I really hate Jimmy Buffett. I mean, I don’t know the guy personally, but I really hate his music. Wasting A-waaay in Margaritaville does nothing for me. Calling his fans "Parrotheads" is just plain annoying. Some people claim that there’s a woman to blame — but I know … it’s his stupid song.
Nonetheless, I just returned from the home of Margaritaville — Key West — and I love it enough not to hold Buffett against it.
You ought to go there sometime, if you’ve never been. In many ways, this 5-mile Florida island at the nation’s southernmost point is a lot like South Philly.
We can’t park; they can’t park. So the tourists rent motorbikes and electric carts. Motorbikes and electric carts in South Philly — now there’s a plan.
So we don’t have palm trees and the shores of the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico lapping up on our front stoops. Instead we have the Delaware, the Schuylkill and The Lakes, not to mention plenty of water in our basements when it rains.
Civic concerns — the "Conchs" (what Key Westers call themselves, though I prefer to call them "Keysters") have them, too. It’s not just fun in the scorching sun for them. They have properties to preserve. They have the Hemingway House and the Truman White House; we have Stephen Girard’s Estate and, uh, a parking lot where the historic Naval Hospital used to be.
They have rowdy crowds spilling out of Sloppy Joe’s and Capt. Tony’s and Hog’s Breath and Fat Tuesday’s every day. We used to have rowdy crowds spilling out of Fat Tuesday’s on Fat Tuesday, at least.
They have commercial vacancies and chain stores on the eclectic Duval Street, their main drag. We have vacancies and a few chains on Point Breeze Avenue, East Passyunk and South Street.
They have Dominique and his acrobatic household cats performing for dollars at sunset on Mallory Square. We have Dominic who sells discount household appliances on West Passyunk, and he’ll throw in a sunset for free.
They take to the streets to demonstrate their beliefs; we take to the streets to demonstrate our beliefs and to put chairs in our parking spots.
They write letters to their local papers about everything from parking tickets to property taxes to the war in Iraq. Y’all do that, too, and we print them right here.
So, you see, our distance to Key West may be great, but our differences are few.
Now that I’ve distracted you sufficiently, it’s time to get to the point of this issue. Obviously, it’s not the one that usually hits (or misses) your block each Thursday. In years past we called this the Readers’ Choice issue, and we polled local residents via ballot or phone calls. Last year, we focused on the kiddies and personally polled more than a hundred of them. This time, our reporters took to the streets and interrogated some 150 unsuspecting strangers (if the FBI can do it, so can we). And they asked all kinds of questions.
Here’s the whole list. Sorry if my answers bore you; I still have gulf streams and palm trees (and, unfortunately, that stupid song) on the brain. If you don’t care about my opinions — no offense taken — then fast-flip to the answers of your townsfolk on the pages that follow. Believe me, this one’s a keeper.
Rename a South Philly street, any street.
I’d rename Porter "Review Street" — though, considering the number of parents clogging up the intersection at school arrival and dismissal time, it should probably be called "Jenks Depot."
A monument we’re lacking in South Philly?
One dedicated to our immigrants who’ve settled here.
New mural idea?
A wall of graffiti. Oh, wait — we have quite a few of those already.
Best use for the old Navy Yard?
A beach and swim club (remember the Packer Park swim club?) and an indoor mall. Then we’ll never have to go to Jersey, except to pick the occasional tomato and pass it on the way to New York.
The strangest South Philly nickname?
"Vinnie Boombats." There’s more than a few of these, and I can’t figure out why. Maybe it all started with one Boombats, and he begot another Boombats, and he begot another Boombats …
Most amusing public person? Most annoying?
Ask me after November’s general election.
South Philly’s most significant contribution to American culture?
Musicians of all genres. Parking at all angles.
Favorite American president?
George W. Kidding. Abraham Lincoln. He had a presidential chin. And my grandpop looked just like him.
What kind of car would you be — and, more importantly, where would you park?
A flame-red 1992 Plymouth Sundance Duster, with spoiler, lavender accents and carved-in sun roof that leaked on rainy days. Not in front of my house — since that’s where it was stolen.
(P.S. to those who totaled my car: I’m waiting for my flame-red 2003 Audi TT hard-top convertible as a replacement. Just park it where you found my Duster.)
Wal-Mart, Kmart or Target?
Lines, lines and less lines — so I’ll go with the third choice. Plus, I like that retro bull’s-eye icon. A minimalist fashion statement.
None stands out, but I like to relive the ’80s on the identity-challenged 96.5 FM — though I’m sure it’ll go the way of "Jammin’ Gold" soon.
Celebrity to be stranded with on a desert island?
None, thanks. They’d be too worried about how to maintain their plastic surgery and not worried enough about hunting me down some grub. After all, a girl’s gotta eat.
The craziest thing you’d do for a million bucks?
Work. And if that fails, play the stock market with Martha Stewart.
If you won the Powerball?
How much we talkin’ here? Let’s figure on a few hundred mil. I’d buy a pool table and become a real playa. I’d also buy a giant Victorian shack in Key West and turn it into a shelter for the street folk there. What the hell, I’d buy the Review and be owner and editor. I’d feed the poor of South Philly. I’d clothe the naked of South Philly, starting with the scantily clad teenagers who look like they’re working the corners. I’d send more money to those organizations that keep sending me address labels.
Oh genie in the bottle, here are my three wishes …
Good health, long life, true love for everyone who deserves it. And a free parking garage in Marconi Plaza. (Maybe I’d build one with my Powerball winnings.)
The first thing you’d do for South Philly if elected to office?
Focus on rebuilding Point Breeze and lowering property taxes everywhere else. Run the vandals out of town via the Walt Whitman, like Jim Kenney used to do to the prostitutes. (They’re back again, Jim.) Bring in those motorbikes and electric carts.
Everybody has issues. Give us three of yours.
Just three? How ’bout … Foul-mouthed, pot-smoking, corner-hanging, cell-toting teens. (Parents, this is where you come in.) Street and park lights that blink out and aren’t replaced. Car thieves. Graffiti slobs. People who bitch and moan and do absolutely nothing to contribute to the good of the community. Parents who think it’s the school faculty’s job to teach their kids manners. Litterbugs. Bug bugs, except for ladybugs, which are cute. Cracks in the pavement — still try not to step on them. Writing columns on deadline when I’m uninspired. The fact that people listen to — and actually like — Jimmy Buffett. The fact that George W. is waging war despite the droves of Americans and people the world over who publicly waged against it.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
This one’s easy: to a time when every one of my relatives, friends and cherished acquaintances was still alive.
What should your epitaph read?
"To all who thought I was neurotic: I told you I was gonna die someday." And if that’s too long: "So sue me, I’m dead."
The most important advice you ever received?
Rest assured that whatever it was, it was in Italian, it came from my mother — and she’s still reciting it to me every day.
The best advice you ever gave your children?
Or other people’s children, and my future children: Respect yourself. Assert yourself. Protect yourself. See the world. Put yourself in others’ shoes. Be as literate as you can. Dye your roots if you must, but don’t stray from them. And always, always make time for your grandparents.
The dumbest thing you ever did as a teenager?
I cheated on a math quiz when I was in Goretti. And that wasn’t even the dumb part. I hated algebra, see; I wasn’t good at it. So on one desperate occasion, I took to writing the formulas on the palm of my left hand. The girls in sixth lunch told me to put the answers on an eraser so I wouldn’t get caught staring at my hand. I assured them I wouldn’t get caught staring at my hand. When the math teacher grabbed my wrist as she was patrolling the aisles during the quiz, I knew I had gotten caught staring at my hand. Don’t try this at school, kids.
George W. — love him, hate him, just dealing with him?
I want to like him, I really do. He’s the president, after all. And I’m sure he’s a real nice guy, regardless of his literacy problem. But I just can’t — especially now.
The biggest evil: Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden or Kim Jong Il?
Kim Jong, because the media is ignoring him. Without the spotlight, he is freer to create danger.
Believe in God? If so, what would you ask God face-to-face?
Definitely. I’d ask why — about everything.
Pat’s, Geno’s or Jim’s? Wit or witout?
Sorry, folks, but it’s Jim’s — witout onions, witout steak. Just Wiz on a roll for me. (That’s Cheez Wiz, and it’s not a verb … Get your minds out of the clogged sewer, people.)
Melrose, Penrose, Oregon or Broad St. Diner?
Each has its charms. Melrose: hot apple pie with vanilla sauce and the hot open-faced turkey sandwich with golden gravy. (The downside: small portions and sitting across from strangers.) Penrose: portabello sandwich and cocktails. Oregon: chicken soup and creamed chipped beef. Broad Street: mashed potatoes and chocolate mousse pie. Did you have to ask? Now I’m hungry.
Ac-a-mee, Pathmark, Shop Rite or Super Fresh?
The Super Fresh on Columbus is worth the extra money — mainly because the cashiers are friendly and they keep the lines moving.
Dinner in South Philly? (Restaurant, please!)
Greek-style octopus and hummus at Dmitri’s. Most of our Italian restaurants are good, too, but none compare to my parents’ cooking — which I still get for free.
South Philly high-school team?
I’m supposed to be impartial. Thus, I root for all of our teams equally, even when they lose. Truly.
Athlete with heart?
Philly pro team? Coach?
It was the Sixers, until they traded Dikembe Mutombo.
Most entertaining bar?
Don’t go to bars much, but the best bar food — entertaining enough for me — is at the Philadium.
"Reality TV" — which shows? (C’mon, admit it!)
My father watches most of them, and I really liked Amazing Race — a cost-effective way to see the world. The others? I mean, really, bachelors and bachelorettes — get a freakin’ life!
"True South Philly Stories" — what actor would play you?
Fran Drescher or Lara Flynn Boyle. It all depends on what kind of hair day I’m having.