The rain fell in torrents as I headed down the New Jersey Turnpike, but the clouds parted almost on cue as I approached Philly.
The temple of Geno's was my first stop.
"Gimme a wiz wid'out" (Translation: May I please have a cheese steak with Cheez Whiz, and please hold the onions, if you would.)
As I sat down to eat, two youngish priests were chatting at the next table. One was from a Pennsylvania parish, the other visiting from India.
The Pennsylvania priest was telling the Indian priest about what he thought the differences were between Philadelphia and other parts of the country.
"Here," he said with a sweep of his hand, "people will ignore you in the street. They won't make eye contact, they won't exchange pleasantries."
"That's because we can spot the tourists," I chimed in, my freshly purchased souvenir Geno's Steaks T-shirt displayed prominently atop my table.
The American priest gave a curt, polite laugh pregnant with meaning, and he and his friend continued eating in silence.
I don't know, but in the 10 years I lived in Philadelphia, from 1985-95, I never found the place particularly aloof or unfriendly. Yeah, some days it was the City of Brotherly Love, other days it was the City of Brotherly Shove (to quote Gil Scott-Heron), but on the whole it wasn't that bad. I mean, it wasn't the Soviet-era East Germany the American priest was making it out to be.
I felt bad about my off-the-cuff, unsolicited comment to the priest. So, I finished my cheese steaks (I ate two and bought one to take home), walked up to the Indian priest and gave him my poly-bagged T-shirt. "Here, please take this as a memento of your visit to Philly," I said.
His face beamed. "But I have nothing to give you," he said.
"But you already have: the smile on your face," I said.
I knew fences had been mended when his friend said with a smile that would melt granite, "God bless you."
***Fully sated by my cheese steaks and side order of humble pie, I headed to the home of Gerald "Ski" Evans, who taught me karate from 1993-95 and who has been my treasured friend and mentor ever since.
As always, going to see Ski isn't just something to do. It's an event. A special event.
We talked about life and its challenges and blessings, as we nearly always do, and after we took a break while he taught a karate class, we headed back to his house and chatted some more over Scotch, even though I'm not much of a drinker.
I'm all for change in my life and for trying to embrace it as graciously and gracefully as I can. But I'm also thankful for certain rocks of continuity, chief among them Ski.
***You can watch 1970s-vintage video of Ski in competition in Japan. Just do a Google search using the terms "Gerald Evans," "karate" and "youtube."