Sphinx: The King Of South Philadelphia

—Tyler Freeman

Sphinx was born in the southern most point of Philadelphia, raised in the city, and had no plans on ever leaving the south of Philadelphia. Because he’s that dude.

Everyone that knows Sphinx — and trust me, everyone knows Sphinx — can tell you the things Sphinx cares about. He’s a complex, yet simple man. He’s a man that loves chaos but thrives on order, a man that depends on his “day by day,” “hour by hour,” “second by second” approach to survive.

Sphinx lives by Geno’s Steaks, and every morning he wakes up and takes his cats out to the park across the street. He has three cats. They’re all named Ben. Most cats like to stay inside, but not The Bens. Sphinx trained them to be South Philly Cats. This morning, like every morning, Sphinx walks them across the street, throws them into the sun-burnt grass field adjacent to Geno’s, and eats a “whiz wit” cheesesteak while The Bens fight the dust, morning sunshine, and hypodermic needles, trying to make it back to Sphinx. They always do, because they’re strong cats. Because that’s how Sphinx raised them.

After his morning ritual with The Bens, he returns inside and plots his day. The first big part of his day—walking to the WAWA and buying a black comb and a tube of hair gel. Sphinx only uses black combs and a tube of hair gel in his hair and he only uses them once. This is the only splurge in Sphinx’s life ,  but as Sphinx knows, there’s nothing quite like a brand new black comb with a tube of hair gel. Sphinx only worries about one thing—his hair.

When he gets to WAWA ,  he doesn’t have to go over to the shelf with hair gel and black combs. There’s one of each waiting for him at the register. Because he is always there at 10:00 a.m., every morning, never a minute before or after.

“What’ll it be?” Gia says to Sphinx, standing behind the WAWA register.

She isn’t talking about the hair gel and black comb — that’s never a discussion. Every morning, Sphinx picks one of two things to buy for his day out in the South Philly streets: a coffee or a Philly blunt.

“The coffee,” Sphinx says. “Got a big evening tonight. After work, I’m going to the gym.”

Gia looks over the counter and sees Freddie, wearing his signature gym shorts and tank top.

“You were always the best meat in South Philly,” Gia says.

Sphinx smiles, walks to the bathroom and returns three minutes later with perfectly combed and gelled hair. He leaves Gia a five-buck tip before exiting. To this day, Sphinx is still the only person to ever tip at a WAWA, something Gia never takes for granted.

The next six hours of Sphinx’s day are the true reason South Philadelphia is Sphinx’s. Leaving the WAWA, he walks two blocks to his storefront. It’s called Sphinx’s. And as is the case every morning, there’s already a line.

Walking over to the line, there’s a small applause as he approaches. And with his keys in hand, he tips his signature black Knox to the line, and they all say “G’morning, Sphinx,” nearly in unison.

The reason for the line; for years Sphinx’s has been the best place in city to buy soft pretzels. So people come from all over the city to buy pretzels in the hopes of euphoria. Other than pretzels, Sphinx doesn’t sell much. Just the essentials; cases of water, Tastykakes, cream cheese, water ice, ice cream, Steak-ums, playing cards, boost slushies, and knock-off polo hats the kids in the northeast always wear. And for six hours he sits there ,  talking to regulars, playing music, watching people’s kids if need be — whatever is necessary. And on the occasion, he’ll get into a long game of Dice that draws a crowd.

He’s known for his dice playing prowess, but only plays with a select few friends that don’t mind playing with his special dice, telling stories before each toss and roll and playing at a slightly slower paced game, seeing as that he’s legally blind. But when he plays, his friends are always fighting to be his partner. Because he rarely loses. Because he’s that good. And the people, they never stop coming for these games, those soft pretzels, and of course to see Sphinx, undisputed King of South Philadelphia.

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