“Dude, it’s happening… you did it man,” I said to Rory Cain, the man who overcame seemingly insurmountable technical issues to get this block party jump-started this year. I grabbed his shoulder as he zipped by me, running around here and there, doing various managerial tasks that come with the territory of throwing a block party.
He put his own hand on my shoulder and said, “We did it, brother. All of us,” and proceeded to clamber atop the roof of a car on some unrelated host-type errand.
I stared up at the early afternoon sun, covering part of it with my hand. A comforting breeze blew through my hair as I continued to stare lost in thought. A year had passed already since my first Cinco de High Yo, which also marked my 1 year anniversary with the site, as well as my very first assignment. It was just good to be outside with sun, fresh air and friends. In fact as I looked around me, hundreds of beautiful faces had started to fill the grass lot behind the Pharmacy on Cleveland Street.
This was Philadelphia on Freedom Day. The block party’s organizers had traded Mexico’s celebration of independence for America’s. People may not see a block party as a celebration of liberty and sovereignty, but in these troubled times it’s hard to see something like Cinco de High-Yo as anything but. What we have may look a little different than what the founding fathers had anticipated, but this block party was the embodiment of our equally deserved and sought after modern freedom. It’s different than Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia, but it’s ours. Cinco was celebrating OUR Independence in the heart of where freedom was born.
The day had started out with a gray pall to it, adding an overcast feel to what should have been a beautiful summer day. Just as the tents had all been set up and the music began to play, the sky had opened up and revealed a firmament so blue it was like the very clouds themselves had been cut with an exacto-knife. The gray had peeled back and the sky’s blue blood had seeped out until the heavens overhead were covered in it. I drank my beer like only a writer can. Gauges and piercings. Half-shaved heads and Mohawks. Studded clothing, skateboards, beards bandanas and denim. It was all around me again, this world. These were the same people that made me fall in love with whatever it is we do here in Philadelphia, the same people who had treated me like a communal family member just a year ago.
To see this day finally playing out warmed my heart. We had spent the early afternoon setting everything up together, working as a team to put up vendor tents, secure musical equipment, put up trash bags, and just generally get the whole thing running smoothly. Here I was again amidst the youth and counterculture of Philadelphia. These were Philly’s Finest come out to play.
I cracked a beer and sat in a chair under the TD2BD tent, staring off in the distance at this mangled, mangy looking group of people who I have come to consider my contemporaries. When we’re all dead and gone, historians will marvel at how many of us were friends and compatriots, our artistry meshing and mingling through the start of our careers.
“Look alive Borja,” Skinny Pete said while Kingpin fed me a strange tasting Maraschino cherry.
“Suck it, Hemingway,” I retorted.
“Don’t make me kiss you, Miss Dickinson,”
“You mean a second time?” Kingpin interjected as he fed a cherry to Sweet T and Zero.
I looked around me. People were laughing, sitting in the grass, dogs rolled around on the ground and in the shade. People were laughing, hugging, climbing on each other’s backs. Shorts and short skirts rose and fell with the fall of every foot. People were sitting on their stoops watching the madness. Children danced in the street. People were playing, enjoy the life we have all worked so hard to achieve. Even Zombie-Gumby (Zumby, rather) was walking around, his waxy corpse-flesh melting in the hot sun.
“Zumby! Where’s pokey?” I yelled as I got up to buy another makeshift city-wide.
“I told you last year, man! I ate his ass! God!”
“You’re right you did tell me that,” I said as I approached the lovely beer-girls who were working tirelessly under the heat of the day.
“The Crow or the Sailor?” Kristin Guessford asked as I handed her a five and threw the change in the tip jar.
“Hmmmmmmmmmm… I’ll have the Crow this time please,”
She smiled and thanked me as I downed the whiskey with gusto.
“No, thank you,” I said. I was glad to give my money to this cause. It felt righteous somehow, like I was contributing to something bigger than myself. Like dollars spent on booze were more than just dollars drank and forgotten. I was helping a cause.
These were people worth knowing. The sense of community and family was strong and (just like last year) the feeling that I was not just welcome, but that I actually belonged here was overwhelming.
The day had been alive with the sounds of various local acts. Blayer Point du Jour and Rockers Galore, Matt Caringi and the Noise, The Nuclears, Retreevers, S.T.O.P., Time Hitler and the Assholes From Space, and all the other performers and DJs put on excellent sets of varying genre and intensity. The band Bonzai was currently up and shredding fiercely in the blowing wind. Each band member’s mane making crazy ideograms above their heads as the gusts pulled strands towards the heavens. They played to the sounds of hurricanes off in the distance, swallowing their hair without skipping a beat. They looked like ancient gods of some Norse mythology, playing music as the sky ripped itself apart; ceaselessly loving their craft under a sky fit for the end of the world.
Where the fuck was I? What type of place was this that all these people were allowed to congregate, and drink, and laugh and embrace one another on a lush swatch of green grass under an open sky?
Because that’s what this was all about: togetherness, and the freedom to be ourselves within that communal experience. Cinco de High-Yo was a microcosm; everyone and everything in one threaded pinhole of existence. And Rory was right, we made it happen. Something as important as what we all stand for could not rest on the shoulders of one man or woman alone. It takes many bricks to make a home, many stars to make a cosmos, and spread out right in front of me were the bricks and stars who helped to make this section of existence a home. In a place like this and in the company I was with, it became hard to believe that the same sky under which I had found such camaraderie was the same sky that held all violence, rape, addiction, malevolence, and war in place. But on this day, this celebration of our independence, such things as malevolence did not exist, not for us.
I was in a place where any person of any creed, or race, or socio-economic status could come together in unison, a remembrance of all the things our forefathers held dear when they formed the country. Things had changed, even in a year, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my year with TD2BD and the people I’ve met along the way it’s that people aren’t all bad. The world isn’t totally terrible. Seeing people work together and put difference and indifference aside restored the waxing and waning faith I have in humanity. I put my hand over my heart and I chugged my beer with vigor. It’s what Ben Franklin would have wanted.
The bottom line:
Personally, the Cinco de High-Yo block party has some serious sentimental value for me and Sweet T. Cinco 2013 was the very first event we covered as members of TD2BD. This year’s block party stood as like a kind of anniversary of sorts, a year-in-retrospect kind of event, so we were elated to get a chance to be a part of this again. The day had a sort of nostalgic feel to it almost, considering I have perceived the last year of my life as being both an instant and an eternity ago. Things have changed. Even block parties change; this one has without a doubt changed for the better.
Photos from Cinco de High Yo!