Why Philly Matters: Return to Sender

Like an illicit affair, the city gets into your blood, and can still drive you crazy years after you’ve left it. In a love (hate) letter to the town that launched her career, LISA DePAULO proves that while you can take the girl out of Philly …


I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cursed you and loved you at the same time. You’re like a bad romance. Or a great one. (Still trying to decide.)

Look, I’m from Scranton. So anything would have seemed like a little slice of paradise. But I did spend 15 years with you. First at Penn, then at Philly Mag. Then at Philly Mag. Then at Philly Mag again. So if you ask me Why Philly Matters, I would probably have to say … Smokey Joe’s!

But really, seriously, here is why you matter:

Because there is no place else on earth that could make someone feel so utterly ambivalent. Do I love you or do I hate you? Do we love those Iggles or hate them? Do we love Ed Rendell or hate him? (Heh.) Do we love the Clothespin or hate the Clothespin? Do we love Neil Stein or hate him? (Okay, him I LOOOOVE.)

Yes, Philadelphia matters, because there’s nowhere else that a guy like Neil Stein can rise from the ashes, a couple dozen times, and still come back. There is nowhere else that a place like Termini’s Bakery can still exist. (Trust me, I’ve been appalled — appalled — at the lack of anything remotely similar on Mulberry Street in New York.) Because even though I bitch and moan when I go back to Philadelphia — because, well, that’s what I do — I still feel this twinge (is it pain? Is it love? Is it exhaust fumes from Amtrak?) when the train pulls into 30th Street. For some reason, the song from the Philadelphia movie always starts playing in my head. This is not a happy song, my friends. But it makes me a little misty. In a good way. Of course, then I get in a cab and become instantly homicidal because, Jesus Christ, guys, how do you expect to be a world-class city when the first thing anyone experiences in Philadelphia is a Philadelphia taxicab?!

Be honest here: Is there not one frickin’ cab in the whole town that doesn’t look like it’s duct-taped together and smell like old hoagie? Oh, man, now I sound like Herb Lipson. But that’s the point. In Philly, it’s okay to sound like Herb Lipson. It’s also entirely possible to be repelled and charmed at the same time. (Aw, isn’t that cute, my cabbie has a beaded seat-cover but doesn’t know where Market Street is.) Show me another city that has that power.

But I digress. I’m supposed to be telling you why Philadelphia matters. Here you go. My unofficial top 10, in no particular order (because I was once a Philly girl, I don’t have to be precise):