Today was the first time in many years that I had the objectivity to see Philadelphia as crappy. One man's objectivity is another's spoiled upbringing, so you might also say I saw my old city with the contemptuous eyes of my old classmates at Penn, the ones who complained about panhandlers and run down buildings and all the other superficial symptoms of a plague they'd been so lucky to miss. I hated those fucks. I defined myself against them. I wanted to stay purely out of spite for them, but Philadelphia had no job for me. Philadelphia had no job for anyone who wasn't a barista or a bartender or a bike messenger or somehow a member of the entrenched, and I was sick of being a barista. The beauty of Philadelphia was that it had plenty of rotting houses for those wise enough to recognize that jobs are dumb and ephemeral and overrated and that that notion wasn't just some loser philosophy they should have left behind in art school.
Anyway, the artists stayed. While I was away trying to have a career, they bought long-abandoned real estate and painted murals and taught school and built bars and occasionally joined civic associations and marched in parades and became committeemen. They masked their wonder and idealism and hope in gratuitous tattoos and beards and funny little slacker-rituals like bringing their kids to bars, but damn if they didn't sort of spruce up the place. If you think I am romanticizing common Richard Florida shit, fuck you, it isn't like I hadn't thought of that; it isn't like they didn't think of that.
All of which is a long way of getting back to the original point: that, despite its waning relevance insofar as broad macroeconomic and demographic trends are concerned, I always drew inspiration from Philly's trajectory. It was a place that very slowly and quietly kept getting prettier and nicer and cleaner and less disrepaired, fueled in large part by a bunch of artists seeking a working-class existence in a community untainted by all those pollutants that flow through places with delusions of being at the Center of the Universe.
But yeah, today it was muggy and overcast and slow and cluttered and on my walk to my polling place at 12th and Federal in South Philadelphia, I stopped to think how orderly and businesslike and prosperous it made my new corner at Rivington and Allen in New York look by comparison. And when I walked inside the little Italian social club and they couldn't find my name on their damn roster I couldn't get mad: I hadn't, after all, even lived on the block the last time I'd voted there. (I'd abandoned it for a job or a career or a piece of the action or whatever, a chance to double my rent for half the space, etc.) I simply asked my committeeman — a hefty, silver-haired Italian I didn't recognize who was munching on a paper plate of penne and kidney beans — how he figured our block had voted today.
"I don't know and I don't care!" he roared jovially.
"You don't care?"
"The turnout has been great, that's all that matters. I'm happy either way. It's when people don't vote that you've got a problem."
I smiled and thanked him and ran out to catch the train home. A cab driver on call picked me up on Broad Street. He said he'd take me part of the way. As we approached City Hall, a flock of Obama people standing on the median wove signs and those Styrofoam things they sell at Sixers games. The cabbie started honking wildly and laughing.
"Did you vote for Obama?" I asked.
"I'm a crazy Republican, I voted for McCain," he said. "But I like Obama. Look at him, he is smart and came from nowhere to Harvard and he has dark skin, it is time for someone with a little dark skin. Why have the same people over and over in charge? So one person can lead and then their son and their wife and their daughter can lead as well? I come from Pakistan and I never liked Bhutto. Her grandfather was a politician, her father was a politician, now her son is a politician. Let someone else do it for a change. Obama is a great speaker because black people are great speakers. Even black people who are not educated or have nothing, they have great voices, they can sing, they can make you feel inspiration. And look, not all black men are in jail, look at this one!"
He let me off at 17th and I walked the rest of the way to the station. And yeah, that's pretty much all I got for you guys from the real world: a Pakistani cab driver, like the Tom Friedman style guide taught me. But whatever. I'm almost home and will be back blogging imminently. In the meantime: go Barry!
Sent from my BlackBerry wireless handheld.