Saturday, May 30, 2009

Noise in New Hope

Stepping out into New Hope, Pennsylvania, the noise – repeated revving of motorcycles interrupting excited crowds laughing – was overwhelming. Hello New Hope. It was an exciting welcome: colorful signs outside little boutiques hung above the bustling crowds moving down the street and faint hints of music could be heard from the music festival across the bridge in Lambertville.

Eager to explore New Hope, Annelise and I thanked Mrs. Quinn for dropping us off and we started on our journey. Moving Southeast on the Delaware River side, we started down Main Street. The Delaware River side of New Hope has many little boutiques and art galleries while across the street lie many expensive restaurants, real-estate offices, historical statues, and some houses.

Weaving between the crowds, we tried to glimpse into the windows of some of the stores on our way to the famous Bucks County Playhouse. The Playhouse, an old red and white building that resembles an enormous old barn or millhouse, is situated in the heart of New Hope. Famous for past performers, like Princess Grace Kelly, John Travolta, Liza Minnelli, and Bea Arthur, this theater has been a landmark in New Hope since its opening in 1939. Therefore, as we approached the theater, we were not surprised by the crowd outside. The crowd was mostly made up of older couples, all waiting to have their tickets checked to go see 42nd Street. Squeezing through the crowd, we finally entered the lobby and took a playbill from the stage manager. Although we weren’t allowed past the lobby without tickets, the lobby itself was exciting with old playbills from several decades ago covering the walls. As the crowd thinned and the audience began to take their seats in the theater, Annelise and I decided to move on so we would not interrupt the performance. Sitting outside for a few minutes at the small pond on the edge of the theater, we noticed how friendly the ducks were. The ducks approached us as if we were other ducks, coming closer and closer and poking around looking for food in our bag. We were both startled by the lack of wariness of the flock of ducks but figured they have accepted that their natural habitat is home to a popular theater, as they know how to flirt up some popcorn.

Ready to move on, we crossed a small bridge over the Playhouse pond. As we were walking, I saw more motorcycles in that small stretch of Main Street than I ever had in my life. In between each pack of Harleys, a few cars would drive by, each one extremely expensive. However, New Hope didn’t give off the extremely wealthy vibe nor the hardcore motorcycle vibe. New Hope came off as bright and hippy-ish, and was obviously popular. At times, Annelise and I had to walk single-file to limit potential collisions in the jammed sidewalk traffic.

Because it was a Sunday, New Hope was jammed pack with a mosaic of people—old, young, male, female, all ethnicities, and sexual orientations. Reflecting the diversity of New Hope’s visitors was the diversity of various shops. The first shop we entered was the Shop of India. Every item in the store was beautiful. They sold jewelry, small religious statues, offered henna tattoos, and traditional Indian clothing that looked as if it had been fused with American teenage culture. The colors and patterns on the skirts and dresses were so unique and each had its own beautiful touch. After looking around in the store for a few minutes, we moved on and crossed a small street over to the next block of shops. We entered another Indian shop, with items just as beautiful as the one before, and passed by “A Taste of Cuba.” We also passed by Spatola’s, a very popular little pizza shop but it was closed because it was a Sunday. Next door to Spatola’s was the Bow-Wow Dog Lover’s Emporium, which had every item for dogs and dog-lovers imaginable. After peeking into that store, Annelise and I became aware of how dog-friendly New Hope is. Each store had a small water bowl outside for visiting dogs and as we looked around us, there were at least six dogs in our sight. While admiring a cute dog across the street, our eyes fell upon an older man, dressed in tie-dye and jeans with psychedelic flowers and smiley faces sewn on, leaning against a yellow car decorated with rainbow flames and peace signs. He immediately caught our attention and we walked closer to get a better look at his car. As we approached the man lost in a different decade, we realized that he was standing in front of a tie-dye store called Type B. With tie-dyed clothes out front, a colorful sign hanging overhead, and a hippy man with a matching car standing outside, we had to go inside. Walking in, we were overwhelmed by the number and variety of items available in various colors and forms of tie-dye. The store itself was even colorful; it had a cute little table with red chairs in a corner and the walls were painted with bright colors in patterns resembling lava lamps, with some hippy stickers including peace signs, the Grateful Dead bears, and Haight-Ashbury signs, plastered on the walls. In a green tie-dye shirt, owner Melissa Bayer approached us and offered guidance. We asked her a few questions and learned she and her husband had the store here for only a year yet it was already one of New Hope’s hotspots. We also were surprised to learn that most items in the store were dyed by hand. Being modest, Melissa claimed she was not as talented as other tie-dye artists in our nation, and gave credit to a young woman in California who also tie-dyes by hand and sells some of her items through the store. Melissa said she believes her store is the only working tie-dye store in America because most tie-dying is done now via American computers or in Asian countries. Tie-dying, we learned, actually originating in the Asian culture. War veterans coming home from both Korea and Vietnam had seen tie-dyed items and brought the ideas back to America, starting a fashion phenomenon. Eager to get the younger generations into tie-dye and preserve this fashion phenomenon, Melissa and her husband offer hours each day where customers can come in and make their own tie-dye. Promising to come back and attempt to create our own masterpieces, we thanked Melissa for her kindness and left the store.

Walking back into the heat, Annelise and I decided to get some ice cream. New Hope is known for its amazing homemade ice cream shops, located on almost every corner. We stopped at one of the most popular ice cream parlors, called Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream which claimed to have been making ice cream in New Hope for over 50 years. Known for its many strangely named but delicious homemade flavors, I was amused by the names of a few particular ice creams, such as African Violet and Magyar Apricot Brandy. Finally deciding on a sherbet, I went to go pay and found it to be very expensive. But the cool creamy taste on my tongue proved to be worth four dollars.

Leaving the ice cream store, Annelise and I realized it was time to go home. As we got back into the car, I embraced the quiet atmosphere. However, I soon came to realize that the noise itself was the essence of the town. It represented New Hope’s popularity and the types of people it attracts. And after only a few hours immersed in this noise, I came to realize how wonderful New Hope, Pennsylvania is.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Motorcycles, Drakes, and a Taste of Cuba

Imagine being encircled by a herd of rough motorcyclists all revving up their engines to flaunt the horsepower of their Harley Davidsons. Imagine walking through a cloud of dried and fermented tobacco cigar smoke that can only be experienced on tobacco farms in Cuba. Imagine being welcomed by the victimization of a male duck who felt as though you were intruding on his territory and had the intention of stealing his mate. This is the environment I encountered when I first stepped foot in the bustling town of New Hope, Pennsylvania.

Before my travel partner, Grace, and I even reached our first destination, we encountered an evidently very hormonal drake. He was waddling along the bank of the stream surrounded by three female ducks of whom he was very possessive. I wanted to get a closer look so I slowly stepped in his direction only to be greeted with a snarl-like facial expression from the 20-25 pound bird. Grace told me how when she was younger, her brother and she would feed the ducks stale bread when they came to New Hope on the weekends. Was I the only one that felt terrorized by an animal of which I was about five times the size? Adding to my confusion was the roar of the crowds and crowds of motorcycles making their over the bridge and down Main Street. After making peace with the ducks and dodging the little children who also wanted a closer look at this entourage of birds, Grace and I were finally able to make our way to the infamous Bucks County Playhouse. Being the furthest from a theater-goer, I was very apprehensive about facing the numerous people anxiously waiting in the line that extended way out the theater and into the blazing sun of that April day. But with Grace’s tug on the arm, and a voice in my head telling me this would help me to be more “cultured,” we made our way up the steps. The hustle and bustle we encountered in the lobby of the theater ensured me that I wasn’t the least bit crazy when I declared that I may be claustrophobic. The performance of 42nd Street had attracted it seemed like every elderly person in New Hope as well as from the surrounding towns. Of course, we were not permitted to enter the actual theater due to our lack of tickets but we were offered playbills that listed the actors and actresses in the play as well as a short summary of the plot. But soon enough, I felt as though I was entirely cultured and enough was enough, I had to head outside.

From one rambunctious crowd of people to another, Grace and I began to make our way down the backbone of New Hope, Main Street. This Main Street was like any other Main Street I have encountered but with a clearly flamboyant side. One of our many stops was the Type B Tie Dye Studio, one of the only true tie dye establishments in the United States. Parked outside was a yellow Honda with rainbow-inspired racing stripes painted along the sides. Leaning against the car was a rough-looking man with mangled carpenter jeans decorated with various rainbow and peace sign patches. He had a beard full of scraggly grey hair complemented with a rainbow bandana tied around his head to protect his balding scalp from the sun’s harmful rays. My instinct was to be intimidated by this man because he resembled the cycler who tears up the streets on his Harley Davidson yet it was ironic to see him so proud of his yellow and rainbow-inspired mode of transportation. Upon entering the studio, I was overwhelmed with the hand-dyed patterns I only associate with my childhood. Greeting us was a large-boned woman who at first glance I knew had to be Mother Nature in a green tie-dyed shirt. Melissa Bayer’s dark lipstick and lip liner was a stark contrast against the welcoming presence she gave me when I first stepped foot into her store. Grace and I made ourselves comfortable at a dark wooden table surrounded by fuzzy red chairs all positioned in a spot from which we could look out onto the bustling street. We were so fascinated by the man and his canary yellow car in front of the store that the second we sat down Grace pulled out her camera and peered through the window panes to capture this man who we decided was the essence of New Hope. As we began to make conversation with the wannabe Mother Nature, Grace and my only reactions were “wow” and “that’s so cool.” Never had we known that the technique of tying clothing and then dying them was a method brought over by the Korean and Vietnam veterans after the war. Unfortunately, the majority of tie-dying in America is now done by machine or through the use of computer programs, which is not a surprise given the fast moving advances in technology these days. Then when discussing what is made in the shop, the woman told us that it costs “$15 to dye” which, out of context, may have sounded a tad bit odd. Eager to discover the many other secrets we knew New Hope had to hold, we left the woman with her sink of dye and washing machine and set off to our next destination. The store adjacent to the studio, A Taste of Cuba, struck me as some type of extravagant culinary experience I could not pass up. Upon entering, I was confronted with a faceful of cigar smoke. Why had I not made sense of the six foot wooden statue of a Native American Indian, feathery head piece and all, smoking a cigar outside the shop? Indeed, I had had my taste of Cuba and my taste buds had had enough.

Another one of our many stops along Main Street was a small store nestled on a busy corner, The Shop of India. I did not even have to enter to experience what it would be like to dress as though I lived in India as I had to first make my way through racks and racks of skirts, dresses, tops, and scarves. Finally making my way to the entrance, I was thrown right into a crazy assortment of various clothing items and accessories or different pattern, colors, and materials. Covering the walls were saris, blouses, scarves and dresses of intricately designed colorful patterns that would stand out in any society. Imagine living in a society that conformity was not the norm and you could wear any pattern you desired and not be faced with the puzzled looks you receive from other girls who were wondering as to where you found something like that. A sign on the wall advertised that the store was “NOW CARRYING PLUS SIZES.” Wow, go you, America. In the glass cases enclosing the cash registrar, I found a wide array of elaborately and meticulously-designed religious figurines made of various materials from wood to stone. Also in these cases were rings for almost any part of the body someone would desire to pierce from earrings to belly-button rings to those that can be used to decorate one’s eyebrow. This store was a perfect example of the blending of cultures in this area of Pennsylvania. I don’t know how many people in India really have their eyebrow pierced or need plus sizes but you also don’t often see Americans walking around in traditional Indian clothing. The Shop of India showed that cultures can combine to create an entirely new culture that takes bits and pieces from both ends of the spectrum. Upon leaving this shop, my stomach realized it was about noon and needed to find food. Conveniently, a short way down the sidewalk was found Gerenser’s Exotic Ice Cream shop. Inside, a large board had been set up advertising the many flavors Gerenser had to offer from Caribbean Spicy Tree Bark to Puerto Rican Banana Brandy as well as the usual Chocolate or Cookie Dough. Who knew you could put tree bark in ice cream?

Coming into New Hope eager to experience new things and meet people I wouldn’t encounter in my small town of Cranbury, New Jersey, I left with a both cultured and new outlook on life. New Hope touched on many aspects of life as I realized the clear culture clash in my everyday life as well as ways of life I would not have been able to experience otherwise. Though it was intimidating at times with the roar of motorcycles and fear of panicking from claustrophobia, meeting my own Mother Nature and tasting Cuba was truly worth every minute spent traveling down Main Street.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Diversity is Culture

Walking off the bus, Jelani and I could smell the diversity in the air, nothing like either of us could ever explain before. Philadelphia. We took one long look around at City Hall and knew our adventure had begun. As though we were in another country, we only had our $21 and maps to show us what Philadelphia had to offer. Both of us having been to New York City, we were familiar with the city’s atmosphere, however, this city felt different.

As all places, Philadelphia had a particular smell. It smelled like accomplishments and new beginnings. Looking around, all the young business men had a look of stress and determination and ready for new beginnings. Jelani and I were the same. This city was new for us and we were ready to find the city’s cultural side. First, we made our way down to the Liberty Bell, where the earliest culture of the city was prevalent. Seeing the long lines, we decided to just get a glimpse of it and a picture. Independence Hall was our next stop across the street. Again, this was as crowded if not more crowded than the Liberty Bell. However, being a big part of the old culture of Philadelphia, they were a necessity for this trip. We walked into the room where the Declaration of Independence was signed and could just feel the history in the atmosphere. I stood there looking at the room for a couple minutes, putting myself back in that time with all the delegates. I felt a sense of pride to be a part of a country with such history. It was inspiring to us to find out more about the city’s history and culture.

Next on our itinerary was South Street, the life of South Philly. It was here where we could find the diversity and culture of Philadelphia, such as stores like Pearl of Africa. This was one of the most interesting stores in my opinion on South Street. Walking up to it, loud Rastafarian reggae music was playing from inside the store with it’s medium sized sign in Rasta colors, red, yellow, and green hanging on the side of the building. The store was lined with everything Rastafarian, from t-shirts and flags to CDs and toys. Jelani and I looked around in for a while, admiring some of the more interesting collections he had. However, the person who worked there didn’t even look up from whatever he was reading. I asked him, “How much is this belt?” He responded, “Tin dollar,” without looking up. From his accent, I could tell he was not originally from Philly, so I decided that it would be a good opportunity to ask him a few questions.

“Where are you from and how long have you lived in Philadelphia?”

“Well….why are you askin’ me dis?”

“I’m new to Philly and I am just trying to get a better sense of the city and the people.”

“Err…I don’t know. Is you going to buy that belt or not?”

I learned a lot from this small transaction, and could gather a better understanding of natives from Philly, even though he wasn’t one. He had clearly adapted the ways of a native Philadelphian from only living in the city a part of his life. From this, I made a generalization about Philadelphians, much like people in big cities such as New York City and Los Angeles, are conservative and rough around the edges. The store, on the other hand, was a perfect example in Philadelphia’s rich diversity, not only in its contents, but also in its workers, being a mix of both African and Philadelphian culture.

After South Street, Jelani and I decided that we would take the long walk down past the lively Italian Market to Pat’s King of Steaks, one of the most famous Philly Cheese Steaks places in Philadelphia. This was a focal point in searching for culture and tradition in Philadelphia, as this was a popular place among the locals. When we got there, we didn’t realize that this was going to be such an event. Geno’s another cheese steak place across the street, making the competition fierce. When we got there, I was astounded. Granted it was a nice day. But it was Sunday afternoon and the lines were out the door for both places. Given that we had just walked for 30 minutes to this place “where 9th crosses Wharton and Passyunk Ave.,” there was no way we were turning back. Even though the line was out the door, it moved relatively quickly. When we got to the front, I was amazed at the type of business they ran. They instantly handed us our steaks the second we ordered them and was already taking the order of the next person in line. We grabbed a table and ate our calorie filled cheese steak; living up to it’s hype as being on of the best in town.

Walking back up 9th to South Street where we would make a right and finish our trip with the Vietnam War Memorial, I reflected on the two cultural and diverse places that I went to today, Pearl of Africa and Pat’s King of Steaks. Places like this made Philadelphia, Philadelphia. I thought it was amazing how culture was so prevalent in this city, and even more so with the people of the city, even those who were not native there. Diversity is a part of Philadelphia’s culture.

Friday, May 1, 2009


Despite living relatively near Philadelphia all of my life, the city was completely foreign to me. This thought didn’t sink in until I stepped off the bus and saw City Hall for the first time. My partner, Mike Tully, and I began our journey from there, only taking moments to adjust to the smell of cigarettes and gasoline. I did not know Mike that well before I traveled with him. In one sense I was on my own, but in a more realistic sense I was far from it. Anything important to the trip was in my backpack or in my pockets: I had my phone, a map of Philly, and $17. While planning the trip, there were only two specific stores that we wanted to see: Geno’s Steaks (the best place to get a cheese steak in Philly) and Pat’s King of Steaks (the second best place, conveniently right across the street from Geno’s). Other than that, we planned on walking through some of the well known areas of the city and meeting genuine Philadelphians. With such a thought in mind, we made our way northeast toward Chinatown.

Chinatown was even more than we expected it to be. While it was physically smaller than we though it would be, it had more than enough culture for the both of us. Colorful signs crowded every inch of every building. People swarmed the side walks like ants. After getting used to the change of atmosphere, we looked for people to try to talk to, so we could get information about the area. We met a fortune teller on a street corner. He knew how to say four words in English, “Fortune, 5 dollar,” and “ok.” It was impossible to communicate with him, he was not interested in trying to understand our questions. However, he did point at me and then hand me a card that read “Round Nose = Doctor.” I wondered to myself if I knew what the card actually said of if he just picked them at random. After thanking him, we continued our walk. I tried to ask a lady shelling peanuts on the curb what she was doing, but she got very mad at me. There were three men outside a dentists office, smoking cigarettes and making incense. We introduced ourselves to them and asked what they thought of the area. After looking at us for a moment, they all started laughing. Mike and I started laughing. In seconds, we were laughing hysterically at each other without any idea as to why. It was difficult to adapt to the environment. Mike and I spoke English and Spanish, and we were only able to find one store owner who spoke English in all of Chinatown. Soon, we decided to leave Chinatown and head through the Historical Parks down to South Street.

South Street was the place to be. It seemed endless, store after store, restaurant after restaurant. We walked into whichever shop seemed the most Philadelphian, and we kept our minds open. One un-showered man even decided to come talk to us: I was in a Duke sweatshirt and he asked me how the basketball team was doing in the NCAA. He was so excited to hear good news, I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the tournament had been over for weeks and that Duke had lost. “All the way, this is the year,” I said. He danced off down the street. In a Record Exchange, we met a man named Mike Franklin. When we asked him about his thoughts about the city, he said “I hate the school systems here,” without looking up. His body language told us to leave. Next we looked at a thrift shop. A few teenage kids were working there, all with excessive facial piercings. A girl named Stephanie seemed nervous about us being there. She kept asking why we wanted to know about Philly, and we kept telling her about our trip. Sooner or later she became too busy to talk and we left. It seemed that once people found out that we were not buying anything, they didn’t want us in their shops. But we were not disheartened, because it was at this point that we ran into Lamont. Lamont was sitting in a collapsible beach chair at the entrance to an alleyway. He was an African American man and wore golden sunglasses and a flowered button down shirt. In front of his chair, there was a cardboard sign that bore “MAGIC SHOW,” written in marker. He was a man a few words.

“Excuse me sir, we’re from out of the area and we were wondering if you could tell us a few things about the area.”


“How do you like Philly?”

“Is this an interview?”

“No… we just want to get to know this place a little better.”

“Ok…My name is …… Lamont.”

“Thanks, Lamont. How long have you been doing your magic shows?”

“You’re talking to the wrong man.”

I think he was selling drugs. But he was a genuine Philadelphian, and he helped us to understand where we were a little bit better. The walking had made us hungry, and we headed for the happiest place in the town: The Italian Market.

The walk was long. From South Street we went south on 9th street until we reached Passyunk avenue. We finally reached Geno’s Steaks. The line wrapped all the way around the entire building. Mike and I waited in line, talking with the man behind us in line, whose name was Rich. He and his son lived in Gloster City, NJ. They had drove into Philly for lunch. Out of all of the people we met in Philly, Rich was probably the friendliest. We were waiting in line for 20 minutes before we were in the front. The man in the apron quickly asked me “with or without?” I said, “cheese steak…?” He stopped punching buttons and looked up at me. After his slowest order of the day, I had my cheese steak. It was delicious. For the first time in Philly, I felt like I had adapted to my environment. I was totally relaxed, enjoying the amazing food, and appreciating the characters I had the pleasure of meeting. After many awkward encounters and conversations, I felt like I had truly experienced Philadelphia.

Four Hours in Philly

It is surprising where one day can bring you; when I was dropped off at The Philadelphia Museum of Art, I didn’t imagine that I’d come across the adventure I found in Philadelphia. I had an itinerary; a well-thought out plan that I had seen myself following. Despite my original beliefs, I ended up going against the grain, taking quite a few exciting detours along the way.

I started waiting in the line at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Admission was free on Sundays, so, I thought it would be a great place to start my journey. After about 20 minutes waiting in a queue, I was finally among the lucky ones allowed to enter the galleries. As I strolled around, I quickly realized I did not want to be spending this lovely Sunday Afternoon in a cold building with painting after painting. It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate the art, something inside me just made me feel there were better things to do and see.

As I left the museum I looked for a sign guiding me to the “Philadelphia Phlash.” I wanted to take a ride downtown towards City Hall, and then head for Chinatown. After a few minutes of searching, I once again had an epiphany: why take a bus when it was a sunny day in Philadelphia?

I was trying to find my way on a map when I stumbled upon quite a lot of commotion. Soon, I was surrounded by screaming children and, adults handing me one brochure or flyer after another. A bit overwhelmed, I tried to become conscious of where I really was. I looked down at one of the flyers given to me, and it read, “Free Library Festival.” As I quickly skimmed the ad, it seemed like this festival was pretty cool. They were trying to attract children to reading, while at the same time making it something enjoyable for the parents as well. They had collected books from book drives, offered story time, provided coloring books, and had all other forms of entertainment centered on reading and books. I flipped through another brochure, and soon saw a schedule for these events. I noticed that in only fifteen minutes, world-class swimmer Dara Torres would be speaking. I had heard about her, and heard her story, so I thought it was an opportunity I should take. After wandering around the market for a little bit, I made my way to the stage where she was talking. After watching her introduce herself, I found myself yearning to travel more. I decided to slip out, because after all, I did get to see her in person and my time there in Philadelphia was running short.

I made my back onto the calm, sunny avenue I had been on before. I continued on towards City Hall. Soon, I heard another set of commotion. I walked on a round-about and through an empty fountain when I finally saw what was causing all the chaos. In the middle of this square was a giant adult pillow fight. Yes, a pillow fight. Adults dressed in pajamas with dreadlocks, nose rings, tattoos, and all other sorts of interesting features were running around hitting one another with pillows. Not only that, but they were screaming, “HAPPY EARLY 4/20!!!” I decided to stay and watch for a few moments. It seemed so strange that in this neat orderly section of town, something as chaotic as this this was happening. But, after spectating on those events for a while, I decided it was once again time to move on and continue on my way to City Hall.

Soon, I was very hungry, and I decided I needed to find some replenishment. Just as my stomach started to growl, I saw a big light up sign that read, “Reading Terminal Market.” I decided to give it a try. When I walked in, I saw shop after shop with everything you could imagine. They had various types of food from all cultures of the world, all contained in one tiny indoor marketplace. I stopped at a cookie stand, and ordered a sugar. I left with a delicious cookie, and a new perspective of food-shopping in Philadelphia.

I continued to walk the streets and soon found what I was looking for, City Hall. I decided from there I could head to the Historical District, and skip Chinatown for that day. On my way to the Liberty Bell, there was a block of houses, all built pre 19th century. They were all absolutely beautiful. Each was adorned with black iron fences, and held together with eroding bricks which only added to their charm. They must have cost fortune, but seeing them made me want to become a part of Philadelphia. Living in the birth place of our country, would be an experience, especially in this part of town. Everywhere you looked, building after building was enriched with history. As I was thinking about who had walked these cobblestone paths before me, I arrived at the Bell. I waited in no line, and got an up close and personal look at the Liberty Bell. It once rang for freedom, and although it could obviously no longer do that today, it is a powerful symbol to view.

I had one last stop on my list, Jim’s Cheese steaks. I had always heard my main-line cousins rave about it, and tell me stories of how they would just drive to Philly and wait in the ridiculous lines to get one. I navigated to South Street from the Bell. When I turned the corner onto South Street, it was almost like everything lit up. There is neon flashing, and cars whizzing by. A million sights and sounds overwhelm your senses; I found it all thrilling. But, I couldn’t stop and look; I needed to find my cheese steak place. When I did I realized my cousins weren’t lying about the lines. Ironically, waiting in line turned out to be one of the best parts of my trip. Soon after I had stepped in line, a couple followed me. I listened as the man said, “Babe, babe, let me take your picture, you look great.” The girl blushed, but smiled as he snapped a picture on his phone. I thought it was all a little odd, but intriguing. They then went into conversation as to what they were going to order. The increasingly funny man said, “Babe, do you think I should get the cheese whiz, what about onions, or hot peppers; should I just get it all?” Before listening for her answer, he turned to me and asked what I was getting. To be honest, I was shocked to have a stranger asking me what I was ordering. But I explained that I had never been there and didn’t really have any idea. The man, thrilled, screamed to me that he had never been there either and that his wife wanted to take him there. They then told me that only the day before, they had gotten married and tomorrow they were headed on their honeymoon. I was amazed; I had never had an interaction like this with complete strangers. Our conversation continued on, and they soon learned that I went to prep school. They seemed very excited about it, and encouraged me that even when things became hard, I should keep going on because no where else could I create my own passion for learning. He recited the following, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire,” a quote by William Butler Yeats. I thought about this, and I was electrified. This couple had reminded me what I was working for through all my work, and I had only known them for about 45 minutes. When we parted our ways, both of them with everything cheese steaks, and me with cheese whiz and onions, I was somewhat sullen. I sat and reflected, with the best cheese steak I have ever eaten, complete with melted cheese and the perfect mixture of beef. All they had said to me had reminded me of important lessons, that in the rush of Peddie I had forgotten. It was so funny to me how to strangers from Philly could change my whole perspective.

My trip to Philly was amazing. I found everything that I saw and learned there worth every minute. I am glad that I found my detours and completed one of many short journeys there.

The City of Culture, History, and Cheese Steak

The scent of the famous Philly Cheese Steak stimulated our noses as we entered the Passyunk Ave. and 9th St. at the Italian Market. As Evan and I started to barely see the gigantic and bright yellow sign of the Geno’s Steaks from about ninety yards away, I suddenly felt an adrenalin rush in my body and found myself already running to the place. About five yards left til our final destination, Evan and I saw lots of of people standing in front of the Geno’s, waiting desperately to experience the greatness of its cheese steak. The line of the restaurant was so long that it wrapped around the next block. Seeing the line, Evan and I, still panting from a twenty second sprinting just about a minute ago, stood still in front of the restaurant, looking like a shocked man with his jaws cracked down who just witnessed an unfortunate scene of his girl friend kissing his best friend. Our time at Philadelphia was running out, and there was no way that we could have the Geno’s cheese steaks. Shocked and disappointed, we stood in front of the restaurant for five minutes simply watching people buying Philly Cheese Steaks and eating them with a big smile on their faces. I even hallucinated of eating their best Philly cheese steak because I was so started, exhausted, and disappointed. As I was fantasizing, someone tapped me on the back, and my hallucination suddenly stopped. It was Mike Tully. Tully’s partner, Sharif, was eating the Philly cheese steak from the Geno’s. Right at that moment, I honestly wanted to take the cheese steak from his hand and take a big bite of it. We then talked with Tully and Sharif about the trip in Philadelphia for a few minutes. Now Evan and I were really starving to death, and we just wanted to go into any place that served some type of food. Next to the Geno’s, I saw a pizza place called Miguel’s Pizza, which we went in without hesitation. There were delicious looking pizzas that attracted me, but I carefully checked the menu to see what other food they had. Fortunately, they had Philly cheese steaks, and I instantly ordered it with a medium size coke. As we were waiting for the cheese steaks, Evan and I talked about how unfortunate it was for us not to be able to experience the Geno’s Steaks. As I drank the icy cold coke to kill my thirst, I saw the television and Spanish soccer league was on. Soccer of course caught my attention, and the game was at its peak. Then, finally, my longing cheese steak came out, and I was totally prepared to take the first bite of it. And when I took a bite of it, I suddenly felt a chill in my body; the chill that a man feels when he urinates in a cold weather. The cooked meat with onions and peppers and a soft bun were all perfectly matched, and I was happy that I deserved eating the good cheese steak after a long day of journey in Philadelphia. And as I was about to finish the half of my cheese steak, one of the soccer teams scored, making the owner of the restaurant shout ‘Hooray!’ very excitedly in Spanish. Then, Evan and I, excited and thankful about the good cheese steak they served, shouted ‘Hooray!’ to the owner. Then the owner put his thumb up to us, thinking that we were cheering for the winning team. That simple moment was probably the best moment in Philly because then I not only just had the best Philly cheese steak in the world, but I also was experiencing a bit of culture of Philadelphia. In addition, if one asks me if I had Geno’s Philly cheese steak in Philadelphia, I would proudly say that I have had a better cheese steak at Miguel’s Pizza and watched one of the best soccer games.

When Evan and I arrived at the City Hall of Philadelphia, the cold soft breeze blew from the north, welcoming our arrival to the city of culture and history. After a brief stretch from a long bus ride, I looked around to see what was around me. The only thing I noticed was the City Hall, and the city was pretty much empty except for a few cars and several passersby. The other groups who got off with us have already left for their first destination and the bus has also left at that moment. Evan and I both were lost, but we tried to act calmly. We then decided that we should probably head to a big street, so we started to head to the east, where the big streets are. However, our first destination, The Gallery at Market East, was not to be noticed, and I felt like we only came to a wrong direction. Holding a map, an itinerary, and a backpack, we surely would have looked like visitors to this city, and an Indian looking person came up to us and asked if he could help us. The gentleman’s name of Sadik, and he was also a visitor who has come to Philly for several times. Luckily, the gentleman knew where the Gallery at Market East was and he was kind enough to take us there. In addition, as he left, he recommended that we go to the Italian Market and try the Philly cheese steak there, which made us become more excited about our final destination. And we were so thankful for the man for the kindness that we kept saying thank you, and the first ever encounter with a stranger at Philly impressed me a lot. When we entered the Gallery, it was just like a mall, except that it was called the Gallery at Market East. We then hung out there for about twenty minutes and started to head to our next destination: Chinese Cultural Center. Going to the China Town was fairly easy, not only because Evan and I used the map efficiently, but also because we tried not to act too confused when we were seemed to be lost. When we entered the town, we were sure that we were in the China Town because of its typical scent, familiar faces, and Chinese shops on the street. After walking around the town and visiting some of the shops that looked interesting for about thirty minutes, we decided to head to the Chinese Cultural Center. We did not want to get lost this time, so we figured we should follow the map carefully. On the way to find the Chinese Cultural Center, we saw a small fire station with firefighters cleaning the fire trucks. There, it was interesting how Chinese people were taking pictures of the firefighters as if they were big celebrities or renowned baseball players. We then decided to ask one of the fire fighters where the Cultural Center was, and although he was not sure, he told us it should be near the African American Museum and told us where it was. We were also sure that the Cultural Center should be there because that’s what the map said, too. With the firefighter’s kindness, we continued our journey to our next destination. After ten or fifteen minutes passed, we arrived at the place, but the Chinese Cultural Center wasn’t there. We were disappointed, sad, and lost again. However, as the firefighter mentioned, we were able to find the African American Museum, so we figured we should probably go there first. When we arrived, we faced another disappointment. The museum was closed and it said it would open again next year. When I realized that the Museum was closed, I figured that things were not going too well as we planned. Evan and I were getting tired from much of walking, talking and visiting. We needed some place to sit and rest for a while; at that moment, we read a sign that would lead us to the Historic Park. Putting aside our disappointment of not being able to visit neither the Chinese Cultural Center nor the African American Museum, we started to head to the Historic Park. What was interesting though, was that although it seemed like we were not acting according to our itinerary, we were lucked out every time that somehow got to our next destinations. Away from the China town where many shops and restaurants existed, when we got to the Historic Park, I was really able to taste a historical aspect of the city. Benjamin Franklin Center, Independence Center and Liberty Bell all located at the Historic Park, and I was able to get away from the crowded China Town and experience the history there. As soon as I saw a bench, I ran there to sit and relax my legs for a bit. People were playing ultimate Frisbee at a nice and large grass field. And as we were enjoying our lunch, one guy came up to us and asked if we wanted to play Frisbee with them. Both Evan and I were exhausted, but we were unable to reject his offer because we did not want to make him feel terrible. So we played Frisbee with them, but as this being my third time playing Frisbee, I realized how bad I was within the group. I made a lot of mistakes and could see read in their faces that they were regretting of choosing me as a teammate. People who played with us were actually really skilled, showing all kinds of throws and catches. We both felt bad that we were so bad, but it was one of the most memorable moments in Philly. Nice people, historic place, and wonderful weather all allowed us to have a unique time at the Historic Park, and Evan and I continued on our journey. Next stop was the Society Hill Synagogue. Synagogue was only across the street from the Historic Park, so it was easy to find. As we were walking a small forest to enter the synagogue, we encountered a homeless person. As we passed him, he reached out his hand to stop Evan.
“Please, help this poor homeless person.” The homeless person said. As a pretty generous person, I love helping out the poor and I actually do it a lot in Korea, but this person just looked too shady to me for some reason. The homeless person tried to shake hands with Evan, but as he tried to do it, Evan snatched his hand out.
“I don’t have any money” Evan said. We figured that we should just ignore him and enter the synagogue. But as we were about to enter the synagogue, the homeless person shouted,
“You look like a football player! I see your triceps!”
Evan, responding to the homeless person, flexed his muscles to show that he really is the football player. I was laughing hard behind Evan and thought the situation was really funny. Inside the synagogue, we had to wear a round hat called Kippah. As a Jewish, Evan knew what to do in the synagogue and taught me how to act in there. Although I had a different religion, I still respected their practice and at least in the synagogue, I acted as if I was a Jewish person. After we stayed at the synagogue for about fifteen minutes, we got out and finally headed to our final destination: Italian Market. I suggested Evan that we should take a bus to get there because it would take us thirty minutes to get to the Italian Market. However, Evan kept telling me that we should walk so that we experience more of Philadelphia. Approximately twenty five minutes of walking, I was able to see that I was at the Italian Market with all the signs, pizza places, and of course, Philly cheese steaks. And at Miguel’s Pizza, Evan and I have the best Philly cheese steak in the world even better than the Geno’s.