It's Always Wacky in Philadelphia

I recently got a message from a friend saying she had a couple of days to spend in Philadelphia and wanted to know if I could recommend things to do. I was happy to share my ideas and opinions on Philly. It’s only my favorite city.

We lived outside Philadelphia for four years, during a time when my kids were little, we had a steady stream of company to entertain, and I had an American History habit to feed. Suffice it to say we made the 25-minute drive into the city quite often.

To me, Philadelphia is like the dirty little cousin to New York, the one who looks up to the older boys, but has its hands full of its own bad attitude. Scruffy and scrappy, the little cousin will shock you with his foul mouth and then turn around and wow you with opera and tap dancing. He’s a cute little bugger and he’s a good cook in a sandwich kind of way.

By the time we left suburban Philly, I had seen the Liberty Bell countless times, knew all of the tour guides at Independence Hall, could walk through Betsy Ross’ house blindfolded, and had seen all the IMax movies in the science museum. We had a family membership to the Philadelphia Zoo, the nation’s first zoo, and also frequented the Mint, the art museum, blah, blah, blah - now I’m sounding like a travel writer.

But how could I tell my friend to check out my family’s favorite part of Philadelphia? We loved South Street the best of all. If Philly is the scrappy little cousin to New York, then South Street is his dirty, bare-mattress bed.

If I was a travel writer, I might say: “Be sure to stop in at South Street, grab a world famous cheesesteak at Jim’s Steaks (400 South St., 215-928-1911) and then stroll from one end of South Street to the other. From Condom Kingdom to Zipperhead, South Street is known for sex shops, punk rock boutiques, bars, and that one store that smells like suspicious incense.  However, it’s the people of South Street that make it such a tourist attraction. You’ll see the tallest and most colorful mohawks there, as well as piercing studs in some pretty unusual places, like along the back of his neck in a row, for instance. Check out the people buying what appear to be Santeria murder weapons in Rick’s Spiritual & Occult Shop (1310 South St., (215-545-8160).”

There was a telephone pole that was covered in ABC chewing gum. I used to think, man, the DNA on that gum plus a microscope could make someone’s career.

My son had a friend who was deathly afraid of South Street. My kids were afraid of the cemetery behind our house and this kid was afraid of 20-somethings with blue hair. In his third-grade mind, he saw South Street as all that was wrong with the world. I can’t say I openly tried to talk him out of this thinking. But I had to laugh when, if he was in our car and we were on our way home from the city, he would duck his head down and cover his face when we cut through South Street.

My kids and I had a code word that we would use when we wanted to call the others’ attention to a South-Streetian who had abused, mutated or violated his body in some way. The word was completely innocuous, which means it wasn’t “Freak!” or “Weirdo” or “Oooohh, That Had to Hurt!” I can’t tell you the word, because we may have to use it around your own children or grandchildren someday. No one is immune to the powers of South Street.

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