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Young Man On The Road #16: East Coast Girls Are Hip, I Really Dig Those Styles They Wear

July 24-30

Philadelphia, PENNSYLVANIA; Atlantic City, NEW JERSEY; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, MARYLAND

It’s not news that I’ve gotten behind on these blogs.  As I write this, I’m in the car on the way to Houston and it’s mid-August.  I apologize for falling so far behind, but I do have my reasons (read: excuses).  It takes me a long time to write these things.  My style is less “stream of consciousness” and more “write a paragraph, reread, revise, Internet break, continue, reread, revise, food break, etc.”  It’s hard to settle down after a day of exploring and rack my brain for a few hours.  Honestly, I’d rather watch TV shows and fool around on Facebook until I fall asleep.

But I do like having a written account of this trip and, even more so, sharing it with all of you.  Furthermore, your responses make it all worthwhile.  What good is it to have an adventure if I can’t share it with the people I love?

So, in an effort to get caught up to speed, I’m combining several destinations into a single post and driving the stories by photos.  If all goes well, I should be up-to-date before I leave Texas.

I present to you. . .

Photoblog Mash-up No. 1: The East Coast

Philadelphia (July 24-27)

According to the Wikipedia article I read on the drive in, the city is filled with many historical sites, more public art than anywhere else, and a handful of local eats.  I was kind of excited for Philly, and that first full day did not disappoint.

We went to Independence Hall and learned about Congress and the birth of our nation from an amazingly entertaining guide.

Nothing he said was new to me, but he made it so interesting, it may as well have been.

We saw the Liberty Bell.  Apologies to fellow How I Met Your Mother fans, but we did not lick it.

Friggin' thing don't even ring!

We stood in awe of the many murals and public statues around the city.  This was a result of an initiative to reach out to street artists and turn their talent into benefits for the city.

We ate lunch in Reading Terminal Market.

Though there were many tantalizing sights and smells, I held off on the non-local fare and tried scrapple for the first time.

And I actually liked it.

We walked to the Philadelphia Art Museum and ran up the Rocky Steps.

We rewarded our spurt of athletic activity with a local sugary treat: waterice.  It’s like shave ice, but not at all.

After a long day of holding off, we finally got cheesesteaks from Philly’s two most prominent steak places: Pat’s and Geno’s.  I bought one “wit whiz” (that means “with onions and Cheese Whiz”) from Pat’s, Ian got his from Geno’s and we swapped halves and compared at the house.

Both were actually severely disappointing.  The meat was flavorless, the toppings were unimpressive, and the bread was sub-par.  I chose Geno’s over Pat’s because even though there was less meat, the bread wasn’t as chewy.  It’s sad that the “winner” was the one I disliked less.

We got the cheesesteaks super-late at night, and that less-than-stellar experience almost foreshadowed our eventual overall disappointment with  the city.

We trudged through the hot Philly sun to the U.S. Mint.  Even though it wasn’t as humid as New York, the heat still took a toll.  So, when I entered the building and discovered a giant fan cooling off the security guards, I tried to make small talk with one of the guards about how nice it was to be inside.  No response.  Then it dawned on me:  Philadelphians haven’t been that friendly.  Except for our hosts and the Independence Hall tour guide, locals dismissed our attempts at friendly interaction.  (I want to emphasize that our hosts were tremendously kind and caring, but even their awesomeness was overshadowed by our other interactions.)  The waitress/bartender and her patron friends at the place we ate dinner the night before ignored our efforts to socialize, electing to instead give us a dirty look and continue with their conversation.  The cashier at Pat’s acted like I wasted his time by asking what movie he and his buddies were watching on the TV behind them.  And now this guard couldn’t even acknowledge my observation that hot weather is hot!?  Ian and I discussed this revelation while walking through the most unimpressive tour we’ve yet encountered.  Even the U.S. Mint’s bland displays seemed to spew disdain at us.  The City of Brotherly Love seemed to come up short on exactly that.

Before we left, we tried one more cheesesteak place: Jim’s.

Eureka!

It was exactly what we expected from a Philly cheesesteak: high-quality meat surrounded in well-cooked toppings and stuffed into a soft roll.  It was delicious, but even Jim’s delightful sandwich didn’t assuage the bad taste left in my mouth from Philadelphia’s unwelcoming natives.

Atlantic City (July 27)

We took a day trip to AC “on the way” to Washington, D.C. (there was some backtracking involved).  Not to gamble, mind you, just to see the “East Coast Vegas.”

It wasn’t Vegas at all.  It was more like an amalgamation of Reno (with the limited size and spectacle of its casinos), Santa Cruz (with its brightly colored, amusement park-strewn boardwalk), and any suburban middle class shopping plaza you can think of (located meer blocks from the beach and casinos).

I liked the boardwalk the best.  Partly because I’m not a gambler and therefore hold no interest in casinos, but mostly because I’m a fan of most things HBO.  Apparently, so are they.

Ironically, it wasn’t until after we left Philly did we come across good waterice.  I mean, really good.  Better than, *gasp!* Hawaiian shave ice!  Before you get angry at my blaspheming, take a trip to the East Coast and try some.  It’s like an ice-based gelato.

Though we didn’t gamble, we nonetheless lost a small fortune in AC.  We spent upwards of $18 on toll booths alone going there and back.  The house still won.

Washington, D.C. (July 27-30)

Ten years ago, Ian and I went on our 8th grade class field trip to Washington, D.C.  I thought I’d have gained a greater appreciation of the historical significance of the sites in the span of a decade.  Truth is, ten years ago, I did understand and appreciate said significance.  This time around, they were just buildings I’d seen before, but now without the added entertainment of tour guides and classmates.  This trip didn’t expand my appreciation of the city.

Case in point: Ford’s Theater.

Ten years ago, we went inside the theater and an animated guide told the tragic tale of Lincoln’s assassination.  On this trip, we just grabbed breakfast at Lincoln’s Waffle Shop across the street.

We did go to the Washington Monument this time around, though.

And we got to go up, too.  For free.  Good thing it didn’t cost anything, because it was the worst observation deck I’ve been to.

At least you get a view of the Lincoln Memorial.  But wait. . .

. . . where did the Reflecting Pool go?

In an effort to compound the stifling effects of the heat, the humidity, and the lack of shade, the District of Columbia tore up its most refreshing-looking landmark just in time for our arrival.

The trip wasn’t a total let-down.  We did go to the National Air and Space Museum, something we didn’t do ten years ago.  I’m an Apollo nut, so I was completely geeking out over the Apollo spacecrafts.  Come to think about it, that would have been the only thing I’d be more excited to see now than ten years ago.

I don’t know what we were expecting to gain from Washington, D.C.  Once you take away the aura of seeing famous buildings and monuments for the first time, all that’s left is an oversized financial district with few restaurants and many pretentious locals.  Ian and I spent most of the time complaining about the humidity, searching for water, and reminiscing about our 8th grade trip.  We were ready to just keep moving on to the next city.  On our way out, however, we stopped by the Jefferson Memorial.

I knew I liked Jefferson–mainly based on his portrayal in the HBO series John Adams–but I never realized how forward-thinking and practical the man was.  

The quotes that graced the walls of his memorial were at the same time inspiring (he had rational views of the important issues of his day) and frustrating (those views are still relevant to many of today’s issues).  Like Jim’s cheesesteak in Philly, the Jefferson Memorial was an uplifting end to an otherwise disappointing destination.

Baltimore and College Park (July 29)

Baltimore isn’t too far from D.C., so we used one of our D.C. days to explore the city that set the stage for David Simon’s The Corner and The Wire.

But first, the University of Maryland in College Park:

It was too humid to explore much of the campus, so after a keychain and a quick stroll, we took off for the Inner Harbor of Baltimore.

I was surprised by how nice and clean and tourist-centric this part of “Bloody-More” was.  I guess you didn’t see too much of it in The Wire, aside from quick meetings with The Greek in Season 2.  The architecture was a sight to behold, especially how it formed around the harbor.

I made sure to eat some crab cakes and hush pups in the beautifully air conditioned indoor shopping center before taking off for West Baltimore.

I was surprised once again, this time by how close the slums of city is to the friendly Inner Harbor.  More than Deadwood and Atlantic City, West Baltimore seemed the spitting image of its respective HBO series.

Rowhouses everywhere, many empty and boarded up.

The car windows were up, the doors were locked, and I was as inconspicuous as I could be taking pictures.  While I was playing tourist in TV land, I had to keep reminding myself that this was a real place filled with dangerous people.

I was not about to hop out and take pictures with these real slingers. . .

"Git yo' red tops!"

. . . nor these real rollers.

It's Bobby Brown!

Conclusion

After the wonder that was New York City, every city that followed simply paled in comparison.  And, I know it’s not fair to compare a city to the mecca of Western culture, but the disappointing factors we found with each of the following East Cost locales would have still had a negative impact on our experience, even if New York had followed.  Philly would still have been the City Without Brotherly Love; Washington, D.C. would still have lacked shade and flavor; and both Atlantic City and Baltimore would still have too few attractions to keep us overnight.

Ian and I were just burnt out on cities.  No urban locale was going to compare with New York, and we didn’t want to keep pretending like they could.

Surprisingly, the South came to our rescue.

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Young Man Went West #29-B: Winter Trip Facebook Statuses, Unabridged (Pt. 2)

Day 3-4: Flew into LA with Lawrence Burkart and hung around PV. Next day, romped around a rainy Disneyland with Amanda Bates in tow. Ended the night at the Long Beach Bubba Gump’s.

My college roommate Lawrence had spent the few days prior showing his girlfriend, Polina, and buddy, Connor, around the Bay Area, as they were all visiting from Northwestern for winter break.  Polina–born in Russia, raised in Texas, and living in Chicago–had been to California before, but it was Connor’s–born and raised in Kansas, living in Chicago–first time.  Our original plan was to meet up and road trip it down Southern California, but that fell through because neither of us had a car.  Minor details.  So instead, we booked a cheap flight to LA.  I met up with Lawrence and his Chicago crowd at Oakland Airport.

Lawrence’s high school/college buddy, Aaron, picked us up from LAX and drove us to their hoighty-toighty town of Palos Verdes.  We’re talking big houses on a hill, clear views of the ocean, and wild peacocks–the fancy man’s pigeon–roaming the streets.  After some Chinese food and board games, we turned in relatively early so we could be up in time to reach Disneyland when the gates opened.

We woke up bright and early. . . minus the bright part.  Giant grey clouds threatened the coming of rain.  We crossed our fingers for an empty threat.

Disneyland itself is pretty exciting, but what I was looking forward to the most was meeting up with my good friend Amanda.  I had worked with her at Bubba Gump’s, but she left last summer for San Diego, which means she was relatively close and willing to drive up to spend a day in the park with us.  She arrived at the gates not too long after we did.  It was great to see her again after half a year.  Her smile was just as bright, but she lost a little bit of her Hawaiian tan.  I let her know right away.

Amanda amid the drizzle at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Our party now numbering six, we entered the Magic Kingdom, grey clouds still looming overhead.  Our first stops were Space Mountain, Astro Blaster, and the Matterhorn.  The lines were insignificant, so we shot from one to the next in no time, and still dry.  However, as we were drifting to the end of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, we noticed that those in line donned wet jackets and ponchos.  The clouds had made good on their threat.

We scurried to Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in a drizzle, and then to the Indiana Jones ride in a light rain.  By the time we got out, Amanda and I had decided it was time to give in and buy some ponchos.  They cost us six bucks a piece and a weird conversation with a fedora-wearing shop worker in Adventureland.

The rain only got harder as the day went on.  Luckily, most of the rides were indoor.  I think we hit up Space Mountain again and then the Haunted Mansion before hopping over to California Adventure park.  Our first order of business: food.  Of course, with the whole park trying to stay dry and outside seating out of commission, finding a place to sit was an adventure itself.  The majority of our group stood in line for the food while Polina and I scouted out potential tables.  She took one side of the restaurant, I took the other.

We stalked around from table to table, judging each party’s estimated time of departure, eyeballing those whose plates sat empty while they lounged a bit longer.  We lurked in the corners, ready to swoop in like vultures.  I had entered into an alliance with another man who was occupying a four-top while waiting for the adjacent six-top I had my eye on.  He told me he had claimed the larger table already, but would make sure I got the smaller one once they shifted over.  A small table was better than no table, so I happily accepted.  Ultimately, it was an unnecessary deal, as Polina had acquired a six-top on the other side of the restaurant.  I thanked the man, gave my table to some nearby vultures, and joined Polina in holding down fort.  Somehow, our burgers tasted better under envious gazes of table-less patrons.

We braved the rainstorm through a few tours of the Hollywood Tower of Terror, Soarin’ Over California, and even the outdoor rollercoaster California Screamin’.  Raindrops at that speed feel like hail pelting your face.  However, by about five o’clock, the rain was a straight-up downpour and we collectively decided we couldn’t hold out for the fake snow and fireworks that occur near closing.  I’m not even sure if it happened that night.  We left drenched but not down-spirited.  Disneyland is still Disneyland and we had a great time.  Well, I can’t speak for Connor, who was looking forward to some California sunshine between the snows of Chicago and Kansas.

Connor: "This is not the California weather you promised me, Lawrence!" (from Connor's album, but I took the picture, so I'm gonna use it!)

Sweetly and sorrowfully, I parted ways with Amanda and the rest of us headed back to Palos Verdes.  We put on some clean clothes, had some filling and discounted meals at the Long Beach Bubba Gump’s, and ended the night with more board games.

Connor, Polina, Lawrence, and Aaron on the early shuttle out of the park.

Day 5-6: Explored a rainy Venice Beach w/Lawrence Burkart & co., then had awesome coffee talk w/Ian Villanueva & Sarah Prochaska in downtown LA’s Farmer’s Market. Ended the night making spam musubi w/Leslie O’Neill. Hit up Santa Monica Pier w/Lawrence & co. the following day before flying back to the Bay.

The rain in LA continued on through the next few days.  Luckily, it was only a slight drizzle when Lawrence, Polina, Connor, and I walked around Venice Beach.  It was my first time in Venice Beach, I’d realized, but it definitely felt familiar.  Lawrence described it as Berkeley on the beach.  It sure as hell smelled like Telegraph Ave.  The walkway was nearly empty, only a handful hobos and junkies riding about on stolen bikes.  I loved the place immediately.  We got a bite to eat at a (covered) sidewalk cafe and left.

While the rest of the crew headed into the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), I met up with Ian and another great college buddy named Sarah whom I haven’t seen since graduation.  Sarah and I had a lot of catching up to do, but it was okay because she talks faster than anyone I know.  She was able to relate the past year and a half–in detail–in a few hours.  The three of us chatted over coffee and then wine (I know!  So grown up!) at the LA Farmers Market, which, by the way, is the cleanest and most organized farmers market I’ve ever seen.  I don’t think it counts.  Later, we walked around a really posh, outdoor mall called The Grove.  I didn’t realize how much I missed Sarah until that night.  She’s a good friend with great dating tips.  I’d love for her to come out here and wingwoman for me.  And by the way, there’s no lack of love for Ian, too.  It’s just I see that dude all the time.

I said my goodbyes to one good friend and Ian dropped me off at the house of another: Leslie.  We made Spam musubi, one of her favorite discoveries from visiting me in Hawaii, and then she fell asleep watching an episode of The Wire (which I still want back, Leslie!).  See, Leslie has one of those grown-up jobs and has to wake up early all the time, like five times a week!  But not me, I stayed up and watched Jaws by myself.  It was my first time (shocking!).  A little dated, but still a good flick.

Leslie

Funny little sidenote:  My flight back to the Bay Area was the next day, December 22nd.  I had booked it for 9:30 PM, but for some reason, had it in my head that it was at 9:30 AM.  I had plans to fly into Oakland, BART it to Berkeley and meet up with my friend Olivia, then head to Livermore in the late afternoon so my family and I could go Christmas tree shopping.  Fortunately, I checked my flight details a few days prior and caught the mistake.  Unfortunately, I had to cancel the aforementioned plans.  So instead. . .

The next morning, Leslie dropped me off at a mall in Beverly Hills before heading off to work.  I did some last minute Christmas shopping and then Lawrence and friends picked me up on their way to Santa Monica.  The sunlight peaked out from behind the rainclouds as we walked around Third Street Promenade, a long outdoor pedestrian mall with interesting shops, nice restaurants, and the most helpful tour guide I’d ever met.  It did rain a bit, but fortunately only while we were eating.  It dried up again as we strolled along the Santa Monica Pier (they also have a Bubba’s.  Yes, I went inside).  I’m glad Connor got to see a little sun before heading to his snowy Kansas home.  We both had flights that night.

The So Cal leg of my trip had come to a close.  I met a lot of old friends, and made a couple new ones.  Disneyland was a minor letdown, but I discovered parts of LA I actually liked.  A lot of good memories were stuffed into a few short days, with many more to come upon my return to the Bay.

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