Friday, October 31, 2014

For Pete's Sake

Little Pete's, the 17th and Chancellor institution featured in In Her Shoes, may be relocating. City Council is discussing zoning for the property that would allow a twelve story Hudson Hotel to be built on the site.

Despite my affinity for nostalgia, this is the first time I actually noticed that Little Pete's is located on the ground floor of a gross parking garage. Every time I popped in for late night scrapple, it felt like the restaurant was in a lean-to a la Midtown Village's doomed Letto Deli. But unlike Letto, Pete's nostalgia lies in easily relocated signage and decor. 

I just hope Pete has an affinity for kitsch and saves his Seinfeld-esque counter and deliciously dated booths, and namely the diner's triangular stained glass window and iconic awning. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Taxi Cabs: Compete or Get Off the Road

Yes, please.

In what Uber rightly called a "deplorable charade," the Philadelphia Parking Authority, which oversees the operations of the city's rusted-and-busted taxi cabs, impounded five UberX vehicles last weekend. 

Uber, the mobile-app fueled car service that has delivered sober transportation to some of America's most car-dependent metropolises, has been no stranger to the strong arm of ruthless taxi cab unions. But the angst in Philadelphia seems to be unique in that the PPA essentially has the right to impound its competition. 

That would be like allowing Comcast to prohibit Verizon from offering FiOS. Oh wait, that kind of happens here. I think. I'm still on a waiting list.

Anyway, in what amounts to a corporate hissy fit paramount to anything seen on Parking Wars, the PPA has opted to troll the wildly successful Uber, inciting claims ranging from speculative insurance to misconduct on behalf of Uber drivers, despite the PPA's own lack of oversight into its own cars and drivers.

Ah, distractions. Politics 101. Congrats, PPA, you've finally earned your GED. 

But why not compete? Why not end the discussion by investing in a service that hasn't changed since the invention of the automobile? 

The PPA has spent more money on propaganda and sting operations than it would cost to simply copy Uber's mobile app technology and streamline its dispatch service to match. Sure, Uber's cars are cleaner than PPA's rolling Petri dishes, but the primary reason people use Uber is because they can call a car to East Falls and know it will show up and when. 

What's even more mind boggling is the public support for the PPA's actions. Uber is providing an affordable alternative to a DUI, something the PPA should be focusing on instead of lobbying for the status quo.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Toynbee Tile Mystery

Philadelphia's blogosphere of architectural propaganda is constantly asking you to look up. But as you're walking home from work, heading to the gym, or looking for that sexy mouse costume, take a look down at the street.

You may not see much more than black gum dots and cigarette butts, at least now. But twenty years ago, even ten, you may have seen something much more cryptic:

IN Kubrick's 2001

I've noticed these little tiles for years, but I always assumed they were a fading art project lingering from the 80s or 90s. Some are larger than a license plate, some smaller than a Post-it, most have been driven into the asphalt beyond recognition. 

While hundreds still dot the streets of Philadelphia, the phenomenon is global, with more than 500 spanning the Northeast and Midwest United States and into several South American counties. 

But what are they? An art installation that continues to inspire copycats in places like Salt Lake City and San Francisco, even the United Kingdom? Or the prophetic ramblings of one madman bent on spreading his message? 

Jon Foy's 2011 documentary, Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles sets out to answer the questions behind these little linoleum plaques, and three sleuths featured in the award winning film came as close to anyone has to unwrapping the mysterious tar around these little things.

Without spoiling the movie, it's safe to say that these tiles are far more interesting, bizarre, and macabre than you may realize. 'Tis the season. What began in the 1980s, perhaps with an idea ingrained in one man's head as far back as the late 60s, involves Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, a little known David Mamet play, and the all encompassing fear of our own mortality.

Suffice it to say they are either the work of a self-taught genius or a certifiable lunatic, quite possibly both.  

If you want to see one, Steve Weinik, one of the sleuths featured in the film, has provided a map of more than 500 global locations thought to be original.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Twin Peaks Revisited

After decades - yes decades - of rumors and empty promises, David Lynch and Mark Frost's cult classic, Twin Peaks, is scheduled to be revived on Showtime in 2016. On October 3rd at 11:30am, the show's co-creators simultaneously Tweeted, "That gum you like is going to come back in style. #damngoodcoffee."

Fans went nuts. 

Not only was the reference to chewing gum and "damn good coffee" an obvious tease that the show might be resurrected, the twin posts by its co-creators was a nod to the duel themes and personalities that encompassed the show. It meant that finally, Lynch and Frost were serious about returning to the snowcapped mountains of Washington's mythical town, Twin Peaks.

With multiple superhero universes rebooted well within the time that Peaks has been off the air, it may seem farfetched to expect a Season 3 twenty fives years after the ABC series was cancelled in 1991. 

But "the owls are not what they seem." 

In other words, don't expect David Lynch, Philadelphia's original Master of Horror, to be anything but unusual. 

Fans of the series understand the significance of 2016, and it's hard not to wonder if the show's revival was all part of its creators' master plan: a lengthy, twenty five year work of art that is part cinema, part audience anxiety. 

When the show ended in 1991, it left countless unanswered questions. Did Audrey survive the explosion? Is Cooper trapped in the Black Lodge? And how old is Heather Graham, really?

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me was released as a feature film a year after the show's cancellation, and fans were hoping it would answer all of our most pressing questions. Instead, befitting the frustration that trails behind David Lynch's works of art, he offered us a prequel posing even more questions. 

Despite the critics and popular opinion, Fire Walk With Me was David Lynch without the restraints of network television. It was Twin Peaks, and it proved that inexplicably B-list actors were truly great under masterful direction.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the story we've been left to wonder. Some fans had given up, enjoying speculation, fan fiction, and the annual Twin Peaks Fest. But the truest of Peak Freaks held out hope that the series finale in 1991 was nothing more than television's longest "To Be Continued."

And why not? David Lynch told us that twenty five years ago. The show's final scene took place in the Black Lodge twenty five years later. The show didn't end in 1991, it ended in 2016. Through sheer luck or absolute brilliance, David Lynch was either waiting for an audience that could appreciate a show decades ahead of his time, or he knew that audience would finally emerge.

Season 3's nine episodes will be written by Lynch and Frost, and directed by Lynch. So expect the best of the best of what you remember. Netflix is currently streaming the show's original seasons. If you were a fan who remembers the show through rosy (or Doctor Jacoby's 3D) glasses, sit down and watch them again. 

It gets incredibly soapy. Nadine goes off the deep end. And, really, how old is Heather Graham? 

There are a lot of twists even the staunchest of fans have probably chosen to forget. But Season 3 has what it needs to be Lynch and Frost at their best. On Showtime, it will be free from network executives and test audiences. It will likely be loved by fans, and surely loathed by critics. It will be Twin Peaks.


Appropriately timed, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts is hosting a David Lynch exhibit, The Unified Field until January 11th. Lynch, who attended PAFA and lived in Philadelphia from 1965 to 1970, has credited the city as his greatest source of inspiration.

"All of Philadelphia had a kind of coal-dust patina and a mood that was just spectacular. There was violence and fear and corruption, insanity, despair, sadness, just in the atmosphere in that city. I loved the people there. All these things, whatever way it was, was my biggest influence.” - David Lynch

In case you don't remember, the show's hero, Agent Dale Cooper, was from Philadelphia.