I look both ways before I cross the street. Twice.
No, this is not a metaphor for a paralyzing fear of the world, nor is it a commentary on the nature of Philly cab drivers. As much as I try to fight it, I have to look left, then right, then left again before stepping foot onto the stripy crosswalks of Spruce or Walnut.
My friends roll their eyes and wait for me, post-jay-walk, as I apologetically stand at the opposite corner, crossing only after the illuminated little man tells me I can.
OCD, you ask? Maybe. (Probably.) But I’d like to think it has more to do with where I come from: the ‘burbs. And not just any ‘burbs. Midwestern ‘burbs.
Anyone who knows me, or has ever met me, or has ever been forced to stand in the same room as me for 30 seconds, knows at least two things about me: I am obsessed with linguistics and I am from Minnesota. As much as I talk about my home state now, all I really wanted as a junior in high school was to get out of the frozen tundra that is the Twin Cities and never look back.
Penn was my escape from the 10,000 lakes and the cult of Minnesota Nice, Ben Franklin was the knight in shining waistcoat who could whisk me away to the exotic East Coast. I breathed a sigh of relief when I was accepted, eagerly awaiting my impending transformation into an assertive, city-savvy Ivy Leaguer.
Yet even after more than three years of Philly living — three Flings, seven Finals weeks and ten billion cups of coffee from Williams Café — I still find myself tentatively waiting at stoplights as my city-bred classmates confidently tread from Market to Baltimore without so much as glancing at the cars whooshing by. As my now-constant desire to defend my home town (“Minneapolis really is legit, guys!”) and my lingering passive aggression can attest, I haven’t quite transformed into an urban Philadelphian so much as an in-between-er, still hanging onto some vestiges of Minnesota Nice instead of fully embracing Brotherly Love.
But now that I’m on the verge of crossing something bigger – the stage at graduation – I find myself clinging to this state of in-between, before Real Life can force me to truly assimilate to a new geographic locale. At Penn, we’re allowed to hover between our pre- and post-grad geographies for a few years, figuring out exactly which street we want to cross. And this semester, I’m going to embrace that pause of safety before the light turns green.