West Philly, Reconsidered

When I first moved to West Philadelphia, in college, it took less than four hours before the thieves struck. A freshman girl stole all eight of the 20-pound cinderblocks I’d hauled to use as bed stilts, and when I caught the biz-atch red handed, she insisted that concrete could not be owned by anyone.

During the next four years, a lot of my other prized possessions were stolen. My new Trek mountain bike, sophomore year; the new VW Jetta, junior year; and my dignity, when Kevin bitch-slapped me and damned my “boarding school bullshit,” senior year. Given this track record, I sometimes wonder how it came to pass that I’m again living in the WC, back among the Christopher Miller joyriders and cinderblock bandits of the city.

One simple word: Cereality. Well, that and a 3-block walk to work. And the Green Line coffee shop. And the woman who jogs around Clark Park in what looks like a beekeeper’s outfit. And the other woman who speedwalks while smoking a foot-long cigarette and sipping from a coffee cup the size of Texas.

As you can probably tell, I’m trying to psych myself up about the neighborhood, especially now that there seems to be a better than 50 percent chance Ana and I will be staying put through her residency. In the spirit of festive optimism, I hereby present three things about the West Philly renaissance that make me happy — or at least keep me from fearing for my life.

1. The renovated 40th Street library. Despite all the budget cuts that the library system has gone through, the 1906 “Carnegie” branch, long in disrepair from a flood, was somehow able to scrounge up the change for a massive restoration. They basically gutted the interior and replaced it with equal parts ski chalet and self-help book archive. OK, maybe that latter part is unfair, and I just naturally gravitate to the “Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide” shelves — all eight of them. Though the library doesn’t appear to stock your traditional scholarly tombs (no Penn Press books, for shame!), it is a wonderfully warm and happy space. Plus, the electronic self-checkout system is undeniably rad.

2. We’re getting a bowling alley! Seriously. That post I made a few months ago appears to actually be coming true (the one about bowling, not the one about free citywide wi-fi — which is going nowhere fast). Walking home the other night I passed by the old, empty storefront next to the Video Vault, on Locust between 40th and 41st, and there it was: a big sign announcing “Strikes! Open this January.” Aw jeah.

3. Retro trolleys. Back when Ana and I were off frolicking in Belize, the UC District unveiled three restored 1930s trolleys, which have now been put into operation on the #15 Girard Avenue line. They were christened on October 16, Trolley Day, “where 1938 meets today on the tracks.” Trolley Day sounded like a jolly good time, except of course for the black participants who had to sit at the back, who thought it kinda sucked ass. Hey folks, at least the ride was free.