Bob Sola can pinpoint the moment he started falling out of love. It was Dec. 19, 2006, and his girlfriend, Maureen Duffy, called him on the cell phone as he drove home from work to Fishtown.
"You're not going to believe this," she began.
The state Gaming Control Board had granted licenses to two casinos on the Delaware River. One, called SugarHouse, would be built six blocks from his house. The other, Foxwoods, would be six blocks from her house.
What were the odds on that?
Since then, Bob and Maureen have been experiencing the sort of revisionist view of their relationship with their city that you see in those trying to convince themselves they never really loved something in the first place.
"The traffic is getting to me," Bob said the other day. "I used to be able to stomach it. The litter. The crime. I can't imagine any other place where they'd allow anyone to put these casinos so close to people, where they'd have such utter disregard for the middle class."
Bob, soft-spoken and hulking at 6-foot-3, stood in the kitchen of the duplex he bought three years ago, with its long, deep backyard filled with twigs, leaves and regret.
"I have a vision for here, and it will be awesome," he said, pointing to where he'd like to see stone pavers, a picnic table and a small umbrella. "I just won't be living here."
Gone, baby, gone
He and Maureen are to be married in March. Instead of moving into either his place or hers, they're packing up their St. Joe's degrees, their good incomes (he's a middle school counselor in Berwyn; she's a medical writer at Merck), their dreams of children and community, and heading out of town. They're eyeing the suburbs.
Betrayed is the word Bob used over and over - betrayed by the courts, by the politicians, by the regulators, by the city and state.
"It's all been insulting," said Maureen. "We had no say from beginning to end."
Both are full Philly - from twins and rows to parochial school and St. Joe's. Bob, 35, grew up in Rhawnhurst, and moved to Merion Station after beginning his teaching job on the Main Line.
But Fishtown reeled him back in when he found himself at a Veterans of Foreign Wars hall watching the Eagles' Super Bowl appearance with some friends from St. Joe's Prep. He was charmed by the little streets and how the skyline seemed so close you could hit it with a snowball.
Then he discovered the pancakes at Sulimay's, the grilled pork and indie bands at Johnny Brenda's. A good place to be single, he figured.
Eight days after moving into his duplex, he spotted Maureen at North Third Street, having dinner with a friend. He liked her laugh.
Philly all the way
He walked away with the phone number of the 33-year-old, who came from Pennsport, where she lived in a rowhouse she bought from her grandmother.
Maureen is the one who's finding it harder to say goodbye.
At first, Bob was so happy to be in Fishtown that he didn't think of the casinos as a problem. But the more he read, the angrier he got.
First he thought about traffic. Already it takes him more than an hour to drive home from school.
"It started to dawn on me that there's nothing good about it. I'm worried about property crime, problem gambling, and 24-hour liquor licenses. I wouldn't feel I was making a responsible decision to raise a family here. When people drink and drive, they don't say, 'Oh, the school just let out here.' They just drive."
Every day the couple seems to have a new spot in mind - Lafayette Hill, Erdenheim, Havertown. He likes the way Media has a Main Street. Narberth would work if they could afford it.
"I'd love a place where kids can run around, have friends right down the street," he said.
Sounds a lot like their first love.
Daniel Rubin's column runs Mondays and Thursdays. Contact 215-854-5917 or firstname.lastname@example.org.