Author: Tory Gobat, SEAS’10
The other day, my parents drove in to Philly in my dad’s pickup truck, a trailer in tow, to help me pack away most of what I own for moving. I pointed out my toenails to my mom. The night before, I had painted them a shiny royal blue (taking up time I could have used for packing…). She said, “Those make you look like a city girl to me.”
Six years ago, I was amidst my complex search for the “right” college. Part of the challenge in this quest was trying to find an institution that would allow me to pursue a major that was neither common nor clearly defined. I wanted something to do with computers, and graphics, but not too artsy since I rather lack talent in that area… Also, I wanted to be part of a marching band. During high school, I played in one and only grew to love that experience more and more. It became a must-have college criterion.
I didn’t have too many other preferences in college features, except I was sure I did not want to be in a city environment. Having spent my whole life in one house in a small town, surrounded by nothing much but other small towns (and some shopping centers), city life seemed to be a big, scary, and unsafe experience.
Flash forward to this past spring. It’s freezing cold, and I’m late. Stalwartly positioned on the familiar corner where Locust Walk becomes Locust Street, I peer up 40th Street, hoping to see for the golden display on a city bus reading: “40 2-LOMBARD.” Over time, I’ve learned that certain SEPTA buses are off schedule sometimes, but I’m hoping one might be coming soon. I’ve made an amazing number of trips on SEPTA now: buses, trolleys, and subways. I haven’t patronized a wide variety of routes, but navigating those I do take has become second nature. In fact, I’ve just purchased my June 2011 monthly pass, demarcating completion of my first full year of regularly riding SEPTA.
Every day, I swipe and step onto a SEPTA vehicle of some kind; crossing paths with numerous other city dwellers. “City dweller.” Is that who I am now? Penn provided my fledgling urban living experiment. It wasn’t an easy road: my first subway ride into Center City was made on the command of a friend, who dragged me to Chris’ Jazz Café because I had to see and write about a live jazz performance for the Jazz Style & History course I was taking. I realize now that my ventures off campus over the years remained relatively few in number and limited in scope.
Nonetheless, the Penn environment was the stepping stone I needed. I was (and still am) in love with the beautiful campus area surrounding Locust Walk. There, I felt protected from the streets when I so desired. But the bounding streets (34th, Spruce, 40th, Walnut) were of course just a block away in any direction, and I crossed them daily.
For the past year after graduation, I resided with fellow Penn students/grads of my same year, just a couple blocks west of campus. Starting June 3 though, I will be a new resident of Center City. Leaving University City for Center City feels like the final step in detachment from Penn — certainly not that I want to be away from it. But one of my key motivations for staying (i.e. living and working full-time) in Philadelphia was to explore the city much more fully than I had done while living on campus. I have since made some progress and am eager for more; settling in this new spot will be one more step along the way.
So, am I a city girl now? I don’t think I can totally claim that title yet (and perhaps not for awhile). But I do know that I am truly enjoying the process, and am grateful for the critical part that my Penn experience has given me.