I used to think I could live almost anywhere, but that field has narrowed significantly since I’ve gotten older and more rigid. When we travel someplace wonderful, I invariably gaze wistfully at the real estate listings in agents’ downtown windows on the way back to the hotel after dinner. In the car, I look up the addresses of a mansions overlooking bodies of water as we whiz by. Thank you Trulia. You feed me. I can’t help it. But it doesn’t mean I want to live there.
I’ve lived in some fantastic cities: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and now Philadelphia. Each come with their own unique set of problems. Let’s start with the city Tony Bennett left his heart in, San Francisco. I grew up in the Bay Area in the 1970s and 80s, and lived in San Francisco for a good part of the 90s. If anywhere should feel like home, it would be San Francisco. For all its inherent natural and unnatural beauty, great food, walkable streets, temperate weather, a Peet’s Coffee practically on every corner, I can’t live in San Francisco because I picked a career where I make less than seven figures per year. Yeah, San Francisco, and pretty much anywhere in the Bay Area, is completely unaffordable for this community college professor. It’s so unaffordable, I feel like it’s telling me to stay away. So you know what? You can go screw yourself, San Francisco. I’ll find somewhere else to live.
So how about it Los Angeles? You’re fun—you’ve got a great creative energy, Januarys that regularly hit 80 degrees, awesome Mexican food, Ben Affleck sightings, margaritas. What’s not to love? Uh, a lot. We can pretty much start and end with traffic, even though I complained about the horrific hot, dry, and smoggy summers for four months straight when I lived there. The traffic is everything you’ve heard of and more. When Virginia was just starting to play with her little friends, it didn’t matter if her friend lived across town or across two valleys, it took 40 minutes to drive each way. When we lived in West Hollywood and I was attending and then teaching at a college 11 miles away, traffic regularly would extend what should have been a 40 minute commute (which is already ridiculous) to as long as an hour and a half (stupid fucking ridiculous). There were days when I would spend more time in my VW Jetta than I did at home. Los Angeles? You’re a dick. I hope you get a venereal disease. Let’s face it, you may already have one.
Chicago is awesome, but Chicago = Cold. Brrrrrrrr!!!!! Next.
We finally found asylum in Philadelphia. Philadelphia has a lot going for it. It’s steeped in U.S. history, and there’s tons to do, whether you’re a foodie, an artist, a theater fan, or sports junkie. It’s affordable. We found our dream house in an even dreamier neighborhood that’s walking distance to museums, shopping, restaurants, downtown, coffee, you name it. What’s not to love? Good grief, where do I start? Philadelphia is one of the dirtiest cities around. New York is dirtier, but Philadelphia is on a mission to close that gap. It seems filled with litter. It’s everywhere. I’ve seen people throw fast food trash—hamburger wrappers, French fry containers, empty soda cups—right out their car windows like it’s a normal thing. Like, hello? Seriously? It blows around on trash days. I think more litter ends up on the street than in the trash truck. You know what else really bugs? The public school system. It’s an underfunded hot mess and until recently, we had a governor who couldn’t have cared less. Our public schools don’t have librarians, enough counselors or nurses. Parents have to contribute pencils, pens, copy paper, Kleenex, and hand sanitizer regularly so teachers don’t have to reach into their own pockets quite as much as they already do, because the district can’t afford enough basic supplies. So when I hear of other public schools throwing a fund raiser so their kids can each have an iPad in their classes, it kind of makes me want to throw up. Refusing to adequately fund schools is shameful and immoral, but something Philadelphia parents and their kids endure year after year. It’s embarrassing. Up yours, Philadelphia. But you know what? I’m here. I may be a lifer. You don’t always have to like your family to love them. I feel the same way about Philadelphia.