1986: my May Day move to Philadelphia

by Alden Cole on May 2, 2016 · 0 comments

CenterCity1986WPPhiladelphia Skyline 1986 • photo taken from the roof of 1513 S. 6th Street

This weekend celebrates the thirtieth anniversary of my arrival in this burg on 1 May 1986 – my MayDay M’aidez move, just weeks before turning forty-two. Sometime after nine a.m. on Wednesday 30 April 1986 I got into my small red-Chevy cargo-van packed with household goods and art supplies, said goodbye to my parents, and headed south. I was leaving Dayton, Maine, where I’d stashed the bulk of my earthly belongings once again in the barn belonging to my dad, headed for a new urban destination: Philadelphia – South Philadelphia in particular, where a freshly-painted apartment awaited my arrival. I could have easily made the journey in less than a day, arriving there by late afternoon; but wanting to linger a little longer for a few last goodbyes, I dawdled, visiting a couple friends along the way in Maine, then New Hampshire. By early evening I was still far from my intended goal. Wanting to arrive on South 6th Street between Dickinson and Tasker streets in daylight, I opted for spending the night in a motel in western Connecticut, where I dreamed about the unknown facing me; a new life in a city I’d never considered living in before, despite my draw to its ideal – the City of Brotherly Love – and its place in our national history. I had known earlier in the year that I was Philly-bound in the spring, but here it was – the reality of being on the road, catapulting myself down Interstate 95 into a big question mark: What Next? I was about to discover that no matter where I went, there I was…

CenterCity2016WPPhiladelphia Skyline 2016 • photo taken 30 April from the same rooftop as above.

I had known since mid-January that my days in New England were numbered; at least for a couple years. When I phoned my Philadelphia-based friend John M. Hansen from Portsmouth one evening around the Ides in a state of suppressed rage, his first question to me was “So what’s going on Alden?” to which I responded “I feel like a volcano about to explode!” Not missing a beat, JMH simply said he knew I still had some anger issues to deal with that my study of karate, which he had suggested a few years before, hadn’t totally resolved. Although I hadn’t been in touch with him for a couple years, he had learned from Betty Lundsted Weiser, our mutual friend who brought us together in the first place back in 1981, that I was planning to leave employment with Weiser Publishing by July of that year. He was curious to know what my plans for the future were. I had none, just way too many unanswered questions about what to do next: stay in Portsmouth and look for another job? My perceived limited skill-set left me in a quandary on that score; my feelings of uselessness ran deeper than I cared to admit at that point; what kind of job was I even qualified to look for? Perhaps I should move to Portland, Maine where I’d often wanted to live since I was a child, and look for a job there? but what kind of job? who knew? Maybe I should move on to California, or the high desert of Nevada? I was ultimately clueless what the future held, except the fact that when Weiser’s publishing & distribution office closed its doors for the first two weeks of July for a company vacation, I was not coming back to work there afterwards. I’d given my notice back in October, and I was sticking to my guns; but where to go??

LookingEastGreenwichWPThe long-view down Greenwich Street from my second-floor apartment at 1514 S. 6th Street between Dickinson and Tasker, where I spent my first five years in Philadelphia.

JMH suggested that perhaps I should consider moving to Philadelphia in order to study with him for a year… no, make that two years. He indicated that after that period of study, I should be able to go wherever else I might choose, hopefully better suited to deal with the stresses that were presently sabotaging me. I hesitated; I really didn’t want to move to Philadelphia. I’d visited twice, in the fall of ’81, again the spring of ’82, and was not impressed with the city. After living in Manhattan, Philly felt even more provincial than Boston felt by comparison to NYC. I struggled inwardly for what seemed like an eternity of indecision, which were probably only seconds, then tentatively accepted his invitation, although a part of me wanted to say “Please, anywhere but Philadelphia! Can’t we do this work long distance so I don’t have to move there?” The aversion was gut-reactive. Philadelphia felt like a red-neck town, especially when compared to NYC which, despite having its own mindless elements, nevertheless felt much safer and more accepting of its minorities than Philly. Nevertheless I was lucid enough to realize that I had just been offered the best possible alternative to my indecisiveness about the future. JMH suggested that I start making plans to leave Maine for Philadelphia sooner than my previously planned July escape; how about mid-April? I agreed to pursue this route, and before I knew it, January had become spring already. On the Ides of April I left employment with the Weisers, with whom I had been associated for twelve years – a Jupiter cycle – since February of 1974. I hosted a final party in Portsmouth – a Leaving-Town open house for friends the following weekend. After a few last days saying goodbye to Portsmouth friends, I moved my household goods back to Dayton from the sweet five-room apartment on Hanover Street where I’d been living since the fall of ’83. The end of April drew near; I hung out in the country for a few days before accepting that it was time to go. The last day of April was a Wednesday; since I didn’t want to travel on the weekend, plans were set. As indicated above, I did not complete the journey in one day, which could have been accomplished had I set out early in the morning and not stopped to say a few last goodbyes. An inherent fear of the unknown put me in a state of procrastination that pushed my arrival in Philly ahead to May Day. Arriving in the city around noon, I found a place to park right in front of the building that was to be my new home – for the next couple of years, so I thought at the time. I let JMH, who lived right across the street, know I had arrived and after getting my latest set of keys, he helped me to start moving my worldly possessions from my trusty Chevy van – The Red Tomato – into my new home. The day was hot, an introduction to Delaware Valley summers, and in no time I was sweaty, and questioning the wisdom of leaving New England behind, since I had obviously descended into hell. Thus started a new life in a small two-room apartment with kitchenette and bath on the second floor of a three-story row-house that stood at the intersection of 6th and Greenwich Streets (pronounced green-witch here in the mid-Atlantic states, not gren-ich, as in Connecticut or New York). Two windows facing east provided my long-view of the outside world with some trees even included in the view. At least I wasn’t just staring at a brick wall with Venetian-blinded windows looking back at me, which had been my view throughout much of my New York experience. Thus I was grateful for that sense of sky and spaciousness, as well as the street itself which was alive with the activity of a vibrant city neighborhood providing a remarkable cross-section of humanity like none I’d experienced before, not even in New York.

to be continued…

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