It’s 12 o’clock on Sunday. The clocks have just been turned back. The sky is overcast, but the breeze is warm. The abandoned pier behind the Columbus Boulevard Giant — right near the South Philly Walmart — is bustling.
Hundreds of people of all ages (too many to count) gather in front of a line of caution tape, behind which there’s a makeshift red carpet, and a table covered in a white tablecloth. Some folks carry signs with avian-themed encouragements, others bring folding chairs. Several bring their children. One attendee arrives donning a full head-to-toe chicken costume.
They’d all come to see Alexander Tominsky, aka “smooth recess” on Twitter, aka the Philadelphia chickenman, whose face showed up on flyers posted around South Philly and circulated all over social media.
The flyers invited the city to “that abandoned pier near Walmart” at noon on Sunday to witness Tominsky consume his 40th rotisserie chicken in the past 40 days.
Once the advertisement hit the internet, the news spread far and wide. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation sent its well-wishes. Senate candidate John Fetterman expressed his support. Perdue Farms tried to give Tominsky free chicken (which he rejected).
When this reporter mentioned why an Uber was needed to go to Walmart, it only took a moment for the driver to recognize the event — they’d heard about it on r/philadelphia.
The event, Tominsky’s poster said very clearly, was intended to be “not a party.”
The 40th day of Tominsky’s chicken-eating crusade did end up falling on a day when many Philadelphians were feeling a lot less party-ish than they have in the past few weeks, anyway. Saturday brought not one, but two sports championship losses for the city, as the Union lost the MLS Cup and the Phillies were defeated in the World Series.
But for some, the chicken-consuming event was a perfect, upbeat end-cap for the weekend — even if it wasn’t a party, per se.
“I feel like the city’s just been so electric with everything going on,” said attendee Emma Purcell of South Philly, “that like, yesterday something was the end, and we wanted to keep it going, you know?”
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Anna O’Brien of West Philly, who observed alongside Purcell, agreed: “It’s so simple. Why not just watch? It’s a nice day, especially after last night — I think the timing felt like a little bit of kismet. I think we needed this after the losses.”
‘Slam that big bird’
Attendees looked on, cheered, and chanted while Tominsky chomped away at the chicken, stopping periodically to let it process or to take drinks of the flavored water he’d brought with him. At times, he looked like he was going to bring it all back up. (That didn’t happen until after he was done and most of the crowd had dispersed.)
Chants ranged from “Eat that chicken!” to “Not a party!” *clap clap clapclapclap* to “ONE MORE BITE!” People yelled words of encouragement from the crowd: “Slam that big bird!” “WE LOVE YOU CHICKENMAN!!!!” “That chicken’s got nothing on you!” “Go Birds!”
When Tominsky first started his chicken-eating journey 40 days ago, he could put a full bird away — no sauce — in 20 minutes, he told Billy Penn. But since then, it’s become harder for him to get the rotisserie chicken down, requiring around two hours to make it happen.
He did his best to expedite the process in front of the hundreds of observers, hoping not to “bore the hell out of everyone,” he said. He started on time and wrapped up the consumption around 1 p.m.
Because the pier is flat and the crowd was so thick, for many of the people that attended, the experience wasn’t so much watching Tominsky eat chicken as it was… watching people watch someone eat chicken, and just soaking in the vibes.
Some people beat the visibility challenge by securing an early spot in the front. Parents toward the middle or back of the crowd put their children on their shoulders. Grown adults jumped onto the shoulders of other grown adults.
Why the big turnout? Depends who you asked — answers ranged from curiosity, to community, to wanting to be a part of local history (which just gets richer by the day, clearly).
Andrew — a South Philly resident who just moved to the city from Los Angeles 8 months ago — saw the flyers around his neighborhood, got a text from his sister in California about the social media buzz, and thought the pier just “felt like the place to be today.”
“Philly’s got a sense of identity that feels very different from like a large city,” he said. “I’ve lived in New York and LA, and I think there’s like a sort of underdog element to this city and then I think also to this event … I think people will kind of expect this from Philly.”
“I’m gonna be moving in August,” longtime Philly area resident Hailey responded to Andrew, “and I’m gonna miss shit like this.”
Others agreed that the event screamed Philadelphia.
“I think that the best part about it is … in another city, you get a text about chicken guy, you’d be like what on earth are you talking about?” said Daniel Fisk-Kallish, a Fishtown resident. “It felt so normal. Oh, out on the Walmart pier? Yeah.”
Recent Temple grad Kathy Chan came out to the pier with current student Matthew Altea, who was documenting the event as part of a multimedia class.
Ahead of the event, Chan said she expected the actual eating part to be “very lackluster,” but trusted the crowd would bring an air of excitement and specialness to the event.
“It’s a challenge,” Chan said. “And I think Philadelphians really love a challenge. And if you tell them that it’s not going to be something, Philadelphia will tell you, it absolutely is going to be that.”
Sarah Skochko, a lifelong resident of the Philly area who currently lives in Mt. Airy, brought along young daughter Alma in a stroller.
“It’s a part of Philly history, and I want her to be included,” Skochko said. “Also, Alma’s just starting solid food, so maybe the chicken man can be, like, a good example for her.”
Skochko’s interest in the event, though, went beyond just making sure Alma can experience what will no doubt remain a part of local lore for years to come (like the Philly dumpster pool, which she used to live near but regrets never visiting).
“I feel like the rest of American society has turned into a kind of dystopian, capitalist, meaningless, soulless hellscape,” she said. “So we’ve all become nihilists. And something like this — that’s not done with a profit motive, or really any meaning at all — is refreshing.”
Austin Darpino and his friend Mickey, both of South Jersey, had a bit of a “why not” attitude toward attending the event.
“There’s no broader meaning here. I don’t think there’s anything to take out of it as far as a moral lesson,” Darpino said. “It’s just a guy eating chicken.”
Was attending the event a good alternative to whatever else they might have been doing at noon on a Sunday? “I don’t know yet,” Mickey said about 55 minutes into the event. “Football starts at 1, so I don’t know, … I guess I got out of the house, so I guess that’s something.”
‘Never, never, never again’
As Philadelphia’s chickenman was just a few minutes from the end of his poultry pursuit, the jazzed crowd moved beyond the caution tape and moved in closer, surrounding Tominksy’s table. People cheered, clapped, put up spirit fingers.
As he prepared to take his final bite, Tominsky stood up, held his plate in one hand, and clutched a bluetooth speaker playing Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” as he sang along, then yelled “IT’S JUST YOU AND ME, MY FRIENDS” before plunging his face into the plate and finishing off the bird.
Beard adorned with rotisserie chicken remnants once he completed his task, he looked around the crowd of people that chanted, “HERO, HERO, HERO.”
“I’m no hero, I’m but a man,” he said, gesturing for the crowd to quiet down. “I ate the chicken. I did the best I can. I just thank you all for being here, and thanks for watching me consume.”
Cheers erupted from the crowd once more, and Tominsky high-fived his observers. People began to trickle out, but many stuck around for photos with Tominsky. Some took selfies with his chicken-eating table. (Yes, just the table.)
It was the first time Tominsky’s wife, Mallory Weston (some attendees referred to her as “chickenwife”), had ever really paid close attention to her husband eating a full chicken. Since Tominsky usually ate the chickens at his workplace, Weston had only witnessed it at all just once before, when the couple was out of town together.
His accomplishment made her “very, very proud,” Weston said.
“I know that he’s been looking forward to it, and has been just thinking about how much it’s gonna uplift the people of Philadelphia,” she said. “I don’t think there was anybody that was disappointed here today. And hopefully people that see documentation of the event wish that they were here to see it themselves.”
Post-event, Tominsky felt “really gross,” but also “excited” about not having to consume chicken ever again. And no, he’s not planning to dedicate 40 days straight to eating some other food in the future.
“Never, never again,” he said.
Per Tominsky, he’s lost 14 pounds and has frequent bouts of dizziness and achiness, and he’s also been experiencing cramps and brain fog. So um, don’t try this at home. Please.
Nonetheless, the turnout made him happy, and he was glad to bring some joy to the city. He also “really liked the idea of a bunch of people enjoying someone eating food.”
One more thing: Did Tominsky, once everything was said and done, think it ended up being a party?
“There was some chanting and some sort of like, ritualistic behavior,” he said. “But I wouldn’t consider it much of a party. Someone did give me a beer. But I really only took a little sip on the tip of the tongue to get like, a little bit of a different flavor, and to see if it would help the consumption. But really, I didn’t want to send out the idea that people can drink beer, and then it be a crazy party, because it’s really just people watching someone consume poultry.”