Absence Makes the Heart Grow Cheesesteaks


scrapple (side salad unintentional)

In the last week of August, I was asked by the kid’s magazine to write an article called My Hometown. The premise was relatively simple: write an article on some basic trivia and ins and outs of your hometown. As several of the writers are from other countries, there were a few asked to do this. I did my first draft on the basics, writing from the information in my head. Selected clips:  

Philadelphians love sports. We have a team for each of the four major professional sports. Our Phillies (baseball) won the World Series in 2008. Our Eagles (football) won Superbowl LII.

The Declaration of Independence was signed there in 1776 and Washington’s Crossing is where George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night to surprise attack the British. It worked so well that we won the Battle of Trenton. It’s why you have to learn American and British English in school.

Philadelphia has lots of delicious food that will make you very fat. Soft pretzels are our preferred street food for a snack. Scrapple is a breakfast meat and if you go to Philadelphia you have to get a cheesesteak.

I finished the draft and, as usual, closed the file for a day while I let the ideas permeate. In the meantime, I let the ideas come and jotted them down. I looked through some articles for inspiration: 32 Things that Make Philadelphia Special, 20 Things We Love about Philadelphia, 9 Things that are SO Philadelphia.

As I read through the articles, I said this a lot: “Oh yeah. I need to mention that.”

As it so often does, the second draft reflected the dearth of my research.

Sports

Philadelphians love their sports teams. We have a team for each of the four major professional sports. Our Phillies (baseball) won the World Series in 2008 after an absence of 27 years. Our Eagles (football) won the Superbowl in 2017 for the first time. It was a great moment for the city.   

History

America was born in Philadelphia in 1776 when The Declaration of Independence was signed there. Washington’s Crossing is where George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night to surprise attack the British. It worked so well that we ended up opening a can of whoop ass on them and winning the Battle of Trenton. It’s why you have to learn American and British English in school (ha ha). Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously-used street in America. Philadelphians have been using it since 1704.

Food

Philadelphia has lots of delicious foods that will make your mouth water. Soft pretzels are our preferred street food for a snack. You can buy them on the street from vendors. Scrapple is a breakfast meat that’s very common and if you aren’t from Philadelphia you won’t understand its appeal. It’s sort of like tlačenka*. If you go to Philadelphia you have to get a cheesesteak. The most famous places for that are Pat’s and Jim’s, but each section of Philadelphia has their own special place for a cheesesteak. If you like cold meat sandwiches, you can have a hoagie, Philadelphia’s special name for a submarine sandwich.  

Famous People

There are many famous people from Philadelphia. Kevin Hart and Will Smith are two of them. Founding father, statesman, philosopher, and inventor Ben Franklin ran away to live in Philadelphia when he was 17. He probably needed a cheesesteak.

As usual, I closed the file on the second draft and let the ideas and words seep in and permeate. I worked on other projects, but found that my thoughts were drifting back to Philadelphia. This is perhaps also due to the fact that I couldn’t go home this summer. Summer is the time of year I get my “home fill” of all things Philly. I eat water ice and ice cream with jimmies, go to the Jersey Shore, eat four cheesesteaks, a couple Italian hoagies, go down to Center City and visit Independence Hall. I sit at a sports bar and watch a Phillies game and listen to the sports talk guys gripe about an Eagles season that hasn’t started yet. And yet none of this was possible this year. And I soon found that I was consumed with Philadelphia.  

In what might be viewed by some as a mistake, I spent that evening sipping on malted beverages and looking at pictures of the Ocean City boardwalk and Center City. I went teary-eyed at pics of Manayunk and Chestnut Hill, Washington’s Crossing made me gulp air. And I could barely hold back the tears at a picture of a police car breaking up a fight in the parking lot between the Barnes and Noble and the Uno Pizzeria and Grill at the Neshaminy Mall. Then I went to YouTube and watched highlights of the Phillies and the Eagles. I watched Doc’s no-no in the NLDS and Foles pulling off the Philly Special.   

I have read that people who move away from their hometown often exhibit enhanced aspects of their native dialect. And by the early afternoon of the next day this may have been proven as I referred to my homemade hoagie as my jawn (to the cat, who is Czech and was thus baffled). I also said youse for the first time in 45.8 years and used anymore in a positive way (I see them everywhere anymore). At the end of the week I sat down to write the third draft.  

Philadelphians are obsessed with their sports teams. We have a team for each of the four major professional sports. Our beloved Phillies (baseball) won the World Series in 2008 after putting together a group of players who should be in the hall of fame. Our Eagles (football) won the Superbowl in 2017 for the first time, beating the horrid and villainous Patriots of New England. The most groundbreaking play was called the Philly Special (see: Wikipedia Philly Philly). It was a glorious moment for the city underscored by years of waiting and suffering. Something you kids will never understand in your world of instant gratification.

While Prague is split by two teams, the sports of Philadelphia bind our city together. Usually. It can also be a sore spot if (for example) two guys disagree about the worth of a catcher or a middle reliever (pictured: two men beating each other senseless in front of a Wawa; issue at hand: Fregosi should have taken out Mitch Williams).

Wawa (became its own subsection)

Aka: Heaven on Earth, if Heaven had a touchscreen sandwich ordering system and the best iced tea lemonade (you read that right!) in the world. There is no experience equal to that of leaving a Wawa with an iced tea lemonade and a turkey, provolone, roast beef, pickle, and jimmie sandwich dangling from your hand in a flimsy bag that will never break your heart, on a summer night, as you load yourself into the car to drive down to the Jersey shore for the weekend with the far-off summer smell of skunk mixing intoxicatingly with the somehow pleasant scent of gasoline.       

America was born in Philadelphia in 1776 when The Declaration of Independence was signed there. Washington’s Crossing is where George Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas night to surprise attack the imperialistic cocksuckers, the British. We kicked the living shit out of the Brits in the Battle of Trenton and it’s why you should always spell words with a z and with no superfluous u. If you realize what I mean, you have a good sense of humor. Elfreth’s Alley is the oldest continuously-used street in America, which means that Philadelphians have been arguing in traffic and cursing the Eagles there since 1704.

Philadelphia has lots of delicious food that will make you very fat, but you won’t care. Soft pretzels are our preferred street food for a snack. We buy them on the street from vendors from our cars on our way down to see a Phillies game. Many of us carry yellow mustard around in our cars for just an occasion.

Scrapple is a breakfast meat that’s very common in diners and if you aren’t from Philadelphia you won’t understand its appeal. It’s sort of like tlačenka* (I decided to try to relate directly to them). If you go to Philadelphia you have to get a cheesesteak. The most famous places for that are Pat’s and Jim’s, but each section of Philadelphia has their own special place for a cheesesteak. Ours is Brother’s Pizza and I would throw any of your parents in front of a locomotive to have one right now with extra fried onions and a side of fries. The gastronomy of Philadelphia is enough to put it in front of any city in America, but we also have Rocky.

Famous People (and Rocky Balboa)

The two greatest Philadelphians are by far Benjamin Franklin and Rocky Balboa. Ben Franklin wasn’t very good looking, but he did well with the women. He also created bifocals and the catheter, both of which will become invaluable to you as you age.

But Philadelphia is best known for the gritty Italian boxer named Rocky Balboa, made famous by the movie starring Sylvester Stallone and revered by Philadelphians and short pugnacious men everywhere since 1976. His bronzed likeness stands outside our Art Museum, next to the  steps he ran up called now the “Rocky Steps.” To many Philadelphians he is a representative of what Philadelphia is: a tough underdog who never quits (See: Going the Distance, YouTube. And I dare you not to cry!)  

*tlačenka: a variety of head cheese made in a number of types, bonded with brawn – thick pigskin and hock/trotters broth – with various combinations of meat cutoffs (i.e. knuckle, head), offal (tongue, heart, liver) and fat) and usually found to be disgusting by everyone on Earth who isn’t Czech or me.

Nota Bene: As of submission of this article I am officially on “administrative leave” pending a full psychiatric evaluation.  

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