I've been to Philadelphia (the city itself, not just outskirts) five times since last October. I counted as Lindsey Smyth made mac and cheese bake for a Thanksgiving feast this evening. I'm here for my sixth visit this weekend. Most of my visits have been to see Lindsey, a CCO staff person from the Ocean City Beach Project, the community with whom I spent the Summer of 09. She lives below Washington Blv, South Philly. We realized this visit that I've been privy to a number of wide city wide tours by her guidance, explorations that took us for her work as Metro Philly CCO Staff Director from her home to Old City to the far reaches of the Mainline.
I've come to be rather fond of this city.
While there are many ways that one can explore (I have yet to visit almost any of the historical sites), one way that is Lindsey's chosen course is through coffee shops. This has led me to know Philadelphia by where she can offer me a cozy corner and a cup of chai. I don't drink coffee, or at least not yet. There is still time before I graduate to develop the addiction. As it stands now, I'm just addicted to the idea of a place one can stop off of a busy street that is equipped with tables and chairs, music, a counter lit up from the inside full of pastries and biscotti, and a solid selection of teas. Mmmm. So good!
I can tell you where to stop in Old City for a rest. I can't tell you where the Franklin Institute is or what it looks like. I haven't been in Independence Hall. I have been in the coffee house that is down the street from it (go left, if you're looking at the Hall for two blocks. On the left. Watch the step up as you go in). I can also tell you that coffee houses are a key signal of "Gentrification" in South Philly. Lindsey taught me this word when we visited one near her house last November. Ardmore is significant to me not for any reason other than that I've spent several hours in Milk Boy doing homework while Lindsey was at a meeting. Saxby's is a brand alternative to Starbucks and can be found most places on the Main Line. Excellent white chocolate lattes (my one weakness for coffee). I read a short story once that described two people meeting in a coffee house. I recognized it somehow at the "Gryphon" in Wayne, PA. I drove past a grocery store in Philly and remembered it only because it was around the corner from a sketchy coffee place that we had all waited for Kent at one OCBP reunion and Marissa yelled at a man for making a racist comment.
Knowing a place by way of coffee is a sweet way to know it. It's by the unique corners created in the unique corners of a city that make this a stand out way to learn land marks. Each draws a different crowd. Each offers a different space to complete different work in. Each offers a different photograph of coming and going and sitting, a place of passing through and of congregating with friends. A place to take the human communion of food and conversation, or a place to pass and remember that such communion exists and is needed.
If you ever need a coffee house recommendation in the Philly area, let me know. Or State College. Or Hershey. I have a list!