Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Philadelphia is for Anthropologists

Last week I made it to Philadelphia, taking the train from Albuquerque to Chicago, then to Pittsburgh, then on to Philly.

Pittsburgh has a terrible train station. It seems like they should have a grand old lovely one, but it's really more akin to a Greyhound station than a quaint public space from before the automotive age. It appeared to have been constructed in the 1970s or 1980s. Hopefully it wasn't the product of some ill-advised redevelopment scheme that razed an older station in favor of the existing depressing one.

Philadelphia, though, is reached via beautiful 30th Street Station, a cavernous marble hall of food courts and information booths.

When I got there I walked through a light mist to my hotel. I'd decided to forgo a sleeping compartment on the train in favor of staying in a cozy hotel room my first night in town, and it felt wonderful to arrive there. There was even a weird channel that played shitty programming about Japan.

Then I did some anthropologist stuff at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association. I didn't present a paper, so I just sort of ran around attending talks and waving hello people.

I also played a fair amount of hooky, sightseeing around Philly with a friend of a friend. We had delightful brunches, ample sour ale, and even fifty cent gourmet dumplings.


Urban decay

Second national bank of the United States

Glass lit from below the sidewalk

One surprise in Philly: the subway ridership more closely resembles that of LA than New York. Public transit seems to be left to the transit-dependent. It's not a very crowded city, either. I didn't get to see any outlying neighborhoods, just the city center and some adjacent areas.

Empty subway station

Ultimately I think I'm a better urban explorer when I'm by myself. Other people distract me from flânerie. That's not a bad thing, but it does leave me with a feeling that I didn't really see the city, just had lots of conversations somewhere.