Wednesday, June 14, 2006

the politics of cheesesteak

It’s amazing how much political relevance you can wrap into a mess of fried meat “whiz wit.” I mean, it’s kind of football shaped, but who knew it could actually serve as a political football?

First, there was the incident back during the ’04 campaign where President Bush actually lied about how he takes his cheesesteak, and now there is the blowhard jingoism that could only come from a man who makes his living pouring Cheez Whiz over cheap beef.

Down in Philly, where just about everyone will tell you Geno’s is better than Pat’s—unless they tell you Pat’s is better than Geno’s—the owner of Geno’s Steaks is requiring that all food be ordered in English. Joey Vento has posted a sign in his steak shack that reads:

This is America. When Ordering Please Speak English.

Let’s forget for a minute that such English-only requirements violate Philly’s human relations law, and let’s try to ignore that the guy who insists you speak in English can’t actually write in English (the sign, at best, is missing a comma), and let’s just focus on Mr. Vento’s need to humiliate the growing number of Latinos that have moved into the neighborhood around his shop. You see, Geno’s staff is not allowed to “understand” Spanish, and instead has to coach customers on how to order in English.

Of course, the problem isn’t so much the language. As you can tell from the words of Vento and all of his supporters who have been interviewed on the subject, what really pisses them off (or scares the shit out of them) is that South Philly is no longer an Italian-American (read “White”) neighborhood, and has become the proverbial American melting pot. (Gosh, this sort of sounds like some national debate we’ve been having or something.)

“It’s just like that big vat of Cheez Whiz,” said one diner. . . no, not really. I just made that up.

Anyway, I think anyone within shouting distance of Philadelphia should head on over to Geno’s and walk on up to the window and order, in their very best American accent, “Un bistec con queso, por favor.”

Then head on over to Pat’s (where they have no silly language policy) because, well, youse always knew they was better, didn’t youse?

Update: I like that Jill Porter at (the online personae of the Philadelphia Daily News) had the same idea about staging a bistec rebellion at Geno’s. I also like Porter’s conclusion that Geno’s Owner Joey Vento had taken a page from Ann Coulter’s book of amoral self-promotion: say something so bankrupt that it can’t help but offend half the country, then sit back and profit from the publicity.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't fail to note the irony that it took quite awhile for Italians to become white in America. That southern European cheap labor that came ashore at Ellis and elsewhere may not have been black, but they certainly weren't white and their English was iffy as iffy. Mr. Vento should reflect on his history.

I can't do the whiz thing I afraid to say in English or Spanish or Dutch, for that matter.

9:46 AM  

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