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Perspective: From Penn's Hill to Capitol Hill

(04/08/03 9:00am)

WASHINGTON -- The car is small, white and cramped. After a whirlwind of news cameras, famous faces and the Hollywood-like quality Washington, D.C. has taken on now that the sun has come out and the cherry trees are all in peak bloom, the slightly shabby vehicle helps to demystify the life of Harold Ford Jr -- an energetic congressman from Tennessee, a University of Pennsylvania graduate and a 33-year-old political maverick. It's early afternoon and Mark Schuermann, the congressman's chief of staff, is already sitting in the driver's seat as Ford's press secretary, Anthony Coley, squeezes in back, right next to a baby's car seat complete with three or four goldfish-shaped crackers wedged in its crevices. The congressman ducks into the front passenger seat, reluctantly tugged away from a news conference in front of the Supreme Court and an extended chat with a CBS reporter. Once inside, he is handed a sheet with what are supposed to be his speaking points for the engagement scheduled in 15 minutes. Schuermann begins driving and Ford begins doing what he does best -- multitasking. While rifling through his papers, he also manages to answer the questions of a young journalist. Suddenly, Ford sees some acquaintances standing outside of a restaurant, and the car pulls over. He runs out and begins chatting. A short while later, he's back -- just long enough to poke his head in the window and say he's going into the restaurant, but don't worry, it'll only be a few seconds. He disappears into the steakhouse's glass doors. But inside the car, Coley and Schuermann are used to this -- they exchange banter and field an almost constant stream of phone calls. Periodically, one of them will remark that someone should really go in and get Ford soon. Neither moves. Schuermann points out the window at Mike McCurry -- former President Bill Clinton's press secretary -- walking by. He comments that Washington, D.C. is full of these minor celebrities. Eventually, the two men decide to call the congressman. After all, it's getting late, and he might miss the window of opportunity for the talk he is going to give. "He really sounded like he was about to leave," Schuermann says, after hanging up the phone, apparently surprised that Ford was willing to disengage from a conversation so easily. The current fourth-term congressman is constantly referred to as a rising star -- both by members of the media and his own Democratic Party. And he is good-looking enough to have been named one of People magazine's 50 "most beautiful" in 2001. After all, he's a bachelor with a past -- he mentions that he once was engaged to a fellow Penn alum, but apparently, two Quakers don't a marriage make. But it wasn't even his good looks that landed him as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 2000. The thing is, Ford really loves talking to people. In an age when politicians are accused of being more eager to cozy up to money than people, Ford likes nothing more than chatting with anyone who wants to talk. His loquacity is the first thing that everyone mentions -- from his press secretary to College senior Mahendra Prasad, who interned for him last fall. It's this outgoing nature that on March 4 -- Ford came to Penn as part of the Fox Lessons in Leadership program, attended by Robert Fox himself -- kept him surrounded by a mob of students, all eagerly awaiting the chance to ask him about job opportunities or about things he had said at the preceding talk. Despite being dragged away every few moments to be photographed with Fox or an important University official, Ford would immediately rush back over to talk with students. On April 1, after attending the oral arguments on the Michigan affirmative action case at the Supreme Court and then participating in a large-scale press conference, Ford was still itching to talk. Coley kept urging him to finish, telling the various students and fans who surrounded the congressman that each comment would be his last. But each "last comment" gave way to just one more and, eventually, Coley literally had to drag Ford away. • On the one hand, Ford is just another Penn alum. He has fond memories of Hill College House, where he spent his freshman year, and is familiar with the University lingo. Like most former students, he is pleasantly surprised when he comes back to campus and sees all of the changes that have been made since his 1992 graduation. But while he was here, he was the one making the changes, including co-founding The Vision, the University's black newspaper. "There was a bunch of us who thought the DP was a bunch of racist kids," Ford says, in a talk to the University community. "Instead of us begging the DP to write differently about us, [we said] let's start our own paper...." Yet incidentally, he wrote a DP column -- "Papa Don't Take No Mess" -- during his sophomore and senior years. When he is asked why he was considered such a radical while at Penn but is now considered a fairly moderate Democrat, his answer is twofold. "I don't think I was perceived as a radical on campus," Ford says. "I won the Spoon Award -- [the highest honor given to a male senior active on campus] -- when I was there.... I get perceived right now as a moderate because I don't necessarily do things like my colleagues do. I thought it was time to do something different." He even remembers where he was when George H. Bush declared war on Iraq the first time. "I was at 43rd and Spruce at a friend's apartment, doing things I wasn't supposed to be doing," he says with a smile. "It really was a time when I sort of blossomed as, as a person and came out sort of intellectually as a person... and found some intellectual underpinnings, if I could be so bold and call it that, and found kind of my academic self," Ford explains, sitting in that same cramped car in Washington, D.C. a few days after his talk, choosing carefully the words that sum up his college career. "I found I had a great joy for writing and expressing myself that way." But this past March, though only two hours away geographically, Ford was light years away from that underage beer on Spruce when the current war was declared. He was eating dinner at a restaurant just blocks from Capitol Hill when President George W. Bush ordered the first round of bombing to begin in Baghdad -- if that's even when one thinks the current war began. Because Ford doesn't. "Well, I consider that declaration [of war] the day we were attacked -- Sept. 11 -- in the morning," Ford ruminates for a moment, and then continues. "I was in the congressional dining room having breakfast. And I received a series of phone calls to let me know what happened had happened." Ford, like many Americans, feels the war is the biggest issue currently on the nation's plate. "I think Saddam Hussein should be disarmed.... He's a bad, bad man," Ford says to the Penn community. He makes it clear that he supports the war and the troops now that it has begun -- he doesn't understand how you can support one and not the other. And he's not just talking about U.S. and allied troops. "The people fighting the war are just like our kids," Ford says, referring to the Iraqi youth currently in the Gulf. Still, at this point, he wants the United States to win. Then he wants the United States to establish a democracy in Iraq. A real one. "Everything we blow up will have to be rebuilt," Ford tells the attentive crowd. • Now the nation is abuzz with news about the University of Michigan's Supreme Court case on affirmative action. But for Ford, this case holds a special, personal significance. "At Michigan, I was part of the first class at the law school being affected by the new admissions policy," he says. "I was accepted and matriculated and then graduated in '96." In fact, Ford is the only sitting congressman who graduated under the University of Michigan affirmative action policies currently being challenged. As a black man, Ford contends that he himself got to where he is in part due to such affirmative action policies. "I was let in" to Michigan Law, he explains, "and another selective university called Penn, and I hope I have not let the universities down -- I haven't embarrassed them with some of my career choices." Every single American, black or white, female or male, underrepresented minority or not, has benefited from affirmative action, Ford tells a group of reporters in front of the Supreme Court. "I wish we weren't here having this conversation. I wish 250 years ago, people who looked like him weren't told what to do for free by people like her," Ford says, pointing first to a young black man and then to the reporter, a young white woman. "But we've made a lot of progress, and she can't do that anymore to him and he can't do things to her anymore, and we're a better society because of that. "I contend she's a better person and he's a better person because laws now allow them to work together, to go to school together, even date if they choose to." He hopes one day allowances like affirmative action will no longer be necessary -- he just believes that to declare today that day would be a travesty to the American people. • First, you notice the two televisions pushed up against a wall. Then you see the third, set up on the other end of the room. The congressman is in the Supreme Court, but the TVs in Ford's office are eternally tuned to CNN, Fox and MSNBC. "This is where he does his thing," Coley explains. "He loves to monitor the news." Coley insists that the office may be nice, but it could be nicer. As a congressman increases in seniority, his office improves, too. This room is fairly large, with comfortable-looking chairs and photos everywhere. Still, the view is of the roof of a building below the Cannon Building. There is always room for improvement. Next, you are directed to the map on his wall, with Afghanistan centered in the middle. After the tension in that area began, Ford realized how little most people really know about the region, and he got his staff to put up this map. The final stop on the office tour is a photo of Ford at the 2000 Democratic Convention, then a photo of him practicing to use the teleprompter. At the convention, speakers are required to have speeches prepared and read off a prompter. The only problem was that Ford didn't really know how to use one. "He is notorious for not using notes," Coley says. In this way, as in most others, Ford seems to have been born for politics, and in fact, he was. His father held the seat he now holds in Congress just before he did. "It's sort of a second nature in a lot of ways," he says. Right now, though, Ford sees himself more as an innovator than a traditionalist. He is a new voice in a party that has lost enough lately to warrant a change -- the first of the next generation of American Democrats. "You have to change the thought in people's mind that we are obstructionist and that our primary purpose is to oppose the president," he begins, trying to squeeze as many ideas as possible into the little time he has for conversation. So just what does Congressman Harold Ford Jr. see as his greatest accomplishment? "I haven't done it yet, hopefully," he says with the glibness of a man full of large achievements and larger dreams. As of now, Ford is a congressman, and he has made it clear that he wants to run for Senate at some point in the not-too-distant future. And after that? Well, there has been some talk of an eventual run for the presidency, and though it remains pure speculation, after considering Ford's track record and watching him in action, it seems far from impossible. A Penn graduate. A black man. An independent thinker. Only time will tell. Photo by Ari Friedman

Africana, Latino studies explore racial issues in Americas

(03/03/03 10:00am)

Although some feel that the University does not do enough to deal with cross-racial and ethnic differences, many academics are striving to explore these issues to the fullest. This past week, the joint project of the Greater Philadelphia Latin American Studies Consortium, the Center for Africana Studies and the Latin American and Latino Studies Program at Penn co-hosted a two-day symposium entitled "The African Americas," taking place mainly in Logan Hall. Sociology Department Chairman Douglas Massey, the official commentator on the "Politics of Identity," addressed the increasing importance of cross-national events between the U.S. and Latin American countries. "These two worlds are increasingly colliding in the wake of globalization," Massey said. A keynote address on Thursday given by Professor Michael Hanchard, director of the Institute for Diasporic Studies at Northwestern University, set the conference in motion. It was followed on Friday by a day of panels relating to the experiences of people of African descent in the Americas. The speakers presented topics in three separate panels -- Religion, Politics of Identity and Expressive Culture. Representing a large number of countries and institutions, presentations were made in both English and Spanish, with translations provided for the latter. "At Penn, both folks at the Centers for Africana and Latino Studies are really committed to creating areas of joint energy, ways of working together and awareness of the Americas as a transnational space," said Ann Farnsworth-Alvear, professor of history and a co-organizer of the event with Tukufu Zuberi, the director of the Center for Africana Studies. One focus of the conference was learning about the vast differences in how countries look at color and ethnicity. Massey explained the difference between the "one drop" method of color classification in the U.S. and the system in Latin America, which allows for more nuances of color, but also prevents some of the community cohesion that is so prevalent in the U.S. The conference provided a cross-cultural experience in more than just an academic fashion. Angela Luhning, a panelist from Brazil whose talk was entitled "Pierre Fatumbi Verger: Go Between as Anthropological Method," had never been to the U.S. before. She was initially worried about making the trip to New York City and Philadelphia due to terrorist threats, but in the end, she felt the experience was positive. "I like to look and hear," she said. "It was very good for me to look, to observe, to hear the American view on the African-American culture. It's very different than Brazil. It was very good for me. I loved it." Roland Roebuck, the Latino program manager for the District of Columbia's Department of Human Services, also realized the significance of the event. "I thought it was important to participate, because as an Afro-Caribbean, I feel that these venues offer opportunities to establish networks of collaboration, not only in the United States, but in the Caribbean and Latin America as well," Roebuck said. He also stressed that it was important for the conference to be attended not only by people of African descent but by others as well.

Delays plague McDonald's construction

(03/03/03 10:00am)

Both those with a hankering for hamburgers and those with a hatred of them are still awaiting a court decision regarding the cleanup of pollutants on the site of a planned McDonald's at 43rd and Market streets. Construction of the fast food restaurant was originally supposed to be completed in fall 2001, but has been postponed several years due to community resistance, which began soon after McDonald's bought the property in October 1999. The project's continued delay stems from a legal battle between the corporation and West Philadelphia activist group Neighbors Against McPenntrification, whose claims that a chemical removal process the company was using is detrimental to the health of the community halted plans for decontamination of the area and construction. In spring 2001, it was discovered that the soil on the site was contaminated with tetrachloroethylene, commonly known as TTE, left over from the dry cleaning store that previously occupied the spot. The process that McDonald's used to clean up the TTE, vapor extraction, involves the eventual release of the carcinogenic chemical into the surrounding environs. In order to stop the vapor extraction process from continuing past a test run, NAM petitioned the Philadelphia Board of License and Inspection Review in order to revoke the fast food restaurant's license to clean the soil by extraction. It called for the corporation's use of a thermal desorption process, an allegedly safer, yet costly, method. Though NAM won its initial case when its appeal was granted last spring, McDonald's appealed that decision and won. Currently, NAM and McDonald's are still expecting an overdue decision from the court involving NAM's latest appeal, which was scheduled to have been made by Oct. 30. But controversy over the construction of the restaurant precedes the current legal battle. "We fought the McDonald's from the very beginning," explained Rev. Larry Falcon, a member of Neighbors Against McPenntrification. He said the organization saw the proposed fast food restaurant as one step in the systematic displacement of indigenous community members by the University. Falcon referred to a market study released by the University City District in July 1999, which stated that the UCD should either "encourage McDonald's to update and upgrade the appearance of its store at 40th and Walnut streets, which appears not to have been renovated in many years" or "work with McDonald's to relocate their store to a suitable nearby location, and then redevelop this prime parcel into a higher and better use than the current one-story fast food restaurant." Alison Kelsey, the marketing director for the UCD, feels that the continued referral to the study by NAM is silly, since it is currently almost four years old, and much has changed in the ensuing years. Meanwhile, both McDonald's and NAM are simply waiting for the court to make a ruling, according Larry Norton, marketing manager for the Philadelphia Region McDonald's. At present, neither can predict when that may happen. Elisa Sneed, a spokesperson for Councilwoman Janine Blackwell's office, explained that the judge is still trying to work out a solution that will be agreeable to both NAM and McDonald's, and is presently at a standstill. "At this point its just going to remain a vacant lot with a fence until something can be worked out," Sneed said. As NAM waits, Falcon asserted, the situation in the neighborhood is not getting any better. He explained that when it rains, contaminated soil from the exposed site runs into surrounding lawns and streets. "If you just see what they did to our gardens and our backyards, it's just terrible," Falcon said. Kelsey said that the UCD has no jurisdiction or influence over the current situation. "Once again, we have nothing to do with it," she said. "McDonald's franchises are independently owned and operated --- whatever goes in goes in." And so, the waiting game on 43rd and Market streets continues.

Less crime attracts more students

(02/14/03 10:00am)

As crime in Philadelphia has decreased over the past five years, so too have admission rates at the University. Both decreasing figures are in agreement with nationwide trends, though according to many, there is little doubt that at Penn, the numbers are related. "If students are worried that they are going to be assaulted when they walk outside, then we've got a problem as an institution," said History Professor Eric Schneider, assistant dean and associate director for academic affairs. While falling crime rates in University City is largely beneficial for Penn students, a more pleasant Philadelphia makes the University -- a school that markets its urban locale in order to stand out from other peer institutions -- a more attractive option for prospective students. Sgt. Roland Lee, spokesman for the Philadelphia Police Department, chose to quote the mayor when discussing how important it is to lower crime in any large city. Mayor John Street "says it all the time -- to be a great city, you have to be a safe city," Lee said. "They go hand in hand." Still, according to Schneider, crime goes in waves, and just because numbers are lower this year does not mean that Philadelphia and the nation will not experience resurgence in crime in the next few years. He explained that from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, an extremely large number of prisoners were incarcerated, temporarily removing them from the streets. In his opinion, it is possible that as more and more of them are released without having received adequate job training, they could fall back into crime, increasing rates citywide. Schneider also cited the economy's current downturn, which has made it increasingly difficult for Americans to find work, as a reason that the current low crime rates may be unsustainable. Elaine Simon, the co-director of the University's Urban Studies Program, believes that Penn not only benefits from Philadelphia's safer streets, but that the institution helped create them. "Certainly the motivation for a lot of the changes that have occurred in terms of the difference of the area around Penn and the protection services that Penn provides are in response to the crime levels and the bad reputation the University had gotten in the period right before Rodin came," Simon said. Although statistics show that major crime rates have continuously fallen, some current Penn students have not really felt the changes. Reza Madani, a College senior who has lived off campus for the past two years, has been told by his mother, a Penn staff member, that University safety improved dramatically after an unspecified rape that had occurred. "I know that after that incident, things got a lot better," Madani said. "But for me, I don't feel like much has changed. I was never really worried about crime. I mean, I read about it in the DP, but I was never really affected by it." Christopher Donovan, the Gregory College House dean for the past four years, has not noticed any change in how students feel about Philadelphia or their safety in the city. Anne Mickle, who has been Stouffer College House's dean for the past five years, has always felt safe sending her charges out into the Philadelphia streets. She herself felt comfortable in the city in the past, and she continues to take the same safety precautions today that she took five years ago. Still, that is not to say that Mickle has not noticed a change in the way Philadelphia is presented to students. "Definitely in the last three years, there has been a push for students to see West Philadelphia," she said, citing the walking tours added to the New Student Orientation programs. "Before, the University had no reason to refute the rumors." For now, Philadelphia's increased safety is judged by different people in different ways. "I don't think it could have a big effect on where the University puts its energy, though I'm sure recruitment was part of the reason things changed," Simon said. "There's less anxiety walking around on and off campus at night than there was in the mid-1990s," Schneider asserted. For the Philadelphia Police Department, it is not about the University alone. "For the city of Philadelphia, the goal of the police department is to make the city safe for everyone here -- citizens, businesses and people who go to school here," Lee said. And, according to him, numbers can always be improved, and the police are not planning on slacking off anytime soon.

W. Phila. sees drop in major crime rate

(02/13/03 10:00am)

Major crime decreased by 19 percent in University City in 2002, according to numbers recently released by the University City District. Most drastic were the decreases in homicide, residential burglary and auto theft, which plummeted by 50, 62 and 47 percent, respectively. These latest statistics follow a 16-percent decrease in major crime in University City in 2001. Statistics released by the Philadelphia Police Department also show that from 1998 through 2001, the last year for which complete numbers are available, major crime in the city has gone down steadily. And according to the United States Bureau of Justice, crime has followed a general downward trend throughout the country over the past five years. According to UCD Marketing Director Allison Kelsey, though the 19-percent decrease in University City may parallel an 11-percent decrease citywide in 2002, the repeated double-digit decreases in University City District specifically is still a significant step. Lieutenant Fred Carabonara of the University City Substation of the Philadelphia Police Department suggested that local crime has fallen because of increased communication among different security programs. "It used to be that we bordered the 16th District at Market [Street], and we had no idea what they were doing nor did we care," he said. Since John Timoney became police commissioner in March 1998, Philadelphia has been using the Compstat, a process by which data is analyzed in order to identify crime patterns in different city districts. Carabonara specifically cited this project as aiding in the decrease of crime in his district. Additionally, biweekly deployment meetings with the various UCD-run security programs and monthly University City District Public Safety Task Force meetings that include representatives from Amtrak, Septa, the fire department, local hospitals and universities may have helped diminish area crime, Carabonara said. Kelsey also suggested that increased awareness of crime issues, a more cautious population and UCD-initiated patrolling programs have all contributed to the lessening of major crimes. Still, both Kelsey and Carabonara see room for improvement. "Numbers can always be improved when it comes to crime," Kelsey said. Carabonara said that he sees the average 90 to 100 monthly thefts from buildings as one of the major problems in safety in this area. Most of these crimes, he asserted, occur mainly in university offices and dorm rooms. Despite security measures in these buildings, he feels that people can generally just walk in and take what they want. Another issue is theft from cars, which continues to plague the area despite significant improvements, he said. Carabonara added that things in the University City area are extremely different than they were for students and residents in this area five years ago. "Students can now walk around at all hours of the night," he said. "I work until two in the morning, and people walk around like it's two in the afternoon." For some students, like College senior Christopher Pennington, the latest crime information seems unimportant. "I've felt comfortable all the way through," Pennington said. "I think Penn does a really great job of making us safe and keeping us safe."

Philly gears up for citywide read

(02/11/03 10:00am)

It's challenging enough to get all Penn freshmen to read the same book before school starts in September. Getting all of Philadelphia to read the same book is an even more difficult matter, but that is exactly what the Free Library plans to do. Penn Creative Writing Lecturer Lorene Cary's novel The Price of a Child has been chosen to pioneer the One Book, One Philadelphia project. The book is one that takes place in Philadelphia and deals with a slave's escape and subsequent trip to freedom by means of the Underground Railroad. While Philadelphia did not initiate the idea of getting an entire city to read the same work of fiction, it is the first city in which the novel chosen was written by a living resident of the city. The idea to foster community literature appreciation through the encouraged reading of one specific work began in Seattle, with the Washington Center for the Book's "If All of Seattle Read the Same Book" project. Chris Higashi, the associate director of the center explained that "even though we all read the same book, we all read a different book." By encouraging discussions among different city residents from different walks of life, the center believed it could create a stimulating enough dialogue to simply get people to love reading more. The project, which began in 1998 with Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter, was a great success and has since spread to many other cities, including Chicago and Los Angeles. Lori Blount, the project coordinator for One Book, One Philadelphia, is unsure exactly how many people will be participating in the events surrounding the novel. Still, while the Free Library of Philadelphia usually orders 150 copies of books like a Tom Clancy best seller, 2,000 copies of Cary's book were ordered, and circulation is high. Philadelphia's decision to use a local author was not a purposeful one, explained Linda Carroll-Pitts, the head of the Free Library's public relations. After the library decided to start this project, with support from Mayor John Street, a committee composed of librarians, library administrators, Carroll-Pitts and representatives from the city's school districts got together to choose a novel. It had been decided that the book would focus on issues of constitutional law and civil rights in order to honor the upcoming opening of the National Constitution Center on July 4, 2003. After much deliberation, the committee decided that the books they had short-listed were all either too much like textbooks or had reading levels that were inaccessible to the general city population. At that point, the committee turned the selection over to students at local Philadelphia high schools. They decided that The Price of a Child would be an appropriate read, and both the committee and the mayor agreed. Blount feels that the choice of Cary's book was particularly apt, considering that the project's goals are to foster reading and to promote a sense of community. The Price of a Child "is a Philadelphia book by a young Philadelphia author with lots of history about the city. There are lots of issues to talk about and because it [takes place in] the past, it almost makes it easier to talk about race issues -- it's not quite as uncomfortable, and the dialogue can happen," Blount said. Events include discussion groups at Starbucks locations around the city where free coffee will be offered. Additionally, Penn's Kelly Writers House is hosting a book club for kids from the Lea School, which will end with a book-signing at the Penn Bookstore. The final event, which will be attended by Street, University President Judith Rodin and Cary, among others, will be co-sponsored by the Penn Humanities Forum. Cary said she is truly excited that the readers of her book will be able to meet her. "The intellectual life that you experience through our written culture is accessible, and having a real person there, particularly when you are just entering into the intellectual life, changes the way you feel when you enter a library forever," she said. "You too are responsible for the intellectual life of your times."

Home is where the cart is

(02/07/03 10:00am)

When Ben Rubenstein was a freshman, he made money by subjecting himself to medical testing. Now a College sophomore, Rubenstein is making money in an equally stressful -- and unique -- way. He is one of the guys serving up gyros and hoagies at the Greek Lady on 38th and Locust streets, and, in his estimation, the first Penn student to ever work at one of the ubiquitous food carts. How did he go from getting carbon dioxide shot up his nose to this? It all started when Dimitrios Dimopoulos, the son of the original Greek Lady food cart owners, opened his own business on Locust Street. Rubenstein loved the Greek Lady and would stop by sometimes on his way back from his "studies." Dimopoulos found out about Rubenstein's innovative career choice. "He'd always ask about studies...," Rubenstein says. "Because I was sacrificing my body for science. Well, money and science." Then, over last spring vacation, Rubenstein got his big break when he was caught on film for MTV's I Bet You Will television show while in Cancun. However, the realms of possibility this footage opened up for Rubenstein were not movie offers. Instead, Dimopoulos saw him on television, and their relationship blossomed. One day, while Rubenstein was picking up food for his girlfriend, Dimopoulos started complaining to Rubenstein that he needed more help in the cart. On the spot, Rubenstein said he would do it. Dimopoulos jokingly told him to come at 11 a.m. that Monday to begin. Rubenstein can still recount the following conversation as proceeding his first day: "How much are you going to pay me?" Rubenstein asked. "Ten dollars an hour," Dimopoulos answered. "Oh, yeah!" Rubenstein said. "Okay, nine dollars," Dimopoulos finished. And so, Rubenstein began in late September 2002. Since then, the business has changed, and the staff has expanded. First, Rubenstein began by bringing his girlfriend Jamie Elfant, also a College sophomore, into the fold. Then her sister Lauren, a College senior, joined them. Rubenstein also managed to pull in a high school friend now at Penn, College sophomore Eric Feigenbaum, in those first months. As Dimopoulos has decided to hire more and more students, it has become Rubenstein's job to choose workers from among people he trusts. He has found no shortage of students who want to work at the cart. Even though it is not MTV, working at the Greek Lady has allowed Rubenstein to do a little acting. When he began working at the food truck, everyone who he was working with was Greek, and he used to pretend he was Greek too. He would tell customers that he was stuffing a few french fries in the gyros because "back home in Greece," they stuff a few fries in everything. That was before Rubenstein, who has never actually been to Greece, was told that was untrue. But for Rubenstein, working at the Greek Lady is about more than dishing out grub to hungry customers and fooling around with fake accents. He and Dimopoulos have become close friends, and he is helping to plan for the cart's future endeavors. Dimopoulos even invited Rubenstein to his wedding this past fall. Unfortunately, it was over Thanksgiving break and Rubenstein was at home in New Haven, Conn. And how does Dimopoulos, who initially worried that Rubenstein was irresponsible because he subjected himself to all of those medical studies, feel about having Penn undergraduates work for him? "I like it," Dimopoulos says. "I like it a lot." He finds that the students are dependable, can work flexible hours and live close by, so the cart is accessible for them. Rubenstein occasionally feels weird when he recognizes people and cannot think why, until he remembers that he has seen them at the cart. Sometimes a customer he knows, but whose name he cannot remember, comes by, and he has to struggle to take their order with their name on it without letting on that he has forgotten what exactly that name is. Still, Rubenstein is generally excited by all the people who he knows around campus through the cart. Maybe his experiences will even lead to a career in the business someday -- or maybe not. Dimopoulos sometimes suggests that in the future, Rubenstein could take over the cart while he begins selling gyros wholesale. Rubenstein, a history major, is not sure that he could take the pressure. "I have lots of respect for anyone in the food cart business," Rubenstein says, describing Dimopoulos' extraordinarily long days. Still, despite the hard work, Rubenstein is delighted with his job. And, since his initial pay assignation, Rubenstein has gotten a raise.

Off-campus life brings added safety challenges

(01/31/03 10:00am)

For some University students, the idea of living in the fortress-like Quadrangle requires all the bravery they can muster for life in the wilds of West Philadelphia. For others, the enticement of life out of the dorms is enough to coax them out of the hands of University-provided security and into the wily world of off-campus housing. Still, are those who move into houses and apartments in the blocks around campus relinquishing safety for freedom? Wharton senior Adam Adler certainly doesn't think so. "I feel really safe," Adler said. "There are Spectaguards pretty much all around us, and I have always felt really safe. I have been in the same apartment for three years, and I have never had a problem with anyone around here." Patricia Brennan, director of Special Services at the University, concurred. "We have saturated this area with an additional 114 cops over and above what the city provides," she said. Still, students living off campus should be mindful of certain things, just as students living on campus should be, Brennan urged. She noted that students should walk in groups or utilize the walking escort service, which the University provides from 8 a.m. until 3 a.m. everyday. "I don't know why anybody wouldn't use the walking service," Brennan said. "First of all, it's nice just to have someone to talk to." Miki Farcas, director of the Office of Off-Campus Living, had a small warning for students moving into non-University run properties. "It's important to understand for people who move off-campus that they are much more in charge of their own safety," Farcas said. "Once they move off campus, they are in charge of their safety, their roommates' safety, and they should be more mindful." Farcas had additional recommendations for undergraduates who decide to move off campus. It is crucial that students make sure that if their house has a porch or is near an alleyway, it is well lit, Farcas explained. She also urged students to make sure that any house they chose had a solid front door with a deadbolt lock. Students living off campus should also think about a number of fire safety issues, Brennan said. She recommended that students who wanted to be able to lock their bedroom doors had an alternative fire exit in their apartment. Students should also have working carbon monoxide detectors in their apartments, particularly in the winters. Brennan addressed another crime that goes along with living off campus -- theft of items from cars and unsecured areas. "Leaving your bike out on the porch is just an invitation for a thief," Brennan added. Farcas stressed that students should be most watchful when they move in or out of their house or apartment because those are the times when others are on the lookout for things to steal. According to both Brennan and Farcas, both the University Police and the Office of Off-Campus Living work closely with area landlords and students who decide to live off campus. Those students who do live off campus often feel they have made the right decision for a variety of reasons. Rosalie Candido, a College sophomore, certainly feels comfortable living off campus. "In some ways I feel even safer [than when I lived on campus] because I have less of a walk when I'm coming home from going out," Candido said.

Freshman Footprints: Treadmills, friends and fun

(01/30/03 10:00am)

All over the world, computers and the people who use them are in the process of recovering from a bout of the "SQL Slammer" virus, and College freshman Andrew Tejerina is recovering right along with them. With University Internet servers down for three days, Tejerina has barely been able to check his e-mail for what feels like eons. Right now, sitting in a chair by his desk, Tejerina shakes his head. His room is neat, but it certainly has the presence of a college student, with a belt slung over the ladder to his loft bed and a pair of fuzzy blue slippers by his desk. His roommate, a varsity tennis player who Tejerina likes but almost never sees, has a Giants poster up. "Is it working better in Woodland?" he asks of the Internet, frustrated. When he hears that the answer is affirmative, he gets slightly annoyed. After all, life in the age of Instant Messenger is tough when computers are broken. For Tejerina, e-mail and AIM are fairly important, as they allow him to keep in touch with lots of people outside of Penn, including his friends from high school and, when he has forgotten to call home for a while, his mom. Luckily for Tejerina, Internet issues are some of the worst of his problems. Tejerina has just gotten back from the gym, where he manages to exercise two hours a day, six days a week. Still, compared to many of his friends, he is "a lightweight." Most of the people he hangs out with work out for four hours a day and replace late night study sessions with running. One of his favorite stories of the year is when one guy finally conquered the treadmill in his college house's basement. "He always says he's running against the machine -- 'It's just me and the machine,'" Tejerina says. "One day, he was just running on the treadmill so long it completely broke. It just stopped working." Tejerina is silent for a second. "How satisfying must it be to run a treadmill to death?" he finishes, a big smile on his face. From working out to going out, Tejerina's friends are part of his favorite aspects of life at school. In fact, he's still really close to the guys he met at the beginning of the year. Sure, lots of people have told him that friends often change from first semester to the second. And others have warned him that he should keep his options open, just to make sure that the people he met early on, most of whom live near him, are the right friends for him. Still, Tejerina is pretty sure they are. He's happy with the way things are now, and he plans to keep it that way. "We're a pretty tight crew," Tejerina says of the bunch. He's munching a sandwich when Tyler Wallen, also a College freshman, saunters in and grabs Tejerina's Brita to fill up a water bottle. "When do you want dinner?" Wallen asks. "I don't know," Tejerina says with a shrug. "I just took a sandwich -- I was hungry." "How about seven?" Wallen continues. "Don't have an exact time or anything," Tejerina replies, with a bantering crack characteristic of him and his friends. Wallen, No. 4 on Penn's hockey team, asks where some of the other guys are. Tejerina explains that they are still at the gym, battling the treadmill. "Andrew is the quintessential Penn student," Wallen says, playing to the reporter. "He's a fantastic athlete, a wonderful musician, an all-around great guy." "I basically live in his room," Tejerina says, returning the compliment. "I have a key." Still, despite all of the good times, Tejerina is glad that first semester is over and that he has escaped an evil course load. "I was in Calculus 104, which was the biggest mistake of my life," he explains. He did not take the Calculus AP in high school but still decided to fulfill the College math requirement with 104 and not 103 in order to challenge himself. "I don't know why," he says. "I always hated math." Unfortunately, the time he spent trying to pass calculus took away from time he could have put into his other courses. He had no idea that college would really involve studying. Tejerina is continually surprised by how much work he has, especially because Penn has been given the moniker "The Party Ivy." His sister at Yale does almost no work and gets all As, so he did not expect to have to buckle down quite as much as he was forced to. Last semester, he almost never went out on weeknights because he had Spanish at 9 a.m. everyday. This semester is a bit of an improvement, but he is still not allowing himself to sleep in too much. "Being the dedicated student I am, I scheduled class for 10 a.m. everyday," Tejerina says. He figured that at least if he woke up early every morning, he would have empty afternoons during which he could be productive. But that has not worked out quite as he planned -- instead, he takes naps most afternoons. "I just end up justifying why I need to take one," he explains, jokingly perturbed. Still, Tejerina does not believe that last semester's less than stellar academic performance stemmed from a lack of effort -- he simply chose classes poorly. His roster for this semester, which includes two music courses and an introductory psychology class, excites him more. "I'm a music major who is also going to major in something else," he says. What the something else is, he is not yet sure. He is sure of what fraternity he is pledging, though. "Beta Theta Pi," he says, proudly. He and five of his friends decided to rush it together, and they all pledged. Choosing a frat was not a difficult task for him. By the time rush started, he had narrowed his choices down to two, and both of those houses' first closed rush events ended up coinciding. He was forced to choose which house to stick with early in the game, and he is happy and excited that he chose Beta. Rushing, of course, was a blast. "Lots of free food!" he says. He is not that worried about pledging, either. Two of his close friends from home are pledging Beta at Penn State, and though the process is notoriously worse at large state schools, both are surviving. Most exciting, perhaps, is the fact that Tejerina was asked to perform at a concert in Los Angeles. He still often plays the guitar and was overjoyed when a Penn graduate who works at Dreamworks saw one of his last interviews in the Daily Pennsylvanian and called, asking him to play at a PennFest concert in February. Then he learned that he would have to buy his own plane ticket. And miss classes. In the end, he convinced his parents that the plane ticket was crucial, and they consented to let him go. But his effort was in vain. He soon found out that there would be another PennFest in New York City and decided to wait till then to perform. That way, his parents would save money, and he would still have the opportunity to play guitar at a festival that promises to be a rocking good time. Tejerina should be pretty busy in the next few months, with pledging, a full course load, his commitment to the guitar and of course, his time with friends. Still, what excites Tejerina the most about his spring semester? It takes him less than a second to answer this one last question. "Spring break should be pretty cool," Tejerina says, and with that, he is off and running.

U. City District cleaning up W. Phila. streets

(01/27/03 10:00am)

Historically, students in West Philadelphia have been warned not to walk west of 40th Street. But in recent years, people are hearing this less frequently, and heeding it almost never, perhaps due in part to the work of one umbrella organization in the neighborhood -- the University City District. Although University City was chartered in 1959 and is therefore more than 40 years old, the UCD -- a not-for-profit organization that makes community improvements and supports local businesses -- turned five just this August. The UCD was founded in 1997 in order to address crime and neighborhood issues in the University City portion of West Philadelphia -- its boundaries run approximately from the Schuylkill River to 50th Street and from Spring Garden Street to Woodland Avenue. Though initiatives previously existed to help improve the area, many felt that they were not effective. While crime in some areas of Philadelphia fell, the statistics for University City were still too high for comfort. UCD Spokeswoman Alison Kelsey explained that the district started off in a tiny room in the Franklin Building, connected to then-Executive Vice President and former UCD Board Chairman John Fry's office. At that point, neighborhood members and University officials felt there was a need for a district-wide organization to be established in order to raise funds to clean the area up and create a safer environment. This feeling was heightened in 1996, during which the University community saw a wave of violent crimes, Kelsey explained. "Institutions in the neighborhood felt that students [were] not so interested, and faculty [were] not so interested, and we [were] losing people," Kelsey said of the atmosphere during that time. Since the UCD set out to change that in 1997, it has seen a number of homes -- from its Franklin Building office where it was nestled between rolls of toilet paper and brooms to other borrowed space and finally, to its current location at 3940 Chestnut Street. Eric Goldstein, who took over the UCD's helm as executive director in 2001, has been involved with the organization since a few months after its inception and has seen it grow into what it is today. "I guess, in a nutshell, we stood up originally five years ago to help reduce crime and to help clean up what was then a serious cleanliness issue, and in five years, crime has fallen in University City more than 20 percent, and so clearly our strategy is working -- and that's not just UCD, that's all of the groups that make up UCD," Goldstein explained. Still, the organization does face its share of challenges. It is funded entirely by voluntary contributions, rather than by mandatory taxation, and not all local businesses are anxious to contribute money. According to Goldstein, the difference the UCD has made in the area is not just due to the specific programs implemented by the UCD, which include UCD Safety Ambassadors, who patrol the neighborhood in order to suppress crime, and a cleaning staff that works to clean up the streets of University City. "More importantly, what has changed is, I guess, what I would refer to as investor confidence," Goldstein said. "Not the way you would think of investors in a purely financial sense -- it could be a student who comes to University City because they feel safe and good about living there, which they wouldn't have seven years ago, or a homeowner who seven years ago wasn't investing in their home because it would have been impossible for them to recoup their value who is now investing in their house --confidence in neighborhood, confidence that it's moving in the right direction." Certainly Betty Reavis, the president of the Walnut Hill Community Association, would agree. "I know they are very active in this neighborhood, and we are very pleased with them here." Though Reavis can only vouch for what has been done in a particular area and still feels that there is much work to be done, particularly dealing with drug issues in the neighborhood, she has seen some improvements. "I see the cleaning staff going by and the ambassadors, and we are very happy with their work." Though there is still substantial progress to be made, Goldstein believes the UCD's work is at least part of the reason why 43rd Street doesn't sound as scary as it used to.

Free Library scheduled to reopen in 2004

(01/17/03 10:00am)

Libraries on Penn's campus will soon be getting a run for their money as the Free Library of Philadelphia near 40th and Walnut streets enters a new stage of development. The Walnut Street West Branch of the Free Library has finished the demolition stage of its renovation and is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2004. The goal of the renovation is to restore the beauty of the building, and to preserve some of the historic aspects of the site. Real Estate group Buell Kratzer Powell Ltd. is managing the renovations. The library, which initially opened in 1906, has been closed since 1996 when it became evident that its building could no longer function without certain necessary repairs. It has been located in a smaller space on the the 3900 block of Walnut donated by the University since 1998. The Walnut Street West Branch was the first of 30 libraries built in Philadelphia with money provided by an Andrew Carnegie grant. Judy Harvey, the area administrator for West Philadelphia's libraries, emphasized that this is not the first renovation the library has ever had. "In the 1950s they changed the entrance to modernize it, and put neon everywhere. It never really worked," she said. The current project is entirely different. Physical changes are being made inside the building to allow for more meeting space and the addition of 40,000 items to the already existing collection of between 40,000 to 60,000 items. The facade changes, however, are not about modernization. Harvey raved about what has been done even at this fairly early stage. The ceiling beams have been exposed and have been power sprayed with crushed walnuts. "It's like a cathedral in there!" she said. Allison Freyermuth, the branch manager, is also excited about the expansion of her collection and programming space. Even now, despite its diminutive size in its present location across the street, Walnut West is one of the four busiest libraries in West Philadelphia. Currently the branch holds as many events as it can. On Jan. 23 the Penn community service group Circle K will be holding a "Magic Circle Storytime" program for children. When the renovation is finished, things will get even better. "We'll have meeting room -- as it goes now I can't have anything really big or elaborate because we don't have the space for that," Freyermuth said. The library as it stands services neighborhood residents as well as students from nearby universities. "The population is a virtual United Nations over there and it's not expected to change, just increase," Harvey emphasized. Freyermuth explained that one nice thing about the library is that local students do frequent the Walnut West branch. "They come here a lot more for reading for pleasure and then go to their school library for work," she said.

New faces, cans grace U. City

(01/14/03 10:00am)

Three garbage cans may seem like a small purchase, but it signifies a leap in the economic development of Lancaster Avenue. Since July, the University City District has been working to assess the needs of the communities surrounding Baltimore and Lancaster avenues. The goal is to turn these neighborhood commercial corridors into central shopping locations for area residents. In addition to an initial grant of $440,000 from the William Penn Foundation and a grant from the Local Initiatives and Support Corporation, the Philadelphia Department of Commerce also announced in December that it would make a $25,000 contribution. According to Allison Kelsey, the senior director of the UCD's marketing and communications department, this money has been earmarked for the development of a database that will allow the UCD to facilitate communication between businesses interested in the area retail market and property owners who have space to lease. "We'd like to see more of the discretionary funds of the 100,000 or so people who live within a mile of the avenues spent in the neighborhood," Kelsey said. The project aims to attract both local consumers and new retail operations to the avenues. When Eli Massar, the UCD's Baltimore Avenue corridor manager, began work, a business association and a planning group already existed. Lancaster Avenue was less organized. Tanya Washington, the corridor manager for Lancaster, is changing that. So far, most of the work for both has focused on surveying the needs of business owners and consumers. Kelsey explained that shoppers on Baltimore said they wanted a bookstore, a music store, a grocery store and a live entertainment venue. Hair Lounge Records & CDs -- a combination salon, music store and cafe -- opened about five months ago at 4702 Baltimore, replacing a barbershop that used to stand in its place. Jamar Ferrell, a DJ who owns and operates the new store along with his brother Jason, saw his shop as attractive to a student population and decided that Baltimore Avenue would be a perfect location when he got wind of the commercial survey the UCD conducted. Still, Ferrell was not aware of the Baltimore-Lancaster development project when he began construction on his store. "As we started opening the store, we learned about the revitalization project, which gave us more ideas about what we could do with the store," Ferrell explained. Though Lancaster Avenue's consumer survey is not yet complete, Washington has ideas about what people in the neighborhood need -- a supermarket, drugstore, bookstore, bakery, clothing stores and an ice cream shop. "Really, the type of businesses that people want around the corner," Washington said. The UCD has hired Real Estate Strategies, Inc. to conduct a market study assessing what image Lancaster Avenue should be presenting to the public. Cindy Romero is the corridor manager for the People's Emergency Center Development Corporation, a group working in conjunction with the UCD to revamp Lancaster. While Washington focuses on 34th to 38th streets, Romero deals with the blocks between 38th and 42nd streets. Though the populations of the two segments vary a bit, both women stressed the need for the projects to work in tandem. Romero's group also worked with consultants from Real Estate Strategies, Inc. on plans for Lancaster Avenue. Romero feels the most important aspect of the project is the sustenance of pre-existing businesses. For her, the neighborhood requires a new image. "Suburban America has skewed our idea of how we shop," Romero said. "Like Canal Street in New York where you buy each item in a different store -- you don't have to go to Macy's for everything. Having a variety of small businesses [is] what neighborhood corridors are all about." All parties agreed that whatever the final results may be, the revitalization of these avenues will mean good things for local residents and West Philadelphia as a whole. And though they have not decided where exactly to put them, Lancaster's garbage cans will be arriving sometime this month. Twenty more will arrive for Baltimore Avenue as well.