As we wind down for the holidays, The Inclusive will feature the best pieces from 2011. This gives you an opportunity to read some pieces you might not have otherwise seen, and it allows our staff to, y'know, hang out for a bit.
This piece was originally published October 18th. Staff writer Marge Wang takes stock of her first two decades of life while visiting Philadelphia, her college town. In looking in the past, she gets an idea of what she needs as she moves forward.
Every time I cross over the Ben Franklin Bridge via Bolt Bus or Megabus, I continue to feel a churning inside even though years have passed. It feels like a mixture of nausea, grief, apprehension, and sadness for memories of good times that have rusted over. Sentimental as I am, I could cry over the high times and laughs that seem lifetimes away from now. As always, I look out the window and with each visit I marvel over how much the skyline has grown. In spite of myself, when we pull into the city along the Schuykill River on this sunny weekend morning, I watch as we pass Boathouse Row and think (genuinely) how I always marked this as one of the beautiful places in Philadelphia. There were few back then.
Philadelphia, PA – We arrive at our destination at the 34th Street Station and when I step off the bus, now nearing the ripe age of 30 (the next notable birthday celebration after turning 21), I still have flashbacks of my 17-year-old self setting foot on this space that would become my playground, my gauntlet, and provide one of life’s most testing stretches during my undergraduate career. The relationships I secured -- be it friends or lovers -- have either endured or dissipated over the years, but one thing is shared among the majority of us: Our time in this small, starter city came and went before the mass exodus into places that spoke to our ambitions such as New York City, L.A., Milan, London or Dubai. And I wonder if everyone else looks back on the memories we created in this city and tastes the same salty sweetness in their mouths.
I’m here to spend a reunion weekend with some of my best girlfriends. One happens to be newly engaged which propelled our weekend together after several months of not seeing each other. (In our late twenties, life certainly gets in the way more often than we’d like to admit.) Since the newly engaged couple remained Philly to make a future for themselves and establish their careers, we decided to try and make new memories in our old stomping grounds. It was to be a weekend of celebration, re-kindling, and, as always, feasting. In addition to the new memories I sought, there was one other conquest of mine: I was not leaving this city without tasting the glory of Chef Jose Garces’ infamous Whiskey King Burger served up at Village Whiskey in Center City, Philadelphia. The thought of that nougat of creamy foie gras lying atop an 8 oz. burger decorated with bleu cheese and applewood bacon was too sensational to bear missing out on.
Scooping me up from the train station, we rode into Northern Liberties to drop off my luggage at my girlfriend’s. We drove past old time favorites such as Finnegan’s Wake and North Third, pubs where memories were solidified over our carefree and reckless nightly social rituals. My memory vault is filled with as many scenes of sex, drugs and rock and roll lived out under shiny disco balls and floods of champagne as it was with late nights, good food, and great friends in the various brew houses throughout this town. I thought of this as I breathed in the city air, so distinctly different from that of Manhattan. After our pit stop, we headed towards what I dubbed the second most beautiful place in this city, Rittenhouse Park in Center City. I had strolled this park with many friends, some still my best wing-women, others lost to time or differences. The dogs and the dancers were the best. It seems this hasn’t changed. Dogs and humans loitered playfully side by side, all easily entertained by the myriad of dancers and musicians displaying their art in the fall breeze.
We arrived at Village Whiskey and my stomach couldn’t be more outspoken. When I recently caught wind of Garces’ treasure trove from friends that traveled often between Philly and New York, I raised an eyebrow in skepticism that there could truly be something of gastronomic value in this li'l ol’ place that I hadn’t yet tried. I knew at once my next burger destination would be in the 215 area code. But, of course, first things first, and we gathered around the table to properly marvel over my best friend’s freshly bejeweled finger. The glistening diamond was gorgeous and self-righteous in the way it stared back at me. It seemed to make one simple, seamless statement. It said to me, “I do not make mistakes anymore,” and its voice was clear and piercing.
I was at once reminded of the limbo I found myself in those days of old. On one hand, I was more than ready to close the chapter on a youth spent making foolish decisions and learning from them; leading myself into impending doom and digging my way out; losing myself in the eye of many storms and waiting out the fury. Here in Philadelphia, I was back in the epicenter; the place where much turmoil shaped the adult I’ve become. On the other hand, I was fully prepared for the entrance into a brand new perspective; life seen through the eyes of a wise, cultured and experienced woman of 30. I envisioned myself entering this next big decade in a way that a puddle of molten glass might look before being cooled into a sleek durable sphere.
When our entrees came, my thirst for the mountainous heap of a carnivore’s dream was nearing its bursting point, as if our conversation over bridesmaid’s dresses and wedding venues acted as conservative foreplay for the orgasmic bite to come. My tongue worked through the layers of fatty duck liver, beef, bacon, cheese, and onion and, amidst the chatter and giggles, I wondered if it was this very burger that I was so adamant to conquer, or was it what this dish represented? What did I really want to find here in Village Whiskey?
Sometimes I look back at myself and miss my spirit as it was. Though I am grateful for how I’ve evolved within, I do hope I’ve only changed for the better. I needed to assure myself that regardless of which chapters of life I am about to enter, I will never lose the ability to crave, thirst, and indulge. I was positive now that I was excited to be nearing three decades on earth. In this awkward age as we tiptoe away from our roaring twenties with dignity (hopefully), as many of us are fearing losing our hair, waistline, and general elasticity, I like to believe that those who fear aging are already old at heart. Those who spend their time viewing every decade we meet as an off-road adventure will ensure their vivacity.
The fast approaching 3-0 is going to mark the chapter where we do it all right. This is our chance to pocket our foolery and enjoy life without the burdens of naiveté. Later that night I had another peculiar dream: I woke up in darkness and fumbled around for a bit until I got my hands on a bag of brand new light bulbs. I had a new light bulb for every fixture in the place, much to my excitement. I then spent an indeterminate amount of time unscrewing all the old bulbs and screwing every new bulb into each fixture with mounting delight. Once every fixture had a new bulb in place, I clutched a mechanism in my right hand which would turn them on simultaneously, lighting up the entire space. Before I could flip the switch, I woke up.
You know what they say, third time’s the charm. This decade’s going to be a good one.