When President Donald Trump said “bad things happen in Philadelphia” during the first presidential debate in September, the citizens of Philadelphia didn’t take offense — they took it as a challenge.
“The great thing about Philadelphia is you literally can’t insult them,” Genevieve A., 26, of Washington, posted Nov. 5 on Twitter. “They take any attempt at insult as either a compliment or an offer to fight which is also a compliment in Philly.”
Do bad things happen in Philadelphia? For sure. Did they seem to happen more so this year than any in recent memory? Without a doubt.
But the whole world was a hot mess this year. From a global pandemic to widespread social unrest, from a divisive election to economic uncertainty, bad things happened everywhere in 2020.
Yet amid it all, Philadelphia became a beacon of joy and absurdity. From passionate expressions of love amid powerful protests to dancing mailboxes and ballot boxes outside of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the city showed the world just what it means to be Philly this year.
And, in the most poetic and preposterous of ways, at a news conference at a landscaping business in Northeast Philly, the city proved Trump right: Bad things do happen in Philadelphia and sometimes, they are so, so good.
Here are 10 of the best things that happened in Philadelphia this year, based on our archives and suggestions from readers on social media:
Your sass is grass
As ballot returns began to show Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election on Nov. 7, the Trump campaign took the lawn into its own hands and held a news conference at Four Seasons Total Landscaping in Northeast Philly to denounce the results.
To this day, it remains unclear whether the campaign actually intended to hold its news conference at the Four Seasons Hotel or whether they always meant to use the landscaping business (which is near a sex shop and a crematorium) as the backdrop to try to cultivate support for their baseless claims of voter fraud.
Either way, the mulch-ado-about-nothing news conference, featuring Rudy Giuliani and a GOP poll watcher who’s also a convicted sex offender, sowed the seeds for a perennial internet gift that keeps on giving.
The news conference not only spawned memes and T-shirts, it turned Four Seasons Total Landscaping into a tourist destination where people come to take photos and have picnic lunches. And it inspired the Fraud Street Run, a charity race that raised more than $50,000 in donations.
Because when they go lawn, we go high.
The food chains that bind
Food insecurity is a daily reality for more than 16% of Philadelphians (a staggering statistic that’s expected to rise to 21% this year because of the pandemic), so when quarantine hit in March, compounding the uncertainty of where many would get their next meal, people banded together to hold hundreds of food drives and giveaways, many of which continue to this day.
There were massive efforts, like Step Up to the Plate, a program between city nonprofits that pairs food distribution with access to health care like coronavirus testing, as well as a coordinated program from two of the city’s largest food banks, Philabundance and Share Food Program, which gives out boxes of five days’ worth of food at dozens of sites across the city (and sometimes goes through 16,000 boxes in a day).
And there were smaller, equally powerful undertakings by Philadelphians to help feed their neighbors, like the Community Fridge Project from Mama-Tee, which has installed more than a dozen publicly accessible refrigerators around the city where people can leave and take perishable foods.
Garbage was piling up on Philly streets in June when sanitation worker Terrill Haigler created his Instagram account — @YaFavTrashman — to explain the delays to residents, detail the intricacies of his job, and offer tips about how to put out garbage to help trash pickup move quicker.
He hoped to get 500 followers. Today, more than 22,000 people follow his Instagram live videos and posts that give an inside look at the daily life of a city trash collector.
“This has been a totally humbling experience, just to know that Philadelphians wanted this information, needed this information, and were ready to act on this information,” said Haigler, 30, of North Philadelphia. “This is the bread and butter of Philly. That’s what this city is all about.”
Haigler used his newfound following to raise more than $32,000 to purchase additional PPE equipment for his sanitation colleagues and to hold several food drives, gaining the attention of everyone from ABC’s World News Tonight to the Joe Biden and Kamala Harris campaign, which featured him in an election ad.
Nobody was more proud of Haigler than his mom, who died Nov. 1 from complications of cardiac arrest. Despite his own heartache, Haigler, a father of three, is holding another fund drive, selling merchandise to raise money to buy 12 commercial sanitizing guns for city sanitation workers.
“Everything I do comes from my mom because she was a guiding light when it came to being a human being,” he said. “At the end of the day, that’s the goal, for my colleagues and I to feel like human beings.”
Drive time out
In March, as people flooded city parks and trails at the start of the pandemic, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia called on the city to shut down Martin Luther King Drive to cars so it could be used by cyclists and pedestrians.
And the city listened, closing the drive to cars from Falls Bridge to Eakins Oval. Prior to the pandemic, about 500 pedestrians used MLK every weekday. Now that number is up to 5,000 a day, according to city data obtained by KYW.
The drive will remain closed to vehicular traffic until spring 2021, when it’s scheduled to undergo construction. The success of the experiment also has advocates pushing for the city to consider closing other roads to cars to pave the way for more pedestrian traffic on city streets.
Dancing in the streets
Philly’s got moves — and this year a group of voters and a team of nurses moved the entire country by dancing during the most unusual of times in the most unlikely of places.
The Swab Squad, a group of Thomas Jefferson University Hospital nurses who worked at a coronavirus testing site, began dancing together in the parking lot as a way to alleviate stress. In April, video of the group performing choreography to Ciara’s “Level Up,” went so viral they were featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and MTV’s Video Music Awards.
In late October, when Klinton Cooper put on his best “F— 2020” T-shirt and headed to his Southwest Philly polling site to vote early, he thought he’d beat the lines on Election Day.
Instead, Cooper, 31, ended up waiting more than two hours to cast his ballot. As he neared the end of the line, a DJ on site as part of Joy to the Polls, a nonpartisan project to motivate voters, spun the “Cha Cha Slide” and Cooper led the other voters in a smooth and lively rendition of the line dance.
A video of the impromptu dance party (which has more than 7 million views) served as a much needed reminder to so many this year of the joy of voting.
“As Black people, we dance out of joyness. We always go through a lot of things, but with music and joy and sticking together, we dance through it,” Cooper, 31, said.
And here in Philly, the city fell in love with two friends, Lakia Garrick and Carl Scarborough, who were captured on video one September night dancing on a quiet West Philly sidewalk to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life.” The pair even successfully completed the lift made famous by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey in Dirty Dancing.
In a year that kept us apart from one another and forced humanity to take a long, hard look at itself, many people found comfort in our friends in the animal kingdom, who haven’t made nearly as many bad decisions.
Animal shelters in Philly saw people fostering pets at an unprecedented rate. At the PSPCA, applications to become a foster pet parent skyrocketed from an average of 10 a week pre-pandemic to more than 100 a day during the height of COVID-19, according to Gillian Kocher, PSPCA’s director of public relations.
“With more people staying at home, the interest in giving animals refuge from the shelter temporarily seemed to take hold,” Kocher said.
And “foster failing” — when a foster parent chooses to adopt their furry ward furever — was up, too. Of 1,676 pets that went into foster care from the PSPCA, 400 were permanently adopted (last year they had about 1,000 fosters and only 28 fails).
At the city’s pet shelter, ACCT Philly, which underwent renovations this year, they served more than double the people (and pets) they usually do with their pet pantry and increased the rate of return to pet owners. And, they found Lasagna — an abandoned 30-pound cat the internet fell in love with — a new home.
When it comes to Philly wildlife, Pizza Groundhog gave Gus competition this year for second-most famous groundhog in Pennsylvania. The chonky marmot was captured on video in April eating a slice of pizza while staring at two dogs through the sliding glass door of a Brewerytown home like he was your coworker who eats entire meals during Zoom meetings.
As late-night host Jimmy Kimmel said, the slice-of-Philly-life moment was “a glimmer of beauty in these grim and depressing times.”
Later, crumb bum
As Black Lives Matter protests swept the nation in the wake of the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police this year, forcing a long overdue reckoning over racial injustice and police brutality, Philadelphians once again turned their attention to removing the statue of Frank Rizzo, a controversial former police commissioner and mayor whose tactics and persona, for many, symbolized racism, bigotry, and oppression.
For three years, Philly Real Justice led a fight to get the statue of Rizzo — who ordered public strip searches of Black Panthers and police beatings of students protesting segregation — removed. This year the city finally listened. In the dead of one June night, Mayor Jim Kenney ordered the statue’s removal from in front of the Municipal Services Building, calling it “a deplorable monument to racism, bigotry, and police brutality for members of the Black community, the LGBTQ community, and many others.”
A few days later, a mural of Rizzo in the Italian Market was removed as well.
As 70-year-old Susan DiPronio said as she looked over the now-blank wall where Rizzo’s face was once plastered: “My eyes feel at peace now.”
While sports looked decidedly different this year, Philly did have some major wins.
The Philadelphia Union won their first trophy — the Supporters’ Shield — which is given to the team with the best regular-season record.
And the Phandemic Krew, a group of die-hard Phillies fans, found a way to support their team and boo their enemies when the pandemic forced the closure of Citizens Bank Park to the public. The Krew gathered outside the ballpark’s gates to make a lot of noise (with cheers, taunts, air horns, cowbells, and even a drum line) as they caught what they could of the games on step ladders.
The power of love
When Kerry Anne Perkins and Michael Gordon’s plans for a dream wedding were canceled amid the coronavirus, they decided to get married at a micro-ceremony in the courtyard of the Logan Hotel in Center City on June 6.
“We thought there would be tumbleweeds in the city that day,” said Gordon, 43, a Navy vet and wireless engineer.
Instead, their wedding fell right in the middle of the largest Black Lives Matter protest in Philadelphia. When Perkins, 35, stepped out of the hotel in her wedding dress prior to the ceremony, she was cheered on by the crowd.
As Gordon came out to join her for their first look, the couple held hands and raised their fists in support with the protesters, who looked on with love. The moment, captured in stills and videos, captivated the world.
“For that one glimpse of time I forgot about everything — COVID, all my problems, all my fears. There was nothing I wanted more in that moment than to be united with Mike and to be alive,” said Perkins, an OB-GYN and captain in the Army Reserves. “As I embraced the crowd and the crowd embraced me, I felt like there was a connection there that was very powerful. In that moment I felt every load fall off of me and I was very light.”
As photos of the moment went viral, the Montgomery County couple fielded more than 60 interview requests over five weeks from outlets including Vogue, the BBC, and the New York Times. Strangers sent them gifts and more than three dozen artists created works commemorating their powerful show of unity with each other and the Black Lives Matter movement.
The couple still plans to hold the wedding they intended to, whenever the pandemic allows, but their first and very unexpected wedding day will remain a perfect and beautiful moment in time for them and Philadelphia.
“It turned out to be completely opposite of what we wanted, but it was everything we needed,” Gordon said.
Philadelphia became more Philly
From a two-day block party outside of the Convention Center featuring dancing mailboxes, DJs, and knock-off Grittys, to the Philadelphia Parking Authority ticketing the Hummer of alleged QAnon conspiracy theorists after their arrest, Philadelphia in the first week of November somehow felt more Philly than ever.
As the world turned its attention to the city in the wake of the presidential election, Philly turned into the best possible version of itself. It was here, in this city that’s long had a reputation for having a bad attitude, where joy drowned out anger, hope prevailed over fear, and the beauty and absurdity of democracy were once again on full display.
Our chaotic overlord, Gritty, became the centerpiece of so many election memes that French media outlets were forced to try and explain to their audiences just what a Gritty is.
But more importantly, the people of Philly became the embodiment of resiliency in tough times, and of finding light amid the dark just by being unabashedly themselves.
In a year when hope was sometimes hard to come by, people around the world found it in Philadelphia. And that, perhaps, is the best good thing of all.