Broad Street is the longest straight street in America. At
least that's what Philadelphians tell their children. That's what
Bruce Buschel after he was born on Broad Street and his father died
on Broad Street and his mother worked at a nightclub on Broad Street.
Later, he went to college on Broad Street and sold cameras and bought
drugs on Broad Street. He worked at the Inquirer on Broad Street
and met his wife on Broad Street and then found out the street was
neither the longest nor straightest street in the country.
But it is the sagging spine of his dear Philadelphia.
Buschel returned to Philadelphia to walk the 13 miles of bad
road, from suburb to river, through the worst and best parts of town,
through the slums and the gentrification, past the theaters and the
sports arenas, right through City Hall. He intertwines his own history
with the city's and discovers how everything stays the same even at
is changes. He talks to an old Italian tailor who lives down the corner
from a Chinese Mennonite pastor. He stops by the Jewish funeral home
across the street from Bilal, the Muslim restaurateur. He finds
livestock on Broad Street just a few steps from Joe Frazier's gym.
And the newly dubbed "Gayborhood" is just a stone's throw from the
home of the heartbreaking Eagles. A world-class ballet rehearses at
the Rock School while outcast rockers practice at the Paul Green
School. The gas station attendant on Broad Street may be a recent
immigrant, but he has already adopted the brusque manners of a
fourth-generation native. Naturally, William Penn oversees the whole
gloriously insecure mess from his perch atop City Hall.
Philadelphia is America's smallest big city or America's biggest
small city and surely America's most American city. Wedged between
the hustle of New York and the power of Washington, it suffers a
series of complexes and insecurities. It used to the nation's capital,
the industrial hub, the music headquarters. Then it fell into hard
times that lasted a half century.
Then came 9/11, and Americans were magically drawn to Philly's authenticity and history. The city is in flux. Happily depressed
locals are trying to adjust to Funkydelphia.
Buschel went home to find out what was happening on the street,
the main street, Broad Street. It's exactly the same as it always
was. And totally different.