Tuesday, October 09, 2007

My Trip to Philadelphia (and also Scranton, but since there are no photos of Scranton, this post is mostly about Philadelphia)

My wife and I traveled to Philadelphia and Scranton over the weekend to attend a wedding for one of her college friends. Though I took my camera, I forgot it on Saturday (the day of the wedding), and so I have no pictures at all of the event. But here are a few of the ones I did take.

Shortly after arriving in Philadelphia, we drove our rental car (a Hyundai Santa Fe which, aside from its being a gas-guzzling SUV, was a pretty good drive) into the wilds of South Philly. Our destination: Geno's Steaks (pictured left). Geno's is world-famous. Whenever Presidential candidates come through Philadelphia, they're required to stop here, the nexus of cheesesteaks, for food and photos. John Kerry dropped by in 2004 and ordered himself a Geno's cheesesteak just as he was supposed to: with Cheese Whiz. If he hadn't done this, if he'd ordered a normal cheesesteak with Provolone, Philadelphians would have screamed "Phony!" and maybe, perhaps, voted for the other guy. Probably not, but why take chances.

Anyway, if you're like me, the idea of polluting a perfectly good cheesesteak with cheese whiz sounds like, well, like something Northerners would do. But as I wanted the authentic Philly cheesesteak experience, it had to be whiz. Cheese whiz slathered on thinly-sliced steak wasn't actually too bad, which may not be a surprise to those who know me and my penchant for Kraft Singles, which, like Cheese Whiz, is not in any way cheese. So here's a photo of me enjoying a whiz-laden cheesesteak.

Before I leave Geno's, let me tell you that never will you find a more blatantly right-wing eating establishment in this country. Remember "Freedom Fries"? Even though the French, to whom "Freedom Fries" were meant to offend, have gone and elected themselves an honest-to-God conservative as their president, and even though all but the nuttiest right-wingers gave up on the whole "Freedom Fries" shtick when they realized that the ratio of Frenchmen Offended to Themselves Made to Look Stupid was so skewed in the latter direction, "Freedom Fries" are still served at Geno's. You know how "Free Mumia" is a cause celeb for hippie left-wingers? Geno's has festooned their corner eatery with posters showing the cop whom Mumia is alleged to have killed. A sign next to the ordering window exhorts the would-be orderer to "Order in English". No "please" to clutter up an otherwise perfectly good sign. They even sell, for just $10, t-shirts that say, "Because I'm an American, I Order in English". (We bought one for my father-in-law; he'd heard about the t-shirt and the fracas over the previously mentioned sign before we departed for Philly). Over the outdoor sound system, martial, vaguely World War II-sounding music is piped. Beneath rows of framed photos of various celebrities who've taken a photo with the owner, is a long tackboard filled with patches from various law enforcement agencies; the implication being that if you're a beautiful enough person to don the uniform, no matter what that uniform might be, you're worthy of adulation, and the respect of Geno's. And, in keeping with their American conservative worldview, everyone there was generally unfriendly.

Anyway, I ordered the whole deal: cheesesteak with cheese whiz, freedom fries drenched with cheese whiz (also called "Cheese Fries"), and a Coke. Partly because I was very hungry and partly because everything I was consuming was so deliriously bad for me, the food tasted glorious. But even I couldn't eat those last fries swimming in Whiz at the bottom of the cup.

Then my wife and I walked across the street to Pat's, the other world-famous cheesesteak place.

Yes, Pat's. Also a must-stop cheesesteakery for all Presidential hopefuls campaigning in Philadelphia. And conveniently located adjacent to that other one! Anyway, my wife and I split a sandwich and a Pepsi at Pat's (pictured above along with a guy who looks like he's enjoyed many a cheesesteak), but instead of Whiz, we did the Provolone. Verdict: very good. My wife had opted for Provolone at Geno's, of which I'd had a bite, and of the two I thought Pat's was better. The bread was airier, the cheese meltier. When we returned with friends To Pat's on Sunday, I tried Pat's cheesesteak a la Whiz to taste-test the whole range of offerings from this cheese steak nexus of North America: again, Pat's Whiz-laden sandwich also better than Geno's. As my wife and I were eating, some other tourists were talking about possibly going over to Geno's and sample their wares. My wife told them we had just done that, which elicited smiles from all the other diners. One woman said, "I just sent my son over there for one." An older lady turned around and asked, "And which one did you prefer?" I told her that I thought Pat's was better. She nodded sagely: I'd chosen wisely. (Which I guess was an easy bet, seeing how she was eating at Pat's herself). Another guy about my age was smiling and nodding at me as I went on to say the cheese was "more melty" than at Geno's. He said he thought Pat's was better too. When my wife and I met up with some friends in Philly the day after the wedding, they, too thought Pat's was the better of the two places. So there it is: Pat's is better than Geno's. Everyone thinks so.

And, just for your edification, here's a photo of the cheese whiz stocked against the back wall at Pat's. This was taken on Friday afternoon. When we returned on Sunday afternoon, what seemed to be a whole new stack of Cheese Whiz cans had replaced these. My guess is Pat's and Geno's probably go through gallons of the stuff a day.

So then we drove to Scranton. We were on a tight schedule all weekend, but particularly on Friday because it takes about 2 hours to drive from Philadelphia to Scranton, and we had about 3 hours before we had to check in at the hotel, change, and then report to the wedding rehearsal at the church. So with bellies freshly loaded with both cheese and steak, we were on our way. Once you get out of the city, Pennsylvania's beautiful again. The leaves were all in the midst of their autumnal color change, so the scenery was pleasant. Too many frickin' tolls though.

Saturday: the wedding. It went fine. Open bar and decent hors d'oeuvre. The DJ was a jerk, but no wedding's perfect.

On Sunday, we checked out of the hotel and drove back to Philly. We stopped in at the Liberty Bell. (We neglected to take a photo of the Bell by itself, so here's one with me in it. Sorry.) What is there to say about the Liberty Bell? I read most of the accompanying text in the exhibit and I couldn't discern any real reason why the Liberty Bell had come to be a significant historical artifact, other than shameless dissemination of misinformation. It was built in Whitechapel, England (home of Jack the Ripper), for use in the Pennsylvania State House. The Bell called to order the First Continental Congress, which is, I think it's sole factual claim to fame. Over the years, people have believed that the Bell was rung on July 8th, 1776 to summon the citizens of Philadelphia for the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence. (It did not.) Or that it was rung on July 4th, 1776 to proclaim the signing of the Declaration of Independence. (Again, it did not.) But because the Liberty Bell (so named in the mid 1800's by abolitionists) had become synonymous with the best intentions of the Founding Fathers, it's become a powerful symbol for the abstract concept of "liberty". Symbols in and of themselves are pretty dull, but now I can say I've seen it.

Outside the Liberty Bell exhibit, there was this demonstration against the genocide in Darfur. This guy (pictured above) was speaking to the crowd in a thick African accent. I'm not sure where he was from, but I might safely assume him to be Sudanese.

Here's a wide shot of the gathering. Not a massive rally by any stretch, just a chance for interested people to learn a little more about what's happening there. These photos were taken as we first passed by the area. On our way back, two bearded guys with guitars were singing under that white tent.

And this is Independence Hall. We had tickets for the 3 p.m. tour. After a short wait outside (back behind the building) about 60 of us trooped into a small room. In came a man with a ponytail wearing a US Parks Service uniform. As soon as he began to speak, I started to worry about the hearing loss I'd sustain from prolonged exposure to his voice. He spoke as though his sole interest was in being crystal clear to some hypothetical 90-year old legally deaf person sitting in the far corner of the room. Actually, my wife and I were sitting in the far corner of the room and his voice was so loud even back there that I couldn't think of anything else but what he was talk-yelling. The echo in the room only heightened the effect. Anyway, he gave us the rules for the tour and then a bit of history, and then led us into a courtroom where, among other things that happened, the royal emblem of the British Monarchy was taken down from its place above the head of the presiding judge and burned. After that, he took us into the next room.

In the room pictured to the left, the 13 delegations drafted first the Declaration of Independence, and then, after the Revolutionary War, the Constitution of the United States. The chair (behind the aforementioned talk-yeller standing in the mid-ground) was the actual chair George Washington sat in while presiding over the Constitutional Convention. It's one thing to see the Constitution and the Bill of Rights at the National Archives in D.C., it's quite another to be inside the room where those documents were argued over and finally drafted and signed. I wish I'd had more time to spend here.

Afterwards, our GPS led us to the Catholic elementary school my wife attended back when she lived on the Naval base in Philadelphia. This shot was taken from the parking lot behind the school. This parking lot was where the kids had recess. Yikes. The chain-link fencing around the school is a new development from the time my wife attended. We guessed it was to discourage graffiti artists from expressing themselves all over the school's walls. For me: kinda depressing.

Anyway, that was the trip.

Finally, (and unrelated-ly), here's a clip from writer George Saunders' appearance on "The Colbert Report". Firstly, I have a random observation of the clip: George has grown a lot of hair since his visit to the Letterman show. Anyway, though it's not as good as his appearance with Dave, (Colbert has to do his own comedy during the interview which can slow things down, get guests out of their flow, etc.), it's certainly worthwhile. In this clip, Saunders talks a little about the title essay from his new collection, "The Braindead Megaphone" (which is a great book, and I enthusiastically recommend it). Check it out.

1 comment:

Peter F. Fedak, III said...

Thanks for saving me the trip. Cheeze Whiz is super for sealing up old wounds.