I Went To Philly—Part 1: Getting There And Settling In


I got my US visa and I didn’t really have a plan for it. A couple months before it ran out, I decided to go to Philadelphia for two reasons:

  1. I had a family member who “lived” there and by there I mean the exurbs. Thankfully he put me in a hotel just out of Philly.
  2. I could save on transport since it has one of the least shittiest public transport systems in the US.

What I didn’t expect was that I’d find a city which is incredibly rough and yet has a lot of charm and history I regret not exploring more of the history (and food).

Heading Out

I planned for an extra day off from work because I had to pack but that didn’t happen since I didn’t get paid. After setting thing up for everyone, I packed my bags and included a care package for my little sibling which I’d send over.

Flight day came and after an incredibly long wait on standby which caused my ride to leave, I got on loaded. At this time Harare had just finished upgrading the international terminal. Doesn’t feel particularly special but I’m surprised at just how much space they eked out from that. Bear in mind there used to be 3 jet bridges and there’s now 7 without a big increase in airport footprint.

I got onboard and sat my fatass down in an aisle seat for the next 8 hours to Doha. Besides the YouTuber trying to wrestle a seat from a child, the flight went smoothly and we reached Doha on time. I now had a massive layover. Usually I’d walk around the airport but I opted to chill in the lounge. It was fine although I wish I got to go in the sleep rooms with nice chairs. The food was pretty good and I had so much yogurt I discovered that I’m lactose intolerant as I spent the whole flight to Philly with an upset stomach.

An off grey 777 with two maroon stripes at the boarding gate

After that, I got my boarding pass after getting my US address at the last minute and headed to the plane which was a 777 with a retro Qatar Always livery. Another uneventful flight but it was interesting how we got premium snacks that you’d get on Business class. 12 hours later we landed in the US and waited to get through immigration. I thought I’d get a form to fill, but they’ve replaced it with the border agent asking questions.

I was hoping to get the line which didn’t have the lady asking questions but I wasn’t lucky. I walked and asked what I planned to do, to which I rattled off a few sites. She replied that those things take a day and yet I’m here for a week. I also mention going to Delaware (which I ultimately didn’t visit) and about the people I’m meeting in the US as well as my sibling in Idaho. I then told her the cash I had and the care package I prepped for my sibling and I was allowed through without any hassle from customs.

After waiting for my ride (which is really hard without internet), we managed to meet up and he wouldn’t let me stay with him so we arranged a stay at the Red Roof Inn in Essystone just south west of Philadelphia. I was craving Popeye’s and he bought me some and it was as good as I remembered it. He then dropped me off at the hotel leaving me to unpack, sleep and start my adventure.

What Is Jetlag? Oh.

The next day I got up pretty early and decided to head to Walmart to get my mom’s stuff. There was a “bus stop” (read: flimsy roof with a label) and I had to wait a few minutes before heading down to the junction where I’d then walk to Walmart (which was by the Popeye’s I went to). It was real quiet and I enjoyed walking next to the charming brownstones.

I reached Walmart and it turns out it isn’t 24/7 anymore. Oh well, might as well get some McDonalds. I thought it was closed so I waited like an idiot until I eventually just opened the doors. Things are a whole lot more expensive but that’s why you should just download the app with all the deals. I got my Sausage Egg McMuffin and strategized how to get to get a transit pass which was at the Safeway nearby.

I walked over and waited a bit to get the card. The fare structure was incredibly confusing so I thought I’d get the $50 weekly card with regional rail access but the attendant gave me a $25 one which would cause a few problems later. I then walked over to Walmart and bought the stuff with the cashier holding the tote bag I picked and asking if “this shit is mine”.

Great service, 10/10.

I walked back with my tote and took the bus back to the hotel to drop the stuff off before figuring out my next move. This next move was incredibly stupid and driven entirely by consumerism—I booked a bus to New York City…for an hour just to buy something.

The thing in question was an Android e-ink tablet1 which I wanted as I’d get the reduced distractions offered by e-ink readers coupled with the benefit of being able to download reading apps, particularly RSS feeds. It took a while but it’s now sold in the US through B&H photo which is a prominent Jewish-owned camera store known for its great prices (and unfortunately discriminatory employee relations). Instead of leveraging free shipping and waiting, I decided to look for a bus ticket to New York and I found one which was a few blocks from B&Hs flagship store. After spending $15 on a round trip ticket (could have been $4 if I waited a day) with OurBus, which was honestly amazing though I wish I booked a train earlier, I had to get to the “bus station” in Philly’s financial district.

I headed back to the bus stop and rode it into South Philly which looked incredibly sketchy. I got to the connecting bus where I had to wait for 15 minutes to catch the next one. I rode on that one too and it actually had Wi-Fi which is a necessity for using Septa. Eventually I hopped off by a Bank of America’s to deposit cash and walked over to the “bus station” by the mall. I got a cinnamon roll and some Burger Fi (which I called the best) though the price here was irritating and they didn’t even have the freestyle machine.

A bus parked by the side of a road in between a mall building with people boarding and placing their luggage

Behold a “bus terminal”. I wasn’t aware that this was actually a big issue that came about recently.

I walked out to the “bus station” which turned out to be a bus waiting by the road, part of a bigger trend I’ll explain later. This was incredibly shitty, and I boarded on the bus which didn’t have the free water no Wi-Fi. We left Philly on time along with the best weather then us would have until April as sunny Philly became rainy, gloomy New Jersey with NYC not much better.

Approaching NYC was really cool however. There’s the Lincoln tunnel which takes you under the Hudson River into New York. Just before then, you can see a football stadium just under the highway. A bit of maneuvering into NYC and I reached Hudson Yards right by the Suicide Shawarma. The best dropped us off at another “bus station” which was by the side of the road.

a view of skycrapers across a river taken from a highway on a gloomy day

The clouds makes this view of Hudson Yards gives it serious Gotham City vibes. I don’t know if it’s just me but don’t the buildings look triangular?

It was cold and gloomy which made me regret my summer attire but I walked down to B&H’s SuperStore which is basically photographer’s Disneyland and it was very impressive with so much expensive gear squished into such an urban environment. Really puts big box retailers to shame. A bit of ogling later, I asked for the Boox tablet to which I got my receipt to go pay for it. They somehow remembered my last purchase I made with my college email which was nice and I went out with my e-ink reader I’ve hardly used.

I walked back to the “bus stop” passing by getting an overpriced beverage and waited in the Huge convention center before taking the bus home. It’s crazy what urbanism can give you—a one hour trip between two large metros with no car needed.

I arrived and managed to get to Bloomington to try and buy some big clothes. They didn’t have much but I did see a huge towel I was looking for. After that I headed back to the hotel and I took a regional train. I was surprised that my pass didn’t work and it turns out that it only starts on Monday. I topped up my account with $10 and after getting the thickest receipt ever, I got confused as to where my Train went. The one train would have taken me to a place near the Walmart I went to in the morning but it was wither delayed or I couldn’t find it so I rushed into an airport train instead.

The train was clean and comfortable and a lady did her proof of payment check. I got off and saw that I could just walk through without tapping out, though they’d probably charge my card later. After missing two busses to the hotel, I took a bus in the wrong direction. Once I noticed, I hopped off at a random place and had to wait for the next bus in a “bus shelter” (read: a pole) out in the cold. Thankfully a bus eventually came and I managed to get back to the hotel.

Surprised at how much energy I had, I went straight to bed and was tired the day after. I guess it caught up with me. I had to send my sibling’s care package package so I walked off to USPS and I was surprised at how I managed to fit 3 bottles of Mazoe cordial and all the snacks in the flat rate box, which cost $25 instead of $80 😬. I then walked over to Wawa and got myself a pretzel dog before heading over to a Chinese buffet for lunch.

The bus took me to a “transportation center” whose doors were closed so I could connect to the next one, which went through a college campus and a pretty suburb. I reached the $15 buffet and it was fine. I keep being disappointed when I try everything but stir fried pepper potatoes, chicken wings and Chinese donuts always do it for me 😋. After that I headed back to the hotel and spent the rest of the time fucking around.

The next day, I’ll head off to the city to explore a piece of Philly’s rich history.

  1. Specifically it’s the ONYX Boox 6" Poke 5 ↩︎