Loving Philly isn't easy

Posted: April 26, 2013

REALLY, PHILLY, this is how you're gonna do me? Me, who's been your one-woman cheering squad for months now? Who's been full-steam ahead with the whole "No Philly Shrug" campaign - despite the sometimes universal, it seems, eye-roll from haters?

Me, who's been so rah-rah about Philly that old friends who know that optimism and boosterism and, oh-who-am-I-kidding, even smiling doesn't exactly come natural for me have wondered if I was having some sort of breakdown.

No! I'd proclaim. I'm embracing my new city. I'm climbing the Mount Everest-like chip on its shoulder and planting my "#1 Fan" flag on top. Numero uno, baby!

And then some loser lifts my wallet, on my wedding anniversary, and on the eve of a vacation. And in the mere minutes - minutes! - it took for the thief and his accomplice to charge $604.80 worth of designer sunglasses on my credit card, my whole new self was tested.

Seriously, Philly, I thought as I tore through my purse at the Cosi restaurant at 12th and Walnut, this really cannot be how you're gonna do me.

I can't lie, especially since I live-tweeted the whole thing: I was furious.

Did I leave my wallet on the counter? I semi-hysterically and way-too-hopefully asked the clerk behind the counter.

No, he shrugged.

As I stood on the street wondering if this was Philly's way to put Pollyannas in their place, I grew more angry and disgusted - at myself.

Had I really just a day earlier written a column about how the nonshruggers of Philly were going to change things with our "we care," "can-do" attitude?

I. Am. A. Moron., I thought. A moron without any way to get home. In addition to my driver's license, my cash and credit cards, the thief also had my $127 SEPTA monthly rail pass. And considering how one of my first columns about a bomb-joking conductor was received by his colleagues, I doubted that my sob story would get me a free ride home.

Forget the shrugging or not shrugging, I wanted to punch someone, preferably the dude who lifted my wallet.

The minute the guy bumped into my bag, I knew something was wrong. But stupidly, I apologized for my big bag being in his way and kept eating my tomato soup. Could you imagine how hard he must have laughed at the polite fool slurping her soup while he made off with a wallet full of goodies?

I felt betrayed, violated. But mostly, I felt like a dope.

Here I was supposed to be this street-smart reporter (born and raised in New York) and I not only made it easy for him to walk off with my wallet, I also discovered I wasn't nearly the ace observer I thought I was.

Could I describe the guy? asked Officer Diaz. Um . . . sorta tall? Sorta muscular?

What was he was wearing? Um, jeans? Yes . . . definitely, probably jeans. So much for eyewitness accounts.

With each of my nondescript descriptions, I could see the "WTF?" thought bubble looming larger over her head. But it wasn't until Officer Diaz asked what race I thought the guy was that I got really useless.

Was he black? Hispanic? Caucasian? Well . . . he could have been a dark-skinned Latino. But then again, he also could have been a light-skinned black man, I said, fighting every instinct to start discussing the history and influence of Taino Indians.

The cops were incredibly responsive, and helpful. Apparently pickpockets are on the rise. They gave me some very useful tips that we should all heed - specifically, don't treat public spaces like your living room. Be aware and alert. Keep your belongings close.

They also took me over to Macy's, where security cameras caught a man and woman they thought might be the deceitful dynamic duo walking in toward the Sunglass Hut where - of course - the camera apparently hasn't been working for a while.

Without so much as being asked for an ID - maybe if they had, the clerk would have realized they didn't even spell my name right - they picked up a pair of Burberry and Tiffany sunglasses. Nothing but the best when it's on someone else's dime.

While we're all learning lessons, here's one for Philly retail stores: Ask for ID.

Maybe I'd still be feeling disgruntled and defeated if I didn't get away for a week. Luckily a passport got me on a plane and into a much-needed warmer climate.

But somewhere during my time away, my anger and disgust turned to something else. Resolve. Resolve not to write off Philly over something that could happen anywhere, and does. Resolve not to let the smug shruggers win - especially the ones who took way too much glee in the rah-rah "No Philly Shrug" columnist getting ripped off.

Although nothing excuses losers from taking what isn't theirs, getting my wallet stolen was a wakeup call to stay positive about my new city, but smart, too.

And to remember this: Just because you're prepared to love Philadelphia doesn't mean it will automatically love you back. As someone who has a deep distrust of people who are too nice or things that come too easy, I can appreciate that Philly makes you work for it.

So despite this setback, Philly, I'm prepared to keep working for it, even if from now on I'm strapping my new wallet to my chest.


Phone: 215-854-5943

On Twitter: @NotesFromHel

On Facebook: Helen.Ubinas

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