At last, the day my wife was waiting for on this Philadelphia trip: some American history! And some Philadelphia!
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 Anne and I have taken a road trip to a different part of the United States and seen attractions, marvels, history, and institutions we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. Beginning with 2003’s excursion to Washington DC, we added my son to the roster and tried to accommodate his preferences and childhood accordingly.
After the record-breaking nine-day epic that was our 2009 trek to the farthest reaches of South Dakota, we decided to scale back in 2010 with a shorter drive in a different direction. We previously drove through the corners of Pennsylvania in 2003 and 2004 — through Washington in the southwest corner on our way to Washington, DC; and through Erie in the northwest corner on our way to Niagara Falls. This year, that extra-large wooded state would be the center of our attention.
As one of America’s original 13 colonies, Pennsylvania contains multitudes of U.S. history and authentic places and things from centuries past. For the three of us, we figured it would do well. Anne is a big history buff. I’m willing to drive just about anywhere within reason. My son would be dragged along for whatever ride until such time as he developed a separate life and identity.
We’re the Goldens. This is who we are and what we do.
DAY FIVE: Friday, July 23rd.
Our hotel breakfast was free, continental, and a complete replay of the last two days. Microwaved pancake-‘n’-sausage-on-a-stick got me by.
The morning news showed us something we never see back home: a local reporter expressing true outrage, with angry voice and deep frown and everything. I think Indianapolis TV reporters are required to take Xanax before the camera rolls. Local Fox guy Steve Keeley and his scary eyes were railing against local leaders who abused their power by driving the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes without paying tolls. By the end of our vacation we probably spent upwards of $40-$50 on tolls alone. I couldn’t help sympathizing with the offenders, but I can see where locals might feel compelled to go stock up on supplies at their local effigy shop.
Today was Anne’s big day: Philadelphia at last! This time for real! And for more than half an hour! We took this Philadelphia Zoo balloon as an omen of the awesomeness ahead of us.
Wishing to keep it simple, I made a beeline for the Independence Hall Visitor Center underground parking. The price was displeasing, but the alternative was to spend hours driving laps around the city until anyone’s price seemed right. Simplicity often costs extra, but sometimes keeps the peace.
Thankfully our efforts paid off in a sense. We consulted with a very gracious Visitor Center service rep who unlocked a bonus heretofore unknown to us: she told us about the Phlash, a trolley service whose path would skirt 95% of all the sites on our Philadelphia wish list. In my luggage I’d toted along several pounds worth of maps, directions, brochures, booklets, and guides about Philadelphia, many of which disagreed on where certain sites were or how certain roads ran. The trolley brochure map was the single most accurate, most simplified collation of all that geographic data scattered inside my head. It sold me on a method to see all of it without driving myself, and they sold us a single ticket that allowed all three of us unlimited rides all day for one astonishingly low price. Simply put, the Phlash was a godsend.
We had a while before anything opened, so we stopped at the Philadelphia Bourse — once a century-old commodities exchange center, now a shopping plaza.
Already starving despite his paltry daily helping of hotel Raisin Bran, my son all but begged for second breakfast. Lucky for him the Bourse had plenty of those meat-scoops-on-rice stands that clog every food court in every American mall. Much to my surprise, one of them was already open at 8:30 a.m. and ready to sell whatever. My son was elated to find a place where he could have chicken teriyaki for breakfast.
Eventually Independence Hall opened, and at long last we experienced American history. When America wasn’t quite the America we know yet, all the most important moments in document signatures happened in this building, which dates back to the 1750s.
Eric, our tour guide, was knowledgeable and entertaining, and a pleasure to meet once we passed the security checkpoint. Our tour began with an intro speech he gave in a small room in front of this famous 1987 painting.
Next stop was the very room where the rebellious magic happened all those centuries ago: the Pennsylvania Courtroom where our Declaration of Independence was ratified on July 4, 1776.
Next up: the room where the Constitutional Convention convened in 1787 because twelve of the thirteen states thought the Articles of Confederation could use a reboot. Hence the original United States Constitution was born. Note the same green tables as in the painting.
At the back of the room is one of those rare items we hear about but can rarely verify: George. Washington. Sat. In. That. Chair. Actually in that chair. Not a hoax. Not a dream. Not a replica. Not a chair “like” Washington’s chair. Not a reenactment of chairs in general in the 18th century. This was THE chair.
I think most of the crowd was screaming and fainting on the inside at this VIP furniture, but they and we maintained composure on the outside while draining our camera batteries capturing it in the poor lighting.
Eric walked us through a few other rooms, but they were dull compared to the Washington chair. There was the Governor’s office that had table and chairs in it and paintings of obscure people. Eric recommended we also visit Congress Hall next door, but we declined. We did visit one additional building that contained original archival documents such as an unsigned copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and a near-final draft of the U.S. Constitution that Washington himself proofread, noting only a single correction. They were kept under glass and deep in darkness in the only room where flashes were specifically prohibited.
To be continued!
1. As a rule we keep the flashes on all our cameras permanently turned off. It helps that we have better cameras now than we did eight years ago.
2. As of this writing the Bourse is closed for renovation with a grand reopening planned for summer 2018. Sources hint it’ll be packed with more local, foodie-oriented restaurants and less of the mall eateries that my son prized so much.]
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