Philadelphia: The Epicenter of the Revolution
Up, quick. For coffee, eggs, chicken sausage. Slurping coffee and thinking about the burning sunshine. Hot. Shining in through the windows. Humid. Crackling with the starlight.
I shower while standing on my head. Wouldn’t recommend it.
Get out there into the day. The revolution awaits.
I start a 4-mile walk to West Philadelphia. No corny lines allowed.
When I begin my walk, it’s about 7:45 AM. By now, I can wake up early every day and it’s nothing but banana pudding. Elbow drops to the sky. Hardwood floor. My feet touch the ground. My feet are taking me west on Wharton Street. I walk.
I’ve got an anjou pear in my bag — an old bag that’s never let me down — and I’ve also got some water. That’s good. I’m heading toward an ESL tutoring class through the Adult Education Department. Good.
Past 17th Street. People have strange signs in their row-homes, sticking out like tongues, thumbs — sore as fuck. Bats swooping elsewhere, hither and thither. A tumult tumbling like a tower of worms. Teal tragedy on a tightrope that’s the thing that those that think they have it all figured out know nothing about — briskly walking. 18th Street. Graffiti. Closed coffee shop, gentrified neighborhood of bones and sinew, empty bottles of beer standing like empty, translucent soldiers saluting the sun.
19th Street. An empty school. Solid. Across the street, there’s a new home being built. Probably will go for about 300K.
“Morning,” I say to one of the guys dressed in neon green. Light green. Long-sleeved and hatted, sweating already in the early-morning Philadelphia toots of goots — whatever you do, don’t say, “Onward.” Please don’t fucking say it.
“YEAH, MORNING. IT’S DEFINITELY MORNING. YOU’RE RIGHT.”
I keep walking.
I notice that once I get past 22nd, 23rd Street, the demeanor changes, and the park feels like a different kind of park — nothing else like it in America. Demented. Lost. Covered in green leaves, a thick morass of heavenly dispatches from the Baptist churches that reign from these whereabouts all the way out to Grays Ferry.
I’m walking toward — and then underneath — the 25th Street bridge. A bridge that carries something like 2 million gallons of oil, or barrels of oil, or maybe it’s persnickety spoonfuls of tar-sands, all the way from North Dakota belching out the remnants of dead reptiles from millions of years aft — it’s what keeps us alive. And the bridge is the most decrepit thing you’ll see in the entire city. Roads blocked off. Ticker tape holding up insurance policies. What if the bridge were to collapse? Piss a lotta people off.
But 25th Street is where people are most certainly forgotten. Most certainly.
I keep walking along on Wharton, now getting into the 30s. Nobody cares.
I hide from the sunlight at the intersection where Grays Ferry Avenue is the worst street in the city — at least one of them. I pull out my phone and think, okay. I’m supposed to cross here, I’m supposed to cross the Schuylkill River. Is this right? Could this be wrong? Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing.
But I do! (For once.)
Getting over the street, over the water — a part of the river that’s also forgotten, polluted. Germs swimming, rowing, muscling for self-replication.
I look to my south and northbound skies. Philadelphia!
I take a picture. The city is far away and I am now entering the first circle. The First Circle of Hell.
Woodland Avenue. The sun is hot. God writes His message in the sky: CASH ONLY.
My phone tells me that I’m about halfway to 65th and Paschall. To learn about tutoring English to immigrants and refugees. This is the home of American Democracy. Like Massachusetts. Like the Whiskey Rebellion. George Washington sending militias from the new states to put down a tax rebellion — on whiskey. How else to pay for the Revolution? The Bill of Rights came from the Anti-Federalists. They were protesters. Farmers. Families. Against the Federalists.
And now it’s all for McDonald's. I’m passing a McDonald's and I think about its far-reaching McDonald's Compromise. For every country we bomb and invade, a new McDonald's will be built. From Karachi to Dubai. From Baghdad to Nepal. From New Zealand to Bangalore. From Maine to Florida. From Chiapas, Mexico to Tierra del Fuego. From Iceland to Greece. From Tripoli — the coast, bombs away! — to Johannesburg.
McDonald's! McDonald's! McDonald's!
Dividend checks go flying, that’s what makes the world go round. Not gravity. Not eternity. Not a self-replicating, self-correcting system. A system, rather. Of Greed.
I go supplicating down Woodland Avenue and to me, it looks like one of the shittiest, rundown streets in America — before 9 AM. If you think the Russians “hacked our Democracy”, I suggest getting in your car and driving out to No Man’s Land, Woodland Avenue in West Philadelphia. Preferably while listening to The Band’s “Million Dollar Bash” (a song written by Bob Dylan). You’ll know world history, sociology, political science, the Constitution, and the Star-Spangled Banner. You’ll hear wind chimes. You’ll see 24-hour liquor stores. Birds. Swooping. Above.
Who knew that Revolution could be so seedy?
The last mile or so I eat my pear. I also stop for a bottle of water. One dollar. Good.
I’m almost there.
I actually walk past the building. Then I pull out my phone again. Say its back there. Where? There. Oh, am I lost?
In the 60s, the streets are not as friendly as you might think. Whatever that means. I get strange looks. I feel nothing, almost. Except for the sun. The sun is killing all of us. Sunburn on the back of my neck! Good.
I turn around and see an old dude. (In a few minutes, I’ll be learning that he’s from Liberia.)
I walk into the building. It’s like an old farmhouse. For the Revolution, of course.
I get in there. And there’s coffee and donuts and bagels and cantaloupe and melons of orange, you know the kind. Grapes, red and purple.
“O, won’t you hand me some coffee?”
An old woman, a librarian of 70 years of age, asks me when we’re engaged in a warming-up exercise with the class. I say, “Sure.”
We’re talking about our best teachers and our worst teachers. She’s telling me that in “her days” they used to make you pay for materials and supplies in home eck. Ick. Yack. Yunck.
“What about you?” she asks, all serious and senile and sweet. I have my hands clasped behind my back like a gentleman. I’m sweet too, bitch.
O, well. Ya sweet. And suchlike, I tell her the truth. Somehow, I also mention that I’d walked.
“What?” she looks all concerned. “Well, I told one of the sisters, bladdy blah, and we can drive you home.”
“I wouldn’t think of it.”
So I sit. And listen. We have the class. We go around the room talking about ourselves. One of the women next to me, when she’s called upon, or rather when it’s her turn, because it’s all friendly gravy now, she says, “My name’s K-Dawg and I just wanna say that the Eagles are Super Bowl champions and nobody can ever take that away from us.”
The class sizzles, as I crack up laughing — I laugh at everything.
“He must not be an Eagles fan,” she says.
“No, no,” I say, shaking my head, Jersey rising from the top of my skull.
The walk back, the entire four miles, is a lot different. I see the art. I see people coming to life. I see a dude pissing on the side of a house, zipping up his fly. The houses look like shanty towns. Dollar stores. Prayer booths.
“Brother, can we pray for you?”
“Can we pray for you now?”
“Nah, I’m good,” I tell him, ever so politely.
I walk off. When I cross Grays Ferry, this time, I take off my shirt and put it on my head and I let the sun do the rest.