In the Bright Metropolis, from Gregory Isaac

I think it’s a little uncommon for most actors to move around the country as often as I have.  Philadelphia is the fourth city I've called home during my career.  Though I have been very fortunate to find relatively steady work everywhere I’ve been, it is still a more difficult path to follow, because you have to start over in each new place.  I generally do not recommend it to my peers.

However, it has afforded me the opportunity to live in four major, gorgeous, vibrant cities during my career.  They each have had such unique personalities.

Atlanta is where I grew up, and because it’s the place I knew before I knew anywhere else, it is, in many ways, hardest for me to quantify.   I knew two Atlantas: the city proper inside the I-285 perimeter, and the Metro area outside that big loop.  I lived in both, but no matter which you are in, driving is still a major part of your experience.  There are no geographical boundaries to contain or corral the sprawl, so every place seems far flung from every other, and the only way you're getting there is to drive.  So, the traffic is a real thing in Atlanta.  Everyone spends blocks of time in their car, and I think it can be an isolating experience.  Atlanta grew so much while I lived there, the population has boomed, and one of the primary places where all those people interact is on the miles and miles of paved drive-space. But the real Atlanta is still there, it's just tucked away in all the pockets of the city (and suburbs) that you find after you traverse the asphalt connective tissue and then get out of your car.  The 45-year-old open air sandwich hut on the east side of Piedmont Park; the court square of downtown Newnan, Ga. (which is 30 miles southwest of the Atlanta Airport); the Fernbank Science Center off Ponce De Leon Avenue; Little Five Points, which is still an epicenter of the local culture.  If you have the patience to get there, Metro Atlanta is dense with places you'd like to be, and even though it's grown into an urban mecca, the southern hospitality is just as pervasive as the endless traffic.

Chicago is a glorious, proud, loud, blip of urbanity which is surrounded by a whole lot of absolutely nowhere at all.  If Atlanta is spread far and wide, Chicago is kind of its opposite, with all of the accountable humanity crowding as close to the shores of Lake Michigan as possible, with the "Loop" as its gravitational epicenter.  Chicago gets a lot of credit for its glorious architecture, but I always thought that, in reality, it's the lake that is the star of the show.  The main reason for all those glorious, tall buildings is just to create better views of the lake.  The east side thoroughfare isn't called "City Side Highway," it's called Lake Shore Drive.  When the lakefront is frozen over, everyone hibernates.  But for all those months when the lake is thawed and warm, the city goes outside - near the lake, if possible - and socializes, and parties, and exercises, and enjoys the lakefront and each other.  Chicago area traffic can be just as bad as Atlanta, but inside the city itself, a large number of people depend instead on the CTA and the "EL", so you encounter your neighbors in a much different way.  And it's a city of neighborhoods, one abutting right up against the next such that even the city limits themselves are blurry, and the next towns over snuggle right up against the city for a permanent nuzzle.  Chicago is also the city where I became both a runner and a bicycle commuter, and I now believe there is absolutely no better way to get to know and understand a place than to run or bike through it.

New York City is 8 million people in your face every time you step foot outside on the sidewalk—except, of course, on the weekdays, when commuters swell that number to 9 million.  NYC is tall building and narrow streets and a constant, steady strum of, just, things.  New York is everything you could almost ever want packed into a couple of islands between a few waterways, and any or all of it can be delivered directly to your front door by a weary-faced bicycle deliveryman virtually any time of the day.  I believed that living in Chicago would have prepared me for life in New York.  It did not.  New York sucks the energy out of you and doesn't even notice that you're there.  In my first months there, simple excursions to the grocery store were so draining that I had to follow up my trips there with long, comma-like naps.  It churns and pulses and pushes past you until, like any drug, it's hard to imagine your life without it.  But I confess, some of my favorite New York memories are the quiet ones: Biking to work over the Manhattan Bridge and up through Lower Man pre-dawn at 5am.  Summer evening dinners with neighbors on our Brooklyn rooftop.  The ocean beach in Jacob Riis Park on a weekday afternoon.  Perhaps you don't become a real New Yorker until you find those little magical things about the place that it feels like only you have noticed.  Though maybe that's a true-ism for any resident of any city.

And now, for the past three years, I've been enjoying and exploring Philly.  I adore the history here, and that it is still very present when you walk through the heart of Center City.  It's a lovely tangible thing.  I also am in awe of the city park system in Philadelphia. The Fairmount and Wissahickon parks are invaluable resources, and I may never finish exploring their gifts.  And it's still, in a lot of ways, a walking city.  I think that fosters a kind of social interactivity which is hard to come by in many other places.  And because the business and residential areas of Philly aren't so removed from each other, it feels like we all get to know each other's routines and patterns in a unique way that fosters a strong sense of community, while still offering opportunities for escape and solitude.

I hope I get to stay in Philly for a long time yet to come, (I feel like I might have finally landed in exactly the right place at exactly the right time in my life), but if for some reason the road carries me on to somewhere else, I will, at least, look forward to discovering that new place and the ways in which it connects the people that call it home.

Pick-up photoshoot with Gregory Isaac for  Hope and Gravity . Photo by Tyler Melchior.

Pick-up photoshoot with Gregory Isaac for Hope and Gravity. Photo by Tyler Melchior.