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!


CP: As the South Street Renaissance turns 40, we’ve got some misty, tie-dye colored memories of South Street’s heyday, as told by… hey, I know that guy! JV links up with some of the Street’s saviors to yarns of bygone days.

Enter a small ragtag volunteer army of artists, hippies and assorted misfits — initially drawn by the edgy repertory theater staged at the Theater of the Living Arts — that took a shine to the street’s über-cheap rents, shockingly low mortgages and the fact that everyone knew this was nowhere. It was a place where like-minded bohemians could establish a safe harbor from the stifling social mores, groupthink mentality and profit-driven motives of polite society.

First came the Zagars — Isaiah and Julia — who set up a shop called Eyes Gallery on Fourth and South to sell the Peruvian folk art they had amassed from a recent stint in the Peace Corps. In South Street’s creation myth, the Zagars would play the role of Adam and Eve in a hippie Eden built atop a blighted urban wasteland, bringing to bear the community-building skills they learned in the Peace Corps. Then came the Snydermans — Rick and Ruth — who opened The Works Gallery, which also specialized in global folk and ethnographic arts and craftwork. With the freak flag firmly planted, more soon followed, drawn by South Street’s burgeoning rep as the place where the ’60s were putting down roots and flowering in Philadelphia, all believing they could change the city’s mind about building the Crosstown Expressway with a mix of grassroots activism, street theater protests and by building a thriving community and proving the street was worth keeping.

Slowly but surely, boarded-up buildings were replaced with thriving coffeehouses, gourmet restaurants and artisan retail shops. In the process, these South Street revivalists would unwittingly sow the seeds of the city’s currently flourishing dining, shopping and nightlife scenes. Meanwhile, a coalition of community activists, pro bono lawyers and sympathetic urban planners banded together to fight City Hall head on. Though it took years, the city eventually relented, the Crosstown Expressway project was killed and, in a textbook example of poetic justice, the federal dollars earmarked for the project were funneled into SEPTA.

For deep history, it’s all oddly touching, a little like the Old City punks recalling the Khyber’s golden era a few months back. The thought of a Crosstown Expressway just a few blocks from my apartment sends a shiver down my spine. Amazing to think how close South Street and the surrounding neighborhood came to total annihilation.

PW: “It Gets Better” keeps getting bigger, and this week, we have real stories of hard times from Philly’s LGBT community. It’s a very thoughtful piece filled with surprisingly open testimony from people both in the midst of their troubles and standing jubilant on the other side.

William Bailey had been fighting off haters since he was a kid. “I’m more flamboyant than most people,” says the 22 year old, smiling and pointing to his crazy, picked-out afro. “[As a kid] I didn’t play sports … I wanted to play with dolls and hang out with the girls.”

Bailey, who lives in Camden, has been openly gay since 10th grade, and says he’s been talked about and bullied for as long as he can remember.

“It was relentless at times,” he says. “I’d get called a faggot … I’d go to the bathroom and cry.”

As he speaks, Bailey looks around at the five other young gay men—ranging from their late teens to early 20s—sitting in a circle at the Attic Youth Center, an after-school space in Center City for LGBT youth. The group, led by life-skills counselor Tara Rubinstein, is immersed in a conversation about bullying, homophobia and the recent wave of suicides by gay youth. Bailey tells the group that he came out in his sophomore year at Camden Academy high school because he was “done trying to deny it.” The backlash was immediate…

The news of recent suicides by gay teens weighs heavily on the kids at the Attic. Each youth in the circle has faced the same taunts, threats, assaults and rejection as the suicide victims. A few days previously, the group held a big meeting to talk about what happened and how society responded: The It Gets Better project, a collection of online videos inspired by Seattle-based sex-advice columnist Dan Savage featuring adults telling queer youth that life will improve with age.

But the Attic kids say it’s hard to look forward to a future when it’s so difficult to get through the present. “But Carrie Jacobs, founder of the Attic, and the other counselors come across as treasured and much-needed voices of reason.”

Seems like the piece could use an older figure or two — nearly everyone quoted is under 30 — to underscore the “it gets better” message. Carrie Jacobs, founder of the Attic,


CP: A little sanity in an insane world. Where elections and coffee mix: “Put all that in a cup and, well, would you drink it?” In a similar vein: Bad to the last DROP. Something I could use: A CD to listen to when “you have a looming deadline.”

PW: Halloween, scarier than usual. A vigil in Love Park. A Sonata that Beethoven — or Hyundai — would envy.  A guide to Guided by Voices.

WINNER: All the incense wafting off of JV’s South Street story has me feeling pretty groovy. Before I nod off, CP gets the nod this week

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