Skip Schwarzman

Saturday night:

I LOVE the Republicans. Love ‘em love ‘em love ‘em. Can’t we keep them for just a little while longer? Please?

Coming back into Philadelphia from New Jersey, that is to say through Camden, which has been on the brink of total collapse ever since I can remember, just as it’s been on the brink of revival for almost as long, there were FLOWERS at the toll booths to the Ben Franklin Bridge. Flowers! Now, that may not mean much to some folks, but here in the Delaware Valley it can mean only one thing: Republicans! They’re here and we’re ready!

The main road leading to the New Jersey side of the Ben Franklin Bridge is Admiral Wilson Boulevard. I’m ashamed to say I don’t know who Admiral Wilson was, but I’m sure my shame is nothing compared to his (posthumous) embarrassment at having his name attached to what the street used to be: a shabby, seedy strip of by-the-hour motels with by-the-hour inhabitants, clubs with exotic dancers dancing in clubs that didn’t look exotic, and gasoline stations our mothers warned us about using ‘cause “You know people are always getting robbed there while they’re getting gas.”

Today the road’s median concrete wall is topped with brickwork, and all the motels, strip joints, and gasoline stations on the south side of the road are gone, gone, gone, replaced by verdant swards of green grass that complement Cooper River Park, which was just behind the businesses but always lay hidden both literally and figuratively.

You see, some of the Republicans are staying in New Jersey locations and they’re using Admiral Wilson Boulevard to get to Philly every day. So now, thanks to Gov. Christie Whitman and others, the short ride delegates take through Camden is upliftingly scenic. Let’s hope the delegates don’t turn off the boulevard and see that Camden is still struggling, a breath or two away from being taken over by the State of New Jersey.

In Philadelphia, another way delegates access the city is via the Schuylkill Expressway. And right there they’ll feel good about being in Philly, because as they pass the demolition site of the Vare Avenue Housing Projects they’ll see the banner put up by Geppert Demolition. “Geppert Welcomes the Republican Convention Delegates!” How heartwarming, being welcomed by the company that’s demolishing public housing.

Of course, there’s a dark underbelly to all this. The money being spent on sprucing up the place is considerable. Very considerable. The streets are so clean there’s less E. coli in a Philadelphia gutter than in an abandoned meat-packing plant. The city’s spending $5 million this week on police overtime, it costs $12 million to turn the First Union Center into a convention site, and who knows if all the out-of-town workers are paying city wage tax like visiting professional athletes must?

For all the hype about how much revenue the convention would generate, there are an equal number of conversations about how local vendors haven’t seen as much business as they expected. There’s a ton o’ talk about how many suppliers have been brought into Philly for the convention and who have no home in Philly, Pennsylvania, or any part of the Greater Delaware Valley.

In a recent Philadelphia Inquirer article about local businesses losing out to, ummm, carpetbaggers, Mark Miller, media director for the Republican convention organization, was quoted as saying, “It’s really a free market. We don’t control it all. You’ll always get some whiners. They sort of expected it to be handed to them.”

Mark, let me tell you about “free markets”: Convention organizers have gotten plenty of hospitality here FREE. Time and again, Philadelphia businesses were hit up, asked to provide FREE services and FREE goods to convince and comfort the Republicans who’re coming to Philadelphia. If we criticize the way in which all this money is being spent, or more specifically with whom this money is being spent, take the hit like a big boy, Mark. Don’t call us whiners. You held out the promise of financial gain to whatever city hosted your convention, and it’s our tax dollars that are sprucing up the place, paying for the police who’re protecting you from all those big, bad, nasty protesters. If you ain’t delivering the goods as promised, you ain’t delivering the goods as promised. As my friend Guy said, it’ll take a lot of Republicans buying lots of stuff at our local Gap to refill the city coffers through sales tax.

On the other hand, the city’s never looked so good.

Sunday night:

Speaking of looking good, tonight’s party looked pretty spiffy. The guests were welcomed into a space that was a bank in a former life. Today the first-floor space, with 25-foot ceilings and windows reaching all the way up, was transformed into a dining room with tables for eight complete with red- and white-wine glasses, cobalt-blue glass lay plates, cobalt-blue water glasses, and beautiful and lush (but understated!) centerpieces. We served hors d’oeuvres for about an hour and then followed with a first course of grilled vegetable terrine with organic baby lettuces and Manchego cheese tuille, and a main course of beautifully done veal chops, saffroned spaetzle, and a tomato basket with baby vegetables. Dessert was as it should be, a knockout (finish with a big statement): a chocolate Liberty Bell with (locally grown) peaches Napoleon, fresh currants, blueberries, and raspberries, all complemented with petits fours in the shape of elephants. And we get the advantage of being one of the first dinners the guests will see this week: By the end of the convention they’ll have had more than their fill of Liberty Bells (done in chopped liver, maybe?), elephants (in red, white, and blue), and cheesesteaks (at least we didn’t try to work those into tonight’s menu!).

Off-premise catering is so much like theater. There is a curtain time, and short of a natural disaster the curtain goes up as scheduled. So as you might imagine, it’s comforting to know what’s expected, to know the script, so to speak. When we arrived at the party site tonight … well … let’s just say the final version of the script hadn’t been written. We had no table layout, and found out upon arriving that the guest count had dropped. (That’s good; last minute increases are the sticky wickets.) We’ve discovered that this is much the way these conventions go: Guests get umpteen invitations for any one night, say yes to all of them, and then decide at the last minute which ones they’ll actually attend. So together with the event planner, we formulated a floor plan and got ready to serve at 6:30. Except the invitation time had changed. To 6 p.m. OK, no problem. That’s why we talk incessantly about the details. Gotta make sure everyone’s on the same page, and that the page we were all on yesterday hasn’t been crumpled up and thrown out without everyone being notified.

The show must go on, and so it did. The meal went perfectly. Tomorrow I’m at the shop at 3:30 a.m. to get ready to cater a fishing trip. We’re down to 74 hours.