Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Independence day

Independence Day
Originally uploaded by michael j nolan.
On a hot July 4th I walked among more than 900 pairs of these boots. They represented our soldiers killed in Iraq. Each pair of boots had a nametag attached to it, with name, state and age of the fallen hero. Some of the boots were decorated with photographs of happy families and other mementos. I remember thinking how young these lost lives were ...19...23...22...31. I thought of my own 17 year old son and his friends, cousins.

I was taken back to the fervor of the 1960s and the war protests, when we naively thought we had used our power to stop senseless war for our time. I remembered candlelight vigils and the icy winter protests in Indianapolis where hundreds marched, like their counterparts all over the country in the months before the Iraq war launched. I felt a sense of having failed. I felt I failed the next generation by not being steadfast enough.

I started to cry and was glad I had sunglasses on so others wouldn't notice. These promising lives, lost to the folly of old men like George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. I shuddered even though it was nearly ninety degrees in the bright sun.

New in town

Well, not really that new. I've been here for most of the summer. We're happily holed up in a big white lofty apartment on the edge of downtown Philadelphia. That's me, my wife Eileen and our dog Sami. This empty-nester, urban lifestyle is a return to the way I used to live when I was younger. I spent my 20s in Chicago, and my 30s and 40s in San Francisco and I like city life. I'm glad to be back to it.

For the last ten years we lived in a beautiful old house in the Butler-Tarkington section of Indianapolis. That neighborhood was a special place because fifty years ago it had taken a stand to work consciously to become successfully integrated. Two generations later it is still the home to people of all races, and because of its near downtown location, very desirable. It was a fine place to raise our son, Jackson because he got wholesome midwestern values tempered by a liberal, diverse set of family, friends and neighbors.

We moved to Philadelphia because my wife got a job here as an investigative producer. It was an amazing career opportunity for her to advance from the number 25 media market to number 4. Our son was almost done with high school, and I am an independent publishing consultant who can work anywhere, so it made sense.

Philadelphia hasn't been without an element of culture shock for me--me who thought I couldn't be culturally shocked. People are very intense. Living quarters are usually small and located close together. Some streets are so narrow neighbors can stand in their doorway and practically shake hands with the people across the street. Or at least converse in a normal tone of voice. This gives the city a kind of intimacy--not to mention lunacy. It has an almost third-world atmosphere.

The food is incredible here. I think it's as good as the food in the Bay Area. There's tons of fresh seafood, produce fresh in from Amish farms in Lancaster County, ethnic restaurants galore. The best thing about the food are the markets. The Reading Terminal Market is downtown and is full of butchers, produce sellers, bakers, and more. The Italian Market is several blocks of open-air stalls under awnings where you can buy all that plus freshly made mozzarella and roasted coffees.

My brother-in-law calls it "Filthydelphia," and it's easy to see why. Although there are many clean and elegant neighborhoods (especially in the gorgeous suburbs) most of the city is tattered and run-down. Trash blows in the gutters everywhere: plastic bags, cigarette butts, fast-food containers. It's astonishing that people can live on those streets and not do something about it.

But I've decided I'm not here to criticize and carp. I'm taking this city totally as-is and it's going to be an interesting home for the forseeable future.