Sobriquet 32.3: Repost From the MLA

Another old post from another abandoned blog:

Growing up in New Jersey, I remember there being two affiliates for every network: one in New York and a second in Philadelphia. Since I lived in the part of the state closest to New York, I suppose, my television antenna picked up the stations broadcasting out of the Big Apple with a bit more clarity than those coming out of Philly. When we finally got cable, both sets of stations were part of the basic package. Still, somehow, the New York stations seemed more “ours” and the Philadelphia affiliates always struck me as belonging to another group of people somewhere to the south. Likewise, “going to the city” invariably meant going to New York and our school trips to Philadelphia always felt like journeys into exotic territories.

So, there was always this rivalry between the two cities, with New York always ending up the bigger, cooler, more important city. This, of course, is incredibly stupid. Nevertheless, my peers and I tended to look towards New York as the place to go and it became, in our minds, something very much like the center of the world.

Fast-forward a decade and ask me what I think of New York today and you’ll likely end up with “New York sucks” or “I hate New York.” Now, I’m not exactly a city person—I tend to find urban areas ugly and unfriendly, crowded and conducive to loneliness—and New York, for me, typifies everything that’s wrong with cities. It’s expensive, there’s nothing remotely natural about it, it’s dirty. I’ve spent the better part of my life hearing how I’d “love the East Village,” how I’d “enjoy the creative energy” of the big city and, despite the initial excitement I might feel at glimpsing the hustle and bustle of Gotham, I still find a day in New York far less satisfying than, say, an afternoon spent in a small town.

Of course, not all cities suck. For every New York or Montreal, there’s a London, a Stockholm, or a St. Paul. Still, coming to the Northeast’s second largest metropolitan area wasn’t really something for which I was unable to control my excitement. After all, I had been here before and, as I tend to tell people, I’m not a city person. Of course, the last time I was here must have been eighteen or so years ago when I was in the fifth grade and all I can remember from that trip was the great lengths to which we went to buy hot pretzels and stupid novelty toys (I got a Jacob’s Ladder). So I wasn’t expecting much.

But you know what? I like Philadelphia. From what I’ve seen of its downtown, Philly is a clean, pedestrian-friendly city with loads of shopping, plenty of museums, good restaurants, stunning historical architecture, and several parks. Chesnutt Street feels a bit like Montreal’s infamous Rue Ste. Catherine, but is much, much cleaner and entirely free of the pornographic neon eyesores one cannot escape when in Quebec’s biggest city. Basically, Philadelphia—to me, so far—feels like everything a big city should be without the grime of New York or the sleaze of Montreal.

In any case, the next time I feel the pressing need to see the big city, I will head here, to Philadelphia, rather than New York.

Of course, my reason for being in town has little to do with sightseeing and everything to do with the Modern Language Association Convention. So far, it’s more or less exactly what I expected. Save for a few people who can’t stop rattling off their curriculum vitae, most folks seem quite affable. I’m always amused by these large-scale meetings, though. I find it odd when running into someone from school, for instance, that we feel the need to greet one another warmly simply because we come from the same place. I mean, there are always these little bumping-intos with people you’d not even nod to back home, folks that you know of but do not know. Yet here, invariably, the same two strangers rush towards one another, arms extended and shake hands vigorously. It’s funny. I suppose it must have something to do with the sense of being out of place that makes for these enthusiastic salutations, sort of like how two exchange students befriend one another in a host country less out of shared interests than out of shared foreignness. Still, it’s benign and, I suppose, could spawn a genuine friendship.


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