Philadelphia fetes the Fourth

Mayor Nutter and his wife, Lisa, march in the parade, with the mayor keeping his tie on and sleeves cuffed despite the heat.
Mayor Nutter and his wife, Lisa, march in the parade, with the mayor keeping his tie on and sleeves cuffed despite the heat. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 05, 2011

A little after 1 p.m., the Parkway was already jammed with people who had come from near and far for the Fourth of July celebration in Philadelphia - and it stayed that way well into the night as the Roots repeatedly rocked the stage, and Earth, Wind & Fire's Philip Bailey hit some stratospheric high notes.

Many came in red, white, and blue attire, with their children, their spouses, and their dogs.

Courtney Beckett, 22, a medical assistant from West Chester, even brought her six-foot boa constrictor, Sampson.

"They're cold-blooded, so they need heat," she explained as her cousin, Zhabree Jacobs, 8, let the reptile curl around her shoulders.

And, boy, did that snake get grilled.

Temperatures pushed 90 most of the day at the Wawa Welcome America celebration Monday, as people ate gyros and cheesesteaks, swayed to music, and reunited with friends and family to party Philadelphia-style.

Organizers had no official crowd count, although Mayor Nutter said, "This might be the largest Fourth of July event ever." The event has been known to draw a million or more people.

With a pink-and-orange sunset in the background and Sara Bareilles and the Roots performing feel-good songs, thousands relaxed on lawn chairs and blankets along the Parkway.

Once the sun went down, crowd-pumping beats such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" had everyone from teeny-boppers to grandparents on their feet singing and dancing. Boyz II Men also had the Parkway denizens dancing and singing.

The line for the dozens of food stations continued throughout the night, as did the flow of beer for many attendees awaiting the dazzling fireworks display - a fitting end to the party.

During the day, attendees could watch the strong-man competition, play on huge inflatable slides, and engage in water-gun fun, among myriad activities put on by businesses, artists, and organizations.

They could even buy a good joke or two, thanks to Jason Schneider, 25, a 2007 University of Pennsylvania graduate who started a street comedy business.

With a cardboard sign that read "$1 Jokes, Laughter Guaranteed," he drew a steady stream of customers.

"What did the green grape say to the purple grape?" he asked a group from New York.

"Breathe, stupid, breathe."

"What do you call a seeing-eye cow for blind people?"

"Hamburger helper."

"Why do Chinese men bring chopsticks to bars?"

"So they can pick up women."

After cracking a few, Schneider reached into his black bag and gave each customer "a joke to go."

Schneider, who got his degree in English, said he did his street joke business in New York City during the day and worked stand-up comedy at clubs at night. He can make $80 on the street on a weekday and more on weekends and holidays, he said. He turned to the street work when he couldn't find a TV comedy-writing job, as he had hoped.

"I know my jokes are good, so I figure I'll sell them to the people," he said.

He planned to stay on the Parkway until after the fireworks, even rigging a lighting system to stand out in the dark.

"Do you promise to tell jokes until we laugh?" asked Christine Rank of Los Angeles, who wore one large blue, star-shaped earring and one large red one.

Schneider agreed. It didn't take long.

"They were all funny," said Rank, 26, a museum worker. "It was worth $1."

Schneider even had jokes for children, including 5-year-old Kylah Herrera of Roxborough - who then turned the tables on Schneider with a joke of her own.

Schneider bent down to listen.

"Why didn't the bear use his computer?"

"Because he was scared of the mouse," she said.

Her dad, Kevin Herrera, 32, an account manager for Frito-Lay, said he enjoyed the "family atmosphere" of Welcome America and saw it as an opportunity to take his children on their first taxi ride.

For 18 years, Janie Cofield, 31, of Philadelphia and 15 or so relatives, mostly from North Carolina, have met on the Parkway early to stake out a prime spot for the fireworks. It's a tradition she loves.

"It's just being outside, enjoying Philadelphia and enjoying the people," she said.

Katie Smith, 19, a West Chester University student from Delaware County, said she was thrilled to score a "Mean People Suck" bumper sticker from a volunteer seeking donations for the homeless.

Her three friends each got one, too.

"It's not very nice to say today," Smith said, noting the good will of the holiday.

"But tomorrow it will be OK," quipped Tricia Day, 19, a Pennsylvania State University student, also from Delaware County.

Wearing a variety of red, white, and blue garb, the Youstra family came from Gaithersburg, Md., to take in the festivities.

"It just gets us in the spirit a little more. Show our patriotism," said Chris Youstra, a teacher whose daughters, 9 and 11, toted flags.

Contact staff writer Susan Snyder at 215-854-4693 or


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