I have this theory about how Philadelphia is immune to disaster.
Stick with me for a minute.
No seismic activity. Relatively far away from potential tidal waves and protected from hurricanes. We’re not known for forest fires or mudslides, and despite our utter flatness occasional floods are minor. It doesn’t get too oppressively hot and the biggest challenge in our snow storms is waiting for the city to send plows. We’re relatively drought- and famine-proof, as modernized cities go, and NYC and DC are preferable targets for terrorists and rogue nuclear missiles.
Really, the closest we come to city-wide disaster is one of our sports teams winning a championship. Otherwise, short of OCD Godzilla bursting free from my chest to tramp around Center City, it’s a pretty safe place to live.
So, of course we move out of the center of the city to the fringes and within the first week there’s a tornado on our block.
Yes, day six as homeowners, tornado.
That is only vaguely an exaggeration. It wasn’t officially a tornado, and it was actually on pretty much every block adjacent to our new one while leaving us untouched.
I witnessed a portion of the storm from my office window, and it looked sufficiently deadly – I saw it blowing things clear off the gated roof of an adjacent building before my view was reduced to a foggy blackout. However, when I left, Center City looked no worse for the wear.
My new neighborhood was a different story. My bus stopped a mile short of our house in traffic snarled by dark traffic lights.
I disembarked and began a muggy hike back to my home. About a mile out from our house I started to see down tree branches. Then it was downed tree limbs, taking some power lines with them.
By the time I was a block away it was entire trees – trunk, roots, and all, upended ass over end to be splayed rudely across well-groomed lawns. Entire blocks of entire trees, the entire landscape denuded by mother nature.
To say I was nervous when I approached our house would be an understatement. I was obsessing over the huge tri-trunked tree that shades our patio, and how any of its trio of arms could go crashing through the roof to destroy my collection of guitars and recording equipment, now located in one conveniently destructible place.
My heart sank when I turned onto my street a block below our house, only to find it completely blocked off by the arboreal carnage.
Having lived in the absence of disaster for nearly three decades, to me the sight was fantastical – as if my block had experienced some sort of wizarding dual, the debris glinting with hints of magic in the afternoon sun.
I navigated around it with great care, emerging on the other side to regard a pristine, untouched block stretching beyond the mess.
I raced the remaining distance to my house but, like the rest of our block, it was unmolested – no downed trees, no holes in our windows from golf-ball-sized hail. The only evidence of a storm my neighbor described as sounding “like a freight train passing by” was a dusting of shredded leaves on our lawn and our power, out.
We dodged a bullet – a house on the next block had its gutters shredded by downed trees, while a few streets over a massive branch decimated the windows of an SUV. A co-worker lost all of the power lines to his house to trees.
Us, we just lost our innocence – no longer protected from disaster by Philly’s impregnable grid of row homes, and now inclined to worry about the state of our house after every storm.