Had my Phill

One of the pleasures of the editorial occupation is traveling to campuses to meet potential authors. Having no excuse not to go to Philadelphia, I jumped on a train this morning to spend the day on the campuses of the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University. I’d been to both campuses before, but they are a study in contrasts. Penn is Ivy League, of course, and the students appear confident and self-assured. Temple is a large, public university situated in a neighborhood that doesn’t exactly inspire the same confidence. The students appear happy enough, but of a rather different ethnic blend. I pondered these differences while waiting for a taxi. I hadn’t realized that PHL Taxi stands for “Prefer Hanging Loose”—after three calls and no vehicle, I had to call another company. To try to save Routledge a few pennies, I had opted for the Days Inn in north Philadelphia. A friend told me over lunch that this part of the city is probably not the safest.

In the taxi we drove through neighborhoods that politicians like to pretend do not exist. The sheer degradation of the buildings, sidewalks, and people was sad. The most common type of building, next to houses (many semi-demolished), is churches. Many of the churches bear their names in Spanish; most have heavy metal chain doors emblazoned with crosses. It seems that maybe Van Helsing would go to church in a place like this. The kind of place where a dead body does not astonish, and the people on the street corners look remarkably cheerful, given the circumstances. The Days Inn is in a more open and commercial area, and I don’t think anyone has actually been murdered in this particular room. On Temple’s campus I saw many signs for Occupy Philly.

Those who think everything is just fine with the ultra-wealthy in their heaven while we expect human beings to live like this are worse than naïve. Those who are privileged look on Occupy Philly with a sense of academic curiosity. Those who live next to poverty, hard up against it, see Occupy Philly as a mandate. We can’t keep pretending that everything is okay. If God has a plan for America, why have so many people been left out? People with more churches per block than any affluent neighborhood desires or supports? The movement may be ill-focused and leaderless, but the need is very real. Tomorrow I go back to Temple, back to where the struggle is often life and death and the need is very human. But for this evening, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” I’m sure you know how the rest of it goes.

5 thoughts on “Had my Phill

  1. John G.

    Steve, Memphis is a city in much the same situation as you describe. Impoverished neighborhoods, speckled with churches, seem to belie the affluent fuselage the rest of the city tries to pose. What I’ve always asked is, “why do these neighborhoods continue to be plagued by crime, poverty, and urban decay, if God’s church is so present in everyone of them?” Maybe that isn’t the question that I should be asking. Maybe I need to reconcile how my faith and affluence fits into those neighborhoods, and how I can effect change for my fellow man. Great post.

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    • Steve Wiggins

      Thanks, John. I think my present conclusion is one of irony; I agree that the churches haven’t cured the problem. Indeed, they are often as decrepit as the houses they watch over. I find it sad that we are willing to let people live this way when we do have the means of improving their lot. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  2. Jon Hendry

    If you need an inexpensive room, you might try Club Quarters. It’s a business-oriented hotel chain, where companies and organizations buy memberships. (I have no idea how much membership costs, if anything. I’ve worked for a company and a university which were members, but neither made any attempt to promote the use of the chain over others, so it’s probably minimal.)

    They aren’t strict about checking, either. Their website requires a password to access the reservation-making system, but the password is just the name of the member organization. For instance, google reveals a page at Temple that says their member password is an all-caps word that starts with T and ends with E.

    The Philadelphia branch is on Chestnut street, across the street from the two matching blue glass towers.

    The rates are quite good, especially for the locations. The cheapest Temple rate for Philly is $114.

    Rooms are a bit minimalist. You don’t get the 27 bolsters and pillows that other hotels give you for no particular reason. Rather than putting an ironing board and iron in each room, each floor has a supply closet from which you can borrow them. I kinda see them as having ‘young man’ decor, rather than the dowdy look that most hotels seem to aim at. Plus, they often have desks and chairs that aren’t ergonomic monstrosities for working with a laptop.

    I’ve stayed in their hotels in Philadelphia, New York/midtown, and San Francisco, and haven’t been dissatisfied.

    Non-members can also book rooms, but probably at higher rates, and businesses probably get priority. Next time you’re traveling, try calling and booking a room, and mention the school you’re visiting. Perhaps they’ll give you that university’s rate.

    I have no ties with the company, I’ve just been a happy customer a number of times, and nobody seems to know about these hotels.

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  3. I share your concern for those in such desperate need and it is for that very reason that I dislike the “Occupy” campaign. Because it is leaderless and ill-focused, earnest effort is being wasted. I wish there were some way to provide real hope to people in need rather than merely offering an opportunity for the disgruntled to showboat. I resent that young people who, by their own poor judgement, have racked up student loans think that they have anything in common with those in the grinding, oppressive poverty you saw in Philadelphia. Too many people waving the signs are out for a holiday and they are obscuring the need.

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