A Philly cop's bad directions landed me on a trolly car to north-west Philly. I got off a mile or so north of where I was supposed to meet my college roommate. There are no neighborhoods like this in Japan.
It is an oft repeated truism that 9/11 was the first foreign attack on US soil since the war of 1812, and that the US hasn't known a domestic war since 1865, but I don't know how anyone who lives in an American city can say that.
Any rational human facing this landscape of wire and rubble, of people looking even more empty and shattered than the buildings around them... any rational human being would grab the first passerby and scream "What happened here? What's going on?!" But there is no urgency in this destruction, no breaking news. It is the story of America's last century, the slow decay of the forgotten, the urban poor.
I walked south to meet up with my friend. Stickers screaming faith and redemption were stuck proudly on screen doors. There were gaps between houses, piles of rubble, ignored. I saw a teddy bear and a bouquet of dead flowers tethered to a telephone pole. A cadre of thick necked men spread new black pavement, hot and steaming.
The rest of my time in Philadelphia was spent with old friends. We wandered graveyards, talked Philly history, smoked dope and listened to music, wandered comics shops and talked science fiction in public parks. While all my impulses screamed to relate every doorknob and midnight joke to my life in Japan, I swallowed them and tried to listen as much as I spoke.
Just two long afternoons in Philly, really. I caught an early evening Chinatown bus to New York, leaving Philly as I found it, wondering if we'll ever see an end to all of this... misery.