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Steve Wisdom

Philadelphia Story

Random thoughts on BBQ & etc (in the spirit of my earlier Boston remarks) after spending a few days in Philadelphia, my (and lamentably Primal's) hometown, last week:

  1. Good (by Yankee standards) cheap BBQ at Tommy Gunns on South St. Lunch special: two generous pulled pork sandwiches for $5.50! It's BYOB so you have to hike a few blocks to find a proper sixpack of Dixie or Lone Star to accompany. And they took no offense to my dragging a table out to the sidewalk, so I could play flaneur (to use the Expert's term) although the cafes along Rittenhouse Square are a more appropriate venue.
  2. A family member had surgery at Pennsylvania Hospital, 8th and Spruce ("America's first hospital! Founded by Ben Franklin!"). It's run by the U of P. I was surprised by how friendly and efficient (dare I say, respectful of the paying customers) the hospital staff were. Is this a sea-change in health care? Are patients in short supply? Certainly a switch from my prior experience with a U of P hospital, a Saturday night 20 years ago when I chopped off the end of my finger while slicing cheese (with a Pythonesque scene ensuing, spraying blood everywhere, even had to scrub off the ceiling) and spent six hours, Third World style, in the crowded, noisy emergency room lobby waiting for care.
  3. Surprisingly no security (at least none obvious) around Independence Hall at 8th and Chestnut, arguably the most important building (symbolically) in North America. You'd suppose there'd be J#rsey barriers cutting off traffic in a multi-block perimeter. But no. The theory must be that al-Q doesn't bother with second-tier cities like Philadelphia.
  4. Skimming through the Sep '05 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, I see (though I had to read it twice before I believed it) that a "destination restaurant" has opened in Phoenixville, a crummy post-industrial town in the exurbs. Appears the town (appropriately, given its name) has been reborn as a cutesy downtown where tech-industry types from the Devon/King of Prussia area congregate. Creative destruction. Not too long ago, when someone said he was moving to Phoenixville (or Norristown, Pottstown, Coatesville et al) the proper reply was "I'm so sorry. I don't know what to say," much as if he were announcing the death of a close relative.
  5. In other dining news, Bookbinders has changed hands and the new owners have redone the Walnut St branch (a beautiful room now) and closed the 15th St branch. This is a Philadelphia "institution" but in recent year has been overpriced and mediocre (in the fashion of an upscale suburban restaurants), the sort of place (to paraphrase Dr Johnson) where one went not to eat, but rather "to have eaten".
  6. My sister lives in J#rsey, off Exit 2 of the Turnpike ("You live in J#rsey? What exit?") and even in this remote corner of the state she gets C#rzine in "Sensurround". Billboards on the highway, autodialed phone calls, junk mailings, TV ads, etc. "Hey, I promise to vote for you, if you'll just leave me the heck alone." C#rzine is running for Gov, seemingly a step down for an august Senator, but it illustrates Albert Nock's principles: as Gov he'll have more money, power and perks to sprinkle on his buddies (literally, in the case of Gov Jim McGrievously). Oddly, considering the money he's spending on media, C#rzine needs $100 worth of grooming. His hair's too long; with the bald spot on top, he looks like Martin Luther. And he should either color his beard to match his hair, or just go natural on both. Get this man on Queer Eye for the Straight Gov!
  7. Society Hill, the southeastern corner of downtown Philadelphia, "would have been" one of America's loveliest historic districts, but in the 70's when Philadelphia (like NYC) bottomed out, cheap hideous condos/apartments were built on all the open lots, resulting in a gruesome mishmosh. Nowadays values have skyrocketed and the 18th century houses on Walnut/Chestnut/Spruce/Pine are being lovingly restored and expanded (largely by the vibrant gay community), but the damage is done. Good illustration of the principle that wealth is the key to historic preservation, not government regulations or master-plans.
  8. Motor-touring in the south J#rsey farm country with the top down, wind in my hair, country music on the radio, I heard this wonderful song, "Beer Goggles", and immediately thought of a certain Old Line spec:
He's on the dance floor yelling Freebird
Singing off pitch but he knows every word
Grabs him another girl he hold on tight
He don't see ugly
Through bloodshot eyes
He'll fall apart when he gets home
But right now his worries are gone
Cause life looks good, good, good
Billy's got his beer goggles on

Steve Wisdom, a Pennsylvania-born Harvard graduate, has been Victor Niederhoffer's chief for more than 15 years. He also has been associated with Trout Trading, Societ Generale and Deephaven Fund.

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