The World Cafe is surrounded on two sides by elevated streets. The stage door is under an elevated rail track and mile long freight trains with graffiti covered containers stacked two high on the flat-beds clatter past at walking pace fifty feet overhead.
On the other side fifty-feet below street level the Shuylkill river cuts through the city flanked by an eight lane expressway and more rail tracks. The skyline is dominated by gigantic, shiny new Penn State University buildings. The scale of the place is overwhelming: none of this is familiar from previous visits to the city. I trust my phone to guide me across the Shuylkill and ten blocks east to Rittenhouse Square and a part of the city that operates at a scale that feels safe for an individual on foot and is a little less existentially challenging. Chicago and New York City seem to make sense as huge towns that don’t really relate to places you might visit in Europe. The Los Angeles area sprawls so massively that you just stop thinking about it as mile after mile of it passes on the freeway. But being dropped into an unfamiliar part of Philadelphia is a reminder of how many huge cities there are in North America.
Downtown, I line up for food at a very worthy looking ethical eatery on Chestnut Avenue and sidestep the extensive questionnaire that the people in front of me have to deal with to get a plate of food by ordering the ‘chef curated’ Spring Harvest bowl. The only query I have to fend is whether I want a protein with it. Not really understanding the question I decline and my curation is put together in front of me: quinoa and lentils; vegan ranch cucumbers (I briefly ponder WTF a non-vegan cucumber is but realise that it is the ranch dressing that is vegan); roasted asparagus with mint; roasted mushrooms and fingerlings (no idea); rosemary vinaigrette on the side—a lot of over-complication and fuss for a bowl of seasonal vegetables. On the walk back toward the World Cafe and find myself at the Good Karma Cafe. I order an organic double espresso and sit outside watching the traffic go by until sound check. Back at the stage door there is another endless train rumbling overhead.