I owe $300,000 more this week than I did last. That's approximately how much, including interest, I'll be paying back in monthly increments over the next 30 years for the privilege of owning a small, two-story South Philly row home.
Last Friday I sat in a small conference room at the Solo Real Estate office and signed my name over and over and a few more times. It's the biggest thing I've ever done.
I'd been hesitant to buy, and the down payment was a big concern but not the biggest.
There was that alleged real estate bubble. There was the fear that since all my friends had been wise enough to buy several years earlier, there'd be no way I could live anywhere near them. And I was hesitant to give up the comfort of knowing that if the heat stopped working, I could just call up George, my landlord, and have him fix it.
But the big factor was that although Philly was my home, and I always figured I'd end up here, I kind of wanted out for a little bit.
"I don't know if I'll be here next year," I'd tell friends. I would, from time to time, explore job prospects in Portland, Tokyo, Auckland.
I had, like many people here, a love-hate thing with the 215. Maybe it's the humidity in the summers. Or the way Februarys never seem to end. Or the snakebit sports teams.
Or maybe it's the parochialism that's always seemed to nip at progress's heels no matter what form it takes. Whether it's having to be dragged kicking and screaming into a modern, civilized idea (see: smoking ban, reaction to); the latent (or not-so-latent) racism, homophobia and xenophobia that smacks you in the face when you're not expecting it; or simply the public demand that a movie prop take up residence at a world-renowned art museum, Philly can be phrustrating. Is it one step back for every two steps forward, or vice versa?
The day after closing on my house, as my girlfriend and I were driving through town early Saturday morning on our way to visit her parents and blossoming cherry trees in D.C., we were both struck by pangs of regret. It wasn't about the house. Rather, we saw people sweeping their sidewalks on Spruce. Saw them sweeping the actual street on Webster. We saw a crew of volunteers tidying up around the weird triangular lot at Passyunk and Christian. We felt like we were shirking our civic duty.
Maybe it's sad that a quaint idea like "civic duty" feels progressive these days. And as Bruce Schimmel pointed out in Loose Canon last week, a one-day cleanup is just that if it's not backed by sustainability policy from the mayor's office. But Cleanup Day sure felt like a big, impressive, progressive thing, just driving past it all. If you haven't yet, please check Patrick Rapa's April 5 account of his Spring Cleanup experience. You'll laugh at tales of finding a toilet and a dildo along the railroad tracks, but look at those pictures and all those people. Is it possible we're actually a city of reluctant do-gooders?
Maybe that's not an entirely reasonable hypothesis. We're also a city that's been plagued in recent weeks with fatal subway violence and in recent years with climbing murder rates. It's a nice thought, though. And that possibility makes me feel a whole lot better about making a 30-year commitment to a town I love (and occasionally hate).
Very quickly, I need to draw your attention to our Naked City section, rechristened for one week only "Colbert City." Our favorite pundit is coming to town, and this, Philadelphia, is our moment. We've decided to make a little game of it, something to sink all that nervous energy into. For the week Stephen's in town, we need you all, dear readers, to be on the lookout (with camera phones ready) and partake in our scavenger hunt. We're not asking you to stalk Mr. Colbert. But we are asking you to be aware, to provide any photographic evidence you may be able to attain without making our visitor feel threatened or otherwise uncomfortable.