On South Street in Philadelphia, there’s this little bar called Tattooed Mom’s.
On a Thursday night, the place will be jumping with excitement, on both levels, with pool games cracking in the background as punk and rap music screams from a broken jukebox. The bartenders look like biker mamas, the bar is plastered with skateboarding stickers and the walls are pasted with band designs, photos and Pabst Blue Ribbon signs.
Tattooed Mom’s is notorious for fights. There are shaved heads here and elbows with spiderwebs. There are girls who look like teenagers, except for those sleeves of ink covering their arms. The man who checks your ID has a black bandanna on over his massive skull, and the bandanna has dozens of little green marijuana leaves on it.
There’s a little guy who looks like Brian Johnson, and he’s playing pool like a champ, even though he can’t sink a shot. Later he leaves through a wave of tattoos, a box of cigarettes over his shoulder. Flogging Molly begins playing.
Over by the wall, watching the pool games, are a few kids from Boston.
They’re staying with a guy everybody seems to know. His name is Nez — yeah, over there by the bar. The one with the sideburns. These Boston kids don’t really say much, but they seem to be enjoying themselves. Two of ’em are pretty tall, too. This is their Spring Break, you know. Yeah, they didn’t have enough money for England or Puerto Rico, so they drove down to Atlantic City and then came up to Philadelphia.
Atlantic City was cold, right there by the ocean with the wind pounding the boardwalk. There was little consolation for the kids from Massachusetts; all of the restaurants were closed, the roulette wheel stole all their money and cheap bars had apparently gone the way of the dodo bird.
So they played the slot machines and tried to score free drinks from the staff. At four or five in the morning, they ordered a pint of gin and some tonic from room service. It cost them at least $30; in the morning, none of them remembered exactly.
“Philadelphia better be cheap,” one of them said. “Or we’re driving back home tomorrow night.”
But Philadelphia was cheap, and it was fun. It seemed to be the polar opposite of Boston; everything was inexpensive, the bars were worth going to and there weren’t any preppy college kids to give you attitude as you walked down the street. Philadelphia offered a good time, and it didn’t break your bank. If you were hungry, spend a couple of bucks on a cheesesteak and you’d have the best meal of your life. If you smoke, even the best brands of cigarettes wouldn’t run you more than $2.80. Cheap record shops lined South Street, and there were dollar stores all over the city. If you drink, you’re in luck. Those Boston kids had been to five bars the night before, and every bar was decent, worth going to again. And it was dirt cheap. If you didn’t find $1 pints, you’d find $5 pitchers of a beer called Yuengling (oldest beer in America), the likes of which Boston has never seen. They don’t let it run that far North; it’s too damn good.
Plus, Philadelphia is just different. Not as rich. Where were all the BMWs? Doesn’t anybody have a Lexus? Where can I go clubbing? The kids from Boston were a little bit confused, though not unhappy.
Boston is a good town with a lot of history and a lot of controversy. It has a character seen nowhere else in the world. But it’s hardly even a real city anymore: instead, Boston’s grown into an expensive playground for the college kids.
We don’t have a campus because Boston is our campus. That’s what the BU tour guides say. It’s sad, but all too true.
Because of this, because of City Convenience stores, because of the Village and Lansdowne Street, the true culture of Boston has been amputated, and the stump’s been cauterized with cash.
After a morning drive to Pat’s Cheesesteaks in West Philly, seeing some streetside Italian markets took the Boston kids by surprise. They’d never seen anything like that in Boston, and for good reason. The nuts and bolts of ethnic neighborhoods are constantly being loosened by the incoming yuppies who raise the rent and weaken the communities.
The North End is now more wealthy than Italian. Even Southie’s slowly losing its character. Most people will yell that this dilution promotes diversity. Nonsense. It ruins the community’s personality.
The standard of living is astronomical in Boston. An apartment in Central Philadelphia put that guy Nez back about $300 a month. An apartment in Allston? Come on.
For all that college life is meant to ready you for the real world, it also shelters you from it. College gives you Commonwealth Avenue, where trust fund babies flaunt their Porsches and deep pockets. A city is who lives in it, and most of the people in Boston probably weren’t here five years ago. Incoming students don’t adapt to Boston; Boston adapts to them. And what fun is that?
Philadelphia is a refreshing alternative to that, and it reminds the Boston kids more of New York City than anywhere else. There is no bar anywhere in Massachusetts like Tattooed Mom’s, and from the evidence provided, there’s nowhere to drink in Philadelphia like Allston’s Wonderbar.
Two Boston kids finish the rest of their PBRs, and one sticks a pounder in his pocket. Then, they pour out onto South Street, yelling and laughing.