March 2- 8, 2006
editor's letterIn Praise of Damned Fool Ideas
Crime fiction is full of characters with damned fool ideas. Usually, it's something like, "Hey, let's knock over a bunch of Build-A-Bear Workshops with a pair of Winchester level-action sawed-off shotguns so we can set up a crystal meth lab." Or, "Hey, let's slip your husband some arsenic in his Froot Loops, collect the insurance and set up a crystal meth lab." Damned fool ideas like these almost always end badly, usually with the crystal meth lab exploding and everybody complaining about the smell.
In journalism, stories about real people with damned fool ideas are not as common. Rarer still are the damned fool ideas worth a damn.
As I read through this week's issue, I noticed we had quite a few stories about people with damned fool ideas. There's the ticked-off SEPTA rider who's launching a one-woman campaign of blinding vengeance (if you consider a Web forum to be "blinding vengeance") against the troubled transit agency. There's musician Phil Roy, weary from the grind of touring in support of an album, who came up with another way (p. 47). There's Carlos Basualdo, the new curator of contemporary art at the PMA, who talks to us about finding exhibit-worthy art in very nontraditional places (p. 28).
And finally there's Steve Christini, a Villanova grad who was smacked with a white hot burst of inspiration one day when he was trying to ride a bike uphill. That single afternoon led to Christini putting his life on hold for 10 years, as Brian reports.
You call these people "quixotic" when you want to belittle them, "pains in the ass" when you want to dismiss them. Later, when they succeed, you call them "visionaries."
These kinds of people are what make Philly great.
I'm not saying that cover subject Christiniwho had one of those great "eureka" moments straight out of a Frank Capra flickis going to revolutionize the city. Even if he succeeds, his invention may not have an impact beyond maybe a few dozen people. Mostly bike nuts and gear heads.
But gather enough dreamers with damned fool ideas in one placeor become known as a breeding ground for these people ah, that's the stuff that "world-class cities" are really made of.
Brian first heard about Christini's dream last year. "I was drawn to this story first and foremost because I like bikes," he explains.
(But that's another obsession for another time.)
"The first time I spoke with Steve in the summer of 2005," says Brian, "I didn't quite grasp what an uphill battle this guy was waging. It was only after talking to him in the fall, as he prepared for what was shaping up to be a do-or-slowly-die trade show in Milan, that I saw the stress.
"Here was a guy who'd built a better mousetrap but couldn't get anyone to nibble, and that's always a compelling story," Brian continues. "You start asking yourself the Deep Throat questions: Who stands to lose? Who stands to gain? This could really upset the apple cart for the big motorcycle companies who have no problem selling out what they manufacture now, and could be huge for a smaller company looking to take market share away from the Hondas of the world. It's a David vs. Goliath story, in a way."
That story starts on page 18. When you're finished, ask yourself:
Have you had any damned fool ideas lately?
(Not) Everybody's A Critic
Big congrats to CP movies editor Sam Adams, who has just been voted into the National Society of Film Critics. This is an exclusive group, only 55 in all, nationwide, whose members have names like "Ebert," "Roeper" and "Denby." "The only other Philadelphia critic to hold membership is [the Philadelphia Inquirer's] Carrie Rickey," says Sam, "so I'll be asking her to get her dirty socks out of the clubhouse sink pronto."