Brotherly Love Fest

Philly journalist Don Russell hates Phoenix. Even though he's never been here.

NT: Maybe the people in Colorado aren't very thirsty. Here, let me try to defend Phoenix: You claim that we're No. 1 in high school dropouts. But have you seen some of the schools here? You'd be fleeing, too.

Russell: They're that bad, huh? But I guess bad schools are a problem in most big cities. No city funds schools as well as it should, and Philadelphia has its share of dropouts, too.

NT: You write that we're the number three city for teen pregnancies. But maybe that's because Phoenix kids are so sophisticated and forward-thinking that they're anxious to get started with their adult lives.

Russell: I honestly didn't consider that. It's not a statistic that turned up in any of my research material.

NT: What's a mummer?

Russell: We have a parade on New Year's Day that's sort of our version of your Ostrich Festival. And people -- mummers -- dress up as clowns, or in fancy dress, or in ostrich feathers, and they march up Broad Street, and there's some drinking that goes along with that. It's a lot of fun, but lately it's been losing a lot of appeal.

NT: Speaking of drinking, you're the beer columnist for the Daily News. What's a beer columnist?

Russell: It's the best job at the paper. I've been writing about beer for eight years now, and in fact I was voted the North American Beer Writer of the Year last year. I write about microbrews and, you know, beer culture -- anything to do with beer drinking. And I have a great expense account.

NT: Does any of this "fifth largest city" stuff really matter?

Russell: To some people it does, because where you live says a lot about who you are. It's a personal slam against your character when someone questions where you live.

NT: But it's not like we founded these cities, or organized them. We just live in them.

Russell: I disagree. I've lived in Philadelphia all my life. And true Philadelphians are what make this city, because people from here tend to stay here. This is a city where saying you're a Philadelphian is a true way of defining yourself.

NT: I shudder to think what living in Phoenix says about someone.

Russell: If it doesn't say very much, it's partly because Phoenix is a young city, one that has yet to define itself as a real city. People defend your city by pointing out that land is very available, and housing is very affordable. Which can bite you in the ass, because you can end up with suburban sprawl and clogged freeways.

NT: Yeah, but Phoenix is "The Best Run City in the World." And we have the billboards to prove it.

Russell: To me, that's such a small-town mentality. To boast that you're the best run city in the world is just patting yourself on the back for an inconsequential award. Buying a stadium by enacting a sales tax without a public vote is the antithesis of a well-run government. And by the way, Phoenix was tied for Best Run City in 1993, with the town of Christchurch in New Zealand. Some competition.

NT: Okay, but how about this: Cher's Farewell Tour has been to Phoenix three times this year! How many times has she been to Philadelphia?

Russell: I know of one time for sure. There was a bizarre incident with a 400-pound fan who got evicted from the concert for shouting at Cher or something like that. But you're right: Phoenix is definitely the Cher capital of the world. But don't get too smug about it. Phoenix may grow to be number one, but if nature has its way -- and it usually does -- Phoenix won't stay number one for long.

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