For Mummers fans of a special hardy breed, welcome to a bright, new (and retro) tomorrow:
Pine Street is back!
The corner where I found Mummer love is returning from the purgatory of nonperformance. The gods of Mummery have decreed that tomorrow, the 17 String Bands in the 2011 Mummers Parade SHALL stop at Broad and Pine and perform their 4 1/2-minute drills for their most discerning, most loyal fans - the several thousand cognoscenti who gather at Broad and Pine.
In recent years, in a misguided attempt to speed the parade to its judging and televised conclusion, parade officials barred performances at Broad and Pine. It didn't work. Bands found themselves back-clogged through Center City anyway, often standing by the University of the Arts steps, forbidden by the city to strut and strum, with no discernible effect on parade timing.
The first year, fans cried, begged and booed. The next year, they simply didn't show up.
Last week, with considerable pomp, the city biggies held a news conference on those very steps to announce the latest "family friendly" moves to get Philadelphians back to their signature parade. They declared six performance areas - Shunk, Wolf (Methodist Hospital), Washington Avenue, Pine, Sansom (the Union League), and the 15th and Market judging finale. Bleachers, toilets, food courts, and did I mention toilets?
They didn't make a big fuss about Pine Street Restoration, but Parks and Recreation Commissioner Mike DiBerardinis told me he was appalled last year to find Pine Street barren, and he vowed to right the wrong. The String Bands were only too glad to oblige - they like to perform!
Now the news is traveling by social media - and social beverage.
That means my once-a-year pal Bucky with his pungent critiques and Pottstown posse will be back beside his favorite tree in front of UArts - the west side, never the east. It means silver-flask Jay and the rest of the Dirty Frank's crowd, yearning to escape those Froggy Carr wenchmen who have invaded their bar, will be hooting from the east side, never heading west.
Tradition! Tevya would have loved Pine Street. You choose your side of the street, your tree, and stick to it. I knew a couple who, after an unpleasant divorce, reached a postnuptial agreement that she would get the east side of Broad and Pine and he would henceforth watch from the west.
There is - was? - a phone booth on the northwest corner where I called my wife, nursing our 2-day-old daughter, so she could hear the strains of the since-departed Ukrainian American String Band.
But back to the future:
Around noon tomorrow, the plucky Pennsport String Band, a strut-step or two behind Mayor Nutter and Rep. Bob Brady, will stop at the Pine Street crosswalk, set up props and it'll be Game On.
Hard on their glittery heels will be Fralinger, quite a story itself. Fralinger has won the top prize the past eight years, but because of a change in lineup rules, it's marching second instead of a more favorable position at the back of the pack. Hungry rivals from Woodland (third in line), South Philadelphia (fifth), Quaker City (14th), Ferko (17th) and a host of long shots dearly hope the early position will lead to a reversal of fortune.
For Pine Street early birds (that means you, Van Esquire) there's an appetizer. A Comic Division judging station has been added a block down the street at Lombard for individual and juvenile entries. Bring strong coffee, and plenty of good seats still available, as they say.
By early afternoon it will be packed at Pine and at the other five "official" performance zones. There's also an unofficial music-only stop in front of the firehouse at Bainbridge, where the fire captain struts with the Mummers captains, and the hearty-partying O'Brien clan handcrafts signs tailored to every band's theme.
Yes, the parade has its struggles, its politics and its issues. We worry every year - will it survive the 364 off-season? But tradition prevails. Mummery lives. Especially at Pine Street.