Welcome to Notes from Hel, Philly edition

    Blogger Helen Ubiñas today starts her exploration of the people of the Philadelphia region. “I like telling stories that might otherwise go unnoticed and untold,” she says.

    It’s been five months since I moved to Philadelphia.

    There’s a lot to get used to – Pennsylvania’s strange liquor laws, the variety, and calorie-blowing Philly-centric foods. All those neighborhood names.

    But the one thing that’s taken no time to embrace is how full this city is of characters and stories.

    I’ve always loved cities. There’s something about how anyone, no matter who they are or where they came from, can find their place in them. The wonderfully dramatic way life plays out on these concrete stages. They feel like home.

    I grew up in New York, mostly in the Bronx. I went to college in Boston. In the nearly 20 years that I was a reporter and columnist for the Hartford Courant newspaper, I covered people and places across the state of Connecticut. But I always returned to telling stories about everyday people, mostly in its capital city of Hartford.

    I like telling stories that might otherwise go unnoticed and untold.

    I like telling old stories in new ways. And, heads up, that probably means a story about Philly’s iconic cheesesteak in the near future.

    And sometimes – OK, lots of times – I like telling those stories that serve as a not-so-subtle reminder to politicians, and people who should otherwise know better, to do the right thing.

    And fine, I’m new here. But I’m telling you there are stories on every corner.

    On the corner of 16th and Market: the personable, if camera-shy, minister who said God called him there nearly 21 months ago to spread His word three times a day, five days a week, come rain or shine. The other day, he also told me God instructed him to shun publicity, and may not want me to write about him. But I’m currently in negotiations with the Big Guy on that one.

    On the corner of 17th and JFK Boulevard: the security guard and former corrections officer who is especially gentle with the homeless who wander into Comcast Center’s market from Suburban Station. He’s the same with the weary commuters he estimates he says “Good Morning” to a conservative 1,000 times a day.

    On the corner of 17th and Jefferson: the self-proclaimed one-man, card-carrying “Town Watch,’’ who told me he’s rigged his cane to take surreptitious photos of illegal activity in neighborhoods across the city that he then shares with police. When I asked an officer nearby if this guy was for real, he shrugged and said he’d heard crazier things in his 30 years on the force.

    And finally, for now, on the corner of American and Somerset: the community activist who barely escaped a life sentence when he was tried as an adult at the age of 16, and who next week is headed to Washington to hear oral arguments before the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of life without parole for minors convicted of murder.

    Like I said, stories everywhere. And I’m hoping to tell as many as I can. Right here. So check back often, and let me know what you think.

    Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

    Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal