The mayor calls him mayor, but he's just a brewer with heart
By RYAN CORMIER
May. 13, 2018
WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The reason Wilmington Mayor Michael Purzycki calls city resident Rob Pfeiffer "mayor" has nothing to do with the quality of the beers Pfeiffer brews as head brewer of Smyrna's Blue Earl Brewing Co.
While his beers are tasty, the mayoral hat tip has to do with what Pfeiffer does when he gets home to Cool Spring.
For nearly 15 years, Pfeiffer has helped lead the fight against crime, nuisances and quality of life issues in his neighborhood, also turning around what had been a battered Tilton Park.
During a night of drinking beers (naturally) on the porch of his neighbor Thomas Natoli, Pfeiffer joked a few years back about how their Cool Spring neighborhood has a lot of interesting characters.
It reminded Pfeiffer of the sardonic IFC comedy "Portlandia" and declared their area as Tiltlandia.
They made black T-shirts with Tiltlandia stylized like the heavy metal band Metallica, created a Facebook check-in and Pfeiffer suddenly became the unofficial mayor of the unofficial place.
Sales from shirts help defray the cost of Pfeiffer's occasional surprise barbecues in the park, where you can sometimes find him cooking free hot dogs for hundreds of neighborhood kids.
"I never had kids, but at the same time I have like 50 of them," Pfeiffer says during a recent break from brewing, sipping on freshly-made "juicy" IPA. (Try one at Blue Earl's outdoor third anniversary party on Saturday, May 12.)
It's that work that made Purzycki Tiltlandia's first customer, buying a shirt and happily playing along with the legend of Tiltlandia.
"He has no ego. He's just a normal guy with a passion for supporting his neighborhood and the people in it. It's great to behold," says Purzycki, who first met Pfeiffer during his mayoral campaign in 2016. "But he's also just one of those unforgettable characters."
Pfeiffer, the 64-year-old brewer who started at Blue Earl in Smyrna in 2015 after a nine-year run with Twin Lakes Brewing Company, has been brewing beer since the '70s.
If alcohol can be addictive, so can Pfeiffer.
The always-smiling Pfeiffer is as much a ball of positive energy as he is a neighborhood do-gooder.
When the Media, Pennsylvania, native first moved into his Cool Spring home in 2004, the street lights were malfunctioning and he would watch criminal activity right outside his window.
While he went through official channels to get the lights turned on, Pfeiffer isn't much of a stand-around-and-wait kind of guy.
Instead of waiting for the city to act at Tilton Park, he and others began to clean it, turning it from a darkened spot overgrowing with weeds and unsavory characters into a clean, safe place for children to play.
One night -- admittedly one under the influence of a few porch beers -- Pfeiffer, Natoli and a few others even cut down a few bushes around midnight as a proactive measure against prostitution and drug use in a hidden area.
As Pfeiffer likes to say, "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission."
Adds Natoli: "We saw what the problem was and brainstormed, including with everyone with the city we could. But sometimes we kind of skipped that step because there was immediate need."
When vandals tagged the playground with black spray paint last year, Pfeiffer was out there before the city's own cleaning crews, trying to scrub the graffiti away.
Pfeiffer recently noted on Facebook a unique fact about himself: he has never had a proper job interview in his entire life.
Sure, he's had jobs. A ton of them: home inspector, fisherman, forester, truck driver and more. But in all that time, he has somehow avoided ever being part of a proper job interview.
"Everything I've done in my life, I had no business doing," he jokes.
If he sounds like Wilmington's version of The Dude from the film "The Big Lebowski," there's something to it.
Pfeiffer lived in California for a time, fitting in with the long blond hair he's always sported. And since he punctuates sentences with the word "man" and is perpetually laid back, he does sometimes resemble Jeff Bridges in the cult comedy.
In fact, there is some Dude in him. When a couple of friends wanted him to marry them, he became a priest in the Church of the Latter-Day Dude. (Yes, that's a real thing.)
But behind the hijinks, beer, smiles and good-heartedness is also a man who now finds himself battling Lyme disease. With symptoms that include arthritis and fatigue, any day can be a battle.
He estimates he was in bed for about two-thirds of last year with neighbors checking in on him, especially if they didn't see his car move for a day or two.
Even so, he's still out there helping those who need it.
"If someone has an issue on our neighborhood Facebook page, he's always one of the first people to come help or contact someone to help you. There have been nights when he's awake and he tells my wife, 'Don't worry about picking Tom up from work, I'll go.' And then the two of them are fighting on Facebook Messenger about who's going to pick me up," Natoli says between laughs.
Pfeiffer has a grounded perspective, especially about Lyme. Perhaps it's because he fought Stage 4 melanoma in 2002 -- cancer that had spread to internal organs. He underwent chemotherapy and came out of it cancer-free.
"Every morning I wake up, I know how lucky I am," he says. "Even so, I've done what I want to do -- treat people right and don't hurt nobody. I just like to enjoy life. It's only here once. The cancer didn't do that to me. I was already like that."
Perhaps the mayoral moniker is even more fitting than first thought. Pfeiffer adds, "I do know what it's like to be a mayor in a small sense. I still get phone calls when someone is in the park. I'm not really the mayor and there's not really a Tiltlandia, but there is."
For Purzycki, he's seen Pfeiffer and others like him on the ground level fighting for better neighborhoods in the city -- and succeeding.
"People like Rob make the city what it is. It's pretty artificial if government is always doing things, but it feels very organic when you have neighbors and residents who are really committed. It just feels different -- it's authentic," the real mayor says. "All I can say is that you know the neighborhoods that have people like Rob and neighborhoods that don't."
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com