We caught the six-o-five to Philly. For the entire ride, the conductor groused about the way the train had three extra cars for him to tend by himself and that next weekend, thanks to Race for the Cure, it would be the same story.
Mainly, he was ignored: Despite the hour, everyone was in a festive mood.
We were headed to the Broad Street Run, a ten mile race with an expected forty thousand runners and countless spectators.
I hate the city.
I hate crowds.
I hate noise.
I hate traffic and sirens and the white pavement that seems to cover everything.
Most of all I hate having to worry about my children getting hurt.
"Do you think I should withdraw, Mom?" My eldest asked just after the Boston bombings.
I wanted to tell her yes; wanted to say that she should just stay at home, safe beneath the covers. Instead I told her this: When we give into our fears, those trying to scare us have won.
And so we went, scared, yes, but hopeful too.
It was cool day, but sunny. Puffy white clouds lazily watched the city wake. While we waited for the race to begin, my other children and I wandered through Chinatown, looking at duck feet and pig snouts, mung beans and noodles. There was chicken there, too, whole chickens plucked and pink, resting on yellow polystyrene and wrapped up in a layer of plastic. And black chicken, too, which we puzzled over before asking an employee who spoke no English.
We entered another store. Near the back, a worker in a blue apron counted out live crabs, transferring them from one tall basket to another with long silver tongs. Thick slabs of fish, still wearing pink scales and immense tails stared at the ceiling. A man ran a hose over a duck, eye sockets empty, neck curled around its featherless body, legs extended as if in flight. Frogs as big as my hand, blue-green and beady-eyed awaited their doom in a ten-gallon tank. The floor was wet with melting ice and fish scales and runoff from the duck. Behind the display glass were cod and tilapia, clams and scallops and shrimp.
I wanted to stay here forever, watching the employees at work, watching the customers come in to buy a pound of salmon or a bag of mussels gathered up in a yellow mesh bag. But the race had already started.
We positioned ourselves with hundreds of other spectators near City Hall, the halfway point of the race where Broad curves to the right. The first runners--the best runners--were already streaming past, snapping photos, asking us to cheer even louder than we were.
To my right, the line of approaching runners filled Broad as far as I could see.
We saw runners--males and females--in tutus. Runners in Superman shirts. Runners wearing red socks in support of Boston. There were old runners, young runners, runners of all shapes and sizes and colors. From the sidewalk, spectators held signs and extended their hands for high-fives, strangers touching strangers in gestures of goodwill.
We saw runners from the six-o-five train; runners carrying American flags on three-foot poles; runners wearing rabbit hats in honor of Orthodox Easter. And we saw, too, runners wearing sombreros and painted-on mustaches for Cinco de Mayo.
Music blasted across speakers: Sweet Caroline; Gimmie Three Steps; a song by Ted Nugent.
We saw my daughter and cheered. She looked great and I was glad, so glad, that she'd decided not to pull from the race. She waved and then she was past.
We didn't want the camaraderie to end. We decided to walk with the racers, to see what they saw as they ran down Broad.
A runner ran off course and into a store, running out again a few moments later to rejoin the race with a bottle of water and a bag of food. A homeless man sang along to the oldies a band was playing, one hand over his heart, eyes closed. Another man pumped a frilly red umbrella in the air. Volunteers held out water and Gatorade which the runners drank quickly before smashing the cups beneath their feet.
As we reached mile seven, the runners thinned. Only stragglers remained. A little girl in a white dress held out a plate of oranges to a woman, obviously exhausted. A man played a plastic horn, his dog at his feet. Cheerleaders jumped and twirled while children played tag in the middle of the street.
Six people grasped hands and formed a bridge under which these last runners could pass. And each one did.
Patients stood outside the hospital, cheering on the runners. Singers gathered on the steps of the Baptist church, singing gospel music and swaying slightly.
People yelled encouragements: "Almost there" and "You can do it" and I loved the fact that these last runners were celebrated just as much as the ones who had already finished and were heading back towards us, medals around their necks.
At that moment, I loved the city.
I loved the crowds and the noise.
I loved forty thousand runners and hundreds of spectators.
I loved the police and the firemen and the volunteers handing out drinks.
I loved the boys drinking margaritas from green Silo cups.
I loved the girl hitching a ride back to the starting line in a delivery bike.
I loved Chinatown and City Hall.
But most of all, I loved the fact that that day, Philadelphia was truly a city of love--love and support in a city of strangers.