Updated: Feb 20
With 36 exposures of what I felt was street gold, I bid “再见” (Mandarin for goodbye) to Chinatown, loaded up some HP5 Plus and headed towards Race Street Pier. Along the way I passed countless cargo-short, floppy-hat-wearing tourists. Occasionally, I would come across a “school” of tourists swimming in formation behind a guide donning late 1700s apparel. I wanted to laugh, mock, jeer, but it wasn’t long ago that I too was participating in similar activities while on vacation in Boston.
Eventually, I reached the pier. As I gazed at the polluted waters and took in a deep breath of polluted air, I felt utterly uninspired. So, I left. I headed west through Elfreth’s Alley (the oldest continuously inhabited road in America). I dove in and out of stale, hot, subway stations.
Passing in front of Independence Hall, I wandered a bit to catch a glimpse of the Liberty Bell. I continued onward. Onward, past high-wheel riding hipsters, towards the impressively colossal City Hall. The edifice is beautiful on the outside but despite the pleasing music of street performers echoing through its corridors, on the inside, City Hall was in a sad state.
I made my way outside the compound with hopes that I’d, once again, encounter beauty. And I did. For a moment. As I exited to the south, I heard the laughter of children. I followed this laughter around the building to find a massive splash pad. As parents relaxed and sipped ice-cold Coca-Cola from a giant Wawa Styrofoam cup, their children frolicked amongst the pillars of water. My son was on the opposite side of the country, but I could imagine him enjoying the splash pad. A much-needed break from a rigorous stroller ride. While mid-daydream, I was rudely shaken back to reality by a public health nightmare.
A rebellious child was using the splash pad in a way for which it was not intended. It was sacrilegious. No amount of Hail Marys, Amazing Graces, or Star-Spangled Banners could forgive this grievous sin. The splash pad had been turned into a hydraulic shrine of bum pleasure. A public bidet. I watched as a stream of water pushed upwards. Upwards through the air and through swim trunks as it transformed into a weaponized mist of fecal matter. I was witnessing the beginning of an epidemic. Over the next month, thousands of conjunctivitis cases would be traced back to this splash pad desecrating demon-child. All I could do was shake my head and move on.
I continued my trek towards the University of Pennsylvania, checking out the Schulykill River, 30th Street Station, and rather drab Drexel University en route. By the time I reached UPenn, the diversity present in the city had evaporated. All in all, I was underwhelmed with the experience and I was hungry.
Thirty minutes later, I was inside Reading Terminal Market, covered in sweat, and eating a roast pork sandwich at Dinic’s.
Despite the ground covered over the past two and a half hours, photographs were few and far between. I still had 20 exposures. Frustrated, I walked to the garage, hopped in my car and headed home.
But first, a detour.
Having grown up in a time when Nintendo 64 reigned supreme, I was very familiar with Tony Hawk’s “Pro Skater” suite of games. I was terrible at skateboarding. In the game, however, I was able to perform tricks I could only dream of performing in real life, allowing me a taste of skateboard mediocrity. One of the more memorable levels from the franchise (which also caused me the most grief) was Philadelphia. While most of the level was wildly dangerous, unrealistic, and illegal, there was one component which was simply put, real: FDR skate park. An homage to the gritty street skaters of South Philadelphia. Tucked under I-95, the skate park is a mixed-medium work of art composed of concrete, wood, and countless cans of spray paint.
It was a surreal experience and despite a pair of Vans on my feet, I felt thoroughly out of place. I watched from a safe distance as the four-wheeled artists gracefully danced their way over flats, around bowls, and up vert walls.
I watched. They skated. Within minutes I had finished off the roll of HP5. Now, it was time to go home.
The next morning I woke up with pinkeye.
Camera: Canon EOS Kiss III
Film: Ilford HP5 Plus 400
When: June 2019
Where: Philadelphia, PA