Philadelphia

22 May

San Francisco doesn’t get heat right; that languid, seductive summer air that makes one want to get into trouble.  My last taste of it was my late Chicago nights and suddenly five years have passed.  I don’t know where they went because the seasons haven’t changed, but my floor is littered with ripped calendar pages.

Though that too is so 2008 or six and now it is 2012.  I just got back from a week in Philadelphia: a city that gets heat right.

I unexpectedly loved this city.  I had forgotten that it’s strewn with history and hasn’t yet been wiped as clean as New York.  I realized this when my obese cab-driver (named Penny-the- II) complained that his cousin, the mayor of San Ramon, wouldn’t let him come visit to hustle.  Apparently the mob is not just Italian.

He was waiting for me right outside of the airport, and I knew that I should’ve passed him by and flagged down a proper yellow but his swaggering nature was irresistible.  I knew he would have stories.

I was right, and on my way to the Crowne Plaza Hotel he told me about the love of his life, a Cancer like me who got hooked on dust.  The rehab he paid for didn’t help, so of course being the moral man that he was he had to say goodbye to his salon-owning lady.

“I still love Cancers, they’re great women, and being the sexy lady that you are, you never know who you’re going to meet.  You should go out and give me a call if you need a ride.”

After gently letting him down, I was not interested, did not want a Philly Cheesesteak tour, and no, I did not want to write a book on him, he dropped me off and my exhausted self quickly fell into my hotel bed.

I awoke early to breathe in the bright light of the joyous East Coast summer.  The assortment of people that populated the streets registered every color, but unlike San Francisco, the dominant minority was not Asian but African-American.

I hopped on the SEPTA and made my way toward UPenn to meet education journalists, Mayors of the surrounding cities and policy makers; people who write and care about one of our nation’s system of education, and it is in trouble.  There was no doubt about that.  Each group had opinions on the right path to healing, but very few crossed.

An image of my paper-littered floor flashed through my mind, and the journey from college inhabitant to campus visitor was a surprise.  It had been six years since I had been on any type of campus, and I was swept of in the hopeful energy of those who had decided to stay for the summer, investing in learning.

However, I was, and am, now on the other side.  Clad in black high-heel pumps and my best sixties-style professional dress, I learned the education buzz.  I attended sessions on data mining and utilization; on how to better communicate with those reporters who always elude my Publicist self; I learned what a hot-button topic Charter Schools really are, and heard “Common Core” being mentioned again and again.

I sat in front of five impressive men wrapped in Ivy who had five different predictions of the impact of online learning in Higher Education; that “it’s only content delivery, it doesn’t teach empathy,” to how it is inspiring professors to set aside their research and sharpen their teaching skills.

In the evenings I sat at round tables and was asked for free professional advice from fellow communications colleagues who said, “Representing books is hard,” and I had to agree, as Huffpo Education Writer said, “I don’t cover books, that’s lifestyle.”

When I got a chance I snuck off to the campus food trucks for some shrimp dumplings to make up for what I couldn’t digest, and to stare at the students, guessing at their futures, wondering if one day their children’s children will end up in learning pods hooked to devices that once stood for people, listening to a voice over the machine.

I noticed that most education decision-makers were men and the majority of reporters were women.  I noticed that no one really seemed interested in the Mayan exhibit at the UPenn museum where the last evening reception was held, and instead devoured banana chips covered in guacamole: a delicious combination.

I went from table to table, forcing myself to appear confident because sometimes to the disbelief of many I do feel shy.  I casually looked at nametags and worked to extricate myself from meaningless conversations, and subtly manipulated conversations with those that were deemed meaningful.

Phrases like, “Wiley Learning Institute, the new Daniel Goleman book and Clayton Christensen,” helped me get my way, and at the end of it all the Wall Street reporter told me I was, “too well-dressed to be a journalist,” though my shoes were just Target.

After I met my college friend and his new Southern girlfriend for a glass of wine and absorbed the sequins, the three piece suits and the European man wearing a bright red sweater casually tied over his shoulders.  Repeatedly I was asked to keep my tab open and received looks of disapproval when I said no; it was all so East Coast and I loved it.

There is an aggressive energy, a desire to push forward and steam roll in the city of brotherly love.  The smoke billowows from tall towers and there are pits of dug up concrete; abandoned houses of beauty and the UPenn students receive alerts of West Philly violence.

One day I might throw away my scarves, lightweight coats and walk streets where all the buildings are phallic or built during our nation’s forgotten beginnings.  Though, for now, I am nestled deep in its liberal heart.

Yet I know a piece of me might take myself elsewhere; might slip into a different part of myself, and I will sit at a bar and sip wine and wonder back to the other coast where I danced in parks, wore feather boas and dreamt of what surrounds me.

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