A half-emptied bottle of Gentleman Jack bounced around my coat pocket as I tread carefully over empty beer cans and trash as I made my way south. The sun had already dipped below the horizon and darkness set in. A biting wind cut through me like a knife. I was glad I had on my forest green trench coat, perfect for the coldest of nights. Colorful mummers be damned!
I weaved my way between a drunken mess of spectators en route to meet Jayne Doe. A shiny green Mummer clung desperately to a chain link fence while his gag reflex kicked in, moments away from heaving onto the sidewalk. I snapped a picture and continued my journey. After all, it was my job to capture nightlife accurately.
I met with Jayne Doe at Shamrock Pub on the corner of 2nd and Reed streets. I was excited because this would be my first official night covering an event with the crew here at TD2BD. However, I was no stranger to their antics. We had met before at Dirty Wasted Thursday, but this was our first night actually working together.
I wasn’t even with Jayne for ten seconds before a fight broke out behind us. A magenta Mummer and a random spectator started swinging, screaming incoherent slurs. I raised my camera ready to snap a photo, but it was over before I could get the shot off. I looked over to Jayne, camera still at the ready, “This is my kind of party!” I said with a grin.
“Here, I got this for you,” She said handing me a beer, “Thanks!” I said thinking she bought it in the pub next to us. I didn’t think too hard about it and graciously accepted as my fingers froze to the can. “Guess it’s not the kind of night for fingerless gloves,” I said as I grasped the beer in my palms.
We made our way back towards 2nd street to watch the remaining brigades sluggishly progress by. Throngs of people were blocking their route further south unaware they were holding up the fun. It didn’t matter to me though, the Mummers were a constant source of entertainment, and not for the reasons you’d think. I curiously watched one of the ‘Fancies’ in front of me spend ten full minutes trying to light a cigarette and juggle his beer at the same time. I suspected all of those feathers and sequins made it a difficult task.
Six Philadelphia police officers were decked out in full cold weather gear tasked with two objectives: First, to keep people out of the parade route, and second to prevent stupidity. Neither was working too well. “Want another beer?” Jayne asked me, “I mean, sure, I guess if you’re willing to get me one,” I said still thinking that she was buying them. As quickly as she vanished, Jayne reappeared with more cans. It hadn’t been ten seconds before I finished my last one and my fingers immediately regretted asking for another. Why did I keep doing this to myself and where were these beers really coming from?
At first I felt uneasy drinking next to a cop, but it was quickly apparent they didn’t care about open container laws tonight. “Today is the exception to the rule, pass the Gentleman Jack!” smiled Jayne, excitedly pointing out everyone partaking in various adult beverages. They cops were having bigger problems anyway; the ensuing riots. I speak, of course, about the multitudes of drunk women ganging up on them and demanding a friend take their picture. At one point I saw a cop being set upon by five women at once. He looked over at his comrades, fear in his eyes, and silently mouthed: “Help…” His pleas were ignored, it was every man for themselves. The Horror.
I mumbled to Jayne that I’d be right back and stumbled down the street to a hotdog vendor. A woman looked at me and asked, “Hungry? Did you get that from upstairs?” “No,” I replied confused, “There was a hotdog truck over there,” I said pointing. “Oh no, there’s free food upstairs, follow me!” She said motioning towards the open door of a nearby apartment building. On the first landing were several coolers filled with tons of beer. So this is where Jayne was getting those beers from all along! Walking up the narrow steps, we came into a kitchen loaded with food everywhere. Hotdogs, pulled pork, kielbasa, even a vegetable soup with meatballs.
My mouth watered and my eyes went wide at the buffet of meats and vegetables laid out before me. Apparently the kielbasa was a New Years staple. This place was a refuge for anyone ready to come inside and warm up, or grab a beer, provided by the elderly Mummer who lived there. A bright green Mummer, two cops escaping the cold and a plethora of other people chatted, ate, and drank some more. The warmth was amazing. I could foresee myself returning quickly to this amazing beer oasis.
I loaded myself up with food and soup and headed back to the madness. On my way down, I left a generous amount of dollar bills in a collection cup at the bottom of the stairs. As I made my way outside I saw a cop struggling to light a cigarette. I snapped out my zippo and lit it for him. “So are you enjoying this or is this miserable for you?” I asked. “Oh, it sucks but it has its fun moments,” he sighed half heartedly. I had a jealous flashback to the cops being drowned in buzzed bachelorettes. “Hella cold out tonight!” he added.
“I got just the thing for that,” I said reaching into my coat pocket, whipping out my bottle of bourbon. I took a big swig and held the bottle out. I motioned for the cop to have some. He quickly looked around to see if anyone was watching and downed at least two shots worth, “Thanks,” he said, “That should keep me warm!” He nodded in approval, flicked his cigarette and marched back towards the chaos.
The bottom line:
The sheer energy and happiness of everyone around made for an incredible night and despite the cold, it reminded me of all the good things in life, including people. That’s what’s so great about New Year’s Day in Philadelphia. It doesn’t matter who you are or if you’re on the job: You drink. You be Merry. It’s the one day of the year where you’re friends with everyone who walks down the street and I think a huge reason for that is because of the Mummers. They bring us together and imbue everyone around them with a sense of community. They’re a point of pride amongst Philadelphians and they remind us that with each New Year we need to care about our neighbors and work together to make something you can’t find anywhere else: Community through debauchery. It’s a unique experience that I suggest anyone attend if they can.