When I announced a few months ago that I was moving to Philadelphia, several of you readers chimed in with excellent tips and suggestions. "Watch out for the potholes!" one said. "Be careful of the potholes!" said another. "You need to buy a gun," said a third.
Well, I've been here for a few weeks now, and I've realized that you were absolutely right. Not about the gun thing. I haven't bought a gun, largely because I suspect the paperwork process is more likely to kill me than an intruder. I base this statement on my experience getting a Pennsylvania driver's license, which involved two trips to the DMV, five forms of ID, and a series of stern looks from the woman who takes the license photos.
No, I'm talking about the roads. Now, I admit that I've taken out the Ferrari a few times, and it's always been an enjoyable experience. You'd know this if you followed me on Twitter, since I've posted a few photos of the Ferrari at various exciting locations in the Philadelphia area. But in general, this city isn't very Ferrari-friendly, and in today's column I'm going to attempt to explain exactly why this is. Here goes:
1. Traffic. Before I get started here, I want to point out that the traffic in Philadelphia is nothing compared to the traffic back in Atlanta. Philadelphians think they have it bad when they have to sit in traffic for 40 minutes at a time. Atlantans think they have it bad when people start erecting shantytowns on the side of the highway so they can get a good start on the morning commute.
The problem, therefore, isn't with traffic volume. It's about the type of traffic. Here's what I mean: in Atlanta, you drive along for a while and eventually you stop for a red light. Simple. In Philadelphia, you drive along for a while and you might stop for any number of reasons, including a taxi letting people out, or a truck making a delivery, or a horse-drawn carriage moving along at roughly the same speed as tree growth. And here's the thing: nearly every major street is both one way and one lane!
So you're cruising along, driving down a major downtown road, and all of a sudden, BAM! You're sitting behind a horse-drawn carriage, overhearing little snippets about how Ben Franklin didn't actually get struck by lightning when he did his key experiment, but he wishes he did, because then he wouldn't have to wait in his horse and buggy while Big Jim's Fresh Fish blocked the road to deliver a half a pound of cod to a local grocery store.
2. Road Quality. It's a universal truth that everyone thinks their particular location can claim the worst roads in the world. Truly: people from Michigan say this. People from California say this. People from Toronto say this. People from Europe say this. You could ask a hipster from Portland where the worst roads are, and he'd ponder it for a second, and stroke his beard while food particles fall out, and then he'd say "PORTLAND!" even though his sole method of transportation is a fixed-gear bike and he rides it on the sidewalk. But only one place can really claim to have the worst roads in the world, and that place is New Orleans.
In reality, Philadelphia roads aren't all that bad. You guys told me they'd be horrible, so I braced for the worst. And I recognize they've done a good job getting them back in shape since last winter. But they're not as bad as New Orleans, where you're driving down a nice, quiet residential street, and all of a sudden, BAM! You've fallen through the earth and everyone in China is staring at you.
Still, there are a few road quality issues: some potholes, some bumps, some rough patches. But the biggest problem is the cobblestone streets. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm going to tell you right now: you may think cobblestone is charming, and you may think cobblestone is cool, but you've never driven down a cobblestone street in an exotic sports car. Do that, and you won't be thinking much of anything anymore, aside from the obvious "I hope the doctors can re-attach my brainstem."
3. Cyclists. Honorable mention goes to the cyclists, who are – in general – the worst road users in the Philadelphia area. Seriously: you could steal a shopping cart from a local supermarket, bring it to the top of the Rocky steps, and ride it all the way down, and you'd still be engaging in a less dangerous activity than most of these people.
Cyclists in Philadelphia have little regard for traffic signals, pedestrian crossings, and stop signs. Now, this is also true in Manhattan, but the difference is that New York City cyclists seem to have years of skill and practice, and they're always darting along in this unusually precise manner where you know they just won't find themselves getting lodged under a bus. Whereas in Philadelphia, the only prerequisites for cycling seem to be a) zero knowledge of road rules, traffic laws, or the very canon by which our human society functions, and b) absolutely no fear of death. So you always have to be on the lookout, or else you might wind up with handlebars coming out of your eye socket.
In other words, Philadelphia is a difficult place to own a Ferrari. But I'm going to do it, dear readers, just for you. At least until this winter, at which point I'll consider something else; something that can really handle those cobblestone streets. Possibly a jackhammer.
@DougDeMuro is the author of Plays With Cars. He owned an E63 AMG wagon and once tried to evade police at the Tail of the Dragon using a pontoon boat. (It didn't work.) He worked as a manager for Porsche Cars North America before quitting to become a writer, largely because it meant he no longer had to wear pants. Also, he wrote this entire bio himself in the third person.