Sunday, August 10, 2008



We arrived in Philadelphia late morning. We found a gabby cab driver that showed us the sights on the way from the airport. I don’t think I’ve ever had a cab driver in NYC that spoke English as a first language. Maybe Philly is different. He pointed out the University of Pennsylvania campus and their old stadium that reminded me of those turn-of-the-century ballparks. I somehow thought Penn was way out in the country, and it probably was two hundred years ago. Now it's Metro Philadelphia.

Trish came to town for a work-related conference at the convention center. The Marriot near there was full so we stayed at the Omni one block from Independence Hall, a much better location for seeing the sights. And we didn't waste time. The first order of business was getting lunch at City Tavern, recommended by Sir Saunders. I tried their special brew lager and Trish refrained knowing she had to register for the conference later in the day.

The beers there are made from recipes found in George Washington and Thomas Jefferson’s archives. I’m not sure if I was having a George or Tom, but lager is my favorite and I enjoyed it. The period bread they served was memorable too. It was heartier than common bread today, even heartier than steak house dinner rolls.

After lunch we took the subway to the convention center. It allowed Trish to register and get a feel for the way she would have to go the next two days. It was only two stops from where we were staying and not hard to find. Although I had nothing to do with the conference they gave me a badge anyway to boost the numbers for the trade show part of the event. For the most part, the trade show was a snooze. It certainly wasn't as interesting as the poker trade show leading up to the World Series of Poker main event. In Vegas they were drawing you into their booths. Here they were pretty lax about it. We did get pulled into the booth that green screened us into the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Our plan was to see Independence Hall, but it turned out that you have to be in line at 830am to get tickets for the day and they were long gone by mid afternoon Tuesday. Instead we checked out the Constitution Center on the next block, located between the U.S. Mint and the Federal Reserve Building. The museum begins with an intro show done up pretty nicely with projectors, gobos, and an actor presenting the story of the constitution. I don’t know what the show director had in mind, but our host was long on the phony drama with too much inflection. What ever happened to the straight forward sincere approach?

From there the museum is hard to rate. If you didn’t know the history of the Constitution it might be an interesting and educational experience. For an old pro it wasn’t really worth the $12. One highlight was the loop video of Ben Stein answering questions about the document. It’s humorous, but also pretty insightful. The best feature of the museum is a sculpture room where every signer of the Constitution is brought to life around the room. As you can see, we had some fun with it.

Trish had a pretty stern look for Alexander Hamilton, the villain of the recent John Adams series on HBO.

I enjoyed meeting Franklin.

We then went to Franklin’s museum, but it had already closed. We did get to see the frame of his house which was torn down in the early 1800s by his son in law.

To keep the Microbrew motif alive we visited Triumph Brewery, a brew pub not far the from the hotel. It was the hippest brew pub I have ever seen which pleased Trish and the beer was again fresh and tasty. It had the most unusual bathrooms. Rather than male and female rooms, it was one big room with individual compartments and a first come first serve approach. Trish kind of liked the idea and then she was kind of disgusted thinking about it further.


We were able to see Independence Hall the next morning before Trish reported to class. It looked just like JOHN ADAMS and 1776 depicted it.

The Liberty Bell is housed in a separate building across the street. It’s a long building with the history of the bell leading down to the bell itself sporting that big crack we learned about in elementary school. When we got in line outside we were behind 3 Asians from a tour group. What we didn’t know is that the group was 30+ and they had every intention of crowing all 30+ in front of us by virtue of having 3 in line already. They kept coming like an invading Army. After the number reached 20, I expressed my vocal displeasure, but they ignored me of course and kept piling in.

Had there been a line at the bell once we got inside, we would have waited, but it was a free for all. So instead of Bogarting our way in, we settled for a picture on the side with the crack barely visible and then from behind where no one wanted to be. It’s such an unlikely icon when you come to think of it. It rang after the signing. How many other things happened in relation to the signing that aren’t remembered?

We enjoyed the Reading Terminal Market for lunch. It’s an indoor farmer’s market and food stop next to the Convention Center. We tried our first Philly Cheesesteak. And although it portrayed itself as a prominent place, the owner was pictured with Bob Dole and Tom Ridge, the sandwich was no better than the one I get at a local sub shop. I had the same opinion when I had one the next day at another place. Neither was as good as the local sub shop near Sea World.

Tricia’s afternoon class schedule gave me some time to wander the city. I walked around for a while, saw the exhibit at the Federal Reserve Bank, and eventually wound up at the Art House movie cinema. We have been to the movies once since Abigail was born and we hoped to find Batman on the trip, but he wasn't playing anywhere near our hotel. So I saw a French movie called THE LAST MISTRESS. I rarely see anything without reading reviews, but foreign films rarely even make it to the U.S. without being somewhat good. Checking now, Rotten Tomatoes gives is 77% positive and I find that it's playing on only 28 screens. It’s the story of a 19th century guy trying to shake the bonds of his mistress as he prepares to marry the pretty and youthful heiress. It was enjoyable enough except that it seemed like I had seen it all before, a combination of Dangerous Liasons and Enchanted April.


I woke up early and hit the empty gym. When I was almost finished on the treadmill, two older guys wandered in seemingly together, but the conversation told me differently. One guy was the reserved type. He turned out to be 85 and looking at least 10 years younger. The other fella was in his early 70s and talked nonstop like a salesman and it sounded like he was interviewing the other guy like a talk show host. He told his whole life story. After college he worked for a pharmaceutical company, then a medical magazine, then an HMO, then his own company, and he retired rich evidently. I could tell because he took his grandkids to some sort of Sesame Street theme park and complained about the cost. Only rich guys complain in the particular way he did. Poor people are so used to blowing money that they think nothing of it.

Junto E came to meet up with me for lunch and we took in the Reading Market again to my delight. He meant it as a surprise, but I ruined it by eating there the day before. We found a nice Italian place and we chatted for an hour about what’s been happening with us lately. Then we walked to the Art Museum famous for the Rocky steps. It was 1.8 miles according to Google maps, but I hardly noticed it too engulfed in conversation with E. It was a surprisingly thorough museum. It had a great sampling of impressionists Van Goah, Monet, Manet, Renoir etc.

Me at the Rocky Steps.


E’s living in the heart of Amish country and I use to live very close to such a community in Indiana. The Amish go through this right of passage where they raise hell as teenagers drinking and smoking for a few years and then decide whether or not to join the community as adults where they then have to mind their manners. There is such a documentary about the experience called Devil’s Playground. About 85% return to the flock, because if they don’t re-join they are totally excommunicated from family and friends. E has such a friend that dropped out and became a cop. There is a sitcom there I just know it.

I enjoyed our conversation, but it ended too soon. E wasn’t on vacation and had to get back to work. I hope that we will see E and family in Orlando in the near future.

I went back to the hotel and finished the new Easy Company memoir by Buck Compton. I’ve slowly been reading these kinds of books since watching Band of Brothers again last summer. When Trish finished with classes we went to see another French movie, TELL NO ONE, a thriller. And I’m on record previously saying that the French make the best thrillers now with Hitchcock gone. I can’t pinpoint the general reason, but French Thrillers find the right tone and our hero seems to be in real danger rather than Hollywood danger. TELL NO ONE is another example of the rule. Early in the film a man’s wife is murdered and 8 years later she sends him a message. Rather than go on I have to remind myself that I owe the blog 6 months of movie reviews.

DAY 4 On to DC

We decided to extend the trip a few days by taking a train to DC, a place Trish had never seen. It was my first Amtrak trip and I enjoyed it quite a bit. First, the two hour trip cost just $88 for the both of us. Rental car agencies wanted $140 for a one way rental. Second, the train was pretty empty so there was little noise and no overcrowding like you see in 40s movies. It was also my first time in Deleware and I’ll count it even though I didn’t actually stand on the ground. We stopped in Willmington to pick up passengers and it seemed a lot like Orlando, with industrial areas on one side and a trendy downtown on the other side. I didn’t remember where in Delaware Marci grew up.

I designed the second half of the trip with the idea that we wouldn’t have a car. Amtrak to Union Station, subway a block from the hotel and eventually the subway to Reagan Airport Saturday night. Unlike most subways, Washington has this convoluted system where each area is a different cost and you swipe a card to get in, but you also swipe a card on the way out so that you can be charged. There are peak rates and discount rates so you have to have a legend to get it right.

What do you do in DC when you only have two days? Since we had just seen Independence Hall we went to the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. It was a real investment in time because they only allow so many people in to see the documents at once. The constitution looked pretty decent, but the Declaration is so faded you could barely read it. Hancock’s signature jumps out as you’d expect, but it was sad to see how poorly the rest of it looks. The Magana Carta was signed in the 1200s and it didn’t look much worse.

On the way to the Archives we walked by the White House and it was a sad sight. The Clintons blocked off traffic in front of the house in the 1990s and that made it easier to see, but in the post 9-11 world it’s nothing but barricades and security checks on the road leading up to it.

We spent an hour in the National Gallery before being booted out at 5pm. Luckily the air and Space Museum was open until 7:30. There we saw a great exhibit on the Wright Brothers, a history I knew little about. I knew they owned a bike store, but I didn’t know that they first owned a print house and newspaper. I also didn’t know that they waited 5 years after flying before showing the public, trying to get someone to buy it lest it be copied during a demonstration. The plane is right in the room with the story. A good all around exhibit.

On a whim we decided to board the metro and take it down to the ballpark. The Reds and Homer Bailey were in town to face the Nationals. I read that tickets were easy to come by and although I didn’t know what station to exit, it became evident as other fans boarded the train. The train lets you off not far from Centerfield and we bought tickets in Left field an hour before the game and only sat 7 rows behind the fence right next to the foul pole.

It afforded us shade before the game started and a view of Adam Dunn strolling toward fly balls. It was the first MLB regular season game I’ve attended since seeing the Yankees and Marlins in Game 4 of the 2003 World Series. In short, Homer Bailey was knocked around pretty good and the Nats won 5-2 or something like that.

We left after the 7th inning to beat the rush to the train and it was a fiasco anyway. The city was running some sort of line maintenance and we waited 15 minutes for a train, which by that time became crammed like an olive jar. Send trains to the station where the ballpark is dumping fans. Save maintenance on the line for two hours. You hear about DC being run poorly and it was a great example.


We slept later than normal the next morning, a rare day with nothing to get up for. Our intention was to head to the Ronald Reagan building and eat at the food court so highly touted in Frommers, but we arrived to learn that it doesn’t open on Saturday until 11:30am. We settled for a stale and tasteless pretzel from a vendor near the Washington Monument.

Last time I was in DC, the Washington Monument was closed for rehab. This time you could take an elevator all the way to the top, but we skipped it. I figured after being captive for so long at the Archives, we’d be better to walk on by.

A definite highlight was the World War II monument. It’s a striking area, and it was placed in a most appropriate place between the Washington Monument and the reflecting pool.

One side commemorates the European theatre and the other side the Pacific theatre. Each has important battles and quotes about the campaigns. Surrounding the structure are wreaths to the U.S. states and territories that participated in the war. The fountain water was chlorinated and very clean, which isn’t the case with the reflecting pond behind it.

From the WWII we headed toward the Lincoln Memorial and it was quite a walk along that dirty reflecting pool. That thing is full of geese and feathers. The sides are littered with bird droppings as pictured below. The pathway beside the pool is beaten dirt path. The whole thing looked so low class. It’s a great example of the government insisting on doing things outside of their constitutional mandate, while neglecting our national treasures. It’s simple though, taking care of the monuments has no constituency, unlike all the government waste.

The Lincoln Memorial was quite busy, unlike my trip in 2001 when John and I got there before 8am. I read the Gettysburg Address again because how often do you get to do so in such a grand manner.

Next we went to the spooky Korean War Memorial. Only spooky because the soldiers faces look ghoulish with crazy eyes and distorted faces. It was another reason why I was glad the WWII Memorial was straightforward.

Now we took the long walk to the Jefferson Memorial, stopping midway to see FDR. The FDR Memorial is really too big and spread out. Put me in the minority maybe, but I don’t think we need an FDR Memorial. His legacy lives every week in our payroll taxes. I did have some fun with the “Brother can you spare a Dime” statutes though.

What’s interesting about the Jefferson Memorial is that the Jefferson statue has a perfect view of the White House and Vice Versa. It’s one of the few views of the White House in the city. I enjoyed reading his writings, but the letters were bleeding and dripping down the wall. This memorial takes some heat for being too similar to Lincoln, but I like the similarity.

We kept going past the Jefferson and it took us to the Holocaust Museum, a place I know I should see, but a place I dread going into. Seeing Ann Frank’s attic 5 years ago was tough enough.

We walked to the Smithsonian metro stop and took the train to Capital Hill where we enjoyed quiet pub grub and then headed for the Library of Congress. Our original plan was to tour Congress, but I learned that afternoon you must stand in line for tickets early in the morning and then you can see a 30 minute guided tour. Pre-9-11 you could simply go through security and tour at your own pace. There is a ton to see. Statue galleries, the old Supreme Court room, etc. That the terrorists have deprived us of this is enough to attack a dozen countries.

The library of Congress offers Jefferson’s books and a nice exhibit of Bob Hope memorabilia. Not as good as the Capitol, but better than living in a third world country.

Our last stop of the day and the trip was the National Portrait Gallery housed in the same place as the Museum of American Art. The Portrait Gallery has a great collection of famous Americans, some iconic like Gilbert Stuart’s George Washington.
A special display featuring Katherine Hepburn was especially interesting in that is contains her 4 Oscars.

It would be easy to spend 4 days in DC. I’ve been twice now and still haven’t seen everything that I wanted to. A year ago we may have stayed longer, but we had already been away from Abby for 5 days and it was time to get home.

Here is my favorite picture of the whole trip.


Dude said...

You sure can cram a lot of sights into a vacation. I just spent seven days at sea but come home with no great stories beyond my epic dining.

I got off the boat in Cabo but couldn't get back on fast enough. It was sweltering hot and I got tired of swatting off the water taxi drivers. "No thanks" means I don't want a ride not that I'm looking for a reduced price. There was nothing to do at the port but shop for trinkets and sample tequila. Mexico is like Los Angeles only hotter and more annoying.

The next day, we arrived in Mazatlan and I didn't even bother going ashore. I enjoyed the boat amenities while all the other suckers were enduring Mexico.

The next day was Puerto Vallarta and from the boat, that actually looked like a city I could enjoy spending some time in but we had a private boat chartered for the day so that is how we spent our time there.

My favorite days were the days at sea because when we touched land, everyone would go ashore but me and Mason and he dragged me to all the kid activities since all his buddies had disembarked for the day. When the kids were together, I spent my time reading about backgammon, imbibing, gorging, and beating the wife at Trivia Pursuit in the pub.

Sir Saunders said...

That was a delightfully thorough account. I always enjoy seeing those sites as they retain (thankfully) the true American spirit.

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