Sunday, July 26, 2009

Today began in Philadelphia and took us only as far as Allentown (about 70 miles north). Morning found us awakening earlier than Jenny and Vienna prefer, owing to my stress about the need to pick up our tickets for the first tour of Independence Hall. As usual we arrived long before it was necessary, much to the consternation of my fellow travelers. Still, I enjoyed the sight of us standing somewhat near the beginning of a long queue of folks who also waited for tickets. What I wish I'd considered before rushing us out the door was the benefit of using the Will-Call system; there's virtually no line for those.

Soon we entered the fabled buildings, to us filled with images mostly from a favorite movie of ours, 1776. Jenny loves to learn new things, and she was fascinated by the focus of today's lecture, mostly concerning stories about Benjamin Franklin's contributions to America's liberty. Vienna and I would probably have preferred a more Adams-centric talk but we enjoyed the remarks all the same, especially learning more about how Franklin, a transplanted Bostoner, rose from his humble background to become an inventor, printer, legislator, diplomat, and sage, living a long and esteemed life of service to his country.

We were threatened with thrashing thunderstorms only to be cheered upon our exit to see that the sun had begun to light the buildings nicely. Thereafter we saw the Liberty Bell, which always seems smaller than you'd imagine, and checked out the house where Thomas Jefferson wrote the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. Once again, given our use of 1776 to filter our understanding of those heady days of our nation's founding, I couldn't see that house without imagining Ken Howard breaking his writer's block through a remedy that seems ill-fit for a G-rated version of American history (OK, it wasn't so bad; he just missed his wife and regained his vibrancy once she visited him). I then tried to imagine the dense colonial scene of wandering livestock and trades-people that formed the backdrop for Franklin and Adams's march back into town, their amorous inspiration to Jefferson to take up the quill well in hand. But the traffic horns pierced my time travel reveries all too easily.

Reading Terminal Market, with its cacophony of sites and smells and stalls that sell all sorts of needful things like flowers and books and fish and vegetables, and even cheesesteaks, lay ahead. Jenny and I split a cheesesteak at Carmen's while Vienna scored some sushi. We ambled our separate ways before rejoining to saunter about some more together. Jenny wrapped up her meal with a crepe dripping with chocolate sauce and powdered sugar (she helpfully offered her advice to the chef that he'd accidentally forgotten to add sufficient chocolate) as Vienna and I looked on with amazement, neither having room for anything more.

The early afternoon saw us returning to the Independence Hall visitor's center for a couple of films. We ducked out quickly from the "Choosing Sides" video with its shaking camera zooms and 90210-quality actors shouting, "Hey, teens, with your cell phones and your boom boxes, America's independence was phat too, yo! Rly!" I leaned over to Vienna, whispering, "I hate this," and was happy to learn that she was equally past being amused. The John Huston-directed "Independence," something about the ghosts of the Founding Fathers (and one Founding Mother for good measure: Abigail Adams, of course) was only slightly less silly. It seems that Ken Howard, the guy I grew up watching as The White Shadow, made somewhat of a career playing Thomas Jefferson; he showed up in this version too.

It seemed too early to leave Philadelphia, and the weather, which had promised to be dreary, was utterly delightful: a bit warm but not too hot, a bit humid but still possessing a breeze. I decided I had to see the "Rocky Steps" of the Museum of Art. I've always been a fan of Rocky, something that my family manages to tolerate. It's pretty much a guarantee that if the original movie appears on TV and if I have a couple of hours to burn I'm going watch one more time, just to see if the southpaw boxer from Philly, just another bum from da neighborhood, has enough heart to go the distance. So of course I had to run up the steps like he did (though not after running through the streets of South Philly like he did; tourists tend to forget that part when they're pumping their fists in triumph at the top of the 72-step climb). Oh, and if you're thinking about doing the same thing, don't be a sucker and pay the ten dollar-parking in the middle of the nearby Eakins Oval; plenty of metered parking is available on the adjacent side streets, often with extra time for people who overestimate how long it'll take them to run up the steps, snap a photo of the Rocky statue, skip the museum art, and head back along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Steps conquered, picture taken, we headed north from the city, avoiding the traffic-jammed interstate and sticking to surface roads and intercity arteries. And how glad I am that we made that call, for Jenny found a sign that I didn't even know I was seeking. As with so many who yearn for Him but find Him not, I could hardly believe my eyes when I first gazed upon His stern yet kind face. Yes, I saw Car Guy Christ. It's a little hard to explain, and I really think you should read my blog post on the subject. Suffice to say, finding a Car Guy Messiah pretty well made my trip, and we have two weeks to go! Cruising north, the much-threatened rain began finally to fall, and we wavered in our excitement to visit a classic drive-in theater. Yet bursts of sunshine seemed always to bolster our plans. So we set our course, first to Orefield's Shankweiler's Drive-in Theatre, the world's oldest continually running drive-in theatre, and then toward Becky's Drive-In nearby in Berlinsville. We chose the latter option because of its showing of Harry Potter and the Machine that Makes Gobs of Money, or whatever this one is called.

In our search for a nice nearby motel we somehow managed to drive a lengthy box through pleasant hill towns and sun dappled farmlands that reside in a World Without Lodging. It really was a marvelous piece of magic that took a couple of hours before we returned pretty much where we started, settling for a Red Roof Inn near an airport. Our attitudes improved when we enjoyed a tasty meal at the Whitehall Family Diner. Thereafter, we returned to Becky's. Fireflies glowed in the nearby trees and we set our car on the friendly lawn. Kids tossed a frisbee on the grass in front of the screen as we leaned the seats back for the movie. Even with an hour of light drizzle and occasional rain, the show was terrific. A little after midnight, we said goodbye to our first full day on the road.

All text copyright Andrew Wood.
Photos copyright Andrew and Jenny Wood.