Center City’s Obstacles: A Sidewalk Guide

Charity muggers adapt! And other harrowing tales of life as a pedestrian.

Jonathan Papelbon had some kind words for Philadelphia the other day. “Philadelphia has a cool feel to it, man,” the new Phillies closer told Sports Illustrated. “It makes you feel like you are in Paris. I’ve never been to Paris, but I’ve seen it in a lot of movies.”

He didn’t stop there! “When I walk down the street, everyone is nice,” he added. “They say hi, and then they let you do your business.”

Philly may be like Paris; I, too, have only seen it in movies. But I think Papelbon is missing something: Sometimes people on the street can be a little too nice. Yes, the chuggers have adapted.

If you remember, chugger is British slang for “charity mugger,” the people who accost you on the street asking for donations. Back when I chronicled chuggers in November, their man tactic was to ask you if you had a second for a cause. If you refused, you felt like a jerk.

You think this isn’t a serious issue? No source less than This is Money (“Financial Website of the Year”) writes that chuggers are driving away people from half of UK streets. That website’s part of the Daily Mail, so you know it’s not exaggerating!

Chuggers haven’t quite reached hilarious tabloid over-dramatization yet in America, but I’m trying. In recent weeks, chuggers have a new strategy: Attempting to engage you in conversation.

Walking in the city is an elaborate dance. What makes city living so great is the excitement in not knowing what spectacle you’re going to see around the corner. A new sticker of El Toro, someone’s stupid outfit, three new frozen yogurt stores, one of those cute Bernese mountain dogs. In the park you can see families and pervy old dudes and, sometimes, a whole circus of people hula-hooping, playing hacky sack, tightrope walking and juggling.

But it’s also hard work, requiring constant vigilance. This is mostly to make sure you don’t get run over by cars, several-ton death machines that should really make you think twice about walking around while texting. But there’s also, at least in unfriendly east coast cities like Philadelphia, the want to avoid unnecessary contact with others. I have lots of friends. I can meet strangers at a bar. I don’t need to meet strangers on the street.

Maybe I’m just a shy jerk, but I’m not the only one who feels this way. And, as such, the last few weeks it’s been off-putting to be shouted at by chuggers in an attempt to start a conversation so they can get a commission if I donate money to some nonprofit. (Complicated!) I’ve been asked how my day is going. I’ve been complimented on both my shirt and my legs (I was running). I’ve been negged and asked why I look so gloomy. I thought I was complimented on the gym bag I stole from my ex but it turns out she was complimenting the bag of a person next to me. I told her I would have stopped if she had been talking to me. Dan 1, Chuggers 0.

Chuggers aren’t the only obstacle on our city’s sidewalks. Here’s a quick guide to what you’ll be dealing with this summer.

People Who Want Your Money:
This is different than charity mugging, as I’ll explain in a bit. There are a variety of people who want your money on the street, and amazingly none of them are all that much of a bother. The only danger with food trucks and newsstands is a long line for food or lottery tickets—or, in an incredibly unlikely event, flowers–but it’s not too hard to figure out a way to sneak by. You might also see people hawking One Step Away, and those vendors are always very nice. And, yes, there are people who just ask for your money. Eh. Maybe I just put off a vibe of pennilessness but I’ve never found Philly to have aggressive panhandlers.

Annoyance factor: 1 out of 10
Ways to deal: Walking around, ignoring, actually giving people your money, possibly in exchange for something

People Attempting to Show Off a Product
No, I don’t want to try out the goddamn Samsung Galaxy Note.

Annoyance level: 2 of 10
Ways to deal: Ha ha, that phone has a stylus!

My favorite aspect of the Occupy protesters was how many people stopped supporting them when they found out how much the city was spending on police overtime. If the government learned anything from the Occupy protests, it’s that it can cut support for populist protests by saying they’re costing a lot of money. Capitalism! Anyway, the Occupy camp is gone, but occasionally protesters may show up to bash Wells Fargo or Tom Corbett. Eh, no big deal. Protests are one of the city’s great spectacles!

Annoyance factor: 3 out of 10
Ways to deal: Walk to a different block, point and laugh and the stupid hippies, join in

Movie Shoots
Don’t you just get so excited when a movie decides to shoot in our quaint burg? I have very fond memories of watching How Do You Know shoot from an apartment window. Of course, the movie turned out to be horrible, but whatever.

Annoyance factor: 3 out of 10
Ways to deal: “Ohmigod, it’s Colin Farrell!”

Let’s be clear: All bicyclists are horribly rude jerks who break every traffic law imaginable. (Even the speed limit, somehow.) But I get it: Cars break just as many traffic laws and, as previously mentioned, are giant metal death machines, but drivers are an exalted class in the U.S. So why wouldn’t bicyclists be angry? They’re supposed to stay on the street, though; let them deal with car doors.

Annoyance factor: 4 out of 10
Ways to deal: The knowledge that you, as a pedestrian, are better than some hipster doofus on a bike

People Who Don’t Know How to Walk
As The Simpsons taught us, the sidewalk is for regular walking, not for fancy walking. But that doesn’t stop people from acting like they’re in a fancy brigade all over Center City’s sidewalks. Internet comedy godfather Seanbaby once chronicled the eight most obnoxious types of pedestrians, but even knowing the patterns of poor walkers probably won’t help you much.

Annoyance factor: 5 out of 10
Ways to deal: Parkouring off the wall and past them, walking in the street, homicidal thoughts to soothe your brain’s annoyance at getting to your destination 30 seconds later

Oh, get over it, you big baby.

Annoyance factor: 10 out of 10, but you’ll put on airs like it’s absolute zero
Ways to deal: Ha ha, look at her new boyfriend’s stupid face!

Sidewalk Cafes and Bars
Could outdoor dining be any finer than on the trash-strewn alleyway of Sansom Street? Unfortunately, on small streets tables and chairs really take up a lot of space. Additionally, every bar now has lots of smokers huddled outside, ready to get in your way and/or accidentally blow smoke in your face.

Annoyance factor: Anywhere from a 1 to a 10 out of 10, depending on the location and your tolerance for cigarette smoke
Ways to deal: For smokers, Either asking for a light or lecturing them silently in your mind about lung cancer. For sidewalk cafes, consult the section on people who don’t know how to walk.

People Who Want Your Personal Information
This is where chuggers come in. They don’t want change; they want your credit card number! In the fall, another group will be asking for your personal information: People trying to get you to sign up to vote.

Annoyance factor: 10 out of 10
Ways to deal: I usually use “Sorry, convicted felon!” on people trying to get me to register, but now that I think about it that should work on chuggers, too.