After over 20 years in Chestnut Hill and several more in West Mt. Airy, you'd think I would have learned my lesson. No other part of the city can compete with the Northwest.
After over 20 years in Chestnut Hill and several more in West Mt. Airy, you'd think I would have learned my lesson. No other part of the city can compete with the Northwest. There is a reason the highest per capita income is drawn to our tree-lined streets, stately homes, quaint shops and fine restaurants. For all practical purposes, Chestnut Hill could be mistaken for Marblehead, Massachusetts, if not for the perplexing absence of a yacht-filled marina.
Granted, I have moved three times since coming here in 1996. First, I rented an idyllic carriage house on Saint Martin’s Lane. It was heaven until the child in the main house reached puberty and decided that the key to popularity was hosting under-age beer blasts on weeknights and tossing cherry bombs under my window.
Craving serenity but not wanting to leave the Hill, I relocated to an apartment building in a bucolic setting. From the outside, it was unremarkable, but from the inside, it afforded breathtaking views of lush woodlands. At dusk, animals emerged from the foliage. Speckled deer, rabbits, chipmunks and a chubby groundhog I named Wally. My apartment was spacious. Rents were affordable. Neighbors were congenial. Management was responsive. I wanted to stay there forever.
After over two decades, however, “forever” ended abruptly. The building was sold. Rents went up. Long-time tenants like me were stuck with appliances that dated back to “Leave It To Beaver” and carpets that had done more time than Little Nicky Scarfo. Other tenants jumped ship, but I clung on for another year like a jilted lover.
My next move was to a rambling Victorian house in Mt Airy that had been converted into four apartments. I was sold on the high ceilings, huge windows and views of tall, old-growth trees that provided so much privacy that window shades weren’t necessary. It wasn’t the Wissahickon Woods, but it was a corner property with park-like grounds. The unexpected bonus? Due to the abundant shade trees and Wissahickon shist construction, the temperature dropped 15 degrees just walking in the front door. No wonder affluent Victorians fled the city in the summer and built homes here.
So, what was I thinking when I filled out an application for an apartment in South Philly? My reasons made sense at the time. In the many years I’ve lived here, driving in Chestnut Hill has turned into a white-knuckle sport. Lately, it seems that wherever I go, a caravan of teenagers driving daddy’s Lexus (while texting) is out to get me. Moving to a destination where I would not need a car would definitely improve my longevity.
Then there is the novelty factor. South Philly is happening. The formerly industrial corner of Broad and Washington now looks like the site of a Legos championship. Luxury apartment buildings are popping up on every corner. The image of little old Italian ladies peeking through blinds, keeping a watchful eye on the block, has been replaced by throngs of upwardly mobile young professionals and hipper-than-thou eateries. Passyunk Avenue is no longer a contest between Pat’s Steaks and Geno’s. It’s a dizzying choice of Zagat-rated dining establishments, including one with a 90-day waiting list.
More importantly, I would have access to the city’s cultural treasures without getting on the Expressway or, gulp, Lincoln Drive. It was all adding up to an attractive package until I called the police precinct in the area I was considering. “Hi. I’m thinking of moving to Broad and Washington. Is that a safe area?”
“Ma’am. Where exactly do you live now?” said a deep male voice.
“Um. West Mt. Airy.”
“That’s PARADISE! Stay there!” he insisted.
My attempt to pry details out of him regarding the nature of crime in his precinct only got me muffled grunts. His words echoed inside my head. “I am in Paradise!”
That was a month ago, before the Delta variant turned up the national angst. I continue to meet friends at outdoor cafes on the Hill and in Mt Airy, but I gave Center City friends notice. Downtown isn’t safe. If they want to see me, they have to come here. Chestnut Hill has the lowest rate of Covid infection in the entire city. Why would I want to be anywhere else?
Stacia Friedman is a Mt. Airy resident (and will be for the duration), published author of humorous novels and a freelance writer for several publications and websites.