A Couple of Mopes Hit the Streets of the City of Brotherly Love
15.10.2007 - 17.10.2007 1 °F
Being a history geek, it should come as no surprise that I’m drawn to certain aspects of the East Coast. Let’s face it – the area is just full of so much American history and heritage, what with Civil War battle fields, Yorktown, the Freedom Walk in Boston (which is a place I have yet to visit) just to name a few. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Old National Pike, one of my favorite drives to take when heading back home to the Midwest, especially from Cumberland, MD to Wheeling, West VA. In fact, every time I head east, unless I’m pressed for time, I find myself deviating from the toll roads to lolly-gag along U.S.-30 – my favorite part of the stretch winding through the Appalachians from Breezewood, PA to Gettysburg.
In September of ’07, my good friend Mark Anderson called me up to say that he had two free airline tickets to either Toronto or Philadelphia that he had to use up by December. His wife was unable to get time off from work and since Toronto was a place you’d more than likely go with a spouse or loved one, Philly just made more sense.
Philadelphia is a city that is not without its historical charm, but our goal was to steer clear of spots where we thought most tourist groups would be and concentrate more on neighborhoods. I’ve been there a total three times – four if you count the time my best friend Danny and I pulled over to drink a beer like a couple of hobos in front of some vacant, dilapidated buildings along Front St. on our way to Atlantic City back in the fall of 1990 – so I had already seen Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell as well as Eastern State Penitentiary.
We met Monday morning, the 15th of October, at the Montrose el station, coincidently at the same time, with Mark getting off the east-bound #78 bus just as I was getting off the west bound #78. We headed out to O’Hare and had a smooth flight, landing at Philly International later that afternoon. After the train ride into downtown’s Market East station we found our way to our hotel, the Comfort Inn on the waterfront, which is separated from Old Town by I-95 and sits at the foot of the Ben Franklin Bridge on Christopher Columbus Blvd., overlooking the Delaware River and New Jersey beyond. Our room was on the 7th floor with a nice view of Municipal Pier #9 and the Ben Franklin looming over us to the left, which made for a nice photo as the late afternoon sun drifted into the west.
Mark had a few minutes of work to finish before we hit the streets to see what the City of Brotherly Love had to offer and once we were on our way, our first mission was a Philly cheese-steak. We left the hotel and traversed our way over to Market St. via Elfreth’s Alley, one of the oldest and still inhabited residential areas in Philadelphia, over to Sonny’s Famous Steaks on Market just past Second St. I had been there on an earlier visit in ‘05 and called it good. The place is a little cramped and can get busy so it’s a smart thing to know what you want before you place your order.
After scarfing down our cheese steak sandwiches we ambled on out into the Philadelphia night winding up in a bar somewhere around 3rd and South St., across from another bar that boasted to be the birthplace of Larry Fine, the affable Stooge. South Street is a mecca of entertainment that includes stores, restaurants and bars… kind of a hip place to hang. We settled in for a few beers served up by a bartender named Spoony and I struck up a few conversations with some locals, as I am apt to do when on the road. After settling up there, we hit another pub or two before heading back to crash for the night.
The next morning found us sitting at the counter of the Snow White restaurant, a type of greasy spoon diner dwarfed by a couple of imposing billboards on its roof and situated at the corner of Market and Second. A hearty breakfast of biscuits and gravy washed down with a bottomless cup of coffee and the sports section of the Philadelphia Enquirer was the perfect way to start a day of wandering that would soon follow. We made the hike all the way up Market St. to City Hall, a hulk of massive stone that takes up a city block and is capped with a bronze statue of William Penn that stands almost 40 feet. Tours of the building that will take you to an observation deck just below the statue are offered but weren’t available on the day we were there. We marveled at the architecture and sculptures nonetheless before making our way north up Broad Street briefly and then headed south on the subway back to South Philly. We wandered through the neighborhood, coming across some cool mosaics, a sort of community art project, and ending up over at the Italian Market on 9th St. By this time, it was getting to be lunch time and as luck would have it, we just happen to stumble up to Geno’s Steaks, a flamboyantly ostentatious sandwich stand right at the corner of 9th and Pasyunk Ave. It’s so bright and eye-catching that we didn’t even notice its rival, Pat’s King of Steaks, which sat directly across the street. There’s no indoor seating to either of these establishments, so don’t bother looking for a door, wondering “How the hell do you get in here?” like we did, just be ready with your order when it’s your turn at the window.
We bellied up to an outside counter with our food and started to notice that the joint was adorned with patriotic fervor in a militant/right-wing sort of way, then it hit me: This was the place that only a year prior, made national headlines by placing a sign in the front window that read: “This is America, When Ordering Please Speak English”. Now, the purpose of this blog is not meant to be politically controversial but I was a little put off by this. No one in Italy or Germany has ever hassled me for not being able to speak the native tongue, although I did manage to struggle my way through with the guide of a phrase book. But seriously, these guys should get over themselves because the United States doesn’t have an official language. What if I decided to speak in a cockney English accent using slang words of the UK? Or better yet, what if I was a Native American and decided to speak in the tongue that was spoken here over 400 years ago? Of course I ate the sandwich. 1) I was hungry. 2) I had already paid for it. So there was no use in complaining about it now.
After lunch, we sauntered up 9th taking in all the sights, sounds and smells the market had to offer, stopping at a coffee shop for a couple of cokes and to use the bathroom (keep in mind that there’s not much in the way of public rest rooms, that I found, unless you’re in a restaurant). We then made our way to Pine St. which is also known as Antique Row, did a little window shopping while heading west before heading north again somewhere around 19th St. to Rittenhouse Square, where we hung out on a park bench, relaxed our dogs and did a little people watching. Continuing on north, we wound up at the Free Library of Philadelphia where we used the bathroom and took stock of our day. By this time it was around 2:30 in the afternoon. We had been out since around 8am so we decided to head back to the hotel and recharge our batteries before heading back out that evening. We made our way back via Philly’s Chinatown on Race Street with a detour through the Reading Terminal Market, an indoor farmer’s market that’s been around since the 1800’s and still offers up fresh veggies, meat and fish.
After our respite we hit the streets again heading back over to 9th Street for a fine Italian dinner before bar hopping along South St. and the Society Hill neighborhood, coming to rest in a bar around 2nd and Pine to catch one of the baseball play-off games. I can’t write too much about this time frame because let’s face it, things got a little hazy after dinner. What I do remember is that we wound up back over by the hotel sometime shortly after midnight when we decided that we wanted a taco. Here in Chicago you can find a taqueria within a half block walk of almost every el station in the city. We were hard pressed here in Philly. We hailed a cab and asked the driver if he knew where we could get some tacos. Less than five minutes later we were standing in line at Pat’s King of Steaks for our fourth Cheese Steak in two days. The three previous sandwiches all had provolone cheese on them, but we met this cool cat who comes across from Jersey with his buddies for the sole purpose of coming to Pat’s and told us the correct way to order: “Extra wiz, with” which translates to a steak sandwich with cheese wiz and onions.
After satisfying our drunken appetites, we climbed back into another cab for the quick ride back to our hotel. We weren’t even a block into our trip when Mark got into an argument with the cabbie. The Bears were playing the Eagles the following Sunday and both Mark and the driver were adamant as to who was the better team, thus taking the gridiron contest.
MARK: “Are crazy?! We suck this year! You guys are definitely going to win.
CABBIE: You kiddin’ me?! Not the way we been playin’. Fugget-abaht-it. My money’s on the Bears.” I just sat there with a stupid look on my face and laughing like a moron, ready for sleep. But on it went until the end of our ride when the decision to agree to disagree was sealed with a laugh and a hearty handshake.
We rousted ourselves the next morning, packed our bags and left them with the front desk while we hit the streets one last time. Our flight wasn’t until the late afternoon or so, giving us enough time to do a little record shopping, which is exactly what we did. Mark is a huge audiophile and while the purpose of this trip was more about taking photos rather than buying records, it certainly was a plus for Mark. A couple of the places we browsed through we had come across on our meanderings the day before and made a note of where they were. I even found a few cool selections to add to my ever-growing collection: The Who, a Pete Townshend solo effort, Art Blakey, Stan Getz. ‘Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds’ was an excellent find. But the diamond in the rough was the Jim Nabors album… and it only cost me $0.93. I remember my grandmother telling me years ago “what beautiful voice he has” when I found out that he recorded. I bought it purely for the annoyance factor. It has this rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Waters’, a song that Amy absolutely loathes. Don’t get me wrong. I love my wife, but I also like to ruffle her feathers every so often. Her retribution is swift and fierce, but it keeps things interesting.
Happy with our purchases (the only souvenirs we’d leave Philly with) we headed back to the hotel to collect our baggage and with in a few hours we were on our way back to Chicago. Amy met us at Baggage Claim when we arrived O’Hare and the three of us rode the train back to Irving Park Rd. We bade Mark a fond farewell as he and I hailed cabs heading in separate directions. On the way home, I regaled Amy with stories of our adventure and showed her my purchases. She cringed at the Jim Nabors album. In the end she just shook her head, resigned to the fact that she was going to marry a crackpot. Then the subject changed to travel plans of our own... Our trip to Ireland was two weeks away.