2009 has sucked. And we're just taking it.
Here are some thoughts that came to mind on the morning of Election Day, when a quick check of headlines revealed that SEPTA had been shut down by a sudden, surprise strike.
First: “At least it didn’t happen while the World Series was in town.”
Second: “Oh fuck!”
Third: “Jesus Christ. What else is going to happen?”
Because let’s face it: 2009 has been a shitty year for Philly. The closed schools, stranded commuters and Center City streets jammed with slow-moving but increasingly belligerent rush hour motorists were just the latest indignities in a year filled with them. And here’s the shame of it all: They might be robbing us of our fighting spirit.
Philly, I never thought I’d say this about you, but you’re acting like a bunch of pussies.
I get it, I really do. 2008 was a year of great promise. Mayor Nutter took office promising more than reform of perpetually corrupt City Hall—we’ve heard that one too many times to count—but also a city-sponsored flowering of the arts that might give Philly a chance to be known for something more than rude sports fans, Rocky and cheesesteaks. The year ended with the election of Barack Obama, made possible in large part by Philly voters who celebrated on our streets just as vigorously as if he were one of our own. And in between? A World Series championship, the first in 28 years. Sure, a recession was settling in and we knew it would suck a little bit, but nonetheless: Philly had swagger.
Now the only thing swagging is the tail between our legs.
Mayor Nutter’s hopes for a renaissance were dashed when he could barely keep the city’s pools and libraries open. We got a little too close to the “doomsday” budget for comfort—creating a summer of increasing anxiety about whether Philly would revert to some 1970s urban battlefield if we couldn’t pay the bills. Unemployment rose to the third-highest rate among the nation’s big cities. Then the SEPTA strike. And in the midst of it all, the Phils lost the World Series to the New York freakin’ Yankees!
What did we do about all of this? We bitched a little bit and complained a little more. Resigned ourselves to the idea that we are, after all, Philly. That sound you heard all over town last week? It was the deep sigh of an inferiority complex reasserting itself with a vengeance. You could see the thought bubbles forming over people’s heads: “Maybe we deserve second place.”
Nowhere was the sad sackery more apparent than during the Phillies’ season. In just about any other major league city, pitchers Cole Hamels and Brad Lidge would never have to buy another drink for what they accomplished in winning the 2008 championship. Here, though, the two men struggled through the summer and fans couldn’t throw them overboard fast enough. To be fair, though, Hamels brought some of the problems on himself by providing a growing mountain of evidence of his own wussiness—the widely mocked ad with his wife, Heidi, for Two Liberty Place, was a bad idea—culminating in his World Series whining that he was ready for the season to end. And when it did end, what did Phils fans do? Who knows? They didn’t break one goddamn thing. It’s like we’d given up.
Or take the SEPTA strike. The shock of it all enraged the city; it’s possible there has never been less sympathy for a union in this union town. On Friday, word got out that a Sunday rally was planned at SEPTA headquarters. On Twitter, you could see people spreading word and vowing to be there. It would be a dramatic expression, a sign that Philadelphians weren’t willing to sit by and just take it anymore.
Two protesters showed up. The phrase “impotent rage” came to mind. The assembled journalists were kind of embarrassed.
Again, to be fair, those two protesters had more stones than just about all the strikers. You could see pictures of picketers on Philly.com, but walking around the city—and walking was one of the few remaining options—they were next-to-impossible to find. A few of the liberal bloggers at Young Philly Politics complained the media wasn’t telling us more about the case for the Transport Workers Union, but the truth of the matter is that (aside from union chief Willie Brown) the people to make the case had disappeared. They might’ve earned back some solidarity if they’d taken to the streets and explained themselves to the thousands of passing commuters making long walks to work. Instead, they hid.
That’s what we’re doing in Philly these days. We’re hiding. We’re waiting on Harrisburg for permission to fix ourselves. We’re accepting defeat. We’ve become Mayor Nutter, taking insults—like “Little Caesar”— and calmly accepting it in public. We’re not punching people in the face for messing with us; we’re not spitting in their eye for looking at us the wrong way. We’re wussing out.
Sometimes our Philly belligerence does us no favors. A battery gets thrown at Santa Claus and we spend the next four decades living it down. People occasionally get hurt. But sometimes it’s the best thing we’ve got going. We’re not wimps in Philly, but we’re sure acting like it. ■
Other city employees may strike soon. And the Daily News has the story on how the SEPTA deal got made.
Here's the lamest thing in the world: When somebody calls a protest and the protesters end up outnumbered by A) the journalists who show up to cover the protest, B) the cops who show up to make sure things don't get out of hand, or C) both.
Will Philadelphians show up to express their anger over the SEPTA strike?
At least they waited until after the World Series home games were over. But the surprise strike by the Transport Workers Union caught Philly commuters off-guard -- and presented Mayor Michael Nutter with yet another crisis to solve.
The reality is that times are tough, and they’re likely to stay that way for a while. So what Philly needs is more than a blandly competent technocrat whose public utterances sound like they come from a psychiatrist’s couch.