How to Find the Best Philadelphia School for Your Child

Photography by Christopher Leaman

Photography by Christopher Leaman

The move to the ’burbs used to be almost automatic for Philadelphians with means — families of all races picked up and left the city when their kids were old enough for school, and they did it without much handwringing.

But something’s changed. Philadelphia parents aren’t so eager to quit on a city that’s bigger, better and more vibrant than it’s been in decades. And they’re not at all convinced that what’s best for the kids is a big backyard and often homogenous classrooms. For them, picking a school is about much more than standardized test scores; it’s about finding a place that fits their family’s expectations, values and lifestyle. Read more »

Is Josh Innes Destroying Philly Sports Radio?

Photograph by Jonathan Pushnik

Photograph by Jonathan Pushnik

The following is a typical day on the air with Josh Innes, the new afternoon-drive host on 94 WIP, Philadelphia sports-talk radio’s long-running leader. If you don’t like sports radio — or sports, period — bear with me for a minute. The Josh Innes Show rarely goes where you’d expect.

It’s late July in the station’s studio overlooking 4th and Market, and Innes is praising Jonathan Papelbon, the crotch-grabbing closer the Phillies just traded, to almost no one’s dismay. Innes says he appreciated Pap’s big-mouthed jackassery, especially in a town where “there’s nobody interesting who plays sports.” His co-hosts — Spike Eskin, WIP’s program director and son of Howard, and ex-Eagles lineman Hollis Thomas — disagree that the pitcher’s honesty about his lousy team was a good thing. Spike tries to run the old “Would you tell your girlfriend her new dress looks horrible?” scenario. Read more »

Ask Liz: How Much Should I Tip Parking Attendants?

Left: Shutterstock. Right: John Paulding’s Over the Top; photograph by Claudia Gavin

Left: Natalia Bratslavsky/Shutterstock. Right: John Paulding’s Over the Top; photograph by Claudia Gavin

It used to be acceptable, when you parked your car in an indoor lot downtown, to tip the driver a dollar for retrieving it. But sometimes I get the fish-eye when I tip, which makes me wonder: Should I be tipping $2 these days? Or $5? — Too Cheap (?) in Center City

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What Happened After My Kidnapping

Photography by Theresa Stigale. Assistant photographer: Judy Murray

Photography by Theresa Stigale. Assistant photographer: Judy Murray

Hello, my name is Brad Pearson. In March 2006, you were one of three people who kidnapped me in West Philadelphia.

I’m writing this letter not because I’m angry at you, or upset, or hurt. The opposite, actually. While the kidnapping and investigation were difficult for me, in the end they made me a stronger man.

I’m a magazine writer now, and I’ve always hoped to talk to you and Jerry and Mordi about that night, and what your lives have been like since. I’d either like to do that by letter or in person. I can travel to Pennsylvania to speak with you, if you’d allow me to. I also included my email address, if that’s easier for you.

Again, I’m not angry, and I’d really just like to talk.

Brad Pearson Read more »

Chris Matthews on Growing Up Catholic in Philadelphia

The author at his First Communion. Courtesy of Chris Matthews

The author at his First Communion. Courtesy of Chris Matthews

I REMEMBER WHEN “THE GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH” came to Hunting Park. It really happened. I Googled it. In 1950, the Barnum & Bailey Circus really did come to Philadelphia. It’s in the books.

Better yet, it’s all in my head. I remember the day Dad and Mom took us across from where we lived in that tiny second-floor apartment above the Italian grocery at Hunting Park Avenue and Broad Street. They did it twice: in the afternoon to walk along the gangway and see the lions and tigers in their cages, and that night to the center ring to see all those clowns come climbing out of that little car.

What’s truly wondrous is that Hunting Park is where we and everyone else in the neighborhood hung out. We’d go there on a summer evening to stroll among the old gazebo, the merry-go-round, and the stand where they sold those cartons of orange drink that afterward you could turn into actual cardboard megaphones.

All this was in those years our parents forever called “after the war,” as opposed to “before the war.” Or as Dad’s mom, Grandmom-in-Chestnut Hill, would always say when speaking of the distant past, “Oh, that was years and years ago.” Read more »

What Pope Francis Will Bring to Philadelphia

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in 2013. Photograph by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square in 2013. Photograph by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

I REMEMBER EXACTLY WHERE I WAS STANDING: facing the Art Museum, just to the left of the big fountain at Logan Square, over which had been built an immense white altar. I was right next to — really close enough to touch — one of the two colossal Civil War memorial columns on the Ben Franklin Parkway, shoulder to shoulder with an estimated 1.2 million people who had turned out to see Pope John Paul II celebrate Mass in Philadelphia. On October 3, 1979, I was an 18-year-old sophomore at Penn. That sunny Wednesday afternoon, I probably was skipping an accounting or finance class at Wharton. I remember taking the subway-surface line from University City to Suburban Station and being stunned by the vast crowds that met me when I made my way onto the streets. Despite the loudspeakers, I had to strain to hear Pope John Paul, and his heavily accented English didn’t make things any easier. But I didn’t care. It was cool just to see the Pope. Read more »

11 Easy Family Trips From Philadelphia


So much of parenthood is about negotiation, and some things — like where you’re going to spend your precious free weekends — are worth standing your ground on. Thanks to Philly’s proximity to mountains, lakes, cities and surf, a quick family getaway can truly have a little something that works for everyone. (Rejoice! You don’t have to suffer through another weekend of waterparks and bad buffets.) Here, 11 vacations where you’ll get to slow down, the littlest members of your family will be entertained, and everyone will be happy to break out of the daily grind.

Edited by Ashley Primis

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The Gospel According to Gabe Infante

Gabe Infante gave up a legal career to get into coaching. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Gabe Infante gave up a legal career to get into coaching. Photograph by Colin Lenton

It’s an annual event called the Last Supper, and the disciples are sitting in a lazy arc at the front of the St. Joe’s Prep auditorium, arguing over who’ll go first.

Dressed in t-shirts, shorts and backward hats, the senior football players look like Philadelphia itself, black and white, affluent and not, from South Philly, the Northeast, South Jersey and the Main Line.

They’ve broken bread for a last time — pizza, pasta and chicken tenders — then collected the rewards of a second straight state title: old-fashioned wool letterman jackets with leather sleeves, and state championship rings. Read more »

The Tale of Audrey Claire Taichman

Audrey Taichman at Twenty Manning Grill. Photograph by Chris Crisman; hair and makeup by Megan Ambroch.

Audrey Taichman at Twenty Manning Grill. Photograph by Chris Crisman; hair and makeup by Megan Ambroch.

THE THING ABOUT trying to tell an Audrey Taichman story is that it’s very hard to know where to start. Or, more precisely, which Audrey Taichman story to start with, because good Audrey stories are legion.

Once, Audrey’s dad took her to an orientation at a culinary school in Philadelphia at which the school’s director got up and asked the crowd: “How many of you here want to open up your own restaurant?” Audrey and a few others raised their hands. “Well, that’s not going to happen,” he said, in what was probably meant to be some real talk aimed at a room full of naive kids. Audrey looked at her dad, who grabbed her hand and said, “Let’s get out of here.” And then Audrey went and opened a restaurant. Read more »

Ask Liz: How Do I Get My Own Rouge and Parc Harems?

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Photograph by Claudia Gavin

Why do women at the restaurants on 18th Street tolerate the amorous affections of men twice their age, and how do I get to be one of those men? — Envious in Rittenhouse

Are you sure those are “amorous” affections you’re seeing? Maybe your jaundiced Philly view of the world has you seeing prurient interactions where there are none. Haven’t you heard of Take Your Daughter to Rouge Day? No? Well, it’s a thing. So if you want to get affection from a female half your age at a restaurant on 18th Street, I’d suggest you start procreating, stat.

Now that Philly got the nod for the Democratic convention, has received international praise, has a bustling music/restaurant scene and is home to a growing demographic of 30-somethings, what can we do to keep it from becoming too costly, crowded and overblown, like other cities that jumped the shark? — Concerned in Cherry Hill

Concerned, I can’t tell you how glad I am that you asked this question. Not because I share your concerns — I’ve lived through too many Philadelphia renaissances to panic — but because it gave me the perfect excuse to reach out to urban theorist Richard Florida at the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute and my enduring crush. Yes, I know: It’s more common to swoon over musicians or actors, but I’m drawn to urbanist public intellectuals. In fact, if there were a Coachella for people like Richard Florida, I’d be in the front row, wearing a too-low tank top and drunkenly mouthing all the words to “Creative Class Blues.” Lucky for you — a person who actually wants a substantive answer — Florida read your letter and offered a thoughtful response via email: “I’m not too worried about Philly. David Byrne, Moby and Spike Lee have all told us about the downsides of escalating housing prices, the invasion of the global super-rich, the gentrification of neighborhood after neighborhood, and the chasing of creatives out of New York City. These problems thus far remain limited to cities like New York and San Francisco, London and Paris, and to a lesser extent places like Boston, D.C. and Seattle.

“Despite some notable examples, Philadelphia has experienced nowhere near the level of gentrification of these cities, according to a detailed study by economist Daniel Hartley with the Cleveland Federal Reserve. Philly remains an affordable alternative to NYC for the creative class, and that is why many of its members are moving there. It’s a big city with lots of space and lots of neighborhoods, so I think it will take quite a while before it falls to the problems that plague New York and other so-called superstar cities.” Feel better? Well, don’t. Florida thinks you’re just worrying about the wrong thing: “The bigger problems in Philadelphia — and in most cities — remain the gaping gap between the haves and the have-nots and highly concentrated poverty and disadvantage. That’s what deserves our attention.”

I’ve noticed that pretty much every new building is built with wood. This seems to include the new building at 3rd and Market where Shirt Corner used to be and townhomes in my neighborhood made entirely of wood. Isn’t this a fire disaster waiting to happen? — Nervous in Northern Liberties

What you’re seeing is not, actually, buildings made entirely of wood — or at least not regular old wood that Richard Proenneke would use to build a log cabin. Licenses and Inspections commissioner Carlton Williams says, “Commercial and residential buildings are required to use fire-rated materials in properties to control the spread of fires.” Gypsum wallboard is the most common of these materials used in the construction of occupied dwellings. “Also,” he adds, “fire-rated insulation between wood beams prevents fires. That’s standard building practice.”

Liz Spikol has lived in Philadelphia nearly all her life, which means she knows stuff. Got a question? Email it to

Originally published as “Ask Liz” in the September 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.

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