Sunday, October 23, 2016

take the long way home

One Friday evening in September, Mrs. Pincus and I did something we haven't done in a long time. We went to a Phillies game. Considering we were Phillies season ticket holders for 18 years, you would think that going to a hometown baseball game would be a regular activity for us. Since we gave up our ticket plan three seasons ago, we have only been to a few games in the subsequent seasons, although we haven't paid admission for any of them. Friday's game was no different. We were guests of the law firm that, most generously, keeps me gainfully employed.

Though we were once avid baseball fans, we have not watched a game in several years. Seeing how the Phillies are doing so poorly this season, we express no real interest in the game, opting instead to pay closer attention to the free food that came with our deluxe suite tickets. So. as the game entered the late innings with a tie score, my wife and I decided to call it a night. I didn't remotely care about the outcome, as the Phillies are currently in a so-called "rebuilding" period, which is Major League Baseball speak for "We suck and aren't making any trades to better our team as long as we are turning a profit." We said our "goodbyes" to my co-workers who remained and headed we out to our car.

I live about 16 miles from the Phillies' South Philadelphia ballpark, about a twenty-five minute drive. There are several different routes we could take to our home just over the city limits in the glorious northern suburbs, but our preferred route is straight up Broad Street, the main North-South thoroughfare that traverses our fair city. Broad Street (Philadelphia's placeholder for 14th Street.) bisects a variety of neighborhoods as it makes its way out of the city, where it picks up Old York Road as the continuation of Pennsylvania State Route 611. Once out of the ballpark's lot, a left turn deposits you in a knot of concrete roadways leading in all directions. One ramp inclines towards the Walt Whitman Bridge, where anxious New Jerseyites jockey their way out of Philadelphia. Another access ramp leads toward I-76 and Packer Avenue, where drivers can choose between traveling West or South of the city. We, however, aimed for the local lane of Broad Street.

At the southern end of Broad Street the neighborhood is a mix of longtime residents, mostly of Italian descent, living alongside young "hipsters" looking for the "Center City experience," but have been priced out the the Center City dwellings. Further north, the area is full of bustling commerce and nightlife, with clubs and restaurants spilling their patrons out onto the sidewalk. Circling City Hall, Broad Street cuts through the recently-updated and heavily-patrolled campus of Temple University. But just beyond Temple is the ominous reaches of North Philly, a neighborhood that has been a thorn in Philadelphia's side for many, many years. Broad Street in North Philly is fine, usually packed with pedestrians and traffic no matter what the time of day. But, a few blocks in either direction off the main drag lies a frightening landscape of boarded-up houses, abandoned warehouses and desolate lots strewn with trash and discarded, picked-over automobiles. Shootings and drug deals and carjackings in North Philly are regularly presented on the local news

On our way home from the Phillies game, Mrs. Pincus and I were diverted off of the security of Broad Street by a team of municipal workers who decided that 11 PM was the ideal time to pave the street. Forced to make a left into the uncharted territory, we cautiously cruised towards 17th Street. Where Broad Street is illuminated by the eerie orange glow of the high-pressure sodium lamps that line the sidewalks, the outlying streets are dark and foreboding. Silent silhouettes of condemned homes loom large at each dimly-lit intersection. The tiny streets — their surface dotted with cracks and broken chunks of paving — twist unevenly through block after congested block. Although we did not pass a single person walking the streets, we still had a very uneasy feeling until we managed to find an access back to the brightly-lit familiarity of Broad Street.

Although I was born and raised in Philadelphia and am very familiar with most of the city, there are small pockets of remote neighborhoods which are totally foreign to me. Maybe it's because, as a child, it was instilled in me that those sections were "bad neighborhoods" and should be avoided at all costs. However, as we navigated through the unfamiliar streets of North Philly, I saw that people lived in some of the houses we passed. There were obvious lights on in windows shrouded by curtains. There were families watching TV and tucking their kids into bed. And here I was — just feet from a front door that had welcomed someone's extended family member for Thanksgiving — and I was fearing for my life. I caught myself being stupid and narrow-minded. My fear was really based on nothing. I thought about the possibility of someone driving past my house and thinking the same unfounded thought.

There is no moral to this story, except maybe not to be so quick to be so judgmental. Y'know... that "book by its cover" thing.

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