I moved to Philadelphia at twenty-three without a plan. Well, no real plan. The general idea was to go to photography school, but I hadn’t spent much time figuring out how I would pay for it. (No concept of money) I already had bachelor’s degrees in Political Science and Theatre which qualified me for, well, not much. My work experience at the time consisted of seasonal retail work, food service, an internship with the London Labour Party and one year as an office manager. I figured I could find a job doing “something” and then go to school at night. How hard could it be?
Philadelphia has some of the best art schools in the country. Also, my best friend (Sarina) and my college roommates (Bob and Reuben) were there. If I am being honest, the art schools were a secondary draw. Anyway, Bob, Reuben and I were planning to move in together and relive old times. (Party) They went apartment hunting in my absence and found a great townhouse in Center City Philadelphia. Things were perfect.
Enter Bob’s girlfriend, whom he left in Ohio. She decided at the eleventh hour to move to Philadelphia too. Luckily, the townhouse was big enough for all of us. Everything seemed great. (More Roommates=Cheaper Rent=Beer Money) Bob’s girlfriend and I decided to coordinate housewares and get to know each other over the phone. From my perspective, the conversation went well. As it turns out, she didn’t feel the same way. Bob called me two nights before I was to leave home and said we couldn’t live together. (Wonderful birthday present) “Moose” didn’t think it was a good idea (After this, I never called her by her given name.) Since we were no longer going to live together, Bob suggested I stay in St. Louis. I told him that living together was not critical to my move or my life. I probably was not that articulate. (Lots of four letter words) Reuben was living with his parents, so it wasn’t essential for him to find an apartment. (Bob, as it so happens, was also living with Reuben’s parents.) I was angry and scared. “She’s leaving home” by the Beatles was on repeat for twenty-four hours, while I cried and packed. (My brother tried to hide the cd six hours in.) Two days later, without a home, a job or a plan, my Dad and I packed my car and headed towards Philadelphia and my new (uncertain) life.
I moved in with Sarina and her roommate Alix, until I could find a job and an apartment. But, finding a job proved more difficult than I thought. I called several temp agencies I worked with in St. Louis. Over the phone they were confident they could find work for me. However, once I turned up at the agencies, the work miraculously disappeared. (a common theme in my life and job searches) I had an interview with a student travel agency and again nothing. Alix taught me how to sneak into a U of Penn computer lab to look for jobs on the internet. (The internet was still fairly new in 1998 and Sarina and Alix didn’t have a connection at home.) I responded to hundreds of want ads, but for all the effort, I still wasn’t able to find work.
My car also turned out to be a major obstacle in finding a job. Sarina’s apartment was in Center City Philadelphia, which meant I spent most of my days moving my car every two hours. (The show “Parking Wars” isn’t actually dramatizing.) Competition for spots was so fierce, it sometimes took an hour to find a new space. There were frequent screaming matches among the car mover set and in some cases arguments turned physical. Fresh from the midwest, I hadn’t cultivated my aggression yet. Philadelphia requires some level of aggression to perform the most basic of tasks. (i.e. grocery shopping, drive thrus, post office, pumping gas and most importantly driving.) During my first month, I lost many a parking spot, by being polite. Sometimes I would pull up to a spot, turn on my blinkers and then before I could even turn my steering wheel, someone would come behind me and throw their car in the spot. (Parking blinkers in Philadelphian translates to, here’s a spot, take it.) The use of blinkers in Philadelphia is always ill-advised. It’s literally asking people to take advantage of you. During my early days, I was taken advantage of a lot. But, by the time I moved four years later, I was the fiercest, most aggressive, volatile driver of all my friends.
One day on one of my parking excursions ( I had five daily), I picked up the Philadelphia weekly, (the free newspaper.) I also got lucky and found a spot in only 30 minutes. I ran home quickly and started looking through the classifieds. (With 1 hour and 45 minutes, until my next excursion, I had to run.) My eye caught this bright yellow ad that said “Do you like Art?”, “Do you like people?” Come work in a relaxed environment around art. We are currently hiring sales people.” This was exactly what I was looking for. I knew this was it. I called immediately and a young woman answered. I told her that I saw the ad and was interested in the position. She asked me some rather basic questions like “Are you good with people?” ”Do you like art?” ”How much experience have you had with sales?” I told her about my love of art and my time working in a department store and how I much I just love people (I was a theatre major, I laid it on.) She said great, “Please come in at four tomorrow for an interview.” I couldn’t believe my luck! Finally, an interview. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait for Sarina and Alix to come home.
When they got home a couple of hours later, I met them at the door with my news. I described the job as working for an art gallery (The ad never mentioned gallery and neither did the woman who interviewed me, but what else could it be?) I laid out my interview suit that night and double checked my directions. I was so hopeful.
This is the first installment in my Philadelphia series. Please come back for the The Interview. You won’t be disappointed…