Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: we guided you through our seven-day trip through Ohio, upstate New York, and Pennsylvania in fifty episodes —- July 7-13, 2018. It all comes down to this, per our tradition for every MCC road trip maxiseries: one final collection of alternate scenes, extra details, and surplus attractions along the way that were squeezed out of the main narrative. Enjoy!
We had traveled to the Heinz History Center to view artifacts from the life of Mister Rogers. We amused ourselves with the international catalog of Heinz food products. Elsewhere around the other seven floors, a variety of exhibits told more stories about Steel City’s lives, history, and pop culture.
Last summer Anne and I had the pleasure of seeing the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, in which filmmaker Morgan Neville extolled the virtues of Fred Rogers and the PBS childhood series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood that was an integral childhood touchstone, surrogate parent, and best friends for millions of American children (e.g. my lovely wife), many of whom are now adults remembering when civility, friendliness, and neighborly love were virtues rather than optional baggage. To be honest, I was more deeply moved by PBS’ own documentary Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like, aired a few months before Neville’s take hit theaters, but both are worthy in their own ways.
A few days ago I may have gotten a little testy in a way that would’ve disappointed Mister Rogers when I noted that the MCC entry about Won’t You Be My Neighbor? earned exactly zero Likes from other WordPress users. Either my writing about the experience was terrible, or, as I joked in partial self-deprecation, “apparently bloggers hate Mister Rogers. Duly noted.”
If my snark was too on-the-nose and you really do consider Mister Rogers to be an enemy of all humankind and kindness to be obsolete hogwash…then this entry isn’t for you either. You’re loved anyway.
We both like food. Anne likes history. Before we headed home, it made sense to make time for a little food history.
On the road a curious idea for a side project struck me: take pictures of the views from each of our hotel rooms and see what the resulting montage looks like. It would’ve been a much cooler idea if we’d stayed only at the swankiest accommodations with the most breathtaking views outside — say, next to some giant national monuments or rolling New Zealand hills. We’re not affluent enough to stay anywhere we want, but I made our reservations at different price levels for variety and fun just to see what would happen. One of the hotels definitely didn’t disappoint.
Day Six would prove the least exciting day of the week. We were glad to check off two sites on our master list — Valley Forge and James Buchanan’s grave — but otherwise anxious to get through the rest of Pennsylvania and closer to home. We hit that same wall on every trip, when fatigue and homesickness begin to dampen our enthusiasm, when our meal budget is well over halfway spent, and when the impulse to make extra stops along the way loosens its grip on us.
We left a few attractions in store to ensure Day Seven wouldn’t be a featureless slog. But first we had to get Day Six over with.
Day Six would prove to be a long and draining day, but we refused to be swayed from sticking to our theme, even though it meant a detour for the sake of a politician saddled with a “consistent ranking by historians as one of the worst presidents in American history” per one or more Wikipedia editors. Honestly, we’re not in a position to argue with them.
A few weeks after we returned home from this vacation, Anne wore her souvenir Valley Forge T-shirt to breakfast at a Bob Evans. When the cashier asked what that was, Anne spent a few minutes providing a free history lesson while trying not to weep for our school systems. We tend not to buy or collect too many souvenirs, but this became one of the few times she found one useful for educational outreach.
I was out of earshot, so I couldn’t tell you if she also explained how Valley Forge is neither a valley nor a forge.
DAY SIX: Thursday, July 12th.
Hundreds of miles stood between us and our next hotel, as well as Presidential Gravesite #7 and one major historical site. None of the breakfast options within walking distance from our hotel sounded appealing. Instead, the night before, I scoped out a restaurant in a suburb called King of Prussia, some 35 minutes northwest according to that evening’s search results. That didn’t sound like such a long wait for breakfast and required only a slight detour off our original printed directions.
In the morning, we would encounter our biggest, most stressful challenge of the entire week: escape from Philadelphia.
Towns with a long and storied history tend to be big on statues and sculptures. Nothing brings great Americans to life more robustly than three-dimensional stone doppelgängers. We concluded Day Five with one last stroll through Center City Philadelphia, surrounded by art on all sides as the sun retreated into the west.
Wouldn’t it be awesome to have board game pieces that you could never, ever possibly lose? Philly has just the place for you.
Yep, we’re still in Philadelphia. While Anne had her own objectives to pursue on our second foray into the City of Brotherly Love — largely centered around American history — my own to-do list was simple: I just wanted to see Philly up close — roam the streets, feel the vibe, see downtown up close, and just plain experience it instead of merely driving through it with the doors locked…or as we’d done on our first go-around in 2010, when we rode a trolley past several highlights without the power to stop and appreciate at will.
So on Day Five we wandered a bit, we shopped a little, we took a plethora of photos. This set is the daytime half.
Our second time in Philadelphia wasn’t meant to be a total retread of our 2010 visit. Just the same, we couldn’t resist walking past a few of the major highlights. We also couldn’t help walking past them — the parking garage underneath Independence Mall was the most convenient place to leave the car for our first few hours in town, adjacent to several new sights we wanted to see. This year we had slightly more time, somewhat better cameras, and far better maps at our fingertips, given that neither of us owned a mobile phone till 2012.
In our long, long drives through 32 states and counting, we’ve seen a version of Jamestown, Civil War battlefields, the National World War II Museum, and memorials honoring the individual casualties from America’s last 105 years’ worth of wars or so. We still have a few official war museums to cross off, which we expect will follow the pattern — lots of artifacts from the era, probably some writing samples, and of course plenty of photos where applicable.
Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution features 18,000 square feet of exhibits covering the trials and tumults of our nation’s infancy, but begins with a severe disadvantage: 240 years ago, no one thought to take photos, or bothered to invent the camera in a timely manner. If a nation rises but no one Instagrammed it, is it still free?
The American flag was a recurring motif on our 2017 road trip to Baltimore. We’d visited Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” in between cannon fusillades; and we’d visited the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, where seamstress Mary Young Pickersgill sewed the very flag to which Mr. Key wrote his long-lasting ode.
Before Mrs. Pickersgill, and before Mr. Key, there was the trailblazer they followed, the grand dame of Old Glory herself — Betsy Ross.
Well…allegedly. Historians dispute the veracity of some or every aspect of the classic tale of Betsy Ross sewing our first flag at the behest of George Washington Himself. We weren’t at the Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia to examine the evidence and settle the debate once and for all, or to dispel our illusions and tremble at discovering Everything You Know Is Wrong. The truth is, the House just so happened to be along the path we’d chosen to walk down downtown Philly. It was a second-tier option on our to-do list, ranking mostly because we’d read that Betsy Ross’ own grave is on the premises. Ross wasn’t a solid fit into our “Presidential gravesite” theme, but for history’s sake Anne was mildly interested. And I was game.
In the spirit of the House’s presentation, I shall now refuse to type “allegedly” for the remainder of this chapter lest I bore myself out of writing it. Mentally insert if wherever you feel it should fit for your level of comfort and/or dedication to truthiness.
The voluminous main floor of the National Constitution Center was interesting and educational in and of itself, but an unusual display awaited us on the second floor in the George H. W. Bush Gallery, a room in which the momentous signing of the U.S. Constitution takes on real-life proportions and surrounds visitors in history and metal.
Among our nineteen official annual road trips, we’ve had a few experiences in which we found ourselves falling short of our goals, not quite exploring our targeted locations to the fullest, and promising ourselves to keep them in mind in case we had time in the future to call do-over. Some of the cities and states we’ve visited are extremely unlikely to see us return, for better or worse. But we like the idea of arranging second chances where possible and merited.
Once upon a time, Philadelphia was supposed to be the center of our 2010 road trip. As I wrote in the present-day commentary for that particular travelogue:
Some of our road trips simply needed more days that what we allotted. We thought we’d learned that lesson on our 2005 drive to San Antonio, when we spent more time in the car than we did on foot in Texas, because their state is like a separate continent compared to home. Our trip to Philadelphia encountered similar issues but for a different reason. We’d found so many interesting sights to see near Philly that we barely left any time for the city itself…
This year we had a few different ideas what to do after leaving New Jersey and entering Pennsylvania. Two contenders rose above the rest: either head southeast for our introductory foray into the first state of Delaware, or go back to Philadelphia. We wouldn’t have time to venture too far into Delaware, but any attractive excuse to step foot inside its border would’ve been nice, if only to cross another state off our bucket lists. After a considerable amount of research on its nearest regions, our hypothetical Delaware to-do list looked like this:
1. Check out their capitol dome
2. Visit the gravesites of the exactly zero Presidents buried there
3. Reenact the “Hi! We’re in…Delaware” scene from Wayne’s World
…and that’s the story of why our next several chapters feature our grand return to Philadelphia. And what better way to dive into the original capital of the United States of America than to visit a giant museum dedicated to the Founding Fathers and some of their most important words that made America work?
The image of General George Washington leading troops in boats across the Delaware River is one of those iconic moments in the Revolutionary War that’s ingrained in the consciousness of every American student at a young age, even if teachers don’t necessarily explain the full context. Like many other scenes from Washington’s life, travelers can visit the area where history happened, tread the same treasured ground our forefathers did, and of course learn more about their feats from whatever museum, park, visitors center, statue, or plaque sprang forth to mark the spot.
In the case of this particular moment in time, visitors also need to make sure which “Washington Crossing” park they want to see.
We often look back at our old photos and wish we could return to many of the places we visited on our earlier road trips for further adventures or at least better photos. Our travelogues are frequently imperfect and in need of reshoots because of our own inexperience. our limited resources, or uncontrollable circumstances at the time. We do what we can with the tools and skill sets available. Our innumerable rough edges are among the many reasons MCC will never be a commercial success or The Greatest Blog of All Times.
Most years, we’d rather keep pressing forward to new places we haven’t seen, but every so often an opportunity for a do-over shows up on or near a path we’ve charted. This year’s trip happened to offer quite a few second chances. Our next stop was one of them.
When it comes to our vacation planning, sometimes we’ll pinpoint potentially interesting restaurants in advance. Sometimes we’ll tire of micro-analyzing every town and play Google Maps roulette on the fly. We’ve enjoyed the comfort of mom-‘n’-pop diners. We’ve let kitschy holes-in-the-wall bemuse us. On select occasions we’ve overspent on places that were well above our pay grade but were right-place-right-time. The important thing is that if we ever have to set foot in my old nemesis Subway again, we will have failed miserably and should be grounded from traveling.