Lifehacks for living in Philly (and probably other cities too)

[Thanks for the love r/Philadelphia and Zagat and Reddit again]

Update: I presented some of my favorite hacks at Ignite Philly. Watch the presentation below and find the slides here:

Any city worth its existence has enough culture that exists there that small quirks exist that can help you get by.

In my short nine years living in Philadelphia, a few lifehacks have become pretty common to me but are perhaps worth sharing.

Here are a bunch. I’d love to hear yours:

See the wax paper between the roll and the ingredients is just enough to keep the hoagie from getting too soggy over a 24-hour period.

Saving your hoagie for later

When you get that big foot-long hoagie from your corner deli and only want to eat half of it now, you might fear returning later to find a soggy shell of its former self.

But there’s a pretty standard safety measure: flip the hoagie to dump all the wet ingredients (meat, produce, dressings) into the wax paper and then lay it all into the roll. Wrap it back up and you have at least another 24 hours with minimal roll damage.

Hot dogs downtheshore

Part of being in Philadelphia is leaving it in the summer to go downtheshore at some point.

Maybe you love boardwalk food, but if you’re there for a long day or want a cheaper alternative, before you leave, boil hot dogs in water and dump it in a thermos. By the time you’re hungry under your umbrella, you’ll have a salty dog. Remember the rolls, condiments and something to grab the dog out of the hot water.

Respectful parallel parking on your block

This car driver pulled up to park near the car in front of her rather than parking by the fixed location, the intersection behind her.
This car driver pulled up to park near the car in front of her rather than parking by the fixed location, the intersection behind her.

There is a web of logic to parking in city neighborhoods, but if you want to get 80 percent there, you can live your life by the simple mission of fitting as many cars as possible in a given space. Remember, just because a street is empty when you’re parking, doesn’t mean it won’t get crowded soon. Do this with these two rules:

  1. Always park against a fixed location first, if possible — If you’re near the end of a block, at an intersection, near a handicapped spot, a driveway, a loading zone or some other fixed end to a row of parallel parking, back up or pull forward to that fixed location, regardless of how other cars are parked. Cars move, fixed locations don’t. In the above picture, for example, the driver pulled up to be behind another car, which might make sense, but if that car leaves, then there is plenty of space behind her and the spacing in front of her could chance.
  2. You don’t need more than three feet between you and the car in front of you — Even that is a lot. If you can stand sideways, with one of your legs touching your car and the other touching the car in front (or behind) yours, you have more than enough space.

Also, if given the choice (and you aren’t always) avoid parking in front of someone else’s house in lieu of another spot. This gets more complicated with snow.

Best views of the city skyline


It was something of a secret that you could quietly sneak up to the 33rd floor of the PSFS building in Center City for beautiful views until our friends at Philly Love Notes shared it a bit more widely. It still remains one of the best and still likely the least known.

Other classic views include by the Art Museum and the Spring Garden Bridge, Drexel Park, the Mann Center, the top of City Hall and on roof decks throughout the city.

Avoiding the most overwrought cliches


Don’t mention Rocky anymore, limit your cheesesteak similes and, while we’re at it, let’s stop singing the Fresh Prince theme song too.

You want to play Philly street games

Own a tennis ball. With just a few tennis balls (some will get lost on roofs or in gutters), you can play with the kids on your block in at least these standard games:

  1. Hand ball — Kids play some variaton of the actual sport with a tennis ball, often (though I do see proper rubber balls too)
  2. Suey (suicide) — Throw the ball against the wall until someone fumbles and has to run tag the wall before someone hits it with the ball. [Updated: In the comments, someone notes that many called this version of the game ‘wall ball’ and in ‘suey’ if you fumble the ball, people throw the ball at you, not the wall.]
  3. Stick ball — Ignore all the nostalgia and purists, this is just wiffle ball with a tennis ball and some broom handle because someone doesn’t have the $1.19 wiffle ball bat. Often the younger pre-teens will run the bases and then the teens will play automatic base placement.
  4. Wire ball — Different versions, though the kid I play with on my block is partial to the baseball version: hit certain electric wires to get certain hits (single, double, homerun) and try to catch each other’s throws.

Fitting more t-shirts into your drawer


We’re a sports-swag-crazed, casual-dressing city with an older stock of smaller homes with limited storage, so you’re going to run out of room for all of your t-shirts.

So while this method of putting your t-shirts away isn’t Philly-specific, it should definitely be used here more than most.

Bicycling in the city

Most of the city is relatively flat, easily accessible and is full of a growing number of bike lanes — all helping to support why Philly has more bicycle commuters than any other big city in the country. (And for the record, has the 8th highest female bicycle population among the 70 largest U.S. cities).

I’ve been riding regularly in Philly since 2006 and three things are my biggest fear for causing a spill: (a) trolley tracks, (b) opening car doors and (c) cars turning right without a blinker.

Be careful of those pitfalls, and you’re going to have a grand time.

Avoiding Traffic

This is an update, as I’ve gotten a few suggestions here.

  1. If I-76 is backed up westbound, take the City Ave ramp and follow it past the exit to merge back onto 76 — Colin Weir
  2. If 95 is backed up northbound by the airport, take the exit ramp for 76 but then merge back onto 95. This doesn’t work going in the other direction like the one above it though. Your mileage may vary. — Mikey Il
  3. If 95 northbound is backed up above Aramingo, take the Bridge Street exit and get back on. At same point, you can do this 95 southbound for the Betsy Ross exit and merge back on.

Eating cheaply at a Phillies and Eagles games

Though when Lincoln Financial Field opened there was a brief ‘hoagie ban,’ you can bring non-alcoholic beverages and food, including hoagies into both outdoor sports stadiums.

Bring a small lunch-style cooler with hoagies and iced teas, and you will have a pretty Philly stadium experience.

Reducing the clutter of menus and advertisements shoved in your door


Every pizza shop within three miles will stuff their menus in your door and in many neighborhoods, the advertisements to buy your house ‘for cash’ or exchange your gold ‘for cash’ or offer cheap household services ‘for cash’ will come early and often.

If you’re sick of the clutter, just get them to submit a ‘circular non-delivery’ form from the city to receive the sticker above. It’s then against city ordinance to leave any handbills at your house.

Cooling off in fire hydrants

These days it’s illegal to open a fire hydrant without a fire department official,  as the city cracked down following a 2008 estimate of hydrants costing the city an extra $1 million a year in water, staff and shut-off costs. Now more than 17,000 of the city’s 25,000 hydrants have tamper-proof locks on them. If you want the experience, you need a community leader who has one of the large plumber’s wrenches and spray caps from the days when the city was less strict — and a hydrant that hasn’t been fixed just yet.

Find these people at your community group or at your annual block party. Don’t have an annual block party? Create one with this permit (and instructions) and get permission for the hydrant then.

I’ll echo what the fire chief often says: just go use one of the city’s community pools, many of which aren’t half-bad.

A true neighborhood indicator

Forget the dogs or the parks or, heck, even the real estate values. The only real sign of a halfway decent neighborhood is if there is a corner deli that sells Dietz and Watson deli meats.

The rest will follow.

5 thoughts on “Lifehacks for living in Philly (and probably other cities too)”

  1. I think I’m going to print out the “Respectful parallel parking on your block” section and put it on cars that don’t understand urban parking efficiency!

  2. The fumbler of the ball in suey gets targeted, not the wall. That’s wallball. In suey you run to the wall and try to escape getting beamed.

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