As you walk along Columbus Boulevard after sunset, you are greeted by bar bouncers waiting to check IDs, adults who wish to be kids again as they gallop into Dave and Buster’s, hibachi goers who cannot wait to get happy water squirted into their mouths by shrimp-tossing, egg-juggling hibachi experts, and perhaps some seagulls atop a marina which sits under a color-changing Ben Franklin Bridge. And then you might stop with your significant other and take a look at the Delaware River, separated by a fence that protects you from those murky waters, and constrains you from the other life that lies within: boat life. I’m not talking about the Spirit of Philadelphia, the Moshulu, or those other dinner cruises. I’m talking private boats, with owners who spend their free time riding out on the river at their leisure or just using their boats to get away. To get through the gates where these boats are docked, you need a key, or you need to know someone. Beyond that, Philadelphia nightlife becomes more than people happy to see strangers, it becomes a community. Like a neighborhood on land, the boats provide neighbors. Some who are temporary, traveling around the world, and others who remain.
A pilot by trade, Jim Guest has known boats since he was 8 years old. Since relocating for work from Florida to Philadelphia with his wife, Wendy, Jim needed to bring his Florida lifestyle to Philly, so he took his boat along with him, and he keeps it docked on the waterfront. Jim, when not flying to “Rome or Paris or Tel Aviv,” can be found enjoying dinner on a private patio by his boat.
He says, “I’ve been on boats all my life.” Jim’s boat is like a house, which he says, “[Y]ou can move […] if you don’t like your neighbors.” With a washer and dryer, he can do laundry; a dishwasher eliminates plastic silverware, three private bedrooms leave room for naps, and three bathrooms give space to clean up. It must be nice to fall asleep to a boat that Jim says, “kind of wiggles from time to time since you are on the water.” Being on the water in downtown Center City has some of the most expensive views. Jim and his wife get to see all of them. A Philly.com article announced in October 1986, “The Benjamin Franklin Bridge Lighting Project has selected designer Steven Izenour to illuminate the Delaware River span that has become a trademark on Philadelphia’s skyscape.” That trademark is the Ben Franklin Bridge. On the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve, the bridge lights up with special holiday colors. “Yesterday was the 250th anniversary for Rutgers,” Jim adds, “So in honor of that, they had the whole bridge lit up in red lights.” When the Eagles play, green and white lights can be seen on the bridge. In addition to the bridge lights, with a property near the water, Jim says, “You get to take in all the sights the city has to offer like the shows, concerts, fine dining, and the Penn’s Landing Waterfront.” But, Jim explains, “Everything is a tradeoff.” With “great views […] everything that’s on your boat has to be trucked in or trucked off.” Unlike a house, Jim’s boat is “more exposed to weather conditions.”
According to Dave and Buster’s Manager Tom Meunier, the Philadelphia Marine Center has been around since 1994, when Dave and Busters on Columbus Boulevard began entertaining. Tom provides that summer brings more business to him since the next door “marina is 100 percent full,” especially on weekends. He informs that being on the boats in the winter is tough because from, he believes, “November 1 to March 1, the water gets turned off. “People are forced to use the marina facilities,” he says. The center’s facilities, like the showers, bathrooms, locker rooms, and laundry rooms, are the largest of the two Philadelphia marinas. The only other marina in the Philadelphia area is at Penn’s Landing. As the largest marina in the area, according to Jim, the marina “as a whole is an attraction for people who haven’t experienced it. If you look into the city of Philadelphia, you see highrise, highrise, highrise, condominium, condominium, condominium. So that’s the norm,” Jim points out. The two marinas make the city unique. Pat Cahill, who works for the marina, sees families with children, singles, and professional using the boats. For some, their offices are close, and others live nearby. “It’s a central location to Philly nightlife,” Pat adds, “It’s a very diverse customer base.” Besides “petty stuff,” like trespassing, Jim and Pat confirm that crime around the boats does not happen. Pat says that people have jumped fences and stolen personal items inside the boats or hanging off of them. But security, on 24 hours a day, “runs people off,” Jim says. Based off of a 60 Minutes survey, most people prefer planes and cars as a means of transportation. Jim, however, says his boat is his toy. “Boats are a lifestyle for a minority,” Jim says, “People are excited and inquisitive about the boats.” Especially this one “homie looking guy” who Jim once caught “stealing beer out of [his] refrigerator.”