The cab ride from Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station to the Courtyard Marriott near City Hall took me past fewer adult theaters than I would have expected. They integrate well into Philadelphia’s downtown aesthetic of 1750s buildings with 1930s storefronts – art gallery, sandwich shop, adult theater, clothing store, adult theater, Western Union, Ben Franklin’s house, adult theater, and so forth. Philadelphia’s transients integrate really well, too. I saw crazy homeless people in every neighborhood in Philly – and I walked quite a few blocks – but never once got approached for change. It’s a gentler sort of homelessness. The indigent have won the battle for Philadelphia; they live as idle conquerors.
I walked from the hotel to the historical district, checking out the Liberty Bell and the outside of Independence Hall. Though I passed at least a dozen sandwich shops on the way out, not one spot on the way back (a mere two blocks south) advertised a cheese steak. And I didn’t feel like dropping $11 at some outdoor tavern – I wanted as close to the genuine street article as I could acquire. I finally found a street vendor two blocks from my hotel and picked up a cheese steak with the works – peppers, onions, ketchup, and of course the afterthought of cheese. It went down hearty.
Matt and his brother Griff, along with Matt’s fiancee Lydia and Griff’s wife Sarah, picked me up outside their hotel for the rehearsal. We braved Phillies traffic on 95 South to get to Swarthmore, arriving only a few minutes late. There I met the rest of Matt’s groomsmens’ party – three fine gentlemen I would have met a month ago had I made it to the bachelor party. “You’re Kevin’s older brother?” they asked, with a knowing nod that I would need at least four more beers to justify.
The Saturday forecast called for heavy rain, so we scoped out the backup location first: the Quaker Meeting House on Swarthmore’s north campus. Lydia and Matt eschewed a wedding planner for the ceremony, giving the rehearsal proceedings a refreshing informality. We lined everyone up, figured out who would stand where when delivering readings, and worked the timing of entrances and exits. Bam. In, out, thirty minutes.
“What are you going to be wearing for the ceremony tomorrow?” one of the bridesmaids asked.
“A Snuggie,” I said. “The sleeves are embroidered.”
Rehearsal dinner: back in the city at Estia (warning: Flash intro, plays music). Weddings that unite two big families lead to a lot of moving and entertaining stories over toasts, and this was no exception. Matt’s grandfather gave Lydia a warning about the men of his family “falling hard.” “My wife and I’ve been married fifty-eight years,” he explained. “Matt’s parents, thirty years.” We took that as the encouraging sign we think Ray meant, and clinked glasses.
My own dad had a story from the bachelor party. “So one of Matt’s friends goes to buy Matt a ‘femme’ drink as a gag. ‘Give me a Yuengling,’ he says, ‘and the girliest, weakest drink you have on the menu.’ ‘Two Yuenglings, coming up!’”*
Kevin showed up with an hour left in the evening, having driven straight from work in Baltimore without his cell phone or a solid knowledge of where we were. He caught me up on his extracurriculars. He’s playing in a rec lacrosse league, of whose players half used to play for Division I schools and the other half have not touched a stick in over a decade. “I’m playing defense,” Kevin said. “I don’t have to run so much.”
We closed out Estia’s function room early, harassing the waitstaff and doing a few final shots. Then Matt, Griff, Kevin and I took to the streets, doing what you’d expect four guys who’ve known each other for over twenty years to do when one of them’s getting married. Would you believe that Philadelphia’s the only city in America with a public library that’s open until 3:00 in the morning? They serve very good espresso.
* Dad later tells me that, though this is a true story, the bartender may have taken that line from Futurama. Regardless, any anecdote that helps dispel the New England myth that Yuengling’s a beer of some high quality gets printed as gospel on this weblog.