by Jim Harris
The old word on Philadelphia was that they rolled up the sidewalks
at night. Well nowadays, they not only leave them unrolled, they
cram them to the curb with trendy cafes and huddled masses yearning
to be chic.
I don't know about you, but if
I had to enumerate my top ten favorite dining locations, pedestrian
pathways in center city Philadelphia would not even be on the
list. Dinner among the pigeons, car horns, inane cell phone conversations
and aromas of every ilk seems somewhat less than idyllic to me.
Not to mention that there's barely enough room for people to get
I know that the theatrical "fourth
wall" concept is supposed to be in effect. That is, the pedestrians
are supposed to be invisible to the diners, and vice-versa, but
sorry, I don't play that game. When I'm trying to negotiate a
busy sidewalk, I am not at all averse to saying, "Hey, watch
that fork, fella - you're in my no-fly zone!", thus ruining
the whole magical experience.
Okay, I admit, I am a little
bitter due to a rather painful sidewalk dining experience that
I had recently. I was in the final stages of some very delicate
negotiations with Japanese executives who were considering opening
some of their "Sushi Queen" fish-flavored ice cream
parlors here in the tri-state area.
I was eager to impress them with
Philly's new hip, urbane image, so I took them to one of the most
popular sidewalk cafes in town. No sooner had the waiter brought
our hickory-smoked cheese wheel appetizer than a long-haired,
bearded gentleman wearing only a "U.S. Mail" bag and
one sandal appeared out of nowhere, grabbed the cheese and took
off, gnawing at it frantically as he ran.
Now I am not without concern
for the hungry; I attended Live Aid, Farm Aid, Aid Aid (I think
that was one), and Comic Relief, but that cheese wheel represented
my personal piece of the American Pie, and I was not about to
let it get away.
"Stop him!" I cried,
but the fourth wall concept was in effect and no one responded.
Outraged, I summoned the waiter, gave him a brief description
of the thief, and waited for him to organize a posse and initiate
a hot pursuit, but he just stared at me as if I were speaking
Needless to say, I was mortified
and humiliated in front of my guests. I briefly considered committing
Hari-Kari to save face, but the only implement available was a
short, dull cheese knife, and it would have taken too much work
to reach a vital organ with that, so I decided to live with the
And make no mistake, that's what
we do here in Philadelphia. We have elevated living with shame
to an art form second to none. Our sports teams, politicians and
bureaucrats may be the laughing stock of the civilized world,
but we deftly stuff that all away and move on stoically. We don't
see any point in complaining, and we don't really care what the
rest of the world thinks about us (or so we say.)
One thing we do have, however,
is some excellent hospitals, and that's good, because if I ever
find that guy who stole my cheese, that's where he's going to