When seeing a giant orange man-beast lobbing face masks from the top of a firetruck to screaming crowds below is a harbinger of normalcy, you know you’re living in strange times.
Or in Delco.
Both were true on Thursday evening, when local eccentric Gritty — who is also the Flyers mascot — paraded through Delaware County in his first public appearance since the coronavirus stay-at-home orders began.
The parade of first responders from across the county wound its way through the streets of Middletown Township, passing by Linvilla Orchards, Indian Lane Elementary School, and other sites before ending in front of Riddle Hospital to honor health care workers there.
Gritty danced atop the moving firetruck, flashed peace signs to the crowds, and soaked in the attention of his adoring fans like an orange Scrub Daddy sponge. Instead of throwing the parade-goers candy, Gritty threw them Flyers face masks in neatly sealed plastic packs.
Hungry for anything even vaguely resembling a sporting event, a few Flyers fans were spotted tailgating in an empty Barnaby’s pub parking lot nearby. Along the route, children clung tight to itty-bitty Gritty dolls and handmade signs while Delco dads sipped on 2SP beers, socially distancing together.
Sean McDade, 38, of West Chester, brought his 6-month-old son, Daulton — who was dressed in his finest Flyers onesie — to see Gritty drive by his parents’ house on Hunting Hills Lane. McDade carried his boy in one hand and in the other held a sign that read: “My wife is a bad-ass respiratory therapist and can puck you up!”
McDade, himself a pharmacist, FaceTimed the parade to his wife, who was working at Lankenau Hospital.
“Look at this. It’s awesome! It brings back a sense of normalcy,” he said. “When Gritty is your baseline for normalcy, you know we’re living in wild times.“
While quarantine has been a weird time for almost everyone, it’s old hat for Gritty.
We’re told that he lived in the bowels of the Wells Fargo Center for an untold number of years before emerging like a russet-orange wrecking ball in 2018. But now that he’s beloved by millions — and feared by all — Gritty actually misses interacting with people, a representative from the Flyers public relations team said in an email.
Scratch that. The rep said Gritty misses interacting with his “fans," not all people. The Pittsburgh Penguins can stay at home forever.
At The Inquirer’s request, the representative asked Gritty why he chose to parade through Delco for his first public appearance. Surely it’s because he has relatives in this largely blue-collar suburb, or because he’s longing to head-bang at a Celtic rock show at Tom N Jerry’s pub, right?
“I heard they had the loudest firetrucks," Gritty said.
Fair enough. Volume control has never been Delco’s strong suit.
When the Rocky Run Fire Company in Media learned Gritty wanted to reconnect with this fans while also safely social distancing, the all-volunteer company was more than happy to give him a ride on one of their engines while also giving the community a much-needed boost, said Rocky Run Assistant Chief Mike Johnson.
“It’s a good time to recognize the health-care workers at Riddle Hospital, first responders, and the neighborhood residents,” said Johnson. “It’s something of relative normalcy, even if Gritty riding around town is not normal.”
While Thursday was Gritty’s first public appearance since the Flyers’ last game on March 10 against the Boston Bruins, he — like so many other celebs — has tried to stay connected with his audience online.
Since March 30, Gritty has been on an Instagram Live “vision quest" series called “Gritty’s 1/4 Hour of Power.” Every weekday at 12:30 p.m. he performs a random, banal task — like making a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich — or plays a game via video with a Flyers colleague, like hangman with Carter Hart.
He even gave a PowerPoint presentation on his favorite subject — himself.
“Did you ever think you would be sitting at home, watching Gritty give a presentation about ……… Gritty?” one of his slides read. “Because that’s where you are right now.”
While many hoped they’d be watching Gritty parade down Broad Street with the Stanley Cup right about now, for the time being his parade through Delaware County will have to do.