As I move along Frankford Avenue toward Cottman Avenue to join the Eagles celebration, I am pulled by an invisible tide that has guided me since I was a little kid walking to McDonald’s with my grandpop.
I’ve lived in Mayfair most of my life, and I’ve gotten to know a number of its landmarks.
There’s the abandoned building where the McDonald’s used to be. Across the street is a Republic Bank where the Mayfair Movie Theater used to be.
Used to be. It’s a favorite phrase of the “back in the day” brigade that frequently laments the deteriorating condition of Mayfair. Upon reflecting on the evidence, they have a point.
There’s the place that once sold ice cream. There’s the building where you could get your watch fixed. The Stutz Candy Company held down prime real estate on the avenue at one time. These places are all gone, relics of a bygone era.
Even the Philadelphia GOP has pulled up stakes and moved out of its Cottman Avenue headquarters, taking their Donald Trump cutout and promises to “make America great again” with them.
And yet, there are many stubborn holdouts. Capriotti’s continues to sell fruit and produce in their little space on the 7100 block of Frankford, as they’ve done since 1968. Up the block is Domenico’s Formal Wear. You’ll find McKenna’s Bar still serving pints on Aldine Street. If the promise of a 70 cent PBR mug isn’t enough to entice you to enter what the locals affectionately call “The Deener,” then perhaps you might be intrigued by its sign advertising “N.Y. TV.”
The first Philly Pretzel Factory opened its doors on Bleigh Street in 1998. Across the street is the Mayfair Diner, which has been in business since 1932. Depending on their age, locals will tell you about the time they met Bill Clinton and JFK at this long-entrenched greasy spoon.
There are plenty of other small businesses eking out an existence along this once-bustling business corridor, like Infinity Jewelers, Tailhook Tavern, the Parish Pub, and House of Thai cuisine. Bars like Harrington’s and Reale’s remain neighborhood staples.
In short, Mayfair is a community that is struggling to avoid submerging in the post-industrial muck that has claimed so many other towns and areas of the city.
Many of my neighbors in the ’90s and ’00s have moved in search of better schools for their children or a home that isn’t attached to other houses.
Some of my friends didn’t have the opportunity to make that choice, falling victim to a painkiller-turned-heroin epidemic that has devastated our area. While we were busy clearing street corners, we forgot about the dangers lurking in our medicine cabinets.
There is growing concern that the parochial school I attended, St. Matt’s, might meet the same fate as so many other shuttered Catholic schools in Philadelphia.
Nevertheless, we have endured. The neighborhood has seen an influx of immigrants and multilingual speakers who have injected some energy into the community. Mayfair School just built an addition to handle its growing student population. And new businesses have filled some of the vacant buildings that dot Frankford Avenue.
Although life might be different in Mayfair, one aspect has never changed: an appreciation for the Big 4 professional sports teams.
While there are always gatherings at Cottman and Frankford any time a Philly team gets to a championship game or brings home a title, the connection with this particular Eagles squad feels different.
We’re an underdog neighborhood in an underdog city. It only makes sense that we would gravitate toward an underdog team.
Sure, the people who don’t live here will laugh at us as some of our more inebriated neighbors try to climb greased street poles and judge us collectively as a few revelers get a little too rowdy.
They’ll cling to their narratives about snowballs and Santa, and claim that Philly sports fans are a menace to the NFL order.
They don’t get it. They’ll never get it. They don’t have the privilege of calling this city their home and the Eagles their football team.
They must never have lived in a place in which where you’re from is an integral part of who you are. They don’t understand what it feels like to have an organization hold you up as the pillars of your community crumble before your eyes. They don’t realize that, even though industrial jobs are disappearing, Philadelphia is still a blue-collar town. And we expect the players on our teams to work as hard as we do. What they interpret as anger we see as passion. We care, and we don’t apologize for it.
But let the detractors wallow in their vapid generalizations. They’ll certainly find anecdotal evidence to bolster their “Philly fan” narrative. Maybe they saw chaos from the narrow filter their Internet connection provided. What I saw from the ground, however, was a moment when a community came together and cheered the Eagles’ success.
The Eagles gave us a reason to celebrate, and – for the first time in awhile – to hope.