The sun is out, the leaves are falling, and the air is smelly. It’s 5:30 p.m. on the last day of September in the city of Philadelphia, and I, like many others, have just gotten out of work (er, internship). However, this is not a normal Tuesday evening. This evening, I walk up 13th Street with the sole purpose of acting as an observer- a flâneuse, if you will.
Hotels and the number 13 go together like sriracha and avocados, so it only makes sense that today’s journey begins at the Parker-Spruce Hotel. At the corner of, you guessed it, Spruce and 13th, the hotel’s location seems to be its only advantage.
“I couldn’t even shower because it was so disgusting,” says Garrett S. via Google Reviews. Reviewer Tom M. echoes Garrett’s sentiments: “If you enjoy sharing your (sic) food with mice and roaches then thus (sic) is the place for you.”
Upon seeing the place for myself, I believe these men’s words. Chipped paint on the outside mourns days gone by, and the YMCA-like glass doors which are propped open reveal the dismal lobby. Its drab tiled floor is reminiscent of that in an abandoned mental hospital, and the fake plants shoved in the corner are anything but feng shui. A man in jorts halfheartedly sweeps the sidewalk in front. I realize I’m loitering, which according to the signs on either side of the doors, is a big no-no outside the Parker-Spruce. I try to catch a whiff of any decaying smells emanating from the lobby, but no such luck. This hotel would have been easy to ignore had I not specifically sought it out, so at least it has that going for it. Still, today’s 13th street journey can only go up from here.
And it does – both because I’m heading north, and because I spot a Berkshire-Hathaway realty sign on the opposite side of the street. If Warren Buffet’s minions are selling apartments around here, then that means we’re in a good area. A man in a sweater vest walking his wiener dog cements this notion.
I pass a nail salon advertising “20% off gel nail Tuesdays” on a sandwich board and notice the assumed owner gazing longingly out her storefront window. Tuesdays must be slow for manicures. Further up, I come upon Modern Eye, which I believe to be an upscale optometrist and ~glasses boutique~. I’m not one who wears glasses, but their window display is one of the best I’ve ever laid eyes on.
On the corner of Sansom, I pass by people enjoying after work drinks at El Vez and faintly hear a margarita calling my name. “Not now, José,” I retort. “Today I’m here on business.”
As the crowd thickens, I duck into Duross & Langel to collect my thoughts. Michael Bublé is playing, and the space is filled with scents that could only come from bath supplies I can’t afford. I smell the beer soap. I smell the fudge soap. I smell the blood orange margarita soap and José beckons once again. I can’t tell if the shopkeeper is getting annoyed at me for smelling everything in the store or if paranoia is a side effect of the hyperventilation I’m almost certainly experiencing. The Beatles start playing and I make a quick exit.
I come upon a store simply called “Grocery” at the corner. I have patronized this establishment on two or three occasions and consider it to be the Whole Foods of corner markets. As a vegan, this presents a sort of sanctuary to me. Yet I recognize how fucking pretentious it is to name your store “Grocery.” The quality of the potato soup, however, kind of makes up for it. The lights inside are so dim that it looks as if the store is closed, but a sign on the door maintains that they are OPEN. “Oh, that is so GROCERY,” I think. I scoff at the artisan cupcakes on the wooden block in the window.
On the corner of 13th and Market Street, an Usher wannabe serenades a child relentlessly high-fiving him. Ahead I see Chili’s, what Google Reviews describes as a “lively chain for Tex-Mex and American eats.” Yet I see no liveliness about this Chili’s tonight. Nor do I feel God. One of the front doors is broken, and there are no patrons to be found. Nay, this Chili’s seems to be merely a festering carcass of Tex-Mex and American flavors. One would be better off going to Kabuki Sushi down the block. Cue Descendents’ Kabuki Girl.
This evening’s excursion was due to end with “DogVacay,” what Google Reviews hails as “Your furry godmother retreat.” This in stark contrast to the beginning of our journey, the Parker-Spruce. Alas, I was unable to locate DogVacay.
On this, the last day of September 2014, 13th Street has shown us that it truly is a dog’s life.