Ask Liz: (Comcast?) Cable and the 1948 Democratic National Convention

This month: Why we were the place to host the 1948 DNC, SEPTA leaks, and why Philly haters inevitably move back.

Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis/Associated Press

Political revelers at the 1948 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Photograph: Bettmann/Corbis/Associated Press

I know Comcast’s David L. Cohen is senior adviser to the host committee for the Democratic National Convention to be held in Philly in 2016. Is it true Comcast also had something to do with the last presidential DNC held in Philadelphia? — Media-Minded in Center City

Given that Philadelphia’s last general-election DNC was in 1948 and Comcast wasn’t founded until 1963, it can’t be said there was any specific connection. But then, as now, the city did have a big-media draw that was key to getting the convention business: It was geographically situated in the middle of the long-distance coaxial cable that had been laid between Boston and Richmond, Virginia, which facilitated live TV. For that reason, Philadelphia was considered the place to be for the best TV coverage — so much so that the RNC chose Philly for its 1948 convention as well. By 1951, the East and West coasts would be linked by coaxial cable, but in ’48 our town still had a media monopoly. A different kind of media monopoly, that is.

Why does the El station at 8th and Market leak even when it isn’t raining? — Baffled in Market East

I know just the spot you’re talking about: the platform on the eastbound side, where there’s frequently a bucket to catch the drops. Naturally, I couldn’t begin to speculate on this one myself, so I went straight to the source. SEPTA public information manager Manuel Smith says SEPTA is aware of this issue, which results, as you might expect, from aging infrastructure. “When the concrete is cold, water more readily leaks through cracks even when it’s not raining,” Smith says of the building constructed in 1908. “In the extremely cold winter, cracks opened to their maximum width.” SEPTA installed a system of drip pans to direct water away from the platforms, but when the excessively low temperatures hit, the water in the drip pans froze and caused additional leaks. “Think about an old basement,” says Smith, noting that any underground structure will have issues of this kind. “It’s an ongoing problem.” Of course it is.

Why did I hate Philly so much when I moved there and now I can’t stay away? — Lonely in Pittsburgh

You are not alone: Many people move to Philadelphia, hate it, leave, and then find themselves inexorably drawn back into its vortex. I myself never imagined I’d end up in my hometown, especially after living in terrific places like Austin, Texas, New York and Costa Rica. My boyfriend made it all the way to Portland, Oregon, for three whole years, but now he’s back and he hardly knows why. I have countless friends who deride the city but get lonely for its flaws the minute they leave, even when on vacation in the Caribbean. There’s a little-known scientific theory that posits that certain iconic ingredients — chunks of salt from Philly Pretzel Factories, the lemon zest from John’s Water Ice, the liquid from SEPTA’s drip pans — seep into the water supply and turn us into Philadelphia devotees against our wishes. If true, this is bad news for you because it means you have no choice: You’ll have to move back to Philly from Pittsburgh, and that is one long drive in a U-Haul. Take comfort, though, in knowing there are legions of folks just like you who’ll be happy to buy you a lager and bitch about the city at a local dive as soon as you arrive.

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

Originally published in the April 2015 issue of Philadelphia magazine.