If you can't fall in love with Philadelphia in the gorgeous month of May, then what chance does our city's grace and beauty have to break a first-time visitor's heart in the steely grip of late November?
That's a rhetorical question. It requires no answer. Certainly not from the out-of-town people I have met by happenstance or by appointment during the last few weeks on the streets of Philadelphia.
Their verdict: "Love this place! Love these people! Love the food, love the feel, love the honesty, humor, and good will." And I'm talking about people from Brazil and Kansas City, Australia and Oregon, Scotland and Texas. Even people from Dallas, who don't (it turns out) suck.
Philadelphia during this particular May has looked more like a hot prom date than a city. It makes you want to pin a corsage on this lovely, then take her arm and let her show you around.
Yes, I'm biased. No, I'm not delusional. And my opinion is backed by empirical evidence and firsthand encounters with visitors from all over the world. Oklahoma, even. Philadelphia delivers not only more more than visitors expect, but more than they could ever imagine.
"Who knew?" they tell me over and over. And each time they do that I make these kvelling cat noises inside myself, trying not to show how good it makes me feel to hear, "What a wonderful city."
Where once I would have been surprised and grateful, now I nod appreciatively. "Yes, it is, isn't it?"
And that, I believe, is a sea change among native Philadelphians in how we view our city. We no longer apologize in advance for nonexistent nightlife. We no longer curl our emotional fists anticipating a slight, either real or perceived. We're relaxed, where once we were defensive.
And, boy, does that feel good.
We natives have always loved Philadelphia, but we were insecure, timid, and startled, even, when someone new to the city loved the same things. Recognized what we recognized. Appreciated what we appreciated. Yaknowwhaddamean?
For five years I've been giving walking tours through the historic district to visitors. Sometimes beforehand I warn foreign visitors from the Philippines, India, or Wisconsin about my daunting hometown speech rhythms. "I speak Philadelphian," I announce, "which is a lot like English, only faster."
When I lead a group to Benjamin Franklin's grave I usually point to the U.S. Mint directly across Arch Street from Christ Church Burial Ground. "Most of the pennies in America are minted right here," I say with a sweeping gesture. "And many of them end up right here."
And as my hand gesture leads their eyes to a virtual Carl Sagan "billions and billions" of pennies on the flat white marble gravestone of Ben and his wife Deborah.
"Why do we throw pennies on Ben Franklin's grave?" I ask rhetorically. "Because of what he said about pennies." At this cue someone will usually offer, "A penny saved is a penny earned."
"Yes! And believe me, he has earned more pennies in death than he ever did in life. Last year more than $4,000 worth of pennies were tossed onto Benjamin Franklin's grave.
"Groundskeepers sweep them up into a box every couple of hours and the money goes toward the upkeep of Christ Church Burial Ground," I say, sometimes adding, depending on who is listening, "Or as the groundskeepers call it, 'beer.' "
That's a joke, I say.
Continuing the tour: "There is a belief in Philadelphia that if a newlywed bride throws a penny on Ben Franklin's grave and it lands heads up, that means she's going to have a good marriage," I say, scanning the eyes of the women scanning mine with an unspoken question.
"If it lands tails up," I say, pausing (wait for it . . . wait for it!). "Best out of three!" as I dip and start firing imaginary pennies on to his grave.
Everyone laughs because that's just silly. Right? Right?
After moving the tour along, more than once I've glanced back to see a young woman on her knees reaching through the fence to place a penny heads up.