Philly’s Trolleys Live On

Philadelphia’s Route 11 first came into service on Christmas Eve of 1858, as a horsecar — an on-track tram with literal horsepower. Route 11 began as a link between the western suburb of Darby and West Philadelphia, depositing its most eastward riders at 49th and Woodland Ave. In 1896, it extended all the way east to the banks of the Delaware River. Today, it goes only so far east as to City Hall. I take it there now.

I climb aboard at 40th and Baltimore Avenue, amidst treelined streets of row homes built when the first horse and streetcars came here, and across from the great green expanse of the historic Woodlands Cemetery, once the estate of prominent Philadelphia lawyer Andrew Hamilton. This part of the city grew with, and due to, the arrival of the streetcar.

When they first came here, this part of West Philadelphia was a suburb for the wealthy; a respite from the hustle and bustle of their work in Center City. Much in West Philly has transformed since those earliest streetcars, but not everything — it depends on the trolley still.

Those first horse trams along Route 11 were segregated, relegating African Americans to standing on the front platform with the driver. That lasted until a citywide decree in 1867. Today, I look around and the car is mostly black riders, facing different forms of inequality — vitriolic remnants of antiquity and their modern mutations; the tragedies of righteous change resisted.

We lurch forwards, toward Center City. I put on my headphones as we head underground.

The fare for nearly all intra-city travel in Philadelphia, including trolley rides, was a flat $2.00 when I first moved to the city. Then, in 2013, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) shocked the world when it rose the fare to a nearly unpalatable $2.25, a jarring enough transition to make one want to sigh and bemoan the changing of the times.

That extra quarter dollar has not thrust SEPTA’s fleet of trolleys into modernity quite yet. The trolleys that run into Center City today are largely unmodified from when SEPTA purchased them from Kawasaki from 1980-1982. I don’t know if this longevity is a more testament to the quality of Kawasaki’s work, or to the tightness of SETPA’s checkbook, but in a world and life increasingly defined by ephemerality and planned obsolescence, they offer a modicum of stability to appreciate, for better or worse.

The trolley travels much slower than the Market Frankford Subway-Elevated Line, or the El, which hurdles east from Upper Darby along Market before curving north in service of Northeast Philadelphia. Its languid pace is one of the reasons I prefer the trolley to its faster, newer cousin on and under Market. With SEPTA, unpredictability of service is frustratingly common, but micro-unpredictabilities define a ride on the slower trolley — of traffic on the surface, of stops and starts at traffic lights in the tunnels underground, of the severity of screeching as we round a corner… but most of all, of the makeup, conversations, and inclinations of those aboard, whose similarities might regularly be obscured by the vastness of their differences, but for however briefly, their stories align as they share in the exact same journey. There’s solace in companionship with these strangers, and with the ghosts of the men and women who rode along these tracks before us. Together, these intangibles make it an experience embodying life in the city in general, where the diversity of experiences is extreme, coexisting everywhere, and built upon the great history of those who came before.

I used to take the trolley into Center City in order to connect to the Broad Street Line, which I would then ride north to my ex-girlfriend’s apartment. Now I ride into Center City just to do it, to walk around, to observe; or to transfer to the El, and take that towards beer, music, and friends in bars in neighborhoods that decades prior had been desolate. The evolution of this place is never-ending.

We screech to a halt under 15th street. I climb the stairs to the surface across from City Hall and walk onto Broad Street. The sidewalks overflow with Philadelphians hustling about their days. The taxis on the street compete for every inch, marking their territory with fierce battle cries. Skyscrapers tower overhead and reflect off of each other. The ride wasn’t longer than 15 minutes, and it’s left me in a different world from the sleepy West Philly street from which I came.

A century-old infrastructure and idea, modified with the times but with its core intact, ushers change into the lives of its riders daily. The trolley still moves people in Philadelphia.

Moving Along

Transportation means change. A change of location, change of speed, change of surrounding… In transportation, we are always moving away from one thing and towards another, away from one moment of our history and towards the creation of another. But those moments of transition from one place to another are their own story, too — and when they weave together over time, they can create a compelling representation of who we are and what we value.

As these moments of literal transport compile to form their own vivid story, each new one offers a time to confront and assess those that preceded it. The rhythms of movement — the quick-forming monotonies of whatever vehicles take us — and the willful submission to the changes it yields can soften the rigidity of perspective and build a peace of mind, a momentary famine of distraction, during which we can reflect on all the movement of our lives and get a glimpse of who we are becoming. In these moments of movement and change, grace can fall upon us and reveal us to ourselves. Change begets change; and in this way we move ever forward.

Flying in to Vegas, Baby

This is the first entry in a new series titled In Transit, which will consist of stories that take place in movement, or relate to it in some way. I hope to keep it up and avoid getting sidetracked by Seinfeld erotica. Again.

This past winter I visited my old roommate and my brother in Las Vegas, where my brother lives and works as an architect, a job relatively abnormal, if only for its normality.

The journey from my home near Philadelphia connected me through Chicago. The first leg completed uneventfully, my apprehension of impending chaos grew as I queued for the final segment amidst a chattering, amorphous line, where Zone 3ers tried to board with the Zone 1ers, lurching forward with carry-ons that would clearly not fit overhead.

What my fellow passengers lacked in self-awareness, they surely compensated for with an overflowing sense of enthusiasm. And why shouldn’t they be excited? They were replacing chilling gusts of Lake Michigan wind with sun-drenched cement, fluorescent radiance, and the compounded freedoms of being on vacation and in a city with very fluid standards of normality, morality, and legality. It would be a time to cut loose. We were going to Vegas, baby!IMG_2399

The flight attendants were clearly not sharing in the fun. By the time us plebeians in zone 3 had boarded, they already had the look of grocery-aisle mothers on the brink of breakdown, run ragged by tenacious toddlers. Except these toddlers were fueled not by sugar, but a slightly different white powder, and a juice that burns on the way down. I might’ve thought to give them hugs if I didn’t think it would get me tased and trading Caesar’s Palace for Guantanamo Bay. As a compromise I thought I would be the ideal passenger, and I settled in to my window seat with just that in mind.

“Hey! What’s up Harry Potter? You want a drink bro? Let’s get this guy a drink!” called the guy taking a seat behind me, his knuckles tattooed with some indiscernible text, and his speech indicating that his next drink certainly wouldn’t be the first of the day. He moved and spoke with the reckless confidence of a successful con man; his great con being that all he had to do was work, say five or six days a week, and in exchange, he got all the money he needed to buy whatever he wanted — mostly party supplies of varying degrees, I imagined. Under non-avian circumstances, I surely would have admired the optimism of his approach.

“Nice hair, Harry Potter!” he said, apparently talking to me and thus grossly over-exaggerating my resemblance to the wizarding world’s golden boy.

“Hey, check out Harry Potter!” he told his large, bull-necked friend, who audibly umphed as he dropped into the seat next to me.

IMG_2401

You’re a wizard, ‘arry

“What? Why? Because of the hair?” he asked.

“Yeah, man!”

“Oh. Yeah. Right.”

“Let’s get a drink!”

“Yeah, let’s get a drink,” said my agreeable neighbor.

“Hey waitress! Can we get a drink?” He called out, to nobody in particular, before violently shaking his friend’s seat from behind.

I looked out the window and assessed the situation. I was Harry Potter, just without all of his charm, magical abilities, or broom handling abilities — my roommates could attest to that; and I was corralled between the window, the agreeable henchman Crabbe, his buddy Goyle in the row across the aisle, and the indefatigable Draco Malfoy in the row behind us, masterminding the chaos.

“So, vegas, huh?” asked the man occupying our row’s aisle seat, who, broad shouldered and bear handed, looked like Vince Vaughn’s insurance-selling cousin.

“Yeah! Vegas!” replied Crabbe, as we taxied toward the runway.

“My buddy here just turned twenty-five!” Draco told us.

“We’re going for a week.”

“We brought bail money!” Draco added excitedly.

“Better safe than sorry, I guess,” said Insurance Vince, his legs stretching out into the aisle as he gave me a look of skepticism over Crabbe’s shoulder. That look was only made possible over Crabbe’s bulky stature because he had taken to resting his head on his hands, his elbows propped up on the tray table. I noticed that he had begun to sweat, despite the breathability of his cargo shorts, which exposed an infant-sized tribal calf tattoo.

I decided to let the flight attendant handle the returning of his tray table to its mandated locked position for takeoff.

Ten minutes into the flight and Crabbe’s sweating had increased to a level best described as profuse. To add to that, he had begun mumbling to himself, while leaning his head forward against the mini-tv screen lodged in the seat-back in front of him. The sweat caused his head to repeatedly slip across the screen, leaving a glistening trail iIMG_2403n its wake. The situation was beginning to turn from uncomfortable to worrying. I looked back to chief Malfoy for assistance, but he was fast asleep, his head resting unapologetically on the shoulder of his neighbor, a baldheaded older man who flashed me a look of disbelieving amusement.

In between the repeated head slipping and mumbling, Crabbe had managed to pull everything from his pockets – his wallet, a pack of cigarettes, and his cell phone. For whatever reason, he thought they were better suited resting on his lap, where they promptly fell to the floor. The next two and a half hours of the flight were a loop of him dropping his phone on the ground and Insurance Vince Vaughn or I picking it up for him, as his broad frame made it impossible for him to reach below the seat and retrieve it himself. After the fifth time picking up his phone, I began to identify less as a pupil at Hogwarts and more as the do-good Sisyphus of American Airlines.

This cycle repeated. And repeated. He continued sweating and didn’t reduce at all during periods of what I assumed was some state close to sleep, his personal TV surely taking on more liquid than its design called for, his sleep only interrupted by the thud of his phone as it slipped off his lap and hit the floor. I wondered what medication might help ease the situation, or what medication caused it. Insurance Vince and I gave each other worried-but-not-sure-what-to-do-shrugs.

An extended period of turbulence rocked the cabin, along with whatever delusions I might have had about my own immortality. It shook Crabbe upright and lucid, but only briefly enough to relocate his phone from his seat-back pocket where I had wedged it back to his lap. The turbulence had a more lasting effect on Draco, who awakened from his slumber and immediately sought out a nearby “waitress” to order a drink.

“What do you mean you don’t take cash?” he asked the attendant unfortunate enough to answer his call.

“I mean we do not accept cash. Only credit,” she explained.

“No cash?”

“Correct, we do not accept cash.”

“Okay well I don’t have a credit card…so?” He looked at her as if he expected her to change her mind about the cash thing.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said before walking off to attend to other concerns.

Draco looked at Goyle, now awake in the row across the aisle.

“Can you believe they don’t take cash? What kind of airline is this? Cash! That’s gotta be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!”

“Yeah, bro, that’s dumb,” Goyle offered.

Crabbe’s head sweatily slipped across the TV screen in further agreement.

Eventually the captain announced that we were closing in on Vegas and we should ready for descent. Again, it felt like the job of preparing Crabbe’s seat and traIMG_2408y table for landing was a job best left to the professionals. A flight attendant quickly came by and woke him, and he obeyed her commands. But, as she walked away, he began accusing her of failing at her job because she didn’t once bring him a water, despite “asking five times!” In reality, he was in an unreachable, trance-like state of head-sweating during each of the beverage services. Of course mentioning that would’ve done nothing to abet his thirst, and I figured anger was as good an alternative to water as he could get at this point.

We landed without incident and lingered in the uncomfortable moments between landing and deboarding for what seemed like ages. As soon as the space opened up, I kneeled to retrieve Crabbe’s wallet and cigarettes for him, which fortunately were still within range on the floor under his seat. For this task he was so appreciative that he offered me a cigarette, and became incredulous when I told him I didn’t smoke.

Later, amidst the slot machines and Jamba Juices of the terminal, I ran into Draco and the gang outside the bathroom.

“Harry Potter! How was the flight?”

“Okay. But your buddy here had a bit of a rough flight,” I told him.

“Yeah, well Harry, that’ll happen when you take 8 hits of molly, two lines of coke, and a lot of beer right before you board.”

I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I guess that’ll happen,” I said.

It appears that Draco and the gang grew up and got into drugs, a fate likely absent from any of J.K. Rowling’s epilogues. The next few days and nights in the dessert-city, a world capital of excess, were satisfyingly wild as we navigated its sensory overload as both voyeurs and participants. The only thing missing at the end was closure — I guess I’ll never know if Draco and the Gang ended up having to use that bail money.

IMG_2460

Ned’s Life

Ned was the unluckiest guy in the state. First, his parents named him Ned. That’s not short for anything. Just Ned. With a name like that, it is no surprise that Ned’s virginity remained thoroughly intact well into his twenties, more pristine and untouched than those tribes in the amazon that think the gods are communicating with them every time an airplane flies overhead. This wasn’t an ‘i’m saving myself for marriage’ type of proud virginity either, this was a ‘i’d drown a baby in my bathtub if i could only see a female’s nipple’ type of virginity.

He had other problems. In elementary school, he started getting cold sores. Back then, they were thought to be the product of youthful uncleanliness. In middle school, they continued, but were written off as the normal acne that most adolescents suffer through from time to time. By the time high school rolled around, Ned was fed up with them.

He saw a dermatologist.

He had herpes.

“But how??” he asked, incredulous.

“Have you been having unprotected sex?” she asked.

“Hmm, well… actually…. I’m a virgin,” he whispered, embarrassed.

“well, i guess that makes sense…” the dermatologist said.

“what do you mean? How does that makes sense??” he asked, desperate.

“Oh well, right. I guess it doesn’t make sense in terms of your herpes. Maybe you were born with it?”

As it turned out, a thick, untamable mane and narrow knees were not all his mother gave him: she was in the midst of an outbreak, her first in a decade – caused by the stress of the pregnancy, when she popped out the bloody, screaming mess that would come to be known as Ned. She verified this over the phone.

“well, Ned, i’m really sorry. but if you have it, it seems like you probably did get it from me. how quirky!” she said .

“Mom! this isn’t quirky. This is terrible!”

“Oh right, of course not. I’m sorry,” she said.

“Why didn’t you tell me about this? you knew about my cold sores!” he said, distraught and close to tears.

“Oh honey. I’m so sorry, i should’ve told you. but, i guess part of me hoped they really were just acne related. and also i didn’t think it was really necessary, as you’re not sexually active,” she explained.

“how do you know i’m not sexually active? Huh?”

“oh honey… look momma’s at the grocery store. i’ll call you later. love ya sweetie!” and she hung up.

 All of this added up. Ned was often unhappy. The name, the lack of sex, the herpes… it was tough. But, worst of all, was that socially, Ned was anonymous. No one knew who he was, and he hated that. He longed to be known. If I am well-known, everything else will fall into place, he thought. I’ve just gotta be well known.

Predictably, Ned was a terrible athlete. He was all joints and no muscle, uncoordinated, and lacked bravery. But he loved baseball. He was a statistics man; he could spout off batting averages and RBI’s for almost any player in the MLB. His enthusiasm was so real and unwavering that, after endless petitioning, the high school baseball coach finally agreed to let Ned on the team as manager. He kept meticulous stats for both practice and games, he filled up water bottles, he cheered and encouraged his teammates. He did these duties with a smile. The guys on the team started to take to their awkward but good-natured manager.

“Ned, you’re kinda retarded, but you’re not too bad, know that?” the first basemen said to him one day after practice.

“Well thanks man! You too!” Ned replied. He loved sort-of being on the team.

Ned’s favorite player on the team was Harnold, the starting short stop. Harnold was a good guy, but he was an even better player. He was one that could easily go on to play in college if he wanted to. And who knows, maybe even pro one day! Ned loved the way he would scoop up grounders and whip them off first or second seemingly effortlessly, and how cool he would look when the infielders threw it around the horn after an out. He dreamed of one day zipping the ball off to first while chomping on a big glob of gum. That was what Harnold did, and he was the coolest guy Ned had ever met.

Once in a while a couple guys would stay around after practice to hit some extra balls. This was Ned’s time for glory – the coach gone, he would grab a glove and head out to short stop to ground balls. He would stand in Harnold’s spot, emulating his every move as closely as he could. Onlookers would notice some similarities, but the differences were more glaring. Watching Ned play shortstop was like watching a shaky bootlegged, camcorder copy of a movie that was still in theaters. And in this case, affter seeing the real thing (Harnold) on the big screen, there was just no interest or respect for the pirated version. Until fate intervened.

It was nearing the end of the season, which had gone abnormally well for the team thus far. So well, in fact, that they were in contention to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade. The school was abuzz with talk of the baseball team. Ned was ecstatic and nervous as hell as they entered the final month of the season, full of must-win games. No matter what Ned did to try and calm himself down, he was a nervous mess. A cold sore developed on his lip. Then it grew. It became huge, the hugest herpes cold sore that ever existed. It hung off of his face almost like a tumor. Ned was nervous.

Ned’s nervous anxiety would turn to disaster for the team. During a long weekend that led up to the final game, Ned had forgotten to clean out the team’s drinking bottles. The next week at practice, the team used their bottles, now filled with mold, and many fell sick. The coach was furious.

“What the fuck happened Ned? Did you poison our boys? Are you a spy, Ned?” He screamed, in his office.

“No sir. I’m so sorry. I must’ve forgot to clean out the bottles last week!” Ned responded.

“Ned, just shut up. Get out of my office. It’s not your fault you were born retarded. Lord, I hope those boys get better,” the coach said.

Ned wanted to tell the coach that it was inappropriate to use the term retarded like that, that it was being phased out of normal conversation, but he didn’t want to upset him any further, so he left.

The days that followed leading up to the game were filled with tension for Ned and the team, as one by one players became healthy enough to play. Finally, the day of the decisive game arrived, and the team had enough players to play – but no substitutes. There were only nine. Fortunately, Harnold was one of them.

The game finally came. Seven short innings separated them from an all-important playoff position. The crowd was there. The energy was palpable. Everyone knew the stakes. They had to win. The energy was palpable.

The team played well through the first five innings, but their opponents played better, and they trailed 5-4. In the bottom of the sixth inning, they batted well. The bases were loaded. Harnold stood on third base, ready to come in with the tying run. The next batter hit a dribbling single up the middle, and Harnold was off. The ball arrived at the plate at the same time that he did. He ran through the catcher, who dropped the ball. Harnold had scored! But, he wasn’t getting up to celebrate with Ned, as he danced around behind the umpire. Harnold was in agony.

“Ohhhh fuck! Fuck! Fucking shit! Holy fucking shit! Shit. on. my. dick! Fuck!” he screamed. Harnold was in agony.

Harnold had broken his wrist. He was out. He would later become addicted to percosets. The coach had no other option.

“Well fuck me Ned, it looks like I have to put you in. This is a fucking disaster. We’re totally fucked. The whole fucking season down the drain. Alright buddy, go get them out there!” the coach instructed.

The inning closed when the next batter flied out to center.

Ned took Harnold’s glove, much too large for him, and put it on. He wiggled his fingers inside the worn interior, rubbing over the outlines of Harnold’s fingers, formed by years of use. There was magic in this glove, Ned thought. He breathed deeply. He could do this. Just be like Harnold. You’ve been waiting for this moment your whole life. This is your time.

“This is your time,” Ned said to himself, out loud.

“Ned! Who the fuck are you talking to? Jesus christ. Get out there!” the coach yelled. Ned scampered over to shortstop.

The first batter struck out. The next singled and got to first comfortably. The next, the same. Then an easy fly-out. The infielders threw it around the horn, staying warm before the next batter, when it came Ned’s way. He stuck out his glove. Unfamiliar with Harnold’s larger glove, he mistimed his grab, but the ball flew into his glove, nonetheless. He opened his glove to see the ball lodged in the mesh. Ned couldn’t believe it. He looked around. The world slowed down. Time stood still. Ned had never seen anything like this happen before. Ned knew it was a sign. He would be a hero.

“Look!” he screamed. “It’s a sign! We’ll win it all, baby!” Ned had never felt so alive in his life.

Ned ran around the diamond and outfield in circles, laughing manically. Ned had dreamt of this moment for his whole life. He was soaring. Beyond his ecstasy, he could hear the crowd chant in the background, their yells muffled by his euphoria to an indistinguishable murmur. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t hear what they said. He knew they loved him.

The crowd chanted in a slow cohesion: “WHERE. IS. HE. GOING?”

Ned kept running until he finally came to. His coach was screaming, red in the face. Everyone stood with their hands on their hips, looking at him. They were not celebrating, as he imagined. He dislodged the ball and delivered it to the pitcher and took his position.

Back to the game.

Time to focus. They were close to making it through.

Ned was all joints and no muscle, and uncoordinated as ever as he bounced back and forth between second and third. But he had courage now. He was ready for whatever would come his way. And come his way it did.

The next batter, an ogreish fellow with broad, cartoony shoulders and a full beard stepped up to the plate. This person definitely has a child somewhere, Ned thought. Ned was pondering what the mother looked like when the batter swung at a curveball. He made contact. It wasn’t great contact. It came off the bat and bounced along the ground, heading just a little bit to Ned’s left. Harnold would have anticipated the trajectory of the ball and, sidestepping quickly, collected it comfortably. Ned was surprised by the crack of the bat, coming back from his mother-of-the-ogre’s-child daydream, he saw the ball coming his way late. It was happening. The time was now. He had to act.

Ned closed his eyes and dove to his right. The ball skipped off the dirt in front of him and bounced towards Ned’s face. The ball struck Ned’s lip, right where the bigger-than-life cyst hung, soaring through the air. The cyst exploded like a water balloon, sending blood and pus gushing down Ned’s face and all over his uniform and Harnold’s glove. The ball rolled towards the third basemen, who, anticipated Ned’s misplay, had run over to cover. He recovered the ball and threw the ogre out at first. They had made it out of the inning. The crowd cheered.

Ned lay with his face in the dirt. He had done it. He could tell by the crowd. He was loved.

Ned stood up. He was unrecognizable. He looked like a zombie version of himself, as the blood and pus dripped down his face and chin and down the front of his uniform.

“Ewwwww!” reacted the crowd in unison. Ned waved and smiled, revealing teeth turned red by the blood. His coach vomited from disgust in the dugout. The first baseman did likewise. Soon, almost everyone was vomiting, while Ned walked towards the dugout, a bloody, pus-covered mess.

Eventually, the vomiting settled down, and the team went on to win the game. Ned never got a turn at bat. But that didn’t matter to him. It was as if his prayers had been answered. This was all more than he could’ve ever imagined.

“I can’t fucking believe it,” his coach confided. “This is a fucking miracle.” Ned agreed.

He was ecstatic as his mother put towels over her carseats before letting him in and then driving him to the hospital for stitches.

The next day at school, Ned walked around with his head held high. He had a bandage on the side of his lip, and it hurt to smile, but he did it anyway. He was at his locker, putting in his combination, when he made eye contact with the cute girl next to him.

“oh my god, are you the guy with the exploding cyst?” she asked him.

“yeah, that’s me” he said confidently. “I’m the guy with the exploding cyst.”

Ned had finally arrived.

The Arsenal (make me want to off myself)

Chelsea: 6 Arsenal: 0

Hope is a powerful emotion, and one that we spend our lives embracing: we hope that our hard works pays off with a promotion, that there won’t be much traffic on the way home, that the weather clears up by the weekend, or that we pulled out in time. Hope and optimism are tied together, and without them, the troubles and pains we face in our lives would seem insurmountable — we need hope to survive. This optimism and the persistence it creates is one of man’s greatest attributes, and deserves celebration. Yet, hope can be an evil mistress, and without warning, it can transform into ruinous delusion. This has been my plight today.

Rationally, I knew that Arsenal’s chances of winning the EPL this year were pretty low after the winter transfer window, during which, instead of buying attacking reinforcements, they took an injured Swedish midfielder on loan who is still yet to debut for the club. I knew it didn’t look good. And then the injuries kept coming. The first eleven became like an emergency condom created in the last minute from a roommate’s saran wrap; it works, until it doesn’t, and when it fails, the failure is catastrophic. Today, Arsenal’s makeshift condom broke, and all of its fans are now pregnant with a sticky, unnerving despair.

Who, me?

Of course, on paper, I knew it was over long ago, but is the game played on paper? Oh no, it sure as hell is not! There’s the human factor of unpredictability, the one that makes us watch the sport in the first place, and what kind of optimist would I be if I didn’t believe that Arsenal’s team chemistry, grit, and belief – its intangibles – could make up for having an inferior squad list?

(A reasonable one, as it turns out.)

Today, I had to ask myself: why do I even support Arsenal? Every year, 20 teams compete in the EPL. As an American, I could support any of them. Yet, I choose the one that, year after year, comes frustratingly close to victory, only to falter in the final stages. The truth: I associate Arsenal with benevolence, with all that is good in the world, with chocolate chip cookies. Maybe this is due to their lovably philosophical manager and his fixture as an icon at the club in an era of constant sackings, or their policy of putting faith in young, unknown players and developing them into stars, or perhaps it is the free-flowing possession oriented style with which they play. For whatever reason, I see them as the America of WWII, as The Beatles in ’65, as the good guys.

If Arsenal are the good guys, then Chelsea are the villains. I imagine Chelsea as a team of ruthless mercenaries, with their services paid off by a mysterious Russian billionaire, true to the script. During games, as Abramovich stands eerily in shadow, grimacing even when Chelsea leads, I can’t help but think that he is plotting something sinister, probably to do with the Balkans. Abramovich’s close ties to Russia’s de facto dictator Vladimir Putin encourage this slanderous archetype, and allows the current manager, José Mourinho, to play the role of the bewildering, daring, and genius KGB agent with nothing to lose. Having been inundated with lingering anti-Russian sentiments from the Cold War, this team screams evil. Today, like Crimea, Arsenal stood no chance, and was easily conquered.

Abramovich returns to the game after (presumedly) waterboarding the fourth official.

When I watched the team self-destruct within the first ten minutes today, something inside of me broke. The veil was lifted, the spell broken; I knew that my hope had become delusion, and now both were gone. In their void came a great sadness. The good guys had lost, and the bad guys would win it all. All hope was gone, and no reinforcements were coming. Had I come to terms with their inadequacy as title challengers months ago, today might’ve been an easier pill to swallow. As it was, it made me sick.

Today, hope betrayed me.

I hope that’s the last time.

Fishin’ in Philly

 

            In Southwest Philadelphia, the banks of the Schuylkill River connect the decaying with the surviving. Between the river and SEPTA’s Regional Rail line lay menacing chain link fences that surround decrepit coliseums of industry, some left to degrade in peace, others having their last throes of utility squeezed out by their holding companies. Boarded businesses interrupt the sea of cracked concrete plagued unceasingly by litter. Yet, beyond a Philadelphia Housing Authority project and adjacent to Bartram’s Gardens, the preserved estate of Quaker botanist John Bartram, a vacant industrial plot’s cement dock provides an unexpected reprieve from it all – a city angler’s dream come true.

Here, easily accessed through the Gardens thanks to a couple of down trees, one might encounter ‘Shaft’ teaching his sons the intricacies of tying a weighted line or baiting a hook. The group’s demeanor could hardly differ if it were instead on the lakeshores of a vast nature reserve, as Shaft watches on as his eldest, a student at local John Bartram High School, uses a Swiss Army knife to mend a twisted line with the hesitant hand of a son wanting to prove his self-sufficiency. Shaft scolds the youngest two of the pack for losing another sinker. Their enthusiasm unfettered by this failure, they emphatically offer unsolicited advice to one another, which is subsequently ignored. Shaft shakes his head.

            “This place used to be an incinerator,” Shaft explains. The plot, recently reacquired by the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corps, was most lately used as a staging area for construction on the South Street Bridge, and a cleanup effort for remaining latent heavy metals is in the works. Yet, Shaft and family remain undeterred. “This is a good spot to fish. Lots of the kids from the neighborhood come here,” says Shaft. He reports that he’s caught eel, catfish, bass, pike, carp, and sunfish. “But I wouldn’t dare eat ‘em,” he explains. “That’s why I catch and release.”

            The river’s floating trash and murky water couple with the gritty bulk of the oil refineries on the far bank to provide a harsh contrast to the serenity commonly expected of recreational fishing environments. But the empty lot and river provide an openness rare to urban living, and when the breeze picks up and the river laps against the dock, it is hard not to feel some semblance of peacefulness. As Shaft and his sons cast off of these manufactured banks, his eldest promises, “We will be out here a lot when the weather stays nice.”

            Shaft’s family is not alone. The Philadelphia Urban Fishing scene is alive and well, despite the bad reputation of local water quality. Leo Sheng, a student of physics at Temple University and owner of the blog “Extreme Philly Fishing,” has fished in Philadelphia almost daily for the past two years.

            Leo explains the angling culture in Philadelphia as one founded more on necessity than recreation. “Since a lot of Philadelphia’s anglers have very limited income, the stereotypical fisherman is one that ‘overharvests’ – he takes everything he catches for consumption.” Theirs is an angling bred from frugality and survival – the attraction of a free meal. But Leo, like Shaft, hesitates to eat the fish he catches. “Most people don’t give a thought to it, but it may be very dangerous to eat certain types of fish around Philly!” he warns. Leo points to the PA Fish and Boat Commission as a point of reference, which suggests limiting intake of some fish caught in nearby bodies of water to once a month and avoiding others altogether.

Leo says that the Fairmount Dam is one of the most popular fishing locations in the city, and for good reason. “It holds trophy fish!” While Leo explains that many locations are heavily fished, hidden gems within the city definitely exist. “Part of fishing relies heavily on field work, meaning that the person with the passion for the sport should look for new spots to explore,” Leo says. “Imagination is an important key to the sport.”

For residents of Southwest Philadelphia like Shaft, living alongside the skeletons and ghosts of industry long gone, there appears to be no shortage of imagination when it comes to finding a good spot to cast a reel. It may be necessity or recreation that draws anglers to the banks of the Schuylkill. Or, perhaps, these Philadelphians identify with their resilient river, steadfast and surviving amidst the city’s ephemeral fortunes, and there they find solace. 

You’re an expat…

You’re an expatriate. You’ve lost touch with the soil. You get precious. Fake European standards have ruined you. You drink yourself to death. You become obsessed by sex. You spend all your time talking, not working. You are an expatriate, see? You hang around cafés.

The Sun Also Rises or Fiesta