People think they know what the Parker Spruce Hotel holds, but a night in a room there provides a clearer view.
Aw, come on, I say. Has anyone ever named a price for the Parker?
"No one's ever offered money," he says. "It's never gotten that far."
While many Philadelphians probably think of the Parker as the bottom of the pit, its exact location and relationship to the carny life on 13th Street aren't so easy to discern.
In my hours there I see none of the faces I spy at the Parker haunting the streets outside. But even some Philadelphians who've truly hit bottom shy from the hotel's halls.
Linwood Cook, a 44-year-old man who's staying at the Ridge Avenue Shelter, lost his home in a fire. "No offense to anyone," he says, "but I ain't never been no place like this. Some of these guys been here a long time, but I been here for three weeks, and I'm gonna get out."
From a window on North Broad Street men inside the shelter can be seen in the first floor's ward-like setting, lying down in roughly 80 beds with just enough room between them to place their feet. The Parker is well-known in these circles. Cook heard about the hotel shortly after he became homeless.
"I went over there," he says, "I saw some people smoking crack, and it looked like a trip from the fire to the frying pan. I didn't want to be there, neither. So I decided I'd take my chances with the system."
Carver and a manager, Betty Greenlee, say if any staffer smelled crack, they'd talk to the tenant. If the situation became chronic, they'd evict.
In my time at the Parker it seemed like a far better setting than a homeless shelter. And the quiet never stopped. But some time after midnight the smell of burnt matches wafted into the room, sulfur so strong it choked my throat and made me cough.
According to Sgt. Tom Leisner of the Philadelphia Police Narcotics Department, that's crack, and if the smell was strong enough to make me cough in a separate room, there must've been more than one person smoking. "One person hitting a pipe, it'll dissipate pretty quickly," says Leisner. "What you were smelling is probably several people in what the addicts would call a smoke room."
To those who already dislike the Parker, who look at its entrance and feel distaste for some of the people who come and go and linger on the sidewalk out front, such an episode will only confirm the worst of their suspicions.
"The Parker is kind of a running joke of our collective consciousness here," says Philadelphia Gay News editor Marco Baker. "The 13th Street Hilton."
On July 28 PGN reported on an alleged sexual assault by a 40-year-old West Philadelphia man, who lured a 19-year-old man to his room at the Parker with drugs and raped him twice at gunpoint.
Baker considers the Parker of a piece with other structures that remind Philadelphians of the past.
"There are certain iconic buildings," he says. "The Metro theater, the Botany 500 building and the Parker, which somehow don't get swept up in the condoization of Philadelphia and remain in this kind of development purgatory. You can tell it's a seedy place. You can see some wheeling and dealing going on with the hustlers in the area, but it doesn't seem to deter anyone from moving to the neighborhood."
Between 2 and 2:30 a.m. I leave my room at the Parker, walk the empty halls and then stand in front of the hotel, where I count the number of people who come inside and try to assess their condition.
Only one pair, arriving together, look at all like they've been drinking. Most walk with the eager stride of people happy to be home. Most of them, in grease-stained pants, with kitchen aprons slung over their shoulders, carrying plastic bags with their uniforms poking out of the top, bear some sign of who they are in this world.
Most of them are coming home from work.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
Election Day 2014: Tues., Nov. 4