About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

February 26, 2011

South Philly

I had a good time in Philadelphia. It struck me a bit like a big version Baltimore. And I like Baltimore. And I like big. So there you have it.

Hungry and roaming the Old City, not wanted to eat lunch in some Frat Bar that smelled like last night's beer, I remembered I have a friend from Philly. So I texted him: "In Philly. Where to eat lunch?" In seconds he replied, "Pats Steak, 9th and Wharton." So off we went.

I got nothing against cheesesteak, but as your city's signature food, it ain't all that. Nor does it compare to a Baltimore crabcake, a Chicago Hot Dog, or even a good New York slice of pizza (which is actually not that easy to find). Still, Pat's was just what the doctor ordered (if your doctor is drunk). The service was efficient. The cheesesteak was good. And I loved the hot peppers for the taking!

It also reminded me that in Baltimore I would sometime ordered a "chicken cheesesteak no cheese." It's just a chicken sandwich. But it always amused me to order a "cheesesteak" that contained neither.

Across the street was a competing store. I liked the presence of a police memorial.

And a memorial to police officer Daniel Faulkner, who was assassinated by Mumia Abu-Jamal.

Less to my liking is anti-immigrant sentiment reflected in a "plaque to a patriot" telling customers to speak English.

Now, at my computer, I see that this has been in the news a bit. Gino said: "If you don't speak English, how can you read the sign? If you do speak English, how is the sign offensive?" I'd bet money that Gino's great-grand parents didn't speak English when they came from Italy. And they faced discrimination. And now Gino is returning the favor. Anyway, luckily we weren't hungry so I didn't have to decide whether I wanted to give my money to Gino, who loves to wrap himself in the flag. Of course, the other way to stay warm on 9th street is make barrel fires.

You can't quite see the flames, or the smoke it caused at the start of the burn. This was strange... not because you don't much see barrel fires these days, but mostly because it actually wasn't cold. Anyway...

Back to speaking English... In all my travels I've seen seen a sign requesting me to order in the native tongue. If I could, I would. But I can't. And I'm in your country so thank you for treating me kindly while I fumble along in the language I do speak. Of course it's not their fault I don't speak their language. And yet they've still all been pretty nice to me.

Nativism does not equal patriotism. And this was near the menu selling "Freedom Fries."

Hey, it's 2011. Can't we all now admit that renaming french fries--a truly bizarre fit of anti-French hysteria in 2003--was perhaps the stupidest idea to ever come out of right-wing America?

First, let's leave aside the fact fries aren't particular french to begin with (unlike, say, the "National" Cherry Blossoms, which actually did come from Japan).

Second, let's also leave aside that fact that we owe a deep debt to France for our very independence (and also the Statue of Liberty). Just like they owe us for WWII--we've always had each others' backs.

What does perhaps matter is that when it came to the War in Iraq and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction, you know what? The French were right. We were wrong. We shouldn't have invaded Iraq!

Freedom fries... that kind of jingoist ignorant nonsense, "patriotism lite," resulted in a rush to a war that killed thousands of American soldiers. Wrap yourself in that.

More to our liking was the store that had 20 signs in all different languages welcoming customers. Even dirty Greeks like me.

Leaving politics aside, all this makes for a great neighborhood and a wonderful afternoon in South Philly.

They call the market a "curb market," which is just the kind of market I love. Everything is out on the sidewalk. You can walk down the street and see everything. Why don't we have more of them? It's a nice mix of stores: old-school Italian, new-school Italian, Mexican immigrant, some yuppie cafes, some hipster record stores, and around the corner tasty Vietnamese places lurk enticingly.

I like signs like this:
And a local man's hustle:

Back at beautiful 30th Street Station, I took me ages to figure out what this sign meant: "Amtrak Celebrates Black History Month in the North -- Waiting Room Located Behind Stairway 7."

Huh? Why not celebrate in the South? And I just know Amtrak is not celebrating Black History Month with a segregated waiting room behind track 7.

Anyway, after much thought and consternation, my wife told me it meant the "North Waiting Room." So I went there. There was no celebration.

Punctuation, people. It matters!


Marc said...

Next time you are coming down to Philly you need to give me a heads up and I'll show you where the locals eat. If you got a cheesesteak at Pats or Genos you got a tourist steak. There are a dozen better places within 3 blocks. Trust me, I can see my old apartment in your photos.

I can also set you up with an excellent CJ professor at Temple who specializes in US drug policy. Temple has some stellar criminologists.

Marc said...

Oh, also us locals hate Vento and his bullshit anti-immigration rallies. The reason you can even walk in that neighborhood without eating a bullet is because the Mexicans and Vietnamese turned it around. You want to cancel out his nativist crap walk a half block to the Rim Cafe at 9th and Federal. Rene is very eccentric French man who makes the best chocolate and coffee drinks this side of the Atlantic. Intoxicating personality who has some of Vento's "order in English" signs behind the counter for the irony. He probably speaks a half dozen languages.

PCM said...

Wish I had know.

We passed that cafe. Too bad we didn't stop. There were too many options.

Marc said...

There's always next time. You have my email.

hotrod said...

I always wonder what the English-only bunch plans to do with Puerto Rico.