Tag Archives: Philadelphia

These Artists Did Great Work in 2013

It’s late in January to be making a 2013 list, but I want to recognize the art which resonated with me in the past year.

I recently started a book club, because I realized that I get more out of a book if I can talk about it with someone. In a similar spirit, I want to list the art I loved (and can remember) from the past year. Perhaps if I list it, and explain why, I’ll wring a little more enjoyment out of the discarded rinds. I also list them to encourage anyone reading this to explore these artists. They made my year special, and most of these pieces of art did not expire last year.

Lastly, reminding myself of all the wonderful art which I took in last year will, I hope, inspire me to make more of my own in the year to come.

My InDesign skills could use some work

A collection of the art I loved this last year

Art Which Kicked Ass In 2013 – In Philadelphia and Beyond

Listed in no particular order. If you’re looking for something special to check out in 2014, look below.

Visual Art

  • Broodhollow – a web comic by Kris Straub. A cheerfully-illustrated gothic web comic. I love the visual style and the world Straub’s creating. There’s also something resonant and cohesive to the madness depicted here, which I think springs from the fact that it’s a very personal story for the author. 
  • Alex Cohen – painter. I have many friends who are artists, and I look for ways to support them. I’ve always wanted to buy one of Cohen’s paintings, and this year I finally did.

Live Theater

  • The Berserker Residents – The Talk Back, The Jersey Devil. Maybe the funniest theater group in Philly. Saw two of their shows and got to know the three guys a bit as people this year. I am envious of their productivity and talent.
  • Pig Iron APT class – class shows. It is hard to describe the contact high one gets from hanging out with 16 talented artists who have all just doubled down on making theater a central part of their lives. The class shows I saw were among the best theater I’ve seen in Philly, period, and it makes me very excited to see what these actors and artists create going forward.
  • The Philly Fringe Festival. Remains my favorite time of the year in Philly.

Books and the Written Word

  • George Saunders – Tenth of December. I saw him speak at the Free Library. As if he wasn’t already a once-in-a-lifetime writer, he’s also a very engaging speaker and reader. I think I’ll look back and think, “Oh yeah, I remember when George Saunders was getting big” the way we talk about watching prime LeBron James or Rafael Nadal.
  • Annie Dillard – Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I’ve never read a book like this before. It’s not a novel, it’s not a memoir, it’s something else. This book made me want to take a walk in the woods, to live by a creek for a year, and to slow down and see the world with eyes as unfiltered as I can make them. I’ve never read a book before that calmed my mind while I read it.
  • Cormac McCarthy – Blood Meridian. The opposite of calming. The Judge. Oh my fucking lord. The Judge.
  • NaNoWriMo. This experience warrants its own blog post.

Movies and Television

  • Joss Whedon’s “Much Ado About Nothing.” The best movie I saw all year. The actors looked like they were having a blast making the movie, and yet that didn’t detract from the Shakespeare. I remember this film giving me a burning desire to get a bunch of talented friends together in a house, stock it with alcohol and camera equipment, and just make something.
  • StripSearch – from Penny-Arcade. I don’t watch TV and I loathe reality TV. But I’ve never obsessively watched a television show like I watched this. Watching this show taught me several things. It taught me the seductive power of watching a show with someone else. While it was on, I was pestering my friends, asking them to watch it so we could talk about it together. It also inspired me to work harder on my writing. Which is a pretty impressive feat from a purportedly piece of visual entertainment. It also stoked my persistent desire to collaborate with a visual artist on something. Maybe some day… 


  • Typhoon – White Lighter. The most personally meaningful album to me since college. I’ve also never had the experience of recommending music to friends and see that music take deep root. Typically the recommendations flow the other way. Typhoon came to Philly several years ago and played at the North Star Bar. In October they returned and played Johnny Brenda’s. In March they will play Union Transfer. I knew about them years ago. Mom, Dad, I’m finally a real hipster!
  • Bosley – live show at Connie’s Ric Rac. If Bosley isn’t huge within a year, there’s been a gross miscarriage of popular taste. Another band which I was able to introduce a friend to, and have that friend be so taken that he bought a CD at the show and later declared that CD to be the soundtrack to his life for the subsequent month.
  • Sigur Ros – live concert at the Mann Center. Simply beautiful.
  • Live music in New Orleans. Went to NOLA for the second time in my life. Remains a unique experience.
  • DJ SnKpaK – best dance party. A friend organized a Sunday night dance party at Silk City, and this DJ spun. I haven’t managed to see her since, but the strength of that one night got me to look her name up and keep her in mind. Sometimes a DJ just hits the right spot for one’s dancing style, and that night did it.


  • Dominion, 7 Wonders, Great Dalmuti. I love board and card games and these games brought me a lot of joy this year. Great Dalmuti, in particular, is the best card game I’ve ever discovered for casual time with friends. It’s strategic enough to be interesting, but casual enough that it won’t turn off people who “don’t play games.” You can also play for 20 minutes or 60, add or subtract players, it all works.
  • Minecraft. I never thought a video game could make planting trees, growing wheat, and building stairs so exciting.
  • Portal 2. Do you have a friend in another city? Play Portal 2 with them. It’s the most enjoyable, friendship-reinforcing experience I can think of when living 1,000 miles apart. That’s what I did.

Writing this felt like flipping back through old photos. It was a valuable exercise for me, and I’d encourage you to try it. And if you check out any of the above and like it, let me know.

Philly Urban Legends: The Wandering Bus

There is a bus in Philadelphia which SEPTA does not talk about.  It is not listed on the website.  It has neither schedule nor route.  It drives the city in a pattern known only to its driver, and perhaps not even to him.  Its electronic reader board never displays a number, only “SEPTA.”  People who know it call it the Zero, the Random Bus, the Wandering Bus, or just The Bus.  It is not a bus for people who know where they want to go.  It is a bus for departures.

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Fighting Back: Honking Taxis

Premise: car honking is irritating and way too prevalent in Philadelphia.  It lowers everybody’s standard of living and increases testiness.

Contributing cause: taxi cabs who honk at anybody they think might be looking for a cab.

You! Standing on the sidewalk and sort of near the curb! Need a cab?

Seriously.  I don’t know anybody who doesn’t know they need a cab until a cab honks at them.  This isn’t Junior Mints you’re selling.  (“Want a Junior Mint?”  “Um, yeah, sure!”)  You either want a cab, or you don’t.  I also don’t know anybody who tries to hail a cab in any manner other than standing on the curb, watching traffic, and raising a hand when a cab is spotted.

So, cab driver: is the person you’re honking at doing this?

The time-honored method


If not, they’re probably not looking for the services of a taxi.

But we know cab drivers will not stop their pointless honking.  Most of them don’t even read this blog.  So here’s how we fight this:

If you see a cab, raise your hand and hail it.  When it pulls over, wave them off.  If they get mad, say, “Oh, sorry, I wasn’t looking for a cab.”

Repeat until everybody hates everybody.

One approach to reporting good news

A friend of mine who works for the Food Trust passed along this article from today’s (Monday, 9/27/10) Philly Inquirer.  It is a “good news” story: a West Philadelphia family that recognized their son’s obesity risk and did something about it.  The article ties the Footes family’s story into larger Philadelphia efforts to inject healthy eating habits into the city’s African American neighborhoods.

Part of my problem with typical “good news” is that it focuses on individual feel-good stories and stops there.  These stories seem afraid to go big picture because, you are left to reason, the big picture is bad.  This trend (coupled with the marketing decision to not offend anybody) leads to asinine publications like Reader’s Digest, whose idea of news is profiles of couples married for 70 years and dogs who rescue their owners from floods.  Newspapers like the Inquirer are capable of printing feel-good “human interest” stories, but they run in the same section as big-picture articles about how obesity is going to cost American eight gazillion dollars in health care expenditures.  It’s hard to get jazzed about one family’s success when it’s followed up with an article about national crises.

So this article suggests a template for making in-roads into the national media’s bad-news habit.  Find a human-interest story and use it as an entry point to discuss national trends.  Then find within those trends reasons for optimism.  Wording is important: efforts are under way to improve the situation.  Plans and initiatives, frequently ambitious and progressive (danger in that word, but fuck it), bolstered by new research and backed by success stories which all lead to projections and attainable goals that, if met, would save X dollars and Y lives over Z years.  That’s the stuff.

There are massive lists of words sitting in political consultancy offices, lists of words to use in describing opponents and words to use in describing yourself.  Perhaps news desks should get a copy of those lists, and as their own public health initiative, start using the positive lists whenever possible in an innovative approach to lowering blood pressure nation-wide.

Urban Olympics II: Summer Bicycle Triathlon

Another post in the Urban Olympics series.  This morning I tested out Philadelphia’s urban bicycle triathlon course.  The Philly UBT consists of four stages and three events.  The course map is below:

Philadelphia's urban triathlon course (click for bigger view)

A primer on the Philly Urban Triathlon for the unfamiliar:

Stage 1: Time Trial (Point A to Point B on map)

Starting at Point A (21st & Pine), bike your way to Point B (15th & Pine).  The lights are timed and you must maintain a minimum speed of, oh, pretty fast, to get through them all without stopping.  One minute time penalty is assessed for every missed light.

Stage 2: Cool Down (Point B to Point C)

For this block, you reduce speed and lower your heart rate in preparation for the stop at Broad & Pine.

Stage 3: Witty Banter (Point C)

You must wait through the duration of one light at point C, during which time you make witty banter with the UArts students who hang around the corner of Broad & Pine at 8:10 in the morning.  The lower your heart rate, the wittier you will be.

Stage 4: Death Slalom (Point C to D)

For the last leg of the race, you must continue down Pine from Broad Street to 10th Street.  This stretch of pavement is atrocious, filled with more potholes, crumbled asphalt, and bad patch jobs than smooth concrete.  A popular area for taxi hailers, you must slalom between the bike lane and the car lane while avoiding taxis and moving vehicles.

Final scores are a combination of total eclipsed time and number of witticisms registered with the art types.  Automatic win if you get a phone number.