Sometimes you see something that is so uniquely Philadelphia, you instinctively know that it came from here. Maybe you felt that over these last couple weeks when you saw photos of people enjoying citywide specials while alone in their apartments, or when your neighbor screamed “E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES” out his window for no reason other than that he could.
Or perhaps it was when you saw a video of a guy decked out in full medical gear and face mask, spraying Lysol down the streets of North Philly while teetering atop the handlebars of his bike and weaving in and out of traffic.
Yeah, that of-the-moment pandemic video was pretty Philly, too.
The video was posted on Instagram on March 15 by BikeLifeRex, a North Philly 19-year-old, and has since garnered tens of thousands of views on both Instagram and Twitter, where a post this week featuring the video has been retweeted almost 20,000 times. Many of the comments from people sharing the video were something to the effect of “Philly is gonna Philly,” and how — despite the use of in-demand medical gear — it inspired a flicker of joy, maybe a fleeting one, during one of the darkest periods in recent memory.
Rex — who asked not be named because, well, biking through traffic like he does is legally questionable — is no stranger to viral fame. Two years ago, he posted a video on Instagram urging parents to stop buying toy guns for children. It was viewed more than three million times.
Today, he’s affiliated with two youth empowerment groups — Dollar Boyz and Be D1fferent — and has sponsors and a manager, too. But the internet fame isn’t why he rides, and not why he thought up the pandemic-themed video. He said he saw the video as an opportunity to show people “corona doesn’t control me.”
“This is something that pumps through my blood,” he said. “This is something I dream about. I wake up at three in the morning and want to ride.”
As for the medical-grade gear that’s in short supply worldwide, Rex says he got it in North Philly weeks ago. He planned the video for several days, scouring Rite Aid and Family Dollar for gear, to no avail. So he says he waltzed into a nearby hospital, asked to borrow “a hazmat suit," and a front desk attendant just gave it to him. (The hospital in question has no way of verifying his account, which it called “far-fetched.”)
He suited up, got on the bike and his videographer — also known as his 16-year-old brother — rode along next to him, filming along the way, even as cars approached.
Through most of the video, Rex is “surfing,” or riding the bike standing with one foot on the handlebars, the other on the seat. It’s a dangerous move, and he’s been injured a number of times in his five years practicing. But a “daredevil by nature,” Rex said he’s never scared.
He said he’s been inspired by the fans — including one who painted his portrait — who said the video brought them a moment of levity, and proud that he represented North Philly in the process.
“What I do is definitely unique towards Philly,” he said. “I do put on for my neighborhood.”