"Here lies W.C. Fields. I would rather be living in Philadelphia."
That's the epitaph Fields proposed for himself in a 1925 article in Vanity Fair, the implication being that Philadelphia was a step up from death, albeit a small one.
Several of us from the Flyer attended the annual Association of Alternative Newsweeklies convention in Philadelphia last week. It was much better than death. Flyer writers John Branston, Chris Davis, and Chris Herrington won writing awards against stiff national competition. And we learned much about practices newpapers such as the Flyer can use to adapt and grow in the rapidly changing information business.
Our hotel was next to the downtown convention center and the fabulous Reading Market. Think "farmer's market" writ large and in a building not unlike Memphis' Central Station, with dozens of vendors selling regional cheeses, meats, mounds of fresh fish on ice, gleaming produce, handmade soaps, chocolate, butter, quilts, regional books, you name it. The aromas, the buzz of conversations, the price haggling, the energy of the place — it was intoxicating. Would that we could pull off such a thing in downtown Memphis.
Hmm. Peabody Place, anyone?
Another dynamic of Philadelphia wasn't quite as charming. On the way into the city from the airport, the cabbie noted our cheerful backseat conversation and asked where we were from. "Memphis," we said.
"Well, I knew you weren't from here," he said. "You're too happy. Everybody around here is mad all the time." And indeed, there was a different vibe in the air. As we pulled up to the hotel, we heard cursing, yelling, and sustained honking. Some poor sucker had had the nerve to park in the taxi-waiting line to help his wife (who was on crutches!) get out of his car. You would have thought someone's mother had been stabbed. "Move that fookin' car!" they screamed. "Moooove it!!!!" Nice.
Later, we ran into a couple of semi-surly waiters who wouldn't last one shift in Memphis, including one who "busted my chops," as he put it, because I dared to "do his job" and pour wine from a bottle on the table into a dining partner's glass. Still, Philly has many charms, and I recommend it you, even though, on the whole, I'd rather be living in Memphis.