The difference two years makes

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City Hall from Broad Street, Philadelphia

Philadelphia is a city with a bit of a reputation: gritty, hard-scrabble, rough around the edges. Its residents are plain-spoken with low tolerance for bullshit. Its nickname, the “City of Brother Love”, is used with heavy sarcasm by anyone who lives within the city’s media market, because we all know that if there isn’t bad news, there’s no news. Philadelphians throw snowballs at Santa and destroy hitchhiking robots that run on the goodwill of the people they encounter. Its sports fans are rabid and crazy, just like the people who drive their highways. It’s dirty, violent, scary.

Now, being bombarded with these stereotypes, do you blame me for rarely venturing into Philly when I was growing up despite the fact that I only lived twenty miles away? It doesn’t exactly sound like the sort of place that welcomes you with open arms. Other than going to the sports complex (which is actually on its own self-contained property miles outside the city) a handful of times, I think I went to Philly exactly once, for a class trip. The place seemed so intimidating, frightening, and I was more than content to stay on my own side of the Delaware River.

But about two years ago, I had the opportunity to go into Philly for a concert. I hadn’t been to a show in years, despite going to tons of them when I was in high school and college, but this was a band I’d been dying to see, one that doesn’t tour much (for the curious, they’re called Elbow and they’re from England. Look them up – they’re amazing and I’m sure I’ll end up talking/raving about them again in the future). But going to the show involved – horror of horrors – GOING TO THE CITY. I won’t lie, despite how badly I wanted to go, I hemmed and hawed over it for a while, wondering if it was worth the hassle. But I ended up deciding that hearing Guy Garvey croon my favorite songs of all time was worth the stress and anxiety of the trip. I wanted to do it and I would be damned if I’d let something as stupid as fear keep me from it.

So I did (well, not just me…I wasn’t quite bold enough yet to venture out on my own). My husband and I made a date of it, and at the end of the night, I can remember marveling at how easy it had been, getting there and back. And it got me wondering why I hadn’t done it more and, if it was so simple this time, I could surely do it again in the future, right?

Fast forward to this past weekend, when I spent every evening in Philly, going to dinner, going to shows, driving myself, taking friends and family. I’m comfortable there; I know my way around. For someone who used to avoid the city at all costs, who is an unabashed country girl through and through, I’m damned proud of this. And what’s funny is that I’m always happy to see it again, the neighborhoods and places I frequent. I’ve made some incredible friends and memories there. It only took my entire lifetime, but I’ve grown rather fond of the gruff, grumpy place that really isn’t so bad after all.

It’s amazing what can happen once you stop letting your fear define you.

Be brave.

(Look for a recap of this weekend’s events soon. I still haven’t recovered from them and they aren’t done yet.)

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