Attention, Philly Tourists: This Way to La Colombe

Sometimes being a good city ambassador means lying to our visitors.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Mayor Nutter’s recent call for us all to remember our dual identities, as not only citizens of this promising, struggling city, but ambassadors. Nutter’s speech, at the chamber of commerce, focused on the role businesses can play. But the challenge extends to all of us. And, well, yesterday morning, I think I answered it with true Philadelphia style.

I was walking to work on 19th Street and crossing Chestnut when an owlish-looking little man stopped me. “Could you tell me,” he asked, “where the nearest Starbucks is?”

He had pronounced it “stah-bucks,” so I recognized him as a Southerner. And just over his left shoulder—in fact, just a few feet from his left shoulder—a massive Starbucks loomed.

“I’m from out of town,” he added, as if I didn’t already know.

Be the ambassador, I thought. Be the ambassador.

And so my answer surprised even me.

“Starbucks?” I said. “I don’t know where the nearest Starbucks is. But just a couple of blocks south, toward Rittenhouse Square, is a place called La Colombe. It started here so it’s local, and fantastic.”

“You don’t know about uh Stah-bucks?” he asked, meekly.

“No,” I said, trying to maintain steady eye contact and not glance at the Starbucks directly behind him. “But really, if you’re in Philly, you should give this place a try. It’s locally famous, and they make the best coffee around.”

“Ok, then, I’ll try it,” he replied.

I again pointed the way for him and watched him march off. Then I lingered at the corner, to make sure he didn’t turn around and see the Starbucks I’d lied about.

Was this rude of me? Or did I act as a fine ambassador for Philadelphia?

Looking back, I could have explained that yes, there is this Starbucks right behind you but you really should try La Colombe.

Thing is, there would have been a lot of risk there—a good chance he would just march into Starbucks and drink the coffee he wanted. In short, lying, right in this guy’s face, seemed like the best way to promote Philly at the time.

The math seemed simple to me: Philly = La Colombe.

Though his time here was but short, I wanted to connect him to us. Such is my passion. And yes, on his way back to his hotel he probably passed that very same Starbucks. But, by then, wouldn’t he be grateful for a real taste of Philly?

So. Ambassadorship. I’m trying to get a handle on the whole concept. Your input is welcome.