Happy V-Day To A Few Of Our Philly Favorites.
Margaret Downey, Wonder Woman
Who's that woman dressed in Colonial clobber clattering around City Hall? It's godless she-devil Margaret Downey, the woman who once sued the Boy Scouts of America for discriminating against atheists during her crusade to win rabble-rousing Philadelphian revolutionary Thomas Paine the recognition he deserves. Wait, crusade is totally the wrong word. When Downey was 4, she tore the head off her talking doll to learn how it worked. Nowadays she regularly but (alas) only metaphorically tears the head off the freedom-hating, truth-despising, woman-loathing Christian Taliban scumbags who want to turn this country into Afghanistan with strip malls. Flirtatious, saucy and never less than impeccably dressed, Downey is an atheist/feminist/antiracist/author/publisher/writer and all-around super-righteous wonder woman. Visit any culture-war battlefield, and you'll find her on the right side of the barricades, glammed up to the nines, taking chauvinist names and kicking bigot ass. Atheist; freethinker; defender of the Constitution; free-speech activist; president of Atheists Alliance International; founder of the Freethought Society of Greater Philadelphia, the Anti-Discrimination Support Network and the Thomas Paine Memorial Committee; board member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the Humanist Institute and the Thomas Paine National Historical Association; advisory board member of the Robert Green Ingersoll Museum and the Atheist Alliance. Phew. Is that enough? Are you in love with Margaret Downey as much as I am? You should be. She's the best of us. (Steven Wells)
The Staff of the North Philly Metropolis
There are so many reasons why I love this paper. For one, the tiny NPM does what no other newspaper in this city does--offers boots-to-the-ground insight into my native North Philadelphia, a community that's often either ignored or maligned. And it does it well, striking all the right journalistic notes. It's hard-hitting, thoughtful and balanced. But the most lovable (and unbelievable) thing about NPM is that most of the staff isn't old enough to vote. Yet the teens who write, edit and design this community newspaper offer a cultural, generational look at the world that everyone in the city should be listening to. Among them is 16-year-old assistant editor Nadrease Price, who in covering violence writes that in the U.S., "over two-thirds of released prisoners are rearrested within three years. This demonstrates that our prison system is ineffective." Meanwhile, associate editor Fatima Thomas, 16, compares today's students who come to school late or not at all to the buffoons of early minstrel shows. And staff writer William Harris writes about why underground rappers can't find the mainstream. In last year's issue on violence an NPM reporter grilled Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson. The issue was so well read they ordered up a second printing. In another issue last summer the paper focused on hip-hop, and how it should become a movement for social justice and political empowerment. Next month the staff will investigate the state of education in Philadelphia, no doubt demanding answers from teachers, principals and city officials. Next up: Look out for NPM newspaper boxes throughout North Philly and beyond. (Kia Gregory)
Jon Bon Jovi, True Believer
It's tough to imagine a time when our sports teams less deserved our love. The Sixers suck. The Flyers can't be watched. The Eagles have flown the coop. The Phillies ... well, okay, but does anyone really care about baseball anymore? There are the Wings, the Phantoms and the Kixx--which most Philadelphians consider, respectively, a crappy Beatles spinoff, a pale-faced opera haunter and a kid-tested, mother-approved cereal. But then there's the Philadelphia Soul, a real Philly team with homegrown (if Jersey counts) star power in the form of Perth Amboy-born renaissance man and band-fronter Jon Bon Jovi. Dude's no substitute for Croce, but he still gets props--along with Soul co-founder/co-owner Richie Sambora--for keeping the home fires burning at this historic low point for Philly team management and ownership. With a schedule that takes them through June, a mafioso-looking Blues Brother mascot, season tickets for a piddling $96 and all the shameful stats we've come to expect from a true Philly team, the Soul have well earned their name. No one told Jon Bon Jovi he had to back a loser. And no one said he had to do it in Philly. But he bravely did both, and for putting his rep on the line for what's so far proven a futile attempt at making us all feel like winners, this Middletown, N.J., resident has earned the right to call himself a Philadelphian. On what could otherwise shape up to be a pretty depressing V-Day for local sports fans, he gives love a good name in Philly. (Sara Kelly)
Reggie Showers, Inspiration to the War-Injured
He was the youngest of six kids in a working-class West Philly family, and he could fly. Blazing around on dirt bikes with boys from the neighborhood, Reggie Showers dreamed of real motorcycles, of racing, of speed. One spring day in 1978 he threw down his bike and climbed atop the tallest boxcar sitting on the nearby railroad tracks, oblivious to the low-hanging power lines overhead. A 13,000-volt current shot through his lanky, dreaming, 14-year-old body, severely burning his arms and killing the muscles in his legs. His sneakers grounded him, but nothing else ever did. A double-amputee ever since, Showers went on to set 14 world records in motorcycle racing, riding against the top racers in the field. But he's earned my affection for his later accomplishments, when he began traveling the country, talking to kids about just how far and how fast you can go when you refuse to be knocked down. When the U.S. Army asked Showers to visit the Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, D.C., in 2003 to talk to returning soldiers who'd been disfigured by the war, he didn't hesitate. He's been returning regularly ever since. "One guy was missing an eye and an arm and a leg. He was very bitter and really didn't want to hear what anybody had to say," Showers recalls. "I told him, 'I know you're pissed off about a lot of things, but you're only going to get better if you believe you're going to get better.' As I was walking out of the room, he was like, 'Yo man.' I turned around and he stuck his thumb up. I'd reached him. I told him life will be different out there, but through a lot of hard work you'll become a better human being." The soldier already had the perfect example. Godspeed, Mr. Showers. Not that you need it. (Cassidy Hartmann)
Tone Trump, West Philly Rapper
Tone Trump is the truth. His flow, his look, the beats he chooses--there's nothing halfassed or fake about dude. He reps West Philly, and living in that neck of the woods myself, it gives me a special charge to hear him namedrop spots I walk past every morning en route to the El. He's a Muslim and a rapper. As such, he fights a daily internal struggle with what it means to serve a God who isn't too thrilled with the lyrics he speaks, the actions he chooses and the company he keeps. Trump recognizes the contradictions, deals with them in a solemn, contemplative way, and you can hear the tension this causes in his voice. Like most artists worth their salt, he's pained. It's not easy. In the last year he's appeared on MTV, started production on a movie, been the subject of a City Paper cover story and managed to make me appear a tad bit gullier than I am by gracing my MySpace Top 8. (Cool it with the bulletin spamming, though. For realz.) Trump loves Philadelphia, and it shows. He calls out rappers in other cities for jackin' our style, our look and even our slang in these very pages when, still young in the game, such a thing could've cost him. Come here, you big, bearded flame thrower, and get your box of chocolates! (Brian McManus)
Chase Utley, Phillies Second Baseman
It's midwinter in Philadelphia, and the city is gray. My friends and I are out at a dive, swilling bourbon and bogarting the jukebox when someone plays "Kashmir." Those heavy opening chords dump unexpected--and I suppose, antithetical--sunshine into the bar. We trade our bourbons for brews, our scowls for smiles, and suddenly it's baseball season again. Seriously, is there anything hotter than hearing Led Zeppelin and watching Chase Utley stride up to the batter's box? Ah, No. 26. You're a throwback to the days of real matinee idols in baseball: your adorably dorky headshot up on the megatron at Citizens Bank Park; the way you champion environmental causes; the weirdly endearing fact that you don't play as well on Astroturf as on natural grass. You're even a Sagittarius, just like me. And simultaneously most enchanting and disheartening of all: getting married one day, and signing a 7-year contract the next? Then refusing to comment for reporters because you won't allow them to interrupt your honeymoon? Swoon. I may not have you, Chase, but at least my city does. And hell, if you and your (infuriatingly pretty and very sweet) new wife don't work out, give a girl a call, will you? Seriously, the things I'd do to you in the dugout. (Leah Blewett)
PW's Winter Coffee Tour
What the heck is Third Wave coffee?