Monday, February 07, 2005

Gail and Dave Take Philadelphia

Since Gail and I spent the week cooped up at home and work, respectively, we traveled down to Philadelphia on Saturday to enjoy the nearest big city and the beautiful weather. Gail, who has been Many Places, had never been to Philly; and I hadn't been downtown in a long time. We considered flying down, but it's a leisurely two-hour drive from Scranton, and it's tricky to park the plane downtown.

We parked the car next to the Bourse Building, the first mercantile exchange in the U.S., opened in 1895 and now a food court. (!) That's not unusual in Philly; so many of the buildings are historic. Philadelphia has been a major city for over 300 years, and if you paid attention during your grade school history, you will know that it was the first capital of the United States, and the city in which the Declaration of Independence was signed.

We were a block from Independence Hall, home of the First Continental Congress, and near the plaza which is home to the Liberty Bell. But the weather was too nice to stand in queues, besides which I didn't want to lose another pocketknife going through security. (Even to walk by the Liberty Bell, you have to go through a metal detector and be searched. I imagined the ghosts of Franklin and Jefferson, shaking their heads at the current paranoiac state of life in the birthplace of American freedom.)

But we were both armed with our digicams and up for a good walk, so we headed uptown towards City Hall, grey and historic, built in 1874. Today the larger skyscrapers tower over it, but it has a commanding place in the center of the city; it can be seen for dozens of blocks in every direction. All along the way we photographed other bits of historic Philly, then decided to head to the waterfront for sunset.

We dropped down to the subway level to take a train downtown. The SEPTA stations are gray and utilitarian; very grim and dirty. I misread the directions on a token vending machine, and mistakenly purchased $20 worth! Oh well, I thought, we'll save them for another visit. But a few stops later we were down to Second Street, near Christ Church and the pedestrian bridge to Penn's Landing on the Delaware River. We noted that there were quite a few inviting restaurants in Old Town, and walked out over the bridge.

The biggest landmark in view was the Ben Franklin bridge, stretching over the broad Delaware to Camden, New Jersey. Huge container ships and barges ply the Delaware down here, and farther south are the immense dockyards and the Naval shipyard. Penn's Landing is a public park along the west side of the river, with several historic ships on display and a maritime museum. We took in the setting sun and photographed everything and each other, before our growling stomachs led us back towards the city.

Back in Old Town, we stopped and read menus in the windows of a lot of inviting restaurants, with many world cuisines; Afghan, Cuban, Indian, and others. But since it was Gail's first visit, we decided to find some "real" Philadelphia cheese steak sandwiches. We did, at a nice little grill (Steve's?) where we stuffed ourselves on some very authentic cheesesteaks, plus jalapeno poppers and crab fries.

On the way back to the Bourse, we passed a street guitar player; he caught my attention and began a fun little game. He played the opening chords of songs, first Hendrix tunes and then other hits from the sixties and seventies. Most were just a little early for me - very early for Gail - but I pulled out a few of them, and recognized all of the songs. Grand Funk Railroad, Bob Dylan, Iron Butterfly - groovy, man! Solid! I wanted to tip something into his bag, but I had very little change - but I did have all those damn subway tokens! He said that he rides the tubes, so they would be of use to him; I gave him most of my pocketful, saving only a few for our next trip.

On the way home, the hum of the car and the complex carbs of the giant cheesesteak put Gail to sleep quickly, and she dozed as I drove back to Scranton. A disappointing weekend for Eagles fans, but a good one for us.