PAPERBOY: Slow-Jamming The Alt-Weeklies

paperboyartthumbnail.jpgBY DAVE ALLEN Like time, news waits for no man. Keeping up with the funny papers has always been an all-day job, even in the pre-Internets era. These days, however, it’s a two-man job. That’s right, these days you need someone to do your reading for you, or risk falling hopelessly behind and, as a result, increasing your chances of dying lonely and somewhat bitter. That’s why every week PAPERBOY does your alt-weekly reading for you. We pore over those time-consuming cover stories and give you the takeaway, suss out the cover art, warn you off the ink-wasters and steer you towards the gooey center. Why? Because we love you!


PW: If baseball is our nation’s pastime, then surely bitching about SEPTA must be this city’s. (Sorry, Phillies.) Randy LoBasso’s cover on SEPTA making a mish-mash out of modernization goes beyond bitching, though, delving into the dollars and delusion behind the big plans for mass transit, starting with I-80 toll road mess and Fast Eddie hanging the city out to dry.

SEPTA, which relies primarily on state funds for its operations, has a habit of saying one thing, doing another and making 090110pwcover.jpgpromises it can’t keep. A look at the authority’s never-ending delays in plan funding and contracts and how it spends what little money it has, gives us no indication that this shift into modernity is coming any time soon. And though the authority’s decisions are often clouded in secrecy, it’s probably a lot further away than SEPTA cares to admit.

Back in November 2008, a year after SEPTA’s initial announcement to go tokenless, the authority finally seemed destined for greatness. It put out a public call for proposals for its Smart Card system. A contract to begin a full revamp of SEPTA’s payment methods would be awarded by April 2009, and would likely cost upward of $100 million: Money SEPTA conceivably had in its share of the state budget. But the project hit a wall due to inadequate funding, extensions were made on final proposal awards and SEPTA provided virtually no details as to why. In March 2009, the April deadline was extended to May. On May 5, it was extended to June 23. On June 24, it was reportedly extended to Aug. 18. On Aug. 21, the deadline became Sept. 30. Now it’s 2010 and we’re not getting any younger.

But we did get an answer, finally. On March 12, 2010, SEPTA came clean, announcing its financial situation was worse than originally thought. Act 44 (the Transportation Reform Act), which was passed by the state Legislature in 2007 and established the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Trust Fund—$88.3 billion over a 50-year period for Pennsylvania transportation maintenance—was on the brink of a disaster. Part of Act 44’s funding relied on converting route I-80, which runs through the center of the state, into a toll road. This had yet to be done and if it failed completely, the authority would have to cut $110 million from its budget for fiscal year 2011.

Even with credit where it’s due — the stimulus cash that’s making some Broad Street Line renovations possible, for one — SEPTA comes across a shoestring agency, desperately trying to hold things together between funding sources. A “promise” by SEPTA isn’t a guarantee — there’s nothing in writing holding them to the Smart Card project, for instance. However, in the face of the recession and economic difficulties for the city that predate it, you’d think they’d try harder to tamp down expectations.

CP: Fringe-tastic preview of all the theatrical and terpsichorean (look it up) delights coming at over the next month through the Live Arts/Philly Fringe Festival. I totally dig AD Amorosi’s Q&A with Charlotte Ford — excellent use of the word “jackweed” — and performing “The Tell-Tale Heart” at the Mutter Museum next to preserved organs just seems too perfect. Holly Otterbein’s smart and well-conceived take on theatrical representations of the animal world has the added bonus of a Jane Goodall in drag:

cp_2010-09-02.jpgFoster first conceived the show as a researcher for the Jane Goodall Institute in Tanzania’s Gombe Stream National Park. While studying in the same place Goodall worked with chimps in the 1960s, he found a community still at odds with the Institute.

“We’ve been there for 50 years,” says Foster. “But the response from Tanzanians was still, ‘What are you doing here?’ That told me a lot about how the Institute had been operating all this time.”

He also started questioning Goodall’s research on dominance displays, in which chimps allegedly ascend the social totem pole by swaying violently, hurling rocks and essentially scaring the crap out of their more chill brethren. “That theory’s got some imperial themes to it, and when Jane first got to Tanzania she was a British woman in a place that was being colonized by England,” says Foster.

Upon returning home to Philly, he decided there was no better way to “both parody and admire” Goodall than to play her in drag. Though the show contrasts his experiences in Tanzania with the legendary scientist’s, Foster insists he isn’t keen on creating an outright dichotomy between the two. “I’m not saying that Jane was a colonizer and I’m this post-colonial figure,” he says. “That would be troubling. It’s more like I’m trying to figure out how I’ve perpetuated these problems, too.”

Even more mind-bending is Beauvais Lyons, who’s bizarrely knowledgeable on the subject of unicorns and their presence in the Bible. For real. Man, the festival hasn’t even started and my mind’s already blown.


PW: Another easy target: music PR people. Water, water everywhere, but it’ll land you in the clink. Urban tumbleweeds: “soiled newspapers, napkins and discarded food packages blow slowly down the street.”
Well said: “If it takes a village, the Philadelphia School District is the idiot.” Also, ouch.

CP: References I did not see coming: the ’84 Baltimore Colts. Too soon? 37 years in the box, the hole, or other, presumably non-sexual euphemisms for solitary confinement. Four very exciting words: “enormous, airborne Phillie Phanatic.” Another young journalist, disillusioned. So sad.

WINNER: I don’t usually take cover images into consideration, but PW’s just strikes me as dumb. There’s no fun and games in the article, no sense that SEPTA really gets a laugh out of jerking us around. So, CP takes it, but watch yourselves — another Naked Bike Ride cover, and you’re officially on notice.

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