Philly Wusses Out

2009 has sucked. And we're just taking it.

By Joel Mathis
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 13 | Posted Nov. 10, 2009

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Philly needs to get its swagger back.

Photo by Lydia Elle, via Flickr.

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, 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. ■

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Comments 1 - 13 of 13
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1. aja said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:11AM

“thank you for writing this”

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2. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 10:52AM

“You are one IGNORANT fool. Nice language. And everybody wonders why some children grow up to be disrespecful, arrogant and obnoxious. Apparently they're your pathetic offspring. Crawl back into your hole.”

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3. PhilthyBlog said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:00PM

“I was hit by a car, broke my leg in 3 places, and was slapped with a $185,000 in medical bills. So. I get it?”

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4. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 12:03PM

“thank you for writing this pathetic article. you are part of the problem.”

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5. amy said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 03:14PM

“Did you say profound? Oh, wait, profane!! Oh, I get it!! ;)

I don't think you're part of the problem. I think this is dead on tough love. Good on you.

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6. Anonymous said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 04:29PM

“This type of bland, thoughtless article makes me feel ill that I live in a town that employs such a loser to write for one of their 2 major alt weeklies.”

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7. Jerimie said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 04:59PM

“50% of the comments are anonymous...writer's point made.”

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8. Andrew said... on Nov 11, 2009 at 09:38PM

“Hmm, I'm a glass half full kinda guy. Sure, this city's taken some knocks, but they're largely not of its own making. Cities everywhere are dealing with the collapse of the real estate market, but Philly's is actually still fairly stable. And you may not have noticed, but murders are down 25% from 2007. And really, I'm not sure how most cities would deal with a major transit strike, but I thought everybody was pretty level-headed about the whole thing, considering. And, hell, there are 28 teams in baseball that would have traded for our 'shitty' year!”

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9. brendancalling said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 08:07AM

“it's not just philly. the whole country's taking it on the chin.

a good friend wrote a prescient piece about this years ago called "makin' the nut." I can't find it at his site, but he allowed me a wholesale cut-n-paste a few years backs so you can read it here:

"We’re slaves. We’re just living in better accommodations than the brothers and sisters 150 years ago.

Most of us have no, or limited, social mobility. Most of us have no, or limited, economic mobility. Nobody wants a stake in our collective future because we’ve been conditioned to believe that this is as good as it gets. We’re all souless, selfish bitches in that regard because we’re resigned to our collective fate, not future."

It's become pretty obvious that, while the GOP has been taken over by maniacs, the majority of democrats are corporate tools. And you can see that in the reluctance --even outright rejection-- of real health care reform.”

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10. brendancalling said... on Nov 12, 2009 at 08:14AM

“Here in Philly, the same thing is reflected. The TWU strikes, and the kneejerk reaction is to take the side of management, even among other unionized workers. During the library/pools debacle (which is ongoing), there were plenty of people calling for the closing of libraries and pools.

In short, a lot of people expect nothing (or less than nothing) from the government they pay for, perhaps because that's all they've gotten for decades. It's hard to give a shit about a government that doesn't give a shit about you, especially when you're working harder and longer than ever, with less job security, to care for yourself and the family.”

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11. Anonymous said... on Nov 13, 2009 at 09:55AM

“Nice language. I hope you don't have children. You are quite the poor example. I can't belive anyone with half a brain would actually print this garbage. You are part of the problem and will never be part of the solution. Congrats on writing complete garbage.”

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12. Deep said... on Nov 15, 2009 at 03:55PM

“To Andrew,

Thanks for the sense of optimism. People need to wake and realize that Philadelphia is not the only place where bad stuff occurs. And there are a lot of good things that are going on in the city.

If we stop complaining. If we stop freaking out every time Cole Hamels picks his nose, we might notice the forest from the trees.

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13. Matt said... on Nov 16, 2009 at 04:26PM

“Fightin Spirit...
Well, I work at a Philly non-profit. You can imagine many of them are not faring real well right now. It's hard to get donations when people can't afford their overextended mortgage. Right now the staff where I work consists of one person, that's right, me. So I get to take out the garbage and plan next year's budget with the board. Rather than get me down, this situation has me fighting that much harder. I believe this is a by-product of growing up in Philadelphia. Sure sometimes it can be the town that hates you back, but no matter what, we never give up. We never settle for anything less than perfection. Sure we complain that the Phils didn't make it two in a row ( almost none have), and everyone wants to throw an egg at Lidge and Hamels, but the fact that we fight so hard for what we want, that we won't settle for anything less than ideal...that's the Philly spirit.


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