The affection caught me completely unprepared. It is, after all, just another city in an ever-compressing line of them. But as I pulled onto Broad Street off of I-95, I realized that this one, Philadelphia, was different.
It felt like home.
And as I found my bench on a balmy Halloween night, was it a trick of the eye that the city seemed to have a welcoming glow? Was it a nostalgic trick of the heart, perhaps?
I had, so many years ago, started my freelance career here, riding the El into Center City, walking through City Hall with my black, mock-leather portfolio in hand. I carried, as well, a healthy dose of unrealistic optimism toward the door-opening effect of my talent. I cringe when I think of what I carried in those pages back then.
City Hall is still open to pedestrians, to my surprise. So I strolled through, finding dramatic shadows in the architecture.
And unremembered sculptures.
I came out the end with a view of North Broad, which I had, long ago, daily trudged up four blocks to a hole-in-the-wall ad agency. One with rats in the darkroom. But tonight, even this view seemed polished and pretty.
So, it is a trick, of fate, of grace to be back here. And therein is the treat: my serpentine career bringing me back – minus the optimism and most of my hair, but replaced with a keen-edged appreciation for the moments and places that bring delight. Like Philly on an autumn night. Or the crisp jazz in the hotel bar.
On the street, moments before, a woman stopped nearby as I sat on my bench. She was on the phone, distraught. “I don’t know what happened to the ten dollars,” she was saying to her babysitter. “I had it, but now it’s gone. So I’m going to be late getting back. I don't know how long."
I fished a ten from my wallet and walked up to her. “Would this help?” I asked.
“Oh my God!” she replied. “That’s exactly what I lost!” She thanked me – assuming I had found it – and set off quickly for the subway.
I guess I tricked her with my treat.
But I had to help. What else could I do after such a warm welcome by the City of Brotherly Love?