. I began to feel like it was contagious.

While my time in Philly had served an important role in the grand scheme of my life, I felt like the city had become haunted by my ghosts, and I wanted nothing more to do with it. One night in February I loaded up a U-Haul truck and moved to Brooklyn, and I began working at an architecture firm in Manhattan a short time later. With that, my time in Philadelphia was over.

My life over the next few years had its ups and downs. Within a few months I had become burned-out with New York City, and eventually moved back to Chicago yet again, but not before spending three months exploring the mountains of western Oregon. Back in Chicago, I spent a couple years getting my life back on track to the point where I felt like I was ready to give New York City another shot. That tale is recounted elsewhere in this blog, and is still a work in progress. So far it’s been looking good, but nowadays I try to be much more cautious about getting my hopes up too high.

The funny thing about Philly, though, is that sometimes I wonder if I gave up too easily on that city. My major regret about Chicago is that I kept moving back there only to be reminded of why I left. I should have moved away much sooner, and stayed gone. But If I have any regrets about Philadelphia, it would be the nagging feeling that I might have moved away too soon. Maybe there was still some untapped potential down there that I never fully took advantage of.

Earlier this month I decided to rent a car and head down to Philly for a concert back at St. Mary’s Church on the Penn campus, the same church I went to when my thoughts were at their darkest. (My high school friend Kevin in Poughkeepsie was to join me, but a sprained ankle forced him out at the last minute.) I had made a couple of brief visits to Philly since I had moved away, but this was the first time I had a chance to get outside Center City. I wasn’t able to spend as much time in Philly as I wanted, but I after the concert I was able to grab a cheesteak at Jim’s and then take a short drive around town before hitting the Turnpike back to New York.

I wasn’t sure how I would feel about being back there. It brought back lots of old memories, not all of which were good ones. But overall, it was nice to be back, and I even found myself a little homesick. Not enough to make me want to move back there again, but enough to make me wonder how things might have worked out if I had decided to stick around a bit longer. The city no longer felt haunted, and I’m hoping that maybe I’ve finally made peace with the ghosts I left behind.

Free at Last

Today I finally broke the chains of automobile dependency…. And tomorrow I slap on the chains of subway dependency.

Just letting everybody know that I finally sold my piece-of-crap car this afternoon, and I’ll be loading up a U-Haul truck and heading to NYC tomorrow. And unlike previous trips I’ve taken between Philly and NYC, this one is one-way.

Wish me luck on a safe and successful move, and I’ll look forward to joining the festivites on the 22nd.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Back from NYC and Philly: Full Report

Just letting everybody know that I’m back home safely in Chicago.

My week in Philly was very productive. As I’ve already announced here, I’ve accepted a nice job offer from Kitchen & Associates (how’s that for a name?), a 50-person architecture firm located in a converted schoolhouse in Collingswood, New Jersey. I also got registered for classes at Drexel; I’ll be taking two classes per quarter for the next four years or so to finish my undergrad degree in architecture.

I’ve also settled on a place to live. There’s an apartment complex called the Village of Stoney Run in Maple Shade, NJ located on highway 73 between highway 41 and I-295. The apartment complex, while located in the midst of suburbia, is secluded back off the highway amongst a heavily-wooded area. If figure if I can’t live in the city, then my next choice would be to live in the woods. The apartments are very spacious, and have most of the amenities that I was looking for. My paperwork is still being processed, so we’ll see whether or not I get approved. (I also have backup plans in place if I don’t get approved.)

On Friday, I met up with Jersey Mike at 30th Street Station, where he had just arrived from Connecticut for a weekend home from school. We didn’t do much railfanning, but we rode the Regional Rail from 30th Street to Market East, and then transferred to PATCO to Haddonfield, NJ. I gave him a ride home from Haddonfield and met his parents before we parted ways.

Saturday, I headed up to New York City. I drove up I-295 to Hamilton, NJ where I parked my rental car (a nice 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix) and waited for the New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station. During my wait on the platform, a couple Amtrak trains pulled by AEM-7’s roared through the station at 125 MPH. Impressive.

Once in New York, I wandred around a bit on my own before meeting up with the SubTalk crowd for lunch. While wandering around on my own, I took a (3) express from Penn to 72nd on a train of R-62’s, where I grabbed some breakfast at a nice little bagel place at 77th and Amsterdam. From there I walked to 86th, where I waited in sweltering heat about 20 minutes for a (1) local to Times Square. By the grace of God, the R-62 I eventually boarded was as cold as a meat locker and not as crowded as I feared. At Times Square, I transferred to the Shuttle to GCT, where I wandered around a bit and browsed through the Transit Museum gift shop. After grabbing an iced coffee at a nearby Starbucks, I boarded a train of Kawasaki R-142’s to Bleeker Street. My first impressions of the R-142’s are generally favorable, although I think the R-62’s have a much cooler sound, and that stupid “Mr. Ed” voice is annoying as hell. Due to some sort of delay, it was announced that my train would be skipping Bleeker and a couple other stops, so I had to get off at Union Square and wait for the next train. This was my first time at Union Square, and those platform extenders are by far the coolest I’ve seen! After a short wait, I boarded another train of Kawasaki R-142’s to Bleeker.

I walked eastward down Houston Street hoping to browse through the cool surplus store near Broadway-LaFayette, but for some reason it was closed. (Their posted hours indicated that they should have been open.) Having about 30 minutes to kill before lunch at Katz’s, so I browsed around a bit in the local shops before heading over to Katz’s. After a short wait, I met up with Kevin Walsh and Francis Sibilla. After spending an eternity in line, we finally grabbed a table near the back and chowed down. I barely made a dent in my sandwich, and to be honest, I’ve had better reubens here in Chicago. My meal seemed to be more about quantity than quality, and several flies buzzing around didn’t help my impression. Katz’s was okay for just one visit as a tourist, but I wouldn’t make it part of my regular rotation of favorite restaurants.

After lunch, Francis parted ways, leaving Kevin and I to our own devices. During intermittent periods between downpours, Kevin led me on a marathon walking tour of lower Manhattan. We covered the Lower East Side, parts of Chinatown, South Street Seaport (where we took a much-needed rest), the financial district, Ground Zero, TriBeCa, and SoHo. I feel like I walked about 30 miles, but it was well worth it. I saw plenty of cool things that I had never seen before, and of course one can’t have a better tour guide than Kevin Walsh. Back up at Houston Street and having walked a huge circle around lower Manhattan, Kevin and I caught a northbound (6) train to GCT. Once at GCT, we parted ways; Kevin headed home on the (7), and I waited for a northbound (5) train so that I could experience the Dyre Avenue… And I waited, and waited, and waited… Finally, I boarded a northbound (6) train, where it was announced that the (5) was running as a shuttle between 125th and 149th, and then in another section betweem 149th and Dyre. So, ruling out a six-seat ride to Dyre and back, I rode the (6) to 125th, where I grabbed a very crowded (4) train to 149th, then transferred to a (2) train to 96th/Broadway, and then finally a (1) train to 86th.

Once at 86th, it was about 9:00 PM and I had about 30 minutes to kill before meeting up with David Greenberger, so I headed over to the Starbucks at 86th and Columbus for some much-needed rest and refreshment. 20 minutes later, I finally forced myself out of the comfy chair and walked back down to 86th. I met David just outside fare control, and we took the next southbound (1) train to Columbus Circle. Once at Columbus Circle, we poked around a bit and scoped out some signs of an closed-off crossunder below the IRT tracks before meeting up with RIPTA42HopeTunnel. From 59th we headed northbound on a (C) local train of R-32’s — my only venture to the B-Division all day — to 168th Street, where we transferred to the IRT once again. This was my first visit to the super-deep stations on the West Side IRT, so this was quite a sight. Due to some sort of delay, we ended up waiting quite a while for our southbound (1) train, even watching one (1) train breeze through the station without stopping before ours finally showed up. Somewhere along the way — it may have been 96th Street — we transferred to a (2) train of Bombardier R-142’s that had been diverted to the express track, and was making express stops only to 34th. I got off at 34th, as I was pretty exhausted and eager to head back to my hotel room, and we all parted company there.

Back at Penn Station, I waited about 30 minutes for the next NJT train to Trenton, which left around midnight. After a screaming child and his parents mercifully got off at Newark, the rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful. As the train was approaching my stop at Hamilton, a passenger seated a couple rows behind me was carrying on a conversation with the conductor about NJT new bi-level trains. I joined the conversation and mentioned that I was visiting from Chicago, where bi-levels rule the roost. The NJT conductor feared that the introduction of bi-levels would induce mass confusion while boarding and alighting on NJT trains, but I told him that Chicago commuters have been using bi-levels with no problems for many years.

The passenger and I both got off at Hamilton, and continued chatting. Turns out he works for the NYCTA (I forgot exactly what he does, but he had been a conductor for some years before), and we chatted for a while on the platform about trains and such. He’s even familiar with nycsubway.org and SubTalk. Before parting ways, he gave me a little MTA booklet outlining “Operators Rules and Regulations” for OPTO. It’s been a pretty interesting read so far… Thanks, mystery MTA employee!

I finally got back to my hotel in Maple Shade at around 2:00 AM, and promptly crashed.

Sunday and Monday found me running around and finding a place to live, and I suddenly found myself bored on Tuesday afternoon. So I decided to head out to Atlantic City to see what that place is all about. The thought that came to my mind was: Daytona Beach on steroids. Tacky as hell and brimming with massive casinos and blue-haired ladies sitting in front of slot machines, Atlantic City was just about what I had expected. There’s a neat little amusement part on the pier near Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino (where I had parked), and the boardwalk itself is a cool place to watch people. Later that day, I made one last visit to Jim’s Steaks at 4th and South Streets for yet another big fat steak hoagie. I flew back to Chicago this afternoon, and I’m now preparing to pack all my belongings into cardboard boxes.

I start my new job on Wednesday, September 4th. That prior weekend (Labor Day weekend) will be spent packing up boxes, loading up a U-Haul truck, driving to New Jersey with my car in tow, and unloading said U-Haul truck in New Jersey. Wish me luck!

Thanks to Jersey Mike for meeting up with me in Philly, and thanks to Kevin Walsh, Francis, David Greenberger, and RIPTA42HopeTunnel for meeting me in NYC. Special thanks to Kevin Walsh for the very cool walking tour of lower Manhattan! Watch for some photos to be posted soon.

We’ve got a nasty thunderstorm bearing down on us now, so I’d better get offline.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

I Went to NYC Today!

First of all, I’ll just say that my new job here in New Jersey is going well so far. Wish me luck in hoping that keeps up.

Today I woke up around 9:30 AM, and for the first time in about two weeks, found myself bored. It was actually a very nice feeling: No stress, no worries. In fact, later on in the day I would realize this is probably the most stress-free I’ve been in many years, and certainly the past few months. I’ve got a nice place to live, I’ve got a decent-paying job that I don’t hate, I’ve left all my old emotional baggage behind in Chicago, today is a beautiful day, and I’ve got the use of the company car over the weekend. What to do, what to do…

I decided to spend the day in New York City. I suddenly realized that the coolest thing about living in New Jersey is that I can now do that. I can be in NYC within a couple hours whenever I damn feel like it. How cool is that? Before, I had to make plane and hotel reservations two weeks in advance, and then go through the ordeal of actually getting to New York from 800 miles away. Those days are now over, my friends.

After grabbing a bagel and some coffee in Collingswood, I drove up I-295 to Hamilton, where I caught a NJT train to NYC Penn Station. The ride into the city was uneventful, and I arrived around lunchtime. As I stood on the IRT subway platform at 34th Street, a huge grin spread across my face when I realized where I was. Other cities may come close, but no city has that certain vibe that New York City has.

I took a (3) train up to 96th Street, from where I walked up Broadway to Columbia University and poked around a bit before I grabbed a bite for lunch at a deli and headed over to the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. It had been over three years since my last visit to the Cathedral, so it certainly felt good to be back. As an architecture student, the Cathedral seems to stike a very deep chord in me. The immense building is still under construction — still only about 2/3 complete — and I think there’s something very sacred in the art of building. Sort of a metaphor for God’s unfinished work, I suppose.

I just happened to wander in just as a worship service was getting started, so I got a service bulletin and found a seat. It seemed like the right thing to do. Turns out the worship service was a special service in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Community of the Holy Spirit, a monastic order of women within the Episcopal Church that is based in the Upper West Side. Among the celebrants were two bishops of the Diocese of New York, so this was obviously a pretty big affair. The worship service and Eucharist were beautiful, combining the best of high-church Anglicanism with the Cathedral’s celebration of different cultures and mission for social justice. I only wish there was a church like this closer to Philadelphia, but the Cathedral of St. John the Divine is obviously one-of-a-kind. If nothing else, it certainly confirmed my decision to join an Episcopal church here. (My religious background is primarily Presbyterian.) During the reception after the mass, I was even able to chat a bit with each of the bishops. They seem like nice guys.

Leaving the Cathedral, I boarded a very crowded southbound (1) train at 110th, and then transferred to a nearly-empty (3) express train at 96th to Times Square. From there I walked over to Rockefeller Center and up Fifth Avenue a few blocks. By now it was getting later in the day, so I decided to head down to Coney Island and have some fun before going home. I boarded a southbound (F) train at 57th Street, and the ride was uneventful until we got to West 8th. At West 8th, the train stood in the station for an incredibly long period of time with no anouncement. After a bit of waiting, I decided to just leave the train and walk the rest of the way to Stillwell. However, a (Q) train rumbled in on the track above, so I dashed up the steps and took that train the rest of the way to Coney Island.

Once at Coney Island, I had a fine dinner at Nathan’s, and then spent the next couple hours wandering around the place, riding the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone in the process. I also swung by the B&B Carousell and was pleased to see it in operation. What a gem that is. Once again, it was nice to see Coney Island full of life, and to feel like a kid again for a couple hours.

Now the sun was down and it was getting late, so I headed over to Stillwell to grab a (Q) train back into Manhattan. It occurred to me that this was the last day for (Q) and (F) service to Stillwell for the next two years, and my (Q) train was probably one of the last ones to leave the station until 2004. Crews were already installing updated signage at Stillwell as I passed through the turnstiles.

The trip on the Brighton Line was relaxed and uneventful, and the ride across the bridge was a nice treat. It had probably been about two years since the last time I had ridden across the Manhattan Bridge, and that was on the north track. Once in Manhattan, the (Q) train took the Broadway express track. In the vincinity of Prince Street or thereabouts, we came alongside a northbound (R) train on the local track, and our two trains ran side-by-side for a short period. Sitting directly alongside my window on the (R) train was a rather attractive young lady who smiled at me and blew me a kiss before her train slowed down to make the next local stop.

So I did the only natural and proper thing. I jumped up and pulled the cord, pried the door open, and climbed across the tracks and boarded the (R) train and made passionate love to her right then and there.

Okay, I didn’t do that. But that sounds much more interesting than, “I awkwardly smiled back and briefly debated getting off my train at Union Square and waiting for her train to show up in hopes that she’d still be on board, assuming I could even figure out which car she was in.”

I got off at 34th Street, and walked from there over to Penn Station where I waited for the NJT 10:14 Trenton local. They eventually announced our track number and pointed out that both the east and west gates would be boarding. So myself and about a million other people headed down through the east gate, only to be met by a train with closed doors. After what seemed like a lot of waiting, we finally relaized that the front half of the train was boarding, and the rear half was closed despite the announcement to the contrary. So we all rushed up to the front of the train and managed to squeeze ourselves on board. I continued walking up to the front car and by some miracle, found myself a decent window seat with no screaming infants within earshot. The train was held at Newark Penn for a few minutes while an unruly passenger was removed by the police, and the rest of the trip was uneventful. I was back home in Collingswood within two hours.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to share, as I was determined not to be burdened by carrying around any cameras or bags.

Like I said, I’m still getting used to the idea of being able to head off to NYC on a whim like that. Up until now it may as well have been in a foreign country. I’m looking forward to many happy returns.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Checking In From Philly

Just thought I’d take a quick mintute to check in and say hi. I’m at a Kinko’s on Market Street in Center City, and since I’m paying by the minute on this computer, I’ll make this quick:

  • My car made the trip without any trouble, and actually used less gas than I thought it would. Hopefully it will have a repeat performance on the way back.
  • In northern Indiana, I saw two CTA 2600-series cars on flatbed trucks being shipped back to Chicago from their rebuilding in Hornell, NY. Cool!
  • I took the PA Turnpike, and except for the construction, foul weather, narrow lanes, tight curves, and poor visibility, it was a great drive.
  • The parts of New Jersey I’ve seen so far are like a highway engineer’s wet dream… Apparently every highway in the state is designed to prevent left-hand turns.
  • My interview was re-scheduled for Friday morning, so I spent most of Thursday riding the rails. I took: PATCO from Haddonfield to Center City, Broad Street Subway express to Fern Rock and back (what a kick-ass express run!!), R3 to Media, 101 trolley to 69th, MFL back to Center City, and PATCO back to Jersey. More in-depth report to follow.
  • Late last night I re-aquainted myself with Jim’s Steaks on South Street… *drool* I think I like this town.
  • I did some driving around and stumbled upon the Girard Avenue trolley tracks. Cool!
  • My interview this morning went very well. I think the firm was interested in me, and I’d be very interested in working for them. They’re located way down at the Philadelphia Naval Business Center, former site of the Philly Naval Shipyards where my father was stationed during Vietnam. The firm said they’d call me back next week.
  • I’ve been spending most of today driving around the city and exploring various neighborhoods, trying to find a suitable place to call home. South Jersey is a bit too suburban for my tastes, Media is probably a little too distant, but I love Germantown, Mt. Airy, and Manyunk.
  • Fairmount Park is incredible… I could spend days just exploring it.
  • My side trip to NYC tomorrow is still on. Whether I drive or take NJT will probably depend on the weather and my mood tomorrow morning, but either way, the meeting is still on for 2:00 PM on the shuttle platform at Times Square.

That’s it for now… Watch this space for more details of my trip when I’m able to sit down at a computer without having to watch a clock.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Some Good News: Moving to Philly

Just thought I’d announce here that I was recently accepted into the architecture program at Drexel University in Philly! It’s unsure exactly when I’ll be moving out there, as much of that depends on my housing and financial situation over the summer (I’ve been unemployed since mid-March, and I’m in pretty dire financial straits at the moment), but I’m guessing early September at the latest. Worst-case scenario is that I’ll have to put all my stuff into storage for a while, find a temporary place to live in Philly, crash there until I find a job and a permanent place to live, and then come back to Chicago to retrieve my stuff.

2001 in Review

2001 started off okay, with a decent-paying job for an architecture firm in the Sears Tower. But the firm turned out to be run by idiots, and simply finding the energy to show up each morning was becoming difficult.

In March, I managed to scrape together enough money to spend a week in London. It turned out to be the high point of the year. But a week before leaving, I received a call informing me that my father was diagnosed with cancer.

Soon after getting back, I bought my first car in about 6 years. Right around the time the first payment was due, I lost my job, and remained unemployed for about the next two months.

Soon thereafter, my just-purchased car began showing ominous warning signs that the engine was on its last leg.

I finally got a job with the noise abatement program out at O’Hare. I soon learned more about commercial aircraft than I ever cared to. I also learned more about rotted framing, NIMBY politics, shady contractors, and incompetent subcontractors than I ever cared to.

After lots of hesitation, I finally got involved out at the Illinois Railway Museum. And in early September, I led a group of SubTalkers on the first-ever field trip to IRM and all over Chicago. This turned out to be another highlight of the year.

Less than two weeks later, I watched in horror as over 3000 people in one of my favorite cities were murdered on live television.

It was around this time when I was relieved to learn that my father’s cancer seems to have been put into remission.

In October, my car finally crapped out once and for all, leaving me in a financial mess and unable to make it back out to IRM for the foreseeable future. I ended up replacing it with a $450 Trans Am, which I have grown to like.

December found me filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, but looking forward to possibly getting a fresh start on life in Philadelphia next year.

And the year finally ended on a positive note, with me taking a week off to ride Amtrak down to NC and back for the holidays. Exploring the DC Metro for the first time was an added bonus.

The year had some good points, but overall it was mostly pretty crappy. I feel pretty confident in saying good riddance to 2001, and here’s hoping 2002 is better for all of us.

Happy New Year from Chicago.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Cheesteak on my Mind

As I mentioned in a previous posting, I lost my job a couple weeks ago. My job search since then has been going rather badly, having scored exactly one interview out of at least a dozen or so resumes I’ve sent out so far. The interview went well, but the job in question qoes something like this:

1) Idiot buys expensive house near O’Hare Airport
2) Idiot is shocked to discover that jet airplanes make noise
3) Idiot, naturally, sues the City of Chicago
4) Judge decress that the city must pay to soundproof Idiot’s home
5) City hires architecture firm to oversee soundproofing of Idiot’s home, as well as the homes of several hundered other similar idiots. This is where yours truly would come in.

Needless to say, it doesn’t sound like a very exciting position, but beggars can’t be choosers, I suppose.

In my previous posting I also mentioned that with things in Chicago going so badly, I’m giving some consideration to leaving the city once again, possibly to Boston, Philadelphia, or the NYC area. After looking at a lot of information and doing a lot of soul-searching, right now I seem rather torn between sticking it out in Chicago or moving to Philly sometime this fall.

Reasons to stay in Chicago:

  • I’ve grown very attached to Chicago over the past eight years of living here.
  • Chicago is a very healthy and beautiful city
  • Most of my closest friends live here
  • Chicago has a very good architectural community
  • I wouldn’t have to move all my crap 1000 miles again

Reasons to move to Philly:

  • Drexel University’s co-op program will let me work full-time and still get my degree by taking evening classes
  • Philly, unlike NYC or Boston, has plenty of affordable housing
  • Philly is very close to NYC and Washington, and within a few hours of Boston.
  • Several of my close friends in Chicago have family in Philly and visit regularly.
  • Despite my housing fiasco last summer in Boston, part of me is still itching to broaden my horizons a bit by spending time in another city.

I applied to Drexel today just to see if they’re crazy enough to accept me, so I should have an answer within a few weeks. In the meantime, here’s a few questions I have for any Philadelphia residents or experts:

1) Most importantly, any idea what Philly’s job market is like for architects? In what esteem is Drexel’s co-op program held within Philly’s architectural community?

2) I know there’s a couple people here with connections to Drexel. What are your general impressions of the university? Strengths / weaknesses? Be candid.

3) I’d be looking to get a one-bedroom apartment for less than $750 a month, close to public transit (preferably MFL, subway-surface or regional rail), but also someplace where parking wouldn’t be a hassle. From the rental listings I’ve seen, it doesn’t look like I’d have much trouble finding a place. I’d most likely end up in Northeast or maybe South Jersey just because it would be a somewhat shorter trip to NYC, but I’m open to any other suggestions.

4) This may be a bit of a stretch, but how hard would it be to work in New York City and still take evening classes at Drexel? The commute would be a bitch at the very least, but I’m exploring all my options here.

5) How healthy is Philly’s underground nightlife/arts/music scene? It can’t possibly be as sterile as Boston’s, but I’d still like to take advantage of such things without trekking all the way up to New York.

Thanks in advance for any tips or suggestions… FYI, I probably wouldn’t be moving until October at the earliest, so the SubTalk field trip to Chicago wouldn’t be in danger.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)

Sweet Home Chicago

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)

Chicago, Boston… Philly?

As I have alluded to here once already, I’m finding it damn near impossible to find a place to live in Boston for September 1st. Facing the prospect of finding myself without a place to live, I’m forced to consider some rather drastic actions. First, a little background:

Back in Chicago, I had my own large studio apartment in Lincoln Park, half a block away from the lakefront in a reasonably well-maintained building in a very desireable neighborhood. I was paying $530 a month in rent, a good deal for that particular neighborhood but about average for Chicago in general. And I didn’t have to jump through any hoops, kiss anybody’s ass, or otherwise compete with 50 other people to get it.

Here in Boston, I’m paying $650 a month for a single bedroom in a filthy, roach-infested apartment building in Brookline where the landlord has performed no maintenance whatsoever. He’s converting the living room into a fifth bedroom and jacking up the rent by $700 this September, so we’re all moving out. I still haven’t found a new place yet, and prospective roommates act like they’re doing me a personal favor by even returning my phone call. And if you have the slightest blemish on your credit report, forget about it. (Apparently all 3 million people in Boston have perfect credit.) Boston has its charm, but no city is worth the hell you have to go through just to find a place to live around here.

Right now I’m in the midst of starting school at the Boston Architectural Center (I’m a transfer student from the University of Illinois at Chicago). I came to the BAC because their program is set up so that students work full-time during the day at architecture firms and take their classes in the evening. It’s one of only very few schools of architecture in the US that follow that format, and it allows me to do what I was trying to do unsucessfully for five years in Chicago, that is, go to school and be able to pay the rent at the same time.

Problem is, Boston is so ridiculously overpriced that I’m already making plans to pack my backs and head back home to Chicago. I plan on turning in my two-weeks notice at work on the 25th if I don’t have a signed lease in my hand by then. Since Boston apparently wants to become an overpriced yuppie theme park instead of a real city, I sure as hell won’t get in their way. I figure it’s Boston’s loss, not mine. I have friends I can stay with in Chicago until I’m able to find an inexpensive apartment there and get back on my feet again. (With a close-knit community of friends like that in Chicago, I’m amazed that I was even able to bring myself to say goodbye to them in the first place.)

Once I’m in Chicago, I’ll probably take some evening classes at the City Colleges and try once again to get admitted into the Illinois Institute of Technology (really my first choice of school, but I didn’t get admitted on my first try). If that doesn’t work, then I may be willing to try my luck in Philadelphia…

I was just doing a little research on other architecture schools in the US, and it turns out the school of architecture at Drexel University in Philly has a very similar format as the Boston Architectural Center. A few things I’m curious about: How is the cost of living in Philly and how hard is it to get an apartment? What neighborhoods would you reccomend if I wanted to be convenient to Drexel as well as Center City via rapid transit? (I don’t have a car and have no desire to get one.) How long does it take to get to NYC from Philly by train and about how much does it cost each way? I’m sure the housing situation can’t be nearly as bad as Boston’s, and Philly is also much closer to New York (another big plus — I have many friends in NYC including some people here on SubTalk). I’ve never been to Philly before, I don’t know a thing about the city, and I don’t know a single person there. But I’ve always been a bit curious to check it out, and from what I know about Philly, it seems like a very real, down-to-earth city not unlike my hometown of Chicago.

Any thoughts? (You’re welcome to contact me via private e-mail if you wish.) Sorry if I seem to be coming down a bit hard on Boston here, but I’m just about at my wit’s end.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)