Author: Mari Meyer, GSE,C’12
I love Philadelphia: the trolleys, the cheesesteaks, the tree-lined, cobblestone blocks and multicolored row homes—it is a one of a kind city and, without a doubt, one of the best places to live in the world. But wherever I happen to live, I’ve generally found that my itch to explore has got nothing on my love for my hometown, Chicago.
It didn’t help that on my very first week here, I made the tragic mistake (which I now consider to be a significant rite of passage for any new driver in the Philadelphia area) of losing my way on these ravenous East Coast highways, ultimately finding myself on the Ben Franklin Bridge’s “Four Lanes to New Jersey,” without so much as a clue as to how I got there, where I was going, or how I might get back. Not to mention not realizing that they make you pay $5 just to essentially turn around. Not the most heartfelt welcome, Philly, thanks!
That said, there’s something about this time of year here that has captured my heart. There’s an old saying that Chicago has two seasons: winter and construction season. Though summertime in Chicago is very clearly the reason why people stay through its unforgiving winters, I’ve never quite seen autumn really last long enough to enjoy it—it’s sunset-tinted leaves, it’s cool, dry air and never-ending sunny Saturdays at the farmers’ market—until coming to Penn.
I am also not the first to feel compelled to gush about Philadelphia’s food trucks, the art, the BYOB restaurants, the live music, the block parties, the bike lanes, the big city feel with the real community heart. The locals are warm, the rent is cheap, and a whole new neighborhood to explore is only ever a short walk away. Even on campus, you can’t help but feel alive as you make your way down Locust Walk at lunchtime—the calls for participation, for activism, for learning, for joining in, for petitioning, for dancing, for debating—it sends a buzz through me every time I venture across campus. That’s when I’m most aware of how lucky we all are to be here as students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community members at this moment in time. For anyone who watched the cheerleaders and pep band break it down on College Green during Quaker Fest at Homecoming Weekend, you have to admit that you couldn’t deny the energy surging through your body!
Still, there will always be things to miss about my Midwestern Mecca: deep-dish pizza, Lake Shore Drive when the sailboats are out, ordering a “pop” without the risk of being persecuted for the use of regional language, the “el” during express hours, Chinatown at Hanukkah, chairs in the street to mark your parking territory, garlic naan on Devon, the skyline at sunset, free comedy and BYOB improv, Wicker Park’s six corners on a Saturday night, Michigan Avenue when the Christmas lights go up, and access to killer Mexican food on at least every block til at least 3 AM, and then again for breakfast.
But for now, I am forever grateful to be here in West Philadelphia, walking to and from my classes, my neighbors saying “good morning” and “good evening” in each direction. Philly is a gem of a place to call home, and my time at Penn is a gift. Now, if I could only figure out a way to stay off these treacherous roads…