Philly is one gritty city. It was a great place to grow up, the birthplace of freedom and tough love all rolled into a hoagie smothered with onions that you can eat at a beach in your bare feet. Notorious for roughnecks, as a kid you knew this much, always: for every mouthy bad guy there were seven relatives who had your back, and they too were mouthy. Lotta mouth.
So I’d say Philly is sort of a great way to measure the change of human interaction, as it’s been known as a hallmark of incivility. There were two places in this City’s arena where you could especially get your ass kicked: the Skuykhill Expressway (known as The Sure Kill) and any kind of ballgame or sports arena, on any day.
Driving in Philly used to be a full body contact sport - so many people gave me the finger when I was a teenager learning to drive that I thought it was part of the program. At an Eagle’s football game the fans threw snowballs at Santa and a 10 year old trying to make a foul shot during halftime at the Sixers got booed. There you go.
Not any more. Philadelphia is becoming kinder and I’m here to tell you, if this city can evolve, any dang place on earth can. I was headed out of town recently, ready to wrestle both traffic and the airport - thorns in any urban side - but I was amazed at what happened. A biblical thunderstorm rolled over town the night before I left so as I negotiated rush hour traffic, the lights went out. Now, ten years ago if traffic lights went out it was bloodsport - getting across an intersection was kill or be killed, the bold and the stupid playing bumper tag. But listen to what happened:
People fell quickly into a rhythm of cooperation. Everyone stopped at their corners - even on the crazy and disastrous Route 1 - and took turns crossing. My mouth fell open as I watched a pattern emerge: cars pulled up and waiting, a few went one way, then that lane stopped and let the cross traffic through. It was miraculous.
The next day at the airport the bus from economy parking was jam packed with summer travelers. Everybody watched out for each other, apologizing left and right for bumps or inadvertent swipes. We helped people in and out, carried each other's bags, laughed about it. This is seismic, folks. This is change that is literally erupting from a heart of kindness that is so big and deep it is unstoppable. Things are changing; we are becoming kinder. Nobody boos little kids anymore, and Philly’s even a safe place for Santa.
But there’s much more. After each horrendous riot or shooting what do we now see? People cleaning up the streets together, citizens lining up to protect police, southerners getting rid of flags that hurt, people forgiving murderers and holding up big signs about Love. The people of Charleston teach us. The people of Baltimore show us the way. Watch closely. Don’t pay any mind to the media - they are totally out of the loop. Sex and fear, worry and tragedy sell ads so TV and internet news is like McDonald’s - old, tired, bad for us, and running on an engine that might have worked twenty years ago but is fast becoming very creaky.
Love is going to trump fear; it already has. Keep your eyes open every darn day and you will see it, I promise. Look for it: the hipster kid who helps an old person carry bags, folks jumping up to open doors for a guy in a wheelchair. We are waking up. The great news is that our kids seem to be waking up sooner. I’m at the end of my 50s and it took my generation this long to have a clue. Many of us still don’t. But our kids seem to be keying in sooner to the value of listening and loving and patience; they form unions that are true partnerships, and love their children with fierce and open hearts that are bound to transform that next generation into the firebrands of this new kind of freedom - the kind that will reach out to those suffering everywhere. It’s going global, this force of kindness. It is unstoppable.
Philly is still a great place for a cheesesteak and you can still walk barefoot down the shore but now when storms come, traffic stops and we watch out for each other. The City of Brotherly Love has finally earned its title. It’s a good time to be a human.