Walk Like a Philadelphian

Or: The girl I saw on a sticky summer afternoon at 3rd and South

Two days ago, 3rd and South, mid-afternoon, air sticky as a newly landed wad of Bazooka on the Wildwood boardwalk. I’m stopped at the intersection behind the wheel of my car. A female friend is in the passenger seat.

A girl, late 20s, maybe early 30s, perfectly suited up for the prickly conditions—shorts and tee, hair pulled tight atop her head—walks across the street in front of us. She’s sporting attitude with her shorts and tee, too—lots of it, which is what you notice way more than what she’s wearing.

Here’s the other thing you notice: the attitude she’s toting is different. It’s not the fists up, face festooned like Gaga, done so much speed in my young life I’m batshit crazy so you best keep your distance, which is what you see in a lot of coming-into-their-own Philly girls, so much that it makes you want to catch the next available Southwest to Chicago.

Different, this girl. You see it at a glance.

Maybe she went to Goretti, maybe has a cool mother, maybe reads Poe and Didion, maybe she likes to go to the Ritz but also take in the King of Prussia multiplex with her chick friends once in a while to bathe in the suburban wanderlust and remind herself that life is short and there are lots of options and there are no border guards at South Street.


Maybe not at all. Definitely something though.

You see by the skip and bounce in her walk that the girl can kick it old school too, which doesn’t mean she wants to kick you old school, not at all, so boring, so yesterday, but if you do bring it, you better be ready, because she’s been there. Had to be.

Because it’s real hot and steamy and we’re talking about South Street here, Ground Zero for heat and hallucinogens in Philly, you may think some of this delusional, but it’s not. You’d be wrong to think so.

In any event, the girl is a revelation to watch, and not for the reasons you’re thinking. It’s because she’s got real Philly bounce, the precious kind, the kind that comes from genetics and from being present on the sidewalks, the kind you worry may have been dissipating, the kind that gives this city a wonder and imagination all its own.

So we’re watching this girl, thinking this stuff—my friend taking notes of her own—and that’s when it happens.

A car horn. A short beep, right behind me. It’s not a mean beep, and it’s not to tell me to go. The driver behind me sees somebody he knows on the sidewalk. He’s trying to get his attention.

The girl is three strides past my car when she hears it, and she thinks it’s me doing the beeping. Without looking back, her right arm begins to rise, slowly but surely, straight up, and when her arm is fully extended, her middle finger pops out of her hand. You can almost hear it pop. It points straight to the sky.

No. That wasn’t me.

I think to say it, but don’t. It wouldn’t matter. It’s not that important. Besides, she’s moving on.

You so hope.

Misunderstandings happen all the time in Philadelphia. You can’t make it a big deal.

Tim Whitaker (twhitaker@mightywriters.org) is the executive director of Mighty Writers, a nonprofit program that inspires city kids to write.