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.
We saw the Liberty Bell. Apologies to fellow How I Met Your Mother fans, but we did not lick it.
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.
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. . .
. . . nor these real rollers.
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.