January 31, 2008
Shut The Duck Up!
I'm not sure what's my favorite part of "Shut The Duck Up!" the mini-documentary shot by Drexel filmies and posted this week to YouTube.
It could be that Walt Sherman, the ex-Independence Park ranger whose life was nearly ruined by those drive-by quacking, tourist-movers, is wearing hunter's camouflage for most of this movie.
Or the fact you can almost see him becoming unhinged as he pinpoints his annoyance: "It's the loud obnoxious screaming, the horrible incessant quacking."
Or the scene where he's in his basement, methodically hammering the life out of those little noise-makers, as he explains his crusade to bring them off the streets and silence their plastic beaks.
The Stop The Duck! movement joins the YouTube revolution. Love the T-shirts. Zip that canard!
January 30, 2008
A Salty Local Custom
My brother, who lives in North Carolina, comes to visit sometimes. He has been in a wheelchair since a car accident at the age of 18 (he is now 63). When I spend time with him I am humbled by his amazing serenity in the face of constant obstacles such as the ones you mention. To name a few: yes, the inaccessible restaurants, and bathrooms in those restaurants and other places in the city. Also, people who park or stop in front of curb cuts so he can't get up or down. People who won't get out of the way as he is coming towards them on the sidewalk. And the constant staring as though he is a freak. The hotels offering handicapped rooms, when he can't even get his wheelchair in the bathroom. I must confess that I cannot imagine being so patient and calm in the midst of constant barriers. My anger and frustration are almost incontrollable when I share these frustrating situations with him. But, my brother does not complain about these injustices.
The only thing that really bothers him, though, is the spit. I asked him why the spit. He said it gets on his wheels and then on his hands.
The Disability Rag
"Hi Dan, the message on my voicemail began. "This is Beth Sutter... I really appreciate your article, your commentary, 'Philadelphia is a rough ride for wheelchair users.' I thought you were very intentional in using the word 'wheelchair user' as opposed to 'wheelchair-bound' or someone being 'in the wheelchair.' "
How did I know a but was to follow?
"I wondered if you would also consider being intentional about avoiding phrases like 'the disabled' or 'the handicapped.' I have the same response to the words 'the homeless.' Just because I find those words distancing. As if the person is 'other.' "
I called her back. Yes, I said, I was deliberate in saying "uses a wheelchair." This is because I used to live in Louisville, and back in the '80s a very feisty magazine was published there. They called it The Disability Rag.
And rag they could.
I will never forget the note I got from a woman there when I thoughtlessly wrote someone was "confined to a wheelchair." That turned out to be one of the Disability Rag editors' least favorite phrases.
Confined? As if the wheelchair is a prison?
I got the point. But I never thought that saying something about the disabled is not as good as saying something about disabled people. In fact, apparently I did it twice in Monday's column. Now that I think of it, it's a fair point.
Sutter and I talked for a few minutes. Turns out she's second cousin to Bruce Sutter, who I used to watch pitch at Wrigley Field in the late '70s during the reign of the Grubby Cubbies.
She is 52, and has been a disabled person since 1991. Her spinal stenosis makes it extremely painful to sit. "It means I cannot use a wheelchair. I use critches. I've pretty much been in bed since June."
She was an occupational therapist. "I miss it a lot," she said.
I'll think of her next time I try to make a noun out of an adjective.
January 29, 2008
The Inaccessible Suburbs
Monday's column on Cliff Roberts' wheeling his chair through The Inaccessible City caused my phone to ring enough to think I'd hit a nerve.
"It's just as bad in the suburbs," said Barbara Quinn, 60, of Aston in Delaware County. She started by ripping into the nice man at her hair salon -- a brand new place in an expensive building.
"When I went in there, the first time after it was completed, the owner said to me, 'How do you like our building? It's all handicapped accessible.' " The owner proudly noted the elevator for those who can't climb stairs, the bathrooms with rails for those who need to support their legs.
All great, Quinn replied.
If only she could get in the front door. No automatic doors.
The owner said the township didn't require that.
So Quinn, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has to drag her husband along to the beauty parlor or wave until someone sees her and lets her in. Which is not comfortable to her. The hardest part about her being in the chair, she says, is emotional. She doesn't see herself as someone who has to rely on others.
"I've learned, I guess, through this disease that I have to swallow my pride and ask for help.
"The only place I love shopping is Kohl's. They are a delight. They have automatic doors. Their aisles are wide. And they have a mannequin sitting on a pedestal and the mannequin is disabled. It's the only place I've seen that."
Other places make her feel belittled. Belittled by doors in the ladies room that she cannot open from the inside, and so she must wait for the kindness of strangers. And they are kind, she says.
Nicholas Vincent Siravo wonders where those nice people are. He lives in the Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia.
"The whole world is out to get people in electric mobility carts," says the 61-year-old retired printer with a host of maladies including diabetes, cancer, a heart condition, broken back vertebrae and two artificial knees. "We’re the freaks of the world. People don’t like us. We’re in their way. They have to open doors for us. They have to move aside for us."
He had so much trouble pulling open the doors to the bank in his neighborhood, he says, that he started using the drive-in window.
Until an employee came out screaming that they didn't have insurance for that, and he had to go inside.
He said he got tired of waiting for someone to see him and open the door, so he complained.
They put in a bell.
But even that didn't help.
"You ring it and you ring it. They look at each other, 'Aren’t you gonna get it?' "
Some callers or e-mailers groused about perfectly able people hogging handicapped parking spaces. One caller, a former police officer whose son is disabled, said he used to love writing up those who abused these precious parking spaces.
"It's tough all over," Quinn said. "Restaurant owners, shop owners should stay in a wheelchair just for one day and they they'd see the challenges that you face."
Josh Winheld, who like Roberts suffers from a muscle-atrophying illness, expressed by e-mail his frustration with uneven curb cuts, which make it hard to navigate his wheelchair.
That thought was seconded by Arlene Halpern, of 15th & Locust in Center City. She said her wheelchair-bound husband cannot travel 50 feet south without hazarding his health trying to get off and then back onto the sidewalk at Sydenham Street.
"The ramp on both sides have crumbled," she said. It's almost impossible to go through on a wheelchair, and when it rains, the water collects and it takes a couple of days to drain." That complaint about curb cuts I heard from three wheelchair users.
This called for a field trip, so at lunch I walked down to the intersection, and found the ramps to battered -- an pocked slope of granite and stone and macadam roughed up by a steady tide of heavy traffic.
Halpern said she's called a councilwoman twice since October. She was told that the cold weather makes immediate repair unlikely.
Halpern, who moved into the city from the Main Line a year ago, said she'd like to join an advocacy committee for the disabled. She was hopeful the new mayor would welcome her input. Mayor?
"Here in the snootiest neighborhood in Philadelphia you find dilapidated streets," she said. "No one is immune from The Treatment. I'm all for fixing the infrastructure."
Looks like we take another bite of this Thursday.
Can we hear from some business owners? The difficulty of working with historic properties? The logistical hardship of narrow properties in the old city?
If this were New York there would be a form we could send when we encountered something inaccessible.
January 28, 2008
Hey Mister, Can You Spare A Column Idea?
Because the fresh start of the week means a blank sheet of paper for me. I've got two columns due and no plan.
Do I follow up on the Inaccessible City, the piece that's in today about Clifford Roberts trying to get into South Philly restaurants and shops with his wheelchair? Inky shooter Michael Wirtz made a cool video from my second interview with the violin-maker last week.
When I asked for reader help with that one, I got an e-mail from a blogger who writes about having a similar muscle-atrophying illness. You might want to check out Josh Winheld's World.
Josh wrote me in a note:
As much as I love Philadelphia, it is an old city, so a lot of places in Center City are inaccessible. That certainly doesn’t please me, but I’m not sure what can be done because not every business owner can afford the necessary renovations. I also love trying new restaurants and was disappointed several weeks ago when, after visiting the new Perelman museum, I couldn’t find any accessible restaurants nearby, except for a pizza shop. But hey, it’s their loss because people with disabilities are known to be loyal customers, as the hotel industry has learned. As for cobblestones, they look nice, but I hate them! Uneven curb cuts are a bigger problem. Interestingly enough, a friend from England visiting New York with her boyfriend who was in a chair could not believe how awful the curb cuts and sidewalks were. As for banking, I now do that mostly online.
I picked up a few tips during the reporting that make me want to take a bigger bite of the issue.
Then there's another piece I'm considering, about a bunch of old fishermen who have been shut out of their favorite spot. That's out of the city, which is good, as I've been scuffing up my feet lately.
And later in the week, I'm going to help someone I wrote about move into a new home. Well, hopefully she's got some real help, too.
See you in the funny papers.
January 24, 2008
Not Just Hugs
Thursday's column about the Wawa in the Northeast Philly that has a hugging problem prompted this email from Cindy Newman, which she allowed me to post:
As a recently retired law enforcement officer having read your column today regarding hugs at a local WaWa Store I was sadly reminded of an incident that occurred during my career. I was blessed to have spent the last 17 years working in S. Florida in a school-based policing program. We were a pro-active unit whose purpose was not just enforcement. We saw our students everyday, taught in the classrooms, built positive relationships with them outside of the arena of law enforcement. We were part of their everyday lives and I loved everyday I went to work with "my" kids.
January 23, 2008
Report This Column
I haven't seen him in about a decade. The piece I wrote in November, 1998 was headlined 'Working the Wood While He Can." It was about this master violin maker in South Philadelphia whose muscular distrophy made each movement successively harder. He was doing painstaking work against the clock.
This time we're going to talk about what it is like to move about this region in a wheelchair.
Got any ideas?
Do you know of any places where this is particularly challenging? Public places? Restaurants? SEPTA?
Where should I have Clifford take me? What would you be curious to know?
He's got his own ideas. When I called today, he said, "This is something I've been thinking about for years. I see many people of all ages who have disabilities -- and not just people in wheelchairs. It's a disgrace that no one gives a ---. There are all these ADA laws in this city and they're ridiculous."
So, another experiment launches. (note to self: inform editor some time)
What if this space made room for a little writing about writing?
A blog about a column about a place.
But I'm not talking about shining the light in -- go rent a Charlie Kaufman movie for that. I'm talking about shining the light outward. I'm going to try to use this space to chronicle what it is like to try to take the pulse of the place.
Basically, it means I can finally find an outlet for all the bizarro phone calls, all the wild goose chases, all the little moments that can't quite make it into full-length columns, but are noteworthy nonetheless.
Ringo Walks, Dave Stewart Dishes
We love it when a star shucks his handler and speaks his mind without a script.
David Stewart, the former Eurythmic, said this about Ringo Starr's walking off the "Live With Regis & Kelly" set yesterday after a producer ruled Ringo's performance would be too long for the attention spans of the viewing audience:
"Four minutes (3 minutes and 40 seconds, actually) seemed like an appropriate amount of time for a former Beatle. Mr. Gelman apparently felt Ringo's musical legacy should take a back seat to additional banter about the size of Ms. (Kelly) Ripa's derriere."
The song was "Liverpool 8." Before you go hoisting Ringo onto a pedestal for artistic integrity, here's the YouTube video for the song he was to play. That's Stewart on guitar.
The armchair critics are commenting in brutal fashion, for instance:
sanctimonious talentless tuneless bile
Not everyone's so nasty, however:
Hey, he's having fun. And remember Ringo was there to remind us that the Beatles were human....Oh, Yeah it does sound like an adolescent wrote it, but that's what rock'n roll is ultimately about.
Ringo did trim the song for Letterman, but was allowed to go full length for Rachael Ray, that patron of the arts.
January 21, 2008
Podcasts Worth The Time?
I'm afraid I don't know where to start.
I wrote about them in their infancy, more than three years ago, when my fave was this lo-fi creation called the Dawn and Drew Show, which was put together in an old Wisconsin farmhouse by an invitingly twisted couple of ex-gutter punks. I'm guessing the genre has grown up since.
But it's passed me by. I haven't kept up at all.
What I'd like to do is figure out a way to load up the iPod with a good 45 minutes of stuff twice a day as a walk the dog -- you know, a sort of personalized NPR.
I want news, sports, weather. But more quirky stuff, too -- mondo interviews, exotic travel, dangerous adventure, forgotten music, great escape, fettuccine szechuan.
So, those who've got this figured out, what have you found to be keepers???
January 11, 2008
History Slows a Casino
Yesterday casino officials confirmed they're putting the breaks on excavation of the site after the Pa. Historical Preservation Office opined that no digging should begin until the area is thoroughly investigated for antiquities.
Thursday's column looked at efforts from a group of Philadelphia history hobbyists to bring to light details about a British fort built on the site in 1777. They began their work after contractors studying the site failed to mention the fort in their first phase report. They history hounds have had some real success.
In today's paper, Jeff Shields reports that the fort and remains of Indian activity pose enough of an obstacle that excavation planned for next week will stop. The Street Administration issued a grading permit last week, on its last day of business.
The dude in the picture: That's John Simcoe, commander of the Queen's Rangers, loyalists who manned British Redoubt No. 1. on the Delaware. Simcoe, a bellicose Oxford-educated chap, would go on to found some town called Toronto.
While he's portrayed wearing red, historian Robert Selig said last week that the Americans who sided with the British and stayed at the fort wore green coats. The better to forage in.
Finally, here's the map of the fort drawn back in the day by cartographer Lewis Nicola. Torben Jenk and Selig found it this week at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which has allowed us to publish it here.