“This city will always have my heart,” D says to me, as we drive across the Delaware River into Philadelphia by way of our favorite two-dollar bridge.
“Ann Arbor might be your new home for the next four years, but your roots are here in Philadelphia.” I respond, smiling.
Best friends since Kindergarten, D and I grew up together in South Jersey. But when people ask us where we’re from, we instinctively say Philadelphia. For one reason: it’s a location most people can easily identify. On the other hand, it embraces our “be who you want to be, not what others want to see” perspective.
Pulling into the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia, we squeeze our car into a spot, hop out, walk past the French coffee shop that begs us to take a trip to Paris, and find ourselves at Honey’s Sit and Eat. It’s our favorite spot to dine with its southern hospitality and funky retro flair. In the corner of the room hangs a vintage wooden chair. Antique mirrors and pictures hang from the light green walls and flowery wallpaper. Mixed right into the scene are coffee mugs, tabletops, and cake stands straight from a 1950s diner and daily specials scribbled on hanging black chalkboards. Without a doubt, the eclectic feel inside is reflected outside in the quirky neighborhood.
As usual on Sunday mornings it’s jam-packed, and we have at least an hour wait. We welcome the extra time and grab a coffee at the French place two doors down to take on our way as we meander through the neighborhood streets. No matter how many times we walk these avenues, we always find something new to admire.
Barely speaking a word we stroll down Fourth Street, passing row homes, tiny cafes, and narrow side streets. Clearly, this area is home to all kinds of art and artists. Along the way, we run into bright orange painted fire hydrants, neon fences painted with voluptuous flowers, and antique signage that echoes the industrial culture that existed here over two hundred years ago.
Turning the corner down one of the alleyways, we find that colors know no boundaries in this town. An allusion that represents a greater axiom—it’s not about conformity, it’s about individuality.
D looks over at me, smiling in admiration at the bohemian style door that doesn’t seem to quite belong there. “I love it. Who decides to paint their front door passion fruit purple when it is surrounded by bold red walls?”
“Why not,” I say, laughing. “The door is a beautiful testament to living your truth, being who you’re meant to be, not what others want to see. Like us, D.”
Turning the corner, we start making our way back to Honey’s. Dressed in tropical attire, a large building catches my eye. Deep within the painted scene of lush vegetation and Bengal Bamboo, two eyes stare back at me. Surely, there is a story to be told from behind those eyes and I find myself wondering what it is. A few buildings down, another mural makes an appearance. This time a series of blue faces with candy apple red lips blend together to form a harmonious image. Murals like these are sprinkled throughout the streets of Philadelphia in an effort to combat graffiti, but more importantly they deliver messages of strength, community, curiosity and freedom.
All around us, the streets are alive with creative expression and bold statements. And in perfect finishing, just before we approach Honey’s, we come across a quote affixed between two brick walls, framing the words.
“We are never going to be younger than today.”
Why do we feel so connected to the city of Philadelphia? Not for the most obvious of reasons, but for the reasons that are hidden deep inside the streets of Philadelphia. Philadelphia extends a sense of freedom to us—the freedom to be who we want to be.
Because, why not?
What is your favorite city to explore? What makes it so special to you?
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