When 2021 began, it seemed impossible that this year could be any stranger in the Philadelphia area than the last.
But Philly’s reservoir of weirdness runs deep, and like a wellspring, it always provides. Sometimes, it even overflows and runs into the Vine Street Expressway.
From people swimming in a flooded highway to a motorist driving in a subway tunnel, here are some of the strangest moments from the Philly region this year.
The Vine Street canal
Philadelphia is a lot like Venice, said nobody ever, until flooding from Hurricane Ida turned the Vine Street Expressway into a veritable canal in early September.
But for a few Philadelphians, just seeing a major highway flooded was not strange enough. Some people actually felt called to get all up in that city soup.
At least one man was spotted shirtless and drinking a beer while floating on an inner tube down the highway; several people took to kayaks to traverse the expressway’s waters; and then there was the guy who did a backflip off the 22nd Street bridge directly into the flooded roadway.
“One thing I wanted to make sure to do was touch the bottom on purpose,” Myers told Hickey. “Then, I sprung up and got out as fast as I could because I didn’t want to be in s— water for too long.”
Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel recommended all expressway swimmers get a tetanus shot, while Mayor Jim Kenney suggested that people “don’t do stupid crap.”
The Philly Fighting COVID debacle
It was like a plot ripped from an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: The city partners with a group of self-described “college kids” led by a 22-year-old with no medical qualifications to run Philly’s largest coronavirus vaccination site.
What could go wrong?
Philly Fighting COVID, a start-up run by Drexel grad student Andrei Doroshin, secured a city contract in 2020 to run COVID-19 testing sites in low-income communities. But a bombshell story in January from Billy Penn and WHYY revealed the group had abandoned those communities after turning to distributing vaccines at the Pennsylvania Convention Center through a partnership with the city.
Doroshin, who used Venmo to pay his staff, even admitted in interviews that he’d padded his resume and took home vaccines for personal use.
The Health Department cut ties with Philly Fighting COVID and Deputy Health Commissioner Caroline Johnson resigned after records obtained by The Inquirer showed she gave the group an advantage in the city bidding process.
‘Mare of Easttown’ puts the Delco accent on the national stage
Wooder the odds British Oscar winner Kate Winslet would be the one to introduce the world to the Delco accent?
Turns out they’re about as good as finding a guy eating a hoagie on top of a Wawa trash can in Upper Darby.
Though she never uttered the classic Delco phrase “tap the MAC,” Winslet spent a lot of time studying the Delco accent for her role as a world-weary Detective Mare Sheehan in the HBO miniseries, Mare of Easttown.
From the moment the show premiered in April, people were mesmerized, both by Winslet’s performance and by the things coming out of her mouth like hewgie and hewm that vaguely resembled words in the English language.
Saturday Night Live parodied the show and the accent in a skit called “Murder Durder.” And Wawa, which was prominently featured in the miniseries, created a Mare of Easttown cheesesteak and held a Mare of Easttown Day, where hundreds of Delco residents lined up to get a free Wawa Delco shirt.
Mare of Easttown even inspired the Delaware County Historical Society to host an event called “Talking the Delco Way: The story behind the accent.”
Although Winslet didn’t thank the people of Delco in her Emmy acceptance speech (rude), Delconians will be taking credit for her win till the cows come hewm.
Philly sports fans keep it real
You didn’t have to be a lip reader to know what Eagles fan Mary Kate Mink was saying when cameras captured her shouting choice words from the stands about a penalty call during a November game against the New Orleans Saints.
The broadcast video of Mink — a Delco native who attended the game with her husband and sons — immediately went viral, and she was dubbed Mare of Havertown by WIP host Rob Ellis, who attended the same Delco Catholic high school as Mink, because of course he did. Mink works as a spin instructor during the summer at the Jersey Shore.
Also just being a Philly fan this year was a Sixers enthusiast named James who called into Angelo Cataldi’s morning show on WIP in November and was more concerned about griping over 76ers point guard Ben Simmons than being the victim of an apparent hit-and-run.
“Not bad. Someone just hit my car,” James said during his call-in. “Yeah, and they’re driving off. It’s OK. ... Anyway, I was calling about Ben Simmons ... cause he annoys me more than someone hitting my car and driving off.”
Four Seasons Total Landscaping hosts a sold-out concert
Continuing its quest to keep the longest troll in Philly history going, Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Northeast Philly — the site of Rudy Giuliani’s infamous and inexplicable news conference — held a punk rock concert in August.
The show, which sold out in 17 minutes, featured musician Laura Jane Grace playing songs like “True Trans Soul Rebel” and “Pints of Guinness Make You Strong” amid shrubberies, landscaping equipment, and bags of rock salt for a crowd of 200 people. There were Giuliani masks, Giuliani jokes, and a life-size cardboard cutout of Giuliani that was taken crowd surfing by fans.
“I’ve played Giants Stadium. I’ve played Wembley. Sang on stage with Cyndi Lauper. Written songs with Weezer. Been on stage with Joan Jett. None of that compares to this,” Grace told the crowd.
Four Seasons director of operations Michael Siravo said far more planning went into the concert than Giuliani’s November 2020 news conference.
When surveillance footage of a white Jeep driving on a subway-surface trolley tunnel in West Philly surfaced in August, it was a moment that made many people say “How?” and others say “Only in Philadelphia.”
The driver of the vehicle, who got into the tunnel through the open portal at the 40th Street trolley station, is clearly seen on video driving on the underground tracks for several seconds before realizing “Hey, maybe I shouldn’t be here,” or “Hey, maybe I’m not a trolley.”
The motorist, who finally stopped their vehicle near SEPTA’s 37th Street subway-surface trolley station, told officials they made a “wrong turn.” No charges were filed.
That ol’ sinking feeling
Philadelphians have a long history of ironically celebrating sinkholes, from residents who made sacrificial offerings to one in West Philly to neighbors in Washington Square who threw parties in a sinkhole that plagued their block for months. There’s nothing Philadelphians won’t do to illustrate to city government how ridiculous it is to live with a giant gaping hole of earth on their block.
So in July, when a 130-year-old water main broke at Sixth and Bainbridge Streets in Queen Village, Philly artist Mikolaj decided to create a legitimate-looking Pennsylvania historical marker to commemorate the occasion.
It read: “Shortly after midnight on July 25th, 2021, a historic 130-year-old 30-inch water main under this intersection burst, creating a massive geyser, turning 6th street into a raging river, and making beautiful waterfalls in people’s basements. This scenic sinkhole is all that remains, and it has been delighting both residents and tourists ever since.”
Oat milk ad campaign goes sour
Philadelphians take great pride in our street art. We’re a place of murals, yarn bombs, sculptures, and wheat pastes, and we’re fiercely protective of how they contribute to the character of our city.
So when ads for oat milk by Minor Figures, a British coffee company, were plastered over street art across the city in April, it did not go well. In fact, as the company’s CEO admitted, it went “horribly wrong.”
The terribly boring ads featuring a simple outline of a tattooed face were placed over Philly street artists’ work that promoted voting, thanked essential workers, and urged people to wear masks.
“Minor Figures is very presumptuous to come to our city and cover works of art in such an offensive manner,” Golden said.
I got a brand new pair of roller skates, Philly’s got a brand new roundabout
Philadelphians turned a new Kensington roundabout into a roller skating rink this September, once again proving we can make a wheelie great party out of anything.
Just after the roundabout at Frankford Avenue, Trenton Avenue, and York Street was paved, but before it was open to vehicular traffic, scores of people broke out their roller skates and Rollerblades and looped the circle together as a DJ with turntables spun tunes nearby.
According to Billy Penn, the roller disco was the brainchild of none other than Justyn Myers, the man who dove off the 22nd Street bridge into the flooded Vine Street Expressway.
Someone get this dude a citywide special.
The three-block ‘cheesesteak’
When Philly restaurateurs came together to create a 510-foot cheesesteak in honor of Rim Cafe owner Rene Kobeitri’s birthday in May, Philadelphians didn’t question whether it should have been done. They questioned whether it was even a cheesesteak.
Spanning three blocks in the Italian Market, the cheesesteak was not on one continuous hoagie roll, but rather on many different rolls lined end to end. And the sandwich contained all different ingredients, from avocados to raviolis, depending on the chef.
The debate on social media about whether this was actually one cheesesteak or many spawned the creation of the self-described, self-appointed “Philadelphia Hoagie Commission,” a group of three Twitter users who hand down unofficial rulings about whether a sandwich meets the Philadelphia criteria for a hoagie or cheesesteak.
The commission ruled against the 510-foot cheesesteak on all counts, noting the lack of roll continuity and use of unconventional ingredients.
“Critics of this decision may ask, ‘Where do we draw the line?’ We do not answer that question in its entirety here,” the commission wrote “But for now, we must draw it at whatever that thing was. That was not a hoagie. It was not a cheesesteak.”