Jimbob's Journal
Sidewalk Cafes
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 by.

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 Latin.

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 shame instead.

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 wind up

Back to Essays