Out in the Boondocks II: Stranger in a Strange Land

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

The neighborhood I call home now actually isn’t all that bad – honest. It’s certainly not as bad as some who live up this way make it out to be, and while it’s clearly downscale from the bourgeois bohemian precincts of the Gayborhood, it’s comfortable, tranquil, and not all that difficult to get to from the center of town.

So why do I feel like a fish out of water?

Perhaps it’s because of the nature of the place. Northeast Philadelphia, or at least that part of it inland from the Delaware, was developed as a bedroom community for the folks who worked in the city’s factories and offices, all located elsewhere. Business strips evolved along some of the once-residential streets to serve local customers, but even the busiest of these lack the energy I sense in Center City.

Maybe that’s because the best way to get to and around them is behind the wheel of a car. I could ride my bike or walk to the supermarket closest to me – it’s no further away than one in South Philly that I would walk a half hour to reach from the Gayborhood. But something about the landscape seems to discourage one from walking all that much. The block after block of rowhouses? The length of the blocks themselves? I can’t put my finger on it, but something about this place just doesn’t make me feel like walking.

And when I do walk, I don’t encounter much other than blocks of rowhouses, unless I’m walking up Castor Avenue. I certainly don’t encounter many people. By contrast, I can usually count on running into someone I know while ambling about Center City. One reason for this: Center City has more of the kinds of places where people gather casually, like bars, restaurants and especially coffee houses. The closest thing to one of those last near me is a gas station with a Dunkin’ Donuts in it; to get to the only actual coffee house I know of in this area requires crossing Roosevelt Boulevard, an exercise not for the faint of heart.

There is probably one more big reason I feel like a fish out of water: I am. Center City, and the Gayborhood in particular, had been my home for all of the 28 years I have lived here. In today’s highly mobile society, that’s an eternity. It’s long enough to put down roots, deep ones. It’s long enough to become a familiar face to many, including many who are merely passing through. Now I find myself in suburbia, where the only familiar face belongs to the person whose home I share.

The change has been liberating in many ways. But it’s also been a little unsettling and disorienting. I’ve discovered much that is attractive about my new home. Its ethnic diversity far outstrips anything I’ve seen in Center City. The neighbors, or at least those that I have met, are friendly enough, and as I noted in my previous essay on life in the Northeast, they don’t worry overmuch about who you love as long as you keep up your property.

Still, the city kid in me recognizes that while he could be comfortable here, he doesn’t want to. (And no part of me wants to be comfortable with the old white guys who hang out in the two nearby bars, sharing the fear they all have of the changes that have taken place around them.) I enjoy the energy of the city, the ability to walk to just about anything I might want, and the chance encounters I have on the street or at the coffee shop. For the time being, though, I will manage with the extra hour required to get to all these things – and invite my friends to come out to the ‘burb in the city to share what good things this place has to offer.

Read Related Posts...