Thursday, October 11, 2007

A little attitude from my hometown (Hey! What are you lookin' at?)

I feel it coming back as soon as I get on the road (and if you were on 95 north anywhere between Washington and Philadelphia on Saturday, I'm sorry for the hand gestures. I realize that you don't live in New Jersey; "go back to Jersey!" is just an expression where I come from. You're an excellent driver. Carry on.)

I'm a nice person most of the time. In fact, many people are surprised when I tell them that I grew up in Philadelphia. We have a reputation for hardness, but it’s more of a crust, like nice Italian bread, crunchy/crusty on the outside and (most of the time) soft in the middle. Natives of the City of Brotherly Love have attitude. We don't take nothin' from nobody, you got a problem with that? (no, I'm just kidding...see, I really am a nice person.)

Once when I was in my early 20s, I was meeting some friends to go out after work. We met at Rittenhouse Square and the plan was to decide from there where to go. It just happened that Regina and I were the first to arrive and we had both ridden our bikes that day. So we’re standing in the park, holding onto our bikes, deciding what to do, when Patagonia Boy, with carabiners and ski lift tags dangling from every appendage, rolls up to us on his bike and says "Hey! Do you guys have any tips for surviving on your bike in this city? It's brutal, isn't it?" We laugh and Reg says, "yeah, we know what you drivers are the worst, they love to just barely clear you, and they really hate it when you kick their cabs." PB looks at us for a second...and then he says "wow...people here are really angry, aren't they?" Reg and I look at each other...what's he talking about? We might be momentarily angry when a cab driver sideswipes us...but then we kick his cab, and we're not angry anymore, see? Simple give and take! Go back to Crested Butte and climb a frickin' rock, will ya? That was the first time I had a first-hand glimpse of what other people thought of my hometown and its citizens.

We can usually spot each other outside the city limits, too. I'm in a grocery store in
Sea Isle City NJ (I need some Jersey shore every few summers). I inadvertently bump someone's cart with my cart, and say "oops, sorry!" But he spotted me. "Hey, what's the matter with you?" he says "You got a problem?" I say. "Yeah, as a matter of fact, I DO have a problem!" He laughs, I laugh, he says "have a good vacation", I say "you too" and we continue with the laying in of provisions.

I don’t really miss the attitude. I don’t miss the “vote early, vote often, and death is no impediment” ethic of city politics and how that get-over-however-you-can mentality infects so many other aspects of life. I don’t miss the anger (Patagonia Boy was right). But I do miss the give and take, the thick skins and the quick (sometimes brutal) wit.

And the food…I’ll be devoting another post soon to how one cannot buy a decent slice of pizza outside the NY/NJ/Philadelphia triangle. Comments will be welcome, but attempts to convince me otherwise will be heartily laughed at.

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