Pennsylvania Stories, 2008

While cleaning the house over the long weekend, I found jounral writing that recounted five days in March, 2008 when I went on a road trip through Pennsylvania with my brother and his family. These stories are now over a decade old but I had never put words and photos together before. Until now. This was originally written in 2008 and has not been edited or modified except for length.

Rocky is to blame.  He’s the one who started it.   It was a Saturday in October I watched Rocky Balboa and fell in love with the story of the underdog boxer all over again.

Philadelphia.  The City of Brotherly Love.  Home of Rocky Balboa, the famed Philly Cheesesteak and the Broad Street Bullies.  I admit I had to look on a map because I wasn’t quite sure where it was.  I had this idea that it was near Pittsburgh.  I discovered that it was right across the Delaware River from New Jersey, an hour and a half south of New York and just north of Baltimore and Washington, D.C.  A city of 1.4 million people, Philadelphia is the most populous city in Pennsylvania and the sixth most populous in the USA.  It was the birthplace of the Declaration of Independence and the Liberty Bell.  It had gained a rather gritty reputation in the recent past due to a high crime rate and drugs.  Since the 70’s, Philly has undergone major clean-ups as well as vast gentrification of its heritage sites and has grown into a global city, a hot-spot for tourists.  And, according to Google, only a 6 ½ hour drive away from Kingston. 

What?  That’s closer than Quebec City.  Closer than the Maritimes.  Closer than almost everything else in Canada!  I felt a road trip coming on. 

I did some research.  My brother, his wife and their two kids (my 12-year-old niece Heather and my 13-year-old nephew Mark) had March Break at the same time I did.  There was a hostel in Philly for only $23 a night for adults and $8 for kids and the Flyers just happened to be playing the Leafs that Wednesday (March 12th).  I think this holiday could work.  Of course, Barbra and Eric would have to take holidays.  And they’d have to do most of the driving.  I put it forth to Eric with the main attraction being the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  Rather, the 72 steps leading up to it, the steps made famous by a struggling Philadelphian boxing-great wannabe.  After vaguely broaching the subject, I heard nothing decisive back so I left the ball in their court.

It was the Sunday of our grandfather’s 85th birthday that Barbra and Eric said they were in.

Now we just had to wait five months.

Strangely, the five months flew by for me and after one last whopping snowstorm in a winter of whopping snowstorms, March Break was upon us. 

I was headed to their place on the Sunday evening.  We would leave at 12:00 on Monday after picking Eric up from work.  We had booked the hostel in Philly for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night, Thursday night we had the Marriott booked in Gettysburg and home again on Friday. 

Monday, March 10th

We arrived in Philly at around 8:30 pm.  It was quite dark and the I-76 far busier than our liking with vague directions to our hostel, located in Fairmount Park, a large wild green space just outside the main part of the city.  All of us were tired and the drivers, Barbra and Eric, very stressed.  We got disoriented and off the directions but after a few minutes, we found Chamounix Mansion, our accommodation for the next three nights.

Chamounix (pron. Sham-a-nee) Mansion is a renovated heritage building holding 80 beds.  It was a clean, friendly hostel in a beautiful location fifteen minutes by car from the main part of the city and a five-minute drive from a major grocery store.  There were two floors of rooms, plus a guest house across the driveway for, I’m assuming, groups.  The women’s bathroom, on the 2nd floor, had two showers, two toilets, three sinks and was perfectly clean.  The men’s, on the 3rd, was the same.  In the basement, the kitchen was clean and quite large with three fridges, plenty of cupboard space, toasters, a microwave, two coffee makers, a stove and four sinks.  There was an eating room with a long table and a rec room with a füssball table, a piano, couches and tonnes of books.  The common rooms were spacious with heritage furniture and included chess and checkers and a huge wide-screen TV.  Because there were two University groups staying at the hostel at the same time as us, these common rooms were often closed for meetings.  It seemed we were the only tourists at the hostel that were not associated with one of the universities. 

Chamounix Mansion

We had a seven-bunk room all to ourselves for three nights at no extra charge for the two extra beds.  We were on the third floor, along with three other rooms.  The beds were narrow and the mattresses thin, as per usual in a hostel.  Barbra and Eric ended up putting the mattresses on the floor after the first night because it was more comfortable.  Mark and Heather both picked a top bunk.  My cot was in the corner. 

Over our three days there, Heather commented on how friendly everyone was.  I wanted to plant the idea of hostelling in Heather’s head because I have a feeling she’ll be doing a lot of traveling in her life.  I have met many wonderful people at hostels and it is an ideal way to travel, especially if one is alone or trying to be as frugal as possible, and I’m glad that my idea of staying at one was well-received.  If some of our group didn’t like the experience, they were gracious enough not to mention anything, other than the beds not being overly comfortable. 

After getting groceries upon our arrival in the city, getting lost once again, and having a bite to eat in the basement common room, we settled into our room for the night. Eric and Barb had both brought their laptops and were tying up some loose ends at home.  Mark and Heather were lying atop their bunks and I was reading aloud to them out of the tourist guides.  I was the first to call it a night at around 11:30 pm.  The rest were soon to follow.

Tuesday, March 11th

Our itinerary for today was to see the historical part of the city – Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell and anything else that might be in the area.  Our original idea had been to take public transportation to save on gas and stress.  However, upon arrival, we discovered that public transportation wasn’t really an option as the bus stop was quite a walk away.  I became navigator, with Barbra behind the wheel and Eric white-knuckled in the back with Mark and Heather, and we headed into the city.  We saw the skyline for the first time (remember, we hadn’t been able to get oriented at night) and it was exciting to see the signs overhead tell us that we were headed for Central Philadelphia. 

The lady at the hostel had given us a tip before we’d left: “Don’t go over the Benjamin Franklin Bridge or you’ll be going to New Jersey.”   It was an appropriate tip because after we figured we had missed our exit off the 676, we did indeed find ourselves very close to one of the largest feats of urban engineering I have ever seen – the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.  There was New Jersey, just across the massive Delaware River. Wow.  New Jersey.  It’s exciting somehow that I’ve come so close to yet another state.  As if I were looking at France from across the English Channel.  Closely scrutinizing the map, we found our way back to 3rd Street and Market St. and to the parking lot that had been recommended to us. 

It was a beautiful day.  We had traded in our winter boots, heavy coats and mitts for sweatshirts, jean jackets and runners.  The forecast had said 4°C but it felt more like 10°C. Perhaps we simply hadn’t acclimatized yet.  The scent of grass energized all of us (except for Mark, who, like most teenage boys, has a steadfast rule against happiness before noon.)  We found our first stop, Independence Hall and were told we needed to get tickets for the tour.  They were free but they were needed for crowd control.  We headed to the large Visitor Centre a block away and got tickets for the 11:20 am tour.  At this point, I was desperate for a coffee so we headed to a Starbucks and then headed back for the tour. 

Our bags were checked at every tourist spot we went over the next two days in Philly, except for at the hockey game.  (I guess the employees at the arena have no problem with people throwing things on the ice.  It is Philly, after all.) 

Independence Hall was originally constructed as the Pennsylvania State House in 1732 – 1756.  The name changed, as well as American history, in 1787 due to the enormous events that occurred here. 

Our tour guide was a short, academic Park Ranger (the title used for anyone who works for any of the national sites, whether they be natural sites or historical), who paced when he spoke and had the air of a tenured professor.  He never fumbled his words or ideas and the content of his tour was, I imagine, slightly above the average tour.  But it was rhythmic and easy to follow.  He spoke of the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment and hinted at various other political situations in America and abroad that affected the cultural and social environment that surrounded the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence.  He gave a short but riveting introduction to the Fathers of Independence – George Washington, the only man in the House of Representatives that had been in the army; Thomas Jefferson, a Virginian Prince; Benjamin Franklin, the son of a candle maker who learned how to read and understand the philosophies of the Europeans; and John Adams, a farmer’s son who was incredibly smart and is often forgotten about when people speak of the birth of Independence. 

The tour of the Hall took us first to the Pennsylvania Courtroom and then to the Assembly Room, where George Washington was appointed Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, a position still held by the President of the United States.  It was in this room that the Declaration of Independence was signed, where the Constitution was adopted and where the Assembly was told of Cornwallis’ defeat, marking the end of the Revolution.  Also, John Adams and Abraham Lincoln were laid in state here.  The room is set up exactly as it was when it was used but the only original piece of furniture in the building is the Rising Sun chair that sits at the head of the Assembly, then occupied by Thomas Jefferson.  After the Constitution was adopted, Benjamin Franklin said about the sun carving on the chair, “I have happiness to know that it is a rising and not a setting sun.”

Assembly Room

Forty-five minutes later, we were back out into the sunshine and next door to Congress Hall.  This was where Congress met from 1790 – 1800, the ten years that Philadelphia was the capital of the United States, while the White House, a 2 ½ hour drive south, was being built.  We were just in time for another free tour.  Our tour guide here was an older gentleman, a volunteer who gave us a brief overview of the purpose of the House of Representatives (where John Adams was inaugurated as President in 1797) and the Senate upstairs. 

The most interesting part for me was listening to how the revolutionary events that I learned about last summer on my trip to Boston affected the ideologies of the American politicians of the time.  Paul Revere’s midnight ride and the attack of the British on Concord and Lexington, Massachusetts lead to the creation of the Declaration of Independence, a document that put into word the ideals of the Enlightenment that had been churning in Europe for the past century.  It was a document whose purpose was to supplant the arbitrary authoritarianism of the monarchs and to give power to the common people.  It was eloquently written and signed by Thomas Jefferson and signed by 55 others.  I had never really had the need to think about the importance of the Declaration of Independence not just for the United States but for the rest of the world.  The idea of independent freedom of speech, religion, and expression is still sparking revolutions all over the world. 

The historical part of Philadelphia is near the Delaware River, in the old city.  There are many interesting sights in this area of the city.  There is Christ Church Burial Ground, where Benjamin Franklin is buried; the Betsy Ross House, where the legendary maker of the first American flag lived; Declaration House, where Jefferson first drafted the Declaration to name just a few.  But our next stop was across the street to the Liberty Bell.

Again, our bags were checked and we entered into a long, narrow building filled with history of the bell, a piece of it that we could touch, and artefacts and pictures of Liberty Bell memorabilia.  It was made in England in 1751, brought to Philadelphia, where it cracked and was in use until 1846.  The famous crack in the bell formed slowly and was repaired and reinforced several times.  When it rang, it was to “proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” and it called people to the Pennsylvania State House to hear the first reading of the Declaration of Independence.   

We were also lucky enough to watch a re-enlistment ceremony for a woman in the navy.  There were only eight servicemen and women in total there, but the crowd of tourists grew.  At the end of her oaths and the presentation of her certificate, we all gave her a heartfelt round of applause. 

We waited a few more minutes for the swarms of school children to subside and then took a leisurely stroll around the cordoned-off bell.  Maybe it’s because Canadian history is not as tumultuous or revolutionary, maybe it’s because I live in Ottawa and familiarity breeds complacency, but every time I come to an American city and learn about its history, I’m always fascinated by the intricacies of the situations.  There is so much history in America.  And there is so much to learn about and I wonder how different history classes in American schools are as compared to history classes in Canadian schools.  I don’t remember learning anything about how Ottawa became the capital or what Ottawa was before the capital.  Even now, as an elementary teacher, the social studies that we teach our children are so vague (some of the topics include learning about the community, various traditions and celebrations, pioneers, medieval times, and a general overview of indigenous peoples) it’s no wonder our children don’t have a real sense of who we are as Canadians. 

It was 1:30 and our stomachs were starting to rumble.  I had read about Reading Terminal Market, an indoor farmer’s market that brought to mind images of an indoor Byward Market.  According to the map, it looked to be at about 12th St. and Market.  We were at 6th and Market so we decided to walk down that way, taking pictures along the way of nothing in particular.  We made it to a major train station and I was under the impression that the Market was nearby.  We found an underground mall that reminded Eric and Barbra of Montreal.  Figuring that this must be the market, though in the end it wasn’t, we found some lunch at the typical mall food court and then wandered in search of Flyers gear.

We found a sports store and I got my orange Danny Briere shirt for $15.  Mark got the same one, Barbra got a black Briere shirt, Heather a Flyers sweater and Eric found a Flyers cap.  We were all set for the big game the next night.  I figured getting a Briere shirt would be relatively acceptable in Ottawa since he’s from Gatineau, a local hero.

We hiked back to the van.  We had one last thing to do this day.  The one thing that had prompted this whole trip.  The one thing that we absolutely could not forego on our journey here.  To run the Rocky Steps.

It was easy enough to drive to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  East, straight down Arch Street until we got to the Benjamin Franklin Parkway (not Bridge).  The Parkway is a beautiful, yet massive, roadway with ten lanes that terminates at the Museum of Art.  As soon as we turned onto the Parkway, there it was.  Still a quarter of a mile ahead of us but we could still see it, slightly blurred behind the hazy air.  The parkway was bordered by the flags of the world; the canopy of trees sprinkled with new buds.  There was the Washington Monument.  The grand Museum behind it.  The steps. 

As we parked the van, the anticipation grew.  There was a sense of something exciting about to happen, something momentous.  We were about to share a piece of history, become a part of this history.  There was even a little apprehension in the air. 

Anticipation

We made our way over the grass and around the Washington Monument (the monument that stands on the grass in front of the museum, the one that Rocky looks out over on the cold, dark morning he makes it to the top). The sun was just starting its descent, peeking through the clouds to spread its rays over us.  My eyes kept being drawn away from the superb craftsmanship of the sculpture and pulled towards the steps.  The Rocky statue, commissioned by Sylvester Stallone for Rocky III, sits to the right of the Museum, just off the sidewalk.  There was a crowd gathered around it – a large crowd.  And for the first time I considered the possibility that we may not be the only ones here today to run these steps.  Is this something that everyone wants to do?  Is it possible that our fears of being labelled tourists are unnecessary? 

I follow this group of people with my eyes while Eric takes photos of the monument.  They walk to the foot of the steps.  They pause.  They push one foot back, as we all do when starting a race.  And then they run.  And I watch them run up every step, as a group, getting smaller and smaller in the distance.  And when they reach the top, they turn towards us, towards the Philly skyline, throw their hands up in the air and jump and cheer.  And in my head, the music plays, “Gonna fly no-o-o-w!”  And the excitement grows. 

We continue across the field, to the crosswalk on the right of the Museum that will bring us to the Rocky statue.  We stop at the foot of it for a moment.  This statue stood atop the steps for the filming of Rocky III but was then moved to outside the Spectrum to join other bronze sculptures of athletic greats as this statue was not considered “art” but a movie prop.  The statue was replaced by bronze converse footsteps atop the steps.  The statue was periodically returned to the steps for the filming of Philadelphia, Mannequin, and the later Rocky movies.  In 2006, it was moved to its current location.  It was unveiled along with the first full-length trailer of Rocky Balboa and a free showing of the first Rocky movie. 

Rocky!

At the foot of these steps, they look quite daunting.  The Museum is set back from the steps so that from the sidewalk, when we look up, we can only see the top half, the giant flags that spell FRIDA KAHLO that wave from the majestic Grecian columns.  The steps were not constructed to be a part of the Museum but a backdrop for the Parkway.  The steps are short and deep, the dimensions of a truly grand staircase, lending a climber the feeling of floating up them.  There are five groups of thirteen steps with one group of seven at the top, each separated by a landing, a slight respite to regain your stamina before continuing up.  Barbra offers to go first so she can film us from the top.  I film her going up.  At one point, near the top, she disappears and then appears again even farther in the distance, climbing even more steps.  Finally at the top, she turns, cheering and jumping, throwing her fists in the air.  I later learn that there is a verb for this action of celebration – to rocky.

We’re here!  This is it!  This is what brought us to this city, 650 km away.  We stand together.  Look over at each other. “Ready?”

“Ready.”  And we run.  Two steps at a time.  And up and up and up.  There are two things running through my head as I make my way towards the top.  The first is “I hope I don’t trip.”  The second is “I’m running up the steps.  I can’t believe I’m running up the steps!” And we make it to the top and we all jump and cheer and laugh and then after a moment, we stand and look out at the city and ponder.  We did it.  We ran up the steps and rockied at the top.

And others follow us.  Perhaps they are not tourists but Philadelphians.  They are ordinary people, like us, like Rocky, that want to be a part of the Rocky story.  Why?  Why do these steps hold such significance for people?  Why, after thirty years, do we still feel the need to accomplish this simple feat?

Because it’s Rocky.  Because he has quietly slipped beyond the realm of fictional character and has somehow grown substance enough to be a very real hero in the hearts and minds of millions around the world, not just Philadelphians.  And I, for one, am comforted by being a part of his history.  He is a good person, he looks out for those around him, and he still follows (and fights with) his heart.  And we want him to win.  Because if he can, then, by extension, maybe we can.  If he can run the steps and complete his transformation into the man he wants to be, then what’s stopping us?  The number of people that come here every day to run these steps is proof that the tale of one man willing to go the distance resonates with everyone who has ever had to prove themselves, who has ever had to fight for what they wanted, who has ever defied the naysayers.  These steps are accessible.  They are something that we, the general public, can touch, unlike Star Wars or the Matrix.  We, for thirty short seconds, can be Rocky.

The wind was picking up. The sun finally setting.  It was time to leave the bustle of the city and head back to home turf.  Bed was late again but much more comfortable this night, after walking in the fresh air and fulfilling a dream come true.

Wednesday, March 12th

Another early morning.  Barbra and I were going for a run this cool but fresh morning.  We headed out around 8 am and were told of a plateau about a mile away from which we would be able to see the Philly skyline.  The hostel is located, as I mentioned before, in a vast natural park just across the Schuylkill River (pron. Skoo–kull) from the downtown part of the city.  There are well-used roads that travel through the park with paths alongside most of them for runners, walkers and horse-back riders.  Going for an early morning run through the trees and grass was incredibly refreshing and I hoped, would give me strength to come back to the winter wonderland of home with renewed patience.  We reached the plateau at the end of our twenty minute jog and enjoyed the exhilaration of running in a new place to see such a beautiful sight.  And, allow me to be a big geek, for our last burst of energy, we did, in fact, sing the Rocky theme to keep us going.  We walked back to the hostel and were lucky enough to see some deer that were crossing the road ahead of us. 

After showering and eating breakfast, we packed up for a day of high art, Philly cheesesteaks and a much-anticipated Flyers game against the Leafs. 

The Museum of Art was our first step.  No, not to run the steps again.  Well, yes and no.  We were going to run up the steps again, we had to, you can’t go to the Museum of Art and not run up the steps.  But that was not our purpose.  Today, we were actually going in to the Museum. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a world-class museum and art gallery.  It holds some of the most famous works of the masters – Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, Monet’s Japanese Footbridge at the Water Lily Pond , Jackson Pollack’s No. 2, Salvador Dali’s Soft Construction with Boiled Beans and Charlemont’s The Moorish Chief to name but a few.  It has a vast collection of medieval European armour, which Mark found fascinating, as well as a Hindu temple, a Japanese tea garden and a cloister, all inside on the second floor in the North Wing.  Eric and I had a heyday taking photos of the art that we had read about and studied.  Barbra, Mark and Heather seemed enthralled by the religious and architectural pieces of Asia, the armour, the Buddhas and the temples. 

When we’d had our fill of high culture, we decided to get acquainted with the locals in South Philly and grab some cheesesteaks for lunch in the Italian Market.  

On our way out, Barbra suddenly turned to me and queried, “This might be a stupid question but you did bring the tickets for the game, right?”

Silence.  “No.  No, I didn’t.”  I couldn’t believe I had forgotten the tickets to the game at the hostel!  It had never even crossed my mind.  Not during the run, not while putting on my bright orange Flyers T-shirt, not when I saw Heather’s black and orange sweatshirt, not when commenting on how fun the game was going to be, never, nada, no tickets.

 The museum is in the east end of the city, along the river, so it wouldn’t have taken that long to go back and get them.  Unfortunately, the hostel is closed to everyone from 11:00 until 4:30 and it was only around 2 pm. It was definitely an inconvenience but there was nothing we could change about the situation.  Except take our frustrations out on a Philly Cheesesteak.

Barbra drove and I navigated us through the downtown core of Philadelphia, a crowded and loud experience complete with honking horns and wayward pedestrians.  But there must have been a sign somewhere that said “Downtown ends here” because all of a sudden, everything changed.  The buildings were smaller, more residential.  There were fewer people on the sidewalks and fewer cars on the road.  Those vehicles that were around were a little older, a little rustier.  The corner shops had chipped paint and neon signs hanging from them.  Barb smoothly parallel parked the van in a very small space and we set out in search of Pat’s, King of Steaks or Geno’s, two of the most famous places to get cheesesteaks in the city, neither of which we knew the exact location, other than they were somewhere in the Italian Market.

You might remember the Italian Market from the Rocky movies; he ran through it several times.  It is a typical outdoor market, complete with fresh fish stands, skinned hocks of meat hanging in the butchers’ windows, garbage drums on fire for warmth and the vibrant colours of fruit and awnings.  It runs down 9th St. from Christian St. south to where Passyunk Ave. crosses 9th.  Because it is a fresh food market, it closes down early so by the time we got there, it was mostly empty wooden stalls.  The fires in the empty drums had burned to smoke and ashes but our search for the best cheesesteak in town continued.  Finally, not knowing where we were or where we were going, I asked a fellow where we could find a good cheesesteak.

“Two blocks down, on the left.”

“What’s it called?”  I asked.

“Geno’s.”

If we had just kept walking there was no way that we could have missed it.  Bright orange neon flames and GENO’S STEAKS in uppercase neon letters underneath them.  And on top of the building, a huge Philly cheesesteak sandwich.  We could only have take-out and they had no knives or plates, just wax paper wrapped sandwiches.  The tables were the stationary food court tables but outside on the sidewalk.  And bright orange, of course.  It was while sitting eating our sandwiches that we discovered Pat’s, King of Steaks directly across the street. If you believe the guidebook, Pat’s was where the cheesesteak originated.  “Pat” was on the cover of our guidebook so that had been our original idea. However, nobody regretted Geno’s.  The sandwiches were perfect in their simplicity; they weren’t drippy, greasy, or over-stuffed.  They were made with real rib-eye steak, thinly sliced, topped with chopped onions fried but not mushy, and your choice of cheese – American (I’m assuming it was like a mild cheddar), provolone or cheese whiz – served on half an Italian roll.  Heaven, I tell you.  Absolute heaven.  Eric even had two. 

Completely satisfied with our Philly Cheesesteak experience we headed back through the market.  We stopped for a brief coffee and hot chocolate at a café and then back to the van for our jaunt back to the hostel for the Flyers tickets.

We got to the Wachovia Center, at the south end of Broad Street, next door to the Spectrum, at around 6:30 and the game started at 7:00.  The sun was just setting and the world had that warm orange, spring evening feel to it.  We were decked out in our orange and black just like every other person there.  Well, almost everyone.  If you can imagine, there were indeed some Leafs jerseys poking around.  The Flyers jerseys had a huge variety of names that graced the backs – Briere, Richards, Knuble, Biron, Forsberg, Brind’Amour, Nittymaki, Brashear, Carter, and the list goes on, players past and present.  And real jerseys.  We were part of the few that had only humble T-shirts or caps. 

Wachovia Center, formally the Spectrum

Philadelphia is a sports city.  It is one of the few American cities that boasts a team in every major league sport – the Flyers, the 76ers, The Phillies and the Eagles.  And every one of those teams is loved by their devoted fans and does well in attendance, if not in the standings.  Philly fans are famous for their boorishness but as Fodor’s city guide states, it is “merely a front for fragile hearts continually betrayed over the years by their beloved yet faltering teams.”  I had bought the tickets for this game back in November.  I was looking forward to experiencing the atmosphere of a Philadelphia team.  I was also looking forward to watching the Leafs lose.  We were anticipating an exciting night as the Leafs had come back from a 3-0 deficit in the third to win 4-3 in overtime the night before in Toronto. 

It was slightly jarring to my Senators eyes to walk through our section gate and, instead of seeing the arena bathed in red, be faced with the harsh glare of orange.  And our seats were high, almost at the top (much to Mark’s chagrin), but we could still see everything. 

The game itself was nothing spectacular.  The fans, on the other hand, made the experience something to remember forever.  I noticed that there was an announcement at the beginning of the game that warned that aggressive behaviour would not be tolerated and should you be asked to leave the premises, your seasons tickets would be revoked.  Things that make you go hmmmm….

Behind us, to our left, there was a man with an orange mohawk and a Flyer logo tattooed onto his skull.  His jersey said “Super Fan” across the shoulders.  Beside me there were two fellows about my age.  The one right beside me was the more sedate of the two.  The other sat the entire game, quite literally, on the edge of his seat, often yelling out to the ice far below, “SKATE!!  HUSTLE!!!”  After yet another penalty against the Flyers, he turns to his friend and shouts, “These refs suck!  They must be Canadian!”  Then he turns back to the game and shouts down at the ice, “HOSERS!”  I laugh and elbow the guy next to me.  “Hey!  Not all Canadians are bad. I’m a Canadian!” 

Dead silence from the both of them as they stare at me.  I could see there were several things going through their minds.   One being, “What is a Canadian doing here?”  Another being, “How do we get out of this one?”  The loudmouth quietly says to me, “Oh.  I love Canada.  Canadians are like nice Americans.” Pause.  “But, your team sucks.” 

Woah!” I exclaim in horror.  “The Leafs are not my team!”  (Mind you, I certainly wasn’t going to tell them that the Flyers weren’t exactly my team either.)  They got a kick out of my reaction, it eased their minds and hearts, we all laughed and they continued watching the game in the same manner as they had been. 

The stories abound.  Did you know that after the name of an opposing player is announced, the crowd en masse shouts “Sucks!”  Or that the crowd is faster to their feet when there is a possibility of a fight than when the Flyers score.   Some other memorable sound bites we took away from the evening were after the ref announced that #48 Danny Briere would get two-minutes for cross-checking, one man behind us yelled down, “Your mama’s a cross-check!”  Still not sure what it means, but it was funny at the time.  Or when one man shouted out, “Come on!  Start earning that $7 million!”  The whole experience of watching a Flyers’ game in Philadelphia was everything I’d hoped it would be.

Months later, back in Ottawa, watching the Flyers play the Capitals in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, I had a whole new appreciation for what players have to survive when they play in Philly.  As Scotty Gomez said, “I thought I’d heard it all.  Until I got a penalty in Philadelphia.”

We lived to tell the tale.

We made it back to the hostel with none of the traffic problems that plague Ottawa fans, other than a slight delay due to construction. We had a bite to eat, chatted with some of the other hostellers and called it a night.

Thursday, March 13th

Thursday was an early morning.  Up and out and on the road by 8:30.  We had spent two full days in Philly and I was sad to say goodbye.  It’s a city I would enjoy living in for a while.  It doesn’t have the class of Boston or the glamour of New York but it’s not pretentious either.  It’s relaxed and real.  But there were other places waiting for us on our short holiday.

Next destination: York, Pennsylvania, two hours east of Philly.  What’s in York, you ask?  The Harley Davidson factory.  The biggest Harley Davidson factory in the US; more than half of all employees work here.          

The Harley Davidson Factory

We arrived at around 10:45 am, just in time for the 11:00 tour.  As many of our other tours, it was free.  Our tour guide was a small lady with a charming Pennsylvania accent, dressed in jeans and a blue Harley Davidson button-down factory shirt.  After a ten-minute video on the history of Harley Davidson, we were each given safety glasses to wear and a radio set to put in our ear.  The factory of course was loud but with the radio set, we could hear the tour with no problems.  It was fascinating to see how the parts are made, which parts are mechanically made and which are still made by good old-fashioned man power.  The level of craftsmanship that is needed to create these bikes is unbelievable.  At first glance it looks like an ordinary factory.  But throughout the tour, we were made quite aware of the time and dedication that is put into each and every one of their bikes.  They paint each one separately, instead of painting everything of one colour at the same time.  This means that every Harley out there was pain-stakingly created as an individual piece of machinery and art.  In fact, the specs sheet that is attached to each bike is nicknamed “the birth certificate.”  Everything is inspected and nothing gets out of the factory with a chip or uneven paint.  Our tour guide said that so many people want to work at the factory that there are two hundred people ahead of you for a job at the factory.  It makes the price of them understandable. 

Our tour was ten minutes shorter than usual because we were not allowed to visit the assembly line.  The 2009 models were being assembled and the general public were not allowed to see them until the dealers around the country had.  We were able, however, to stand down the hall and watch several of the bikes come off the assembly line from a distance. 

After a delicious lunch at a family-run, roadside diner, we had another hour to go before we hit Hershey and then after that, another hour and a half to get to Gettysburg.  Next destination: Chocolate World.  Not necessarily to go on the rides but to stock up on cheap chocolate. 

Hershey is unabashed about its sweet history.  Milton S. Hershey, the founder, was of Mennonite heritage.  He only finished Grade 4 but after a four-year apprenticeship with a candy maker, eventually founded the Lancaster Caramel Company in Lancaster County, PA in 1883.  As you can imagine, it was a resounding success. 

Ten years later, he became enchanted with the milk chocolate-making machines used in Germany.  He sold his Caramel Company to focus on his chocolate-making.  Swiss milk-chocolate was then, as it is today, a luxury. Through trial and error, Hershey eventually created his own cheaper recipe for milk-chocolate that took America by storm.  He built a factory and the town of Hershey was built around it.

Today, kids and adults have a kabillion fun options when visiting the small town.  There is Hersheypark, an amusement park complete with roller coasters, rides, games and walking Hershey kisses.  There is the Hershey Museum and Hershey Gardens.  And there is Chocolate World, where you can take a ride through the factory and learn about how Hershey chocolate is made.  At the end, of course, is the Hershey pot of gold – a store filled with confectionary and Hershey memorabilia.   A smorgasbord of candy and sugar and all things sweet. Hooray!

On our way!

We arrived in Hershey and quickly became unsure of where we wanted to go as every street and place name is chocolate-themed.  Is Chocolate World in Hersheypark?  Do we go down Cocoa Lane?  Is the big Hershey sign for the store or for the administrative buildings?  We parked, went into what ended up being an administrative building and were given directions to Chocolate World.  We were also told that Chocolate World was open until 9pm.  Which meant we could do some outlet shopping first since the shops closed at 5 pm.  On our way out, we took the young man up on his offer of free chocolate from the overloaded bins of it on his desk. 

We did some shopping and then, as the sun was starting to set, made our way to Chocolate World.  It was very exciting.  There was a gate with a Hershey bar and a Hershey kiss atop it, arms spread wide and welcoming.  It was a large building with one side made of glass so we could peer into the bright oasis of candy and toys.  This was going to be magical.  We practically ran to the front doors and were met with a security guard. 

Chocolate World!

“Here for the basketball fundraising dinner?”  he asked, assuming we were since Heather has the height of a high-school basketball player. 

Pause.  “Uh, no.  We’re here for chocolate.” 

“Sorry.  Chocolate World is closed.  It closed at 5.  There’s a special dinner in here this evening.” 

Boo.  No Chocolate World for us.  Our hearts were broken, our bottom lips quivering.  We fought back tears.  We dragged our heels and sagging hearts back to the van and headed on to Gettysburg and left our dreams of falling asleep in mounds of chocolate behind us.

Another hour and a half to the Marriot in Gettysburg.  The mood in the car was slightly less upbeat this time, after having missed Chocolate World.  It was dark when we got there and we missed our turn.  We ended up taking a short detour through town and were immediately enchanted with its wooden storefronts, big windows and striped awnings. 

The storefronts of Gettysburg.

Circling back, we found the Marriott and we were very excited to be met with all the standard hotel amenities after sleeping on creaky beds and sharing a bathroom with eighty others. It was a large room, with two queen-sized beds, a pull-out chair, a rollaway cot that we had requested, an armchair and a desk. 

We settled down for the evening, got some pizza and salad from the restaurant next door (and chocolate from Hershey), and watched some CSI.  After a long day of sitting in the van, I was out first (like always) around midnight.

We didn’t leave completely empty-handed.

Friday, March 14th

How does one put into words the power of Gettysburg?  How does one fully appreciate the gravity of events that unfolded here in this little Pennsylvania town?  How does one pay respect to the far-reaching aftermath? 

And Gettysburg started out as only a hiccup on our road trip.  Barbra got a good deal on the Marriott, but really, Gettysburg didn’t take us any closer to home.  It was one of those places that we had almost foregone because it wasn’t really in the right direction.  But in the end, it was one of the most moving places I have ever visited.

It was a slow start to the morning.  But we had to be out by 11:00 so we packed up and headed out for the final leg of our journey.  The sun was beaming, we had the windows down, coats off and we were soaking up every last moment of spring before our dreaded journey back into the winter hell of Ontario.  Breakfast was a simple one at Wendy’s and then we were off to the Visitor Centre of Gettysburg National Military Park.

I didn’t know what to expect really.  I knew that Gettysburg was the site of a major battle during the Civil War.  I didn’t know that it was the last decisive battle in the war that gave the North, the Unionists, the victory.  I knew that Lincoln had given his famous Gettysburg Address at this site, but I knew not where.  I had read the Address many times before and was struck by its honesty and simplicity.  But couldn’t appreciate its intent because I wasn’t too sure what had happened at Gettysburg.

After stopping in the Visitor Centre to get oriented, we discovered that a driving tour of the entire National Site would take at least two hours.  The Military Park was not just a cemetery, it spanned the entire countryside, the site of the numerous battles that took place over the course of three days, July 1-3, 1863.

We couldn’t spare the whole three hours, we needed to be on the road by 3:00 to get home before midnight.  So instead, we bought our own guidebook and tour CD and decided we would have our own abbreviated version.  None of us was a Civil War history buff so we wouldn’t have been able to appreciate everything a guide could tell us anyway.

The National Cemetery, however, where Abraham Lincoln delivered his address, was just across the street and open to wanderers.  It is a military cemetery with cannons that were actually used in the battle scattered throughout the grounds.  It is the final resting place for more than 7000 servicemen and their dependents.  It is divided into sections, each section for a different group of soldiers, soldiers of modern wars behind the Lincoln Memorial, soldiers from Gettysburg and other battles, interred together by home state around the Soldiers National Monument.  In a neighbouring cemetery, separated only by a decorative wrought-iron fence, more soldiers laid in rest, including the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg – Ginnie Wade, aged 20, was baking bread in her kitchen when struck by an errant bullet. 

We wandered in the warm spring breeze and let the sun rejuvenate us, each at our own pace.  Heather found a quiet tree under which to read our guidebook and map.  Mark soaked up the history and the poetry of the site.  Eric paid homage by capturing the beauty in his photos.  Barbra and I meandered and chatted.  I learned a lot that day.  Again, I find myself amazed at the complexity of American history. 

Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address when he gave it on November 19, 1863 was not considered the brilliant piece of speech-writing that it is today.  In just over two minutes, in 271 words, Lincoln invoked the memory and the power of the Declaration of Independence, the right to freedom for all men, and honoured the men “who struggled here,” and who “have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.”

At that time, speeches were often two hours in length so when Lincoln finished, an uncertain silence followed.  Lincoln is said to have thought the speech had failed but the next day, the other speaker of that day, Edward Everett wrote to Lincoln “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”  Contrary to popular belief, the Address was written in Washington, D. C. beforehand and not on the train to Gettysburg on the back of an envelope. 

Eventually, we had taken in all we could take in from that hallowed ground of the National Cemetery and headed back to the van to drive through some of the other sites, listening to our audio guide.  We parked along the side of the road at the designated markers, looked out over the fields and listened to the explanation of the events that took place there 145 years ago. 

The Civil War is far too complicated and drawn-out to understand adequately, especially as a Canadian learning about it for the first time.  But if I understand correctly, it was a war between the Southern slave-holding states (the Confederacy) and the Northern free states (the Union).  But slavery wasn’t directly the issue that caused the neighbouring states to go to war.  The South voted to secede from the Union because they felt they were losing their individual state autonomy to the federal government and the incoming U.S. Administration (Abe Lincoln) regarded the act of secession as rebellion.  The hostilities started in 1861 and at the end of it in 1865, there had been 618 000 casualties and the entire country would need years of rebuilding and restructuring.  The Gettysburg fields on which the battle was fought over those three days in July, 1863 were littered with metal and bodies of both soldiers and animals.  Hardly a barn, fence or field was left undamaged. Civilian casualties continued for years as farmers ploughed over unseen artillery shells or loaded muskets.  In the end, the North won (if you can use such a term) not at Gettysburg but as a result of it.  The Confederates retreated, after having lost too many men and almost all hope.  The War was to continue but the Northern tide never turned. 

As we drove through the marked route and listened to our CD, we discovered we really knew nothing about the war.  We took from it what we could but in the end, we just stopped at the interesting monuments along the way, inhaled the view and the scents of spring, and moved on. 

At 2:30 or so (who knows now what time it was, we were all wiped) we said our final goodbyes to Pennsylvania and started the long drive home.

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