Sunday, September 30, 2007


After being back in the States for a few months, I decided to take a trip out East to see some friends and family that I hadn't seen in a while and visit of a few of the larger cities in America that I had not yet seen.

I flew out to Baltimore, where my friend Doug and his (now) wife Courtney live and used it as my hub. I took the Greyhound bus network to Philadelphia and New York, where I would spend most of my time.

I spent three days and two nights in Philadelphia, where I visited my friend Bill McConney, who showed me downtown Philly and took me to famous South Street (Boyz II Men, ABC, BBD... the East Coast Family) and its Philly Cheese Steaks.

(Unfortunately, my mind had a temporary lapse in judgment while on South Street, and I didn't take one photo... I'm thinking the mind blowing taste of the yummy cheese steaks had something to do with it. Former Detroit Piston head coach Chuck Daley was ahead of us in line at the one we visited.)

I also visited my half-sister, Cheryl, and her family in the Western suburbs of Philly.

The first thing I noticed in Philadelphia was the size of the streets. I have never seen streets with such a narrow width in such a major cosmopolitan area, at least, in a Western nation. Due to the historic nature of the downtown area, many of the buildings that stood in the 1700's still stand, and the streets wind around them. It was also the first time I became acquainted with the scale of the East Coast block system.

Being from Chicago, a city that is named the Second City, due to it having been mostly destroyed during the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and subsequently rebuilt, I am used to a city block being approximately 1/8 of a mile. On the East Coast, however, the blocks are seemed to be 1/16 or less of a mile. Everything seemed to be so small... sorry, quaint.

Bill met me downtown on the day that arrived but due to timing, it was a little too late for us to see Independence Hall, so he took me, instead, to an authentic Philadelphia pub for a bit of R&R and then we just chilled for the rest of the day near his house and met a friend of his out for drinks. My first day in Philly would be a rest day and that was fine with me.

The next day was a tourist day, however, and would be the first time that both Bill, a Philadelphia native, and I would see Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

As we walked through Independence Square, I could picture the horse and buggies and scores of people in their top hats and long, wool coats shuffling about and chatting with their friends and colleagues. The site of the superb building alone instantly took me to a time of yesteryear. I love imagining myself in such a time and setting and picturing how things would be.

Of course, seeing the horses and buggies circling downtown Philadelphia didn't hurt either. :o) But that wasn't the reason why I day-dreamt, either. Historical places have a knack for making me imagine how it must have been in those days and how fun it would be to dress up in the old garb for just a day (I don't know if my body could take all of the heat from being clad in such heavy material for more than a day.).

The Independence Hall tour was fantastic. The guides were extremely knowledgeable and able to answer everyone's questions and they had a knack for being able to place you back to the birthday of our nation and allow you to imagine how it must have been in that place at that time.

I couldn't believe just how well maintained the entire structure and everything in it was. Seeing the chair and desk that George Washington sat at while presiding over the Continental Congress and their debates as to whether or not to become an independent nation, a move that surely would incite the British to invade its American colonies, sent goose bumps down my body. I never would have imagined just how small the room was where the papers that declared our independence were signed, but I definitely could imagine just how hot it must have been in it during the stifling months of June and July. It's amazing that anything was accomplished there, let alone a monumental moment like the forming of our nation.

Outside the building and on the surrounding blocks, the tall, mature trees were gorgeous! I am a sucker for old, mature trees.

After strolling around the outside of Independence Hall, we walked to the new Liberty Bell building nearby. My first impression upon seeing the magnificent Liberty Bell was, "Wow! It looks brand new!"

I couldn't believe how shiny, smooth and new-like the bell appeared. The crack seemed almost fake, although I new it to be real, of course. It was about the size that I had envisioned, although the wood plank from which it hangs seemed practically new as well. I really enjoyed the way in which the building enhanced the bell by bringing light to it and allowing people to walk completely around it.

South Street was next on the list. Time for some good eats!

South Street did not appear to be all that it was cracked up to be initially... mind you, we were also there during the day. The more I got into the setting, however, I could imagine the street being packed with people on a busy Friday night, bustling down the street as music filled the narrow confines. People would be spewing into and out of the clubs and mingling with their friends, ready to take on the town till the wee hours of the morning. Smoke would fill the cool, crisp Autumn air, as cars would honk their way by the overgrown crowd.

Bill and I stopped swung by Pat's for my first taste of a Philly original-- the Philly Cheese Steak. I could hardly believe that the line for a sandwich was already out the door at 2pm on a weekend. It was already past lunch time, but people were still craving their cheese steaks at $7 per sandwich. Soon I would know why...

Chuck Daley, the former Detroit Pistons head coach, was also stopping by for a bite to eat. He fit right in with the crowd standing just ahead of us in line. No one got preferential treatment at Pat's.

After a 20-minute wait, I was up. Philly Steak with Provolone. Upon seeing the sandwich, I immediately thought, "I should have ordered two!"

As Bill and I made our way upstairs, my mouth was already watering... Sitting at the table next to Chuck, I took my first bite of heaven on Earth (well, at least in Philly). The meat was sooo tender. The gooey melted cheese clung to every morsel of meat as I shoved inch-by-inch of the soaked bun into my gaping mouth.

In what seemed like a flash, the entire 8-inch delight was devoured. I was hungry for more. Luckily, I decided to wait a few minutes before I made the decision to order... Upon second opinion, my stomach was filled just right. I envisioned living in New York City and driving into Philly just for lunch on a weekend afternoon... Why not?! What a brilliant day trip!

Bill and I swaggered down the stairs and onto the street below our bellies smiling in pure delight. Next stop on this Sunday afternoon was the Irish pub down the street to meet my half-sister and her family.

A few hours, beers and football games later, I parted ways with Bill and left with my half-sister, Cheryl, and her family for her place in Orwigsburg, PA for night of catching up and peace and quiet.

We went out to dinner and then gradually made our way deep into the mountains Northwest of Philadelphia.

Derek and Meghan, Cheryl's children, were being dropped off at their college along the way, while Mike, Cheryl and I would enjoy a relaxing evening at home with their pointers. It was a a joy to finally see their home and to enjoy their company and hospitality.

Early the next morning, Cheryl and I woke up early for the hour drive back into Philly so that I could hop onto my next bus headed for the Big Apple and my friends Ben and Tamar. My visit to Philly was short, but very sweet and it definitely left me wanting for a taste of more! Just the way you'd want it!

Thank you Cheryl (and family) and Bill for showing me a fantastic time during my stay! Your hospitality was absolutely superb!

I love the classic design architecture of downtown Philly.

A courtroom inside Independence Hall. The cage in the middle of the room is where the accused would "stand trial."

Independence Hall.

This is the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed. Future 1st President George Washington sat in the chair in the middle of the room, presiding over the debates.

The courtyard (rear) view of Independence Hall.

The inkwell that signed the Declaration of Independence.

The placard outside Independence Hall.

Bill McConney and I outside of Independence Hall.

Independence Hall from across the square.

The Liberty Bell.

(The crack in the bell was formed due to the bell's casting being improperly manufactured.)

The Liberty Bell and it's new, modern building.

Yours truly with Miss Liberty.

Look at that beard!