One day in Philadelphia: 24 hours of life in the city

PW spent the first day of summer documenting the sights and sounds we all too often take for granted.

By PW Staff
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jul. 23, 2013

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On the cover: Burlesque dancer Lefty Von Blitz at Ruba, 10:19 pm (All photos by J.R. Blackwell)

Noon, Friday, June 21, 2013: City Hall
A kid wails so loud that his cries bounce off the smooth white marble of the City Hall plaza, and who can blame him: It is hot. Today’s the first day of summer, and already even the robed man who shouts nonstop about Israel on the plaza across the street has been silenced by the need to chug a bottle of ice water. Workers grab a sandwich from the bahn mi truck and sit down at the small tables in the northeast corner, where a line of American flags stick up out of the mulch. A young woman in office dress notices two of the flags have keeled over; she gets up from her potato chips, walks over, picks them up and pushes them down into the dirt. “I’m sorry,” she calls back to her friend at the table, “but that was bothering me.”

Inside a room on the second floor, Charmaine sits in an empty office that, like most of City Hall, looks teleported from a gritty cop show circa 1986. It’s a sad room. People come here to appeal various kinds of cases, like when they’re losing their house. Charmaine says only a specific few of the people who come here are conspicuously happy: the ones coming by to pick up divorce records. “They’re happy to get those,” she laughs.

Meanwhile, two stories below, visitors to the City Hall art gallery stumble upon something they never knew they wanted: a giant sleeping bag painted like a fish. The fish bag is part of the current gallery show featuring 12 local emerging artists. To the right of the fish hangs a delicate fabric installation created by Dot Vile, musician Kurt Vile’s sister. To the left is a collection of ceramics including a vase etched with the Philadelphia skyline. Etched into the clay beneath the buildings, the artist gives wise counsel to people passing in and out of Charmaine’s office: “Stay where you are tolerated.” —Tara Murtha

12:35 pm Friday: Kimmel Center — the first citywide “Make Music Philly” celebration

1 p.m., Friday: Giraffe habitat, Philadelphia Zoo

“Gus is not shy,” Kimberly Schmidt says, as the large giraffe wraps his 17-inch long tongue around the leafy honey locust branch in her hand. Gus yanks back with his powerful neck, raking the leaves off with his teeth. The zookeeper maintains a strong grip—a skill she’s mastered: “The giraffes are like, ‘Hey, I want that.’” —Jared Axelrod

2:05 p.m., Friday: Ants Pants Cafe, 22nd & South streets
There’s something about South 22nd Street, as you walk north to South Street, that borders on bourgeois but doesn’t rub it in your face; the residents are an affable blend of those who’ve made a little money in their 20s and rent something modest, and the vanguard of older Philadelphians who’ve been watching their property values go up for decades. Then you hit South, where the window at Ants Pants Cafe looks out at two arch indicators of the younger crowd: the Performance Bicycle shop, and a sandwich board noting that today’s special is bacon horseradish cream cheese. (Ah, bacon—your ironic appeal sizzles eternal.) Inside, the long-familiar staff engages in friendly banter; when a customer asks if they’ve seen the new Miley Cyrus video, as he’s just read a Jezebel essay about cultural appropriation, the owner pipes up: “I heard it’s crazy! She’s twerking in it, right?” Yep. —Bill Chenevert

2:15 p.m., Friday: Old City walking tour
Led by two very excited little drummers, a colonial-themed, all-ages walking tour makes its way from the Gilbert Stewart House, across from Independence Hall, over to the Second Bank of the U.S.—where an actor playing Colonel Daniel Morgan instructs “Washington’s Army” (the kids) to line up on one side of the walkway and “well-wishers” (the adults) on the other. And then things start to get weird: Once the mouths of the pint-sized soldiers have been inspected for at least two working teeth, they’re deemed fit for battle and armed with wooden rifles. Barely able to stand still, let alone up-straight-with-their-hands-at-their sides, the adorable squad of misfits listen, sort of, as Col. Morgan gives a lesson in Antique Weaponry 101. They lock; they load; they aim at the people who gave them life, and then they fire. Surprise, surprise: Toddlers aren’t the greatest marksmen. Still, their parents don’t appear even the slightest bit concerned that there’s a strange man in tights instructing their children how to operate a firearm, or that they’re the ones in the crosshairs. They just keep clicking away with their cameras. What the hell kind of revolution is this? —Nicole Finkbiner

3:44 p.m., Friday: Germantown High
The last bell at Germantown High has rung, and there’s nobody sticking around any longer at this point to be sentimental; one last teacher loads her potted plants into her car, and that’s about it. A wastebasket stands at the foot of the school’s stairs, filled with the parting goodbyes of a century-old institution interrupted one year shy of 100: a floral-print tote bag, the box a bicycle helmet came in, an empty Sunkist can, and a stack of papers that may not be finals, but are decidedly final.

4:13 p.m., Friday: Street fountain, Second and Lombard streets
As a cluster of timed spouts shoot water skyward, a sporadic parade of toddlers in swimwear and street clothes scatter across the basin, splashing through streams, laughing, shouting, stomping their little, sandaled feet over the sunburst pattern of orange, aqua and blue mini-tiles. Meanwhile: “Good things come to those who wait,” sings the Tickle Bombs’ honey-voiced Shane Walsh, elongating the final word into “way-yate.” It’s a welcome sentiment, as a row of posh, mostly black strollers sit parked in the sun like limousines, their exhausted drivers dutifully manning the periphery as their tiny passengers dart through intermittent water jets and tend to the melted ice-cream goop disintegrating in their sticky, dimpled hands. But though the Tickle Bombs may have top billing this hour—as part of the debut installment of a summer-solstice-themed DIY performance festival called Make Music Philly—as far as the babies are concerned, this fountain is the star of today’s show. “I want some ice cream, please!” begs a shirtless dark-haired tot in kelly green swim trunks dotted with whales. His white-haired grandpa’s eyes narrow into a quick, ice-blue stare. His response is more warning than suggestion: “Take a breath, bud.” —Kenya Beverly

5:46 pm Friday: Broad Street — fans line up for pop star J. Cole’s signing at FYE

6:21 p.m., Friday: Homeless crowd, Logan Square

It tough to get to know someone in an hour—especially if he doesn’t want to talk to you. Here in Logan Square, across the street from the Philadelphia Family Court, above the Vine Street Expressway, I’m talking to a guy who won’t tell me his name. He’s homeless, just like everyone else here. The difference, he says over the piercing sounds of wind and car engines, is that he’s an illegal immigrant who’s been in Philadelphia for the past three years. He’s bald, gray, sports a beard and didn’t jump the fence or sneak into the country via payoffs for a menial labor job. He’s actually from central Europe—something I don’t doubt due to the strong accent on his breath. He says his birthplace borders Italy, but when I name every country fitting that description, he says no: he’s not from there.

Does he work? No. He can’t. He doesn’t have ID or a social security card. And he hates that he has to stay where he does. He’s here because that’s where the food and clothing drop-offs are, he notes as he pulls on his brown sweatshirt and purple velvet pants.

When food arrives, paper-bagged, he moves away from me and the park’s two dozen other homeless residents to eat. I attempt to pick up the conversation after he’s thrown away his empty bag; all he says is that he’s not excited to go to sleep here tonight. “Drugs,” he says, pointing to the general crowd of people camped around the park. “All drugs at night.” —Randy LoBasso

7 p.m., Friday: Kimmel Center
Groups of women chitchat and giggle as they form a line and walk past a table offering chocolate penis lollipops, furry handcuffs and a lipstick “massager.” Seems an odd selection to be on sale next to the concession stand at the Kimmel Center, home to the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Pennsylvania Ballet. Four girls wearing tight spandex dresses and heels stand next to a group of middle-aged woman holding a doggie bag from Maggianos; Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back” blasts through the speakers as three 60-ish women settle into their seats. The room is awash with a sea of females—and 10 or so hapless men who have been presumably duped into seeing Spank, tonight’s theatrical parody of the pop BDSM novel Fifty Shades of Grey. As the lights go down, a man’s shadow appears on stage, gyrating to the sounds of “Tainted Love” and performing one-handed push-ups; the audience duly transforms into a group of cats in heat, whistling, screaming and begging for more. Our female narrator emerges and sets the scene: We’re here to make fun of the explicitly erotic scenes and characters of the hugely popular trilogy that has topped best-seller lists around the world and sold more than 70 million copies. The audience roars as she eviscerates the book, pointing out how silly we all are to believe such a story could actually exist: “I mean, whose real name is Anastasia?” —Anastasia Barbalios


7:12 pm Friday: stadium lot — tailgaters chow down between the Phils and the Stones


8:02 p.m., Friday: BLO/OUT blow-dry bar
One by one, step by step, the words come clearer into view. It’s a fairly wide staircase by Philly rowhome standards. Someone knew there’d be stilettos.


Totally unassuming from the outside—no street-level presence—the second floor of the hair salon tells a different story. Hot pink iPads line the walls, showcasing the many styles available: “The Blair offers up sexy, loose curls”; “The Billie gets your short hair in a messy and hot type of mood.” The trim—hot pink, obviously—perfectly complements the chandeliers and gray damask wallpaper. Sophisticated but comfortable. Modern but warm. It is Narnia for girly girls, but there is nothing gaudy here. It’s just pretty.

“Do you mind if I tease it a little?” A young woman peers up from her vanilla coffee. Her hair, expertly curled in just a manner of minutes, is big. Like Delta Burke/Designing Women big. “Please, by all means,” she says to Erin, her BLO/lita for the evening. She is pleased with the Savannah (“big hair and a Southern belle look”). She is a native Texan, after all.

There is teasing everywhere. Shampooing, curling, hairspraying. Mostly hairspraying. And more teasing. The other BLO/litas are all busy tending to a bachelorette party. Mentally, the girls are somewhere else. They dare not look up from their phones. These texts cannot wait. Where are you? How long will you be? Can’t wait. No one’s really laughing—or talking. Because right now, in these precious moments before the body shots and the smeared mascara and the shameless flirting? Right now is down time. Alone time. It is their time. The boys can wait. They will wait. Would you like more champagne? Yes. —Nina Hoffmann

10:35 p.m., Friday: 16th & Chestnut streets
Quoth the passing 20-something: “No, I just read Wikipedia when I’m bored.”

10:56 p.m., Friday: Northern Liberties — burlesque diva Lil’ Steph wows onlookers at Ruba

11:12 p.m., Friday: City Hall SEPTA Station, Center City

“That’s real fucked up! Why would you say something like that to me?” yells the larger of the two young women waiting together for the westward-bound trolley. Her companion’s just as angry, just as linebacker-aggressive: “Kiss my muthafuckin’ ass! With the skin pulled back!” Some bystanders begin shuffling awkwardly once the voices start to rise, finding the sudden need to peruse a bag’s contents or bury their nose in one of the newspapers strewn on the ground like discarded beliefs. Several teenage boys, on the other hand, are unsure whether to merely continue gawking, or to start filming the pair with their smartphones. “I’m not ever gonna touch a fucking female!” the first woman shouts. “I like dick!” The two get louder and more brutal, their shrill cacophony reverberating within the station’s caverns. “Bitch, what the fuck you talking about? I didn’t touch your nasty ass! Get the fuck outta here!” Soon their voices are crossing over one another: “Your attention-thirsty ass. And you’re supposed to be my cousin?” “I am your cousin, bitch! Which is why I can’t believe you’d think I’d touch you!” Nine profanity-riddled minutes later, the 13 trolley to Yeadon arrives. And the women, apparently as tired of arguing as they are of each other, calm down, joining the parade of impatient local commuters as they pack themselves into its rear door. —K.B.

Midnight, Saturday, June 22, 2013: Rumor nightclub
1 white Bentley arrives, drops off 4 exotic females in tight dresses
5 bouncers check IDs and decide who’s a VIP
2 girls in Toms stand in line wearing sweaters and cropped jeans
25 steps take you down to 3 rooms boosting house, hip-hop and dance music
21 skirts too short to be worn outdoors
2 breakdance circles
10 leopard-print dresses flash in the strobe lights
1 bachelorette party
3 guys wearing ties
11 people on their cell phones
4 couples might be making babies on the dance floor
17 dejected dudes hug the wall
1 group of white boys enthusiastically rap along to DMX
10 single-stall bathrooms (with 1 latex-glove-wearing cleaning lady directing traffic)
1 doting boyfriend holds his girl’s purse
2 cop cars wait just outside

12:50 am, Saturday: Race Street underpass
The underside of an I-95 overpass is a very odd thing to try to beautify with a light show. But there it is, at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge on Race between Second Street and Columbus Boulevard: not one, not two, but three distinct sets of lights holding the concrete’s industrial darkness at bay. First is the LED digital river in the air over Race Street, a furiously binary stream of fluid flashes like unto the Matrix made reality—an up-to-the-moment vision of life in the future. Then, as you walk under the highway—a roaring train zooming overhead, visible through the cracks in a ten-ton parody of “Under the Boardwalk”—you see the array of slowly shifting colored spotlights against the oddly clean metal-mesh wall; it looks like nothing so much as a misplaced block of EPCOT’s shiny tomorrow of the 1970s. And then, the I-95 Rubicon crossed, the Ben Franklin’s pillar looms, two six-foot-tall electric lanterns embedded 15 feet up the massive wall in front of the chiseled MCMXXVI, reminding us that once upon a time, our vision of the future was one of such world-shiftingly useful things as “We shall cross this mighty river in minutes”—a goal well worth illuminating. More so than “Let us light the path to the Penn’s Landing parking lot?” Well, maybe. But big triumphs lead inexorably to littler ones. —S.H.S.

1:31 a.m., Saturday: 15th & Spruce streets
“Hey, man, need some Dove? Three Dove for a dollar? … Help a homeless man out. … Won’t anyone help a homeless man out?”

3:00 a.m., Saturday: 65th Street & Woodland Avenue
Lights flash atop a mess of police cruisers as a tow truck mounts a black SUV that’s just been at the center of what looks like an arrest. There’s a long line of people outside the 24-hour fried-food takeout storefront on the corner a block away. The patrol cars and vans are plentiful; one van actually bumps down the trolley-tracked road with its back doors wide open, swinging back and forth. An ambulance pulls up next to an angry, disheveled man; a shorts-sporting medic gets out and screams back and forth with the man, telling him to get in. “I didn’t call no taxi cab,” the man screams at the medic. Another medic, who’d been in the driver’s seat, gets out of the van. He’s bigger. The man gets into the back, begrudgingly. —R.L.

3:08 am Saturday: South Street — a parking kiosk burns

5:11 a.m., Saturday: Sunrise

5:17 a.m., Saturday: 30th Street Station

A redcap in glasses takes the public-address microphone. He does not announce a train delay. Instead, in a deep voice, he begins singing. “Happy birthday to you,” he croons, gesturing expansively toward the petite police officer who’s been walking the train station beat, “happy birthday to you.” She begins laughing and shakes her head. “Happy birthday, Misty Seger—happy birthday to you!” Patrol Officer Seger continues on her rounds, smiling, as the redcap, Jeff, finishes, stepping away from the schedule board toward the empty food court. “What a day,” he sighs. It started with his fifth-grader’s graduation from elementary school, and it’s going to wrap up this morning with one last train before the graveyard shift’s done. —S.H.S.

7:30 a.m., Saturday: Sweet Freedom Bakery, South Street
Just past the counter full of wrapped desserts, visible between the coffee pots and hotplates, a black hat bobs back and forth, a follow-the-bouncing-ball pointing straight to the skinny young man who’s baking away beneath it. Blazing oven heat fills the room with the smell of crisping vanilla cakes, as Ryan Hatt drops balls of goopy batter into cups with an ice cream scoop. He’s efficient as a machine: The ingredients are so strategically placed, little movement is needed as the baker whips his arms up, down, and over —and over, and over. Two girls enter, begin unwrapping cookies and pastries to be placed neatly on display; Evanescence streams quietly in the background as the bakers giggle, tease each other, then start tending to orders. —Manon Braciszewski

7:42 a.m., Saturday: Dexter Anh Coin Laundry, Allison Street & Lansdowne Avenue
What kind of man would I be if I lived unfaithfully? And what kind of what girl would you be if you did the same? Stokely Williams’ questions blare out of a scuffed-up radio blasting Old School 100.3 atop a jumbo washer in the center row. An older woman in faded denim petal pushers and an Army green baseball cap gathers a load of clothes from the dryer across from a heavy-set, 40-something mother wearing head-to-toe black—save her spotless, pink Nike slip-ons—who’s patiently waiting for her three loads of clothes to finish washing. Next to the front door, two ladies watch WABC’s weather forecast on an old-school set lodged onto the ceiling high above the first aisle of machines. The forecast notwithstanding, talk on TV, and in front of it, is dominated this morning by a single subject. “That bitch Paula Deen!” hisses one woman, her eyes tightening with rage underneath a brightly-colored head scarf. “She’s got the audacity to think ev’ryone’s s’posed to believe she used the word nigger only once, describing someone who’d put a gun to her head only? Get the fuck outta here. And even worse, that she didn’t understand how offensive, how utterly horrifying that whole ‘slave wedding’ thing was?”

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