The Streets of Philadelphia

I think I should have said I was here for ‘business’ when they asked me. A whole lot of organization is going on behind the scenes!

But of course, the scenery is the fun bit, so let’s ignore the sweaty men manning the ropes.

Today I was driven into central Philadelphia by the ever-generous Mr. Bunny, after missing the train. I crashed out pretty hard last night, having not slept for almost 50 hours or so (couldn’t sleep the night before I flew out, and then add seven hours for time travel, etc…), and thus was even more ill-suited to consciousness than usual.

I picked up my greyhound pass, slightly disappointed at the station’s lack of resemblance to a gaping maw-o’-hell, then trundled into East Market Station on the opposite side of the street. This is where I found out that my camera battery had expired, I had no sunglasses, I may have possibly left my guidebook – and therefore my maps, in my backpack, and the same with my suncream.

Looking good.

There was nothing I could about my camera, but I managed to grab a pretty cheap map from a newsagent. Spilling out blinking into the sunlight, I immediately began being slow-roasted by the sun, but without the slow bit. Sticking to the shadows, I threaded my way north into Chinatown.

And then out. Philadelphia’s Chinatown is small. But there’s people everywhere, so I am going to go ahead and assume that folks around there live on some kind of shelving. Maybe a filofax.

From Chinatown, I looped around to the east via Franklin Square, where I squeezed just enough juice from my Olympus to get a snap of a rather impressive sand sculpture, and from thereon plunged south through the verdant strip of history that goes by Independence National Park. On the plane, my fellow passenger told me, with a sort of worried smile, to not tease you guys too much about your modernity. ‘Bless them,’ she said, ‘they get excited at anything over 200 years old’. And you guys certainly take that sliver of history seriously. No-one’s denying, you know, a lot happened – a lot of big important things! But one does wonder if you’re compensating

Anyway, driven by the sun to seek shelter, like some sort of small furry thing that lives in a desert , I ducked into the Constitution museum. Very interesting, all very good and stirring; lots of trumpet swells etc. Surprisingly tasteful, even, the show they put on. I noticed Bush’s perennially bemused expression pan briefly across the montage of projected images, but the end of the exhibition was characterized by his curious absence. Instead, a smiling Obama reached one Presidential hand off-screen, presumably to the future, world peace, aesthetically pleasing puppies, and so on. I did then find out that Bush had been removed the instant Obama was elected – to the minute – by a museum guide who was doing a really bad job at hiding her elation.

Later I was in Washington Square. This is a small-ish park that has the American Revolution Deluxe edition of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, watched over by Washington’s marble eyes. There was only one other in sight, bending down at the knee in front of the tomb’s proud pyre. Very touching, I thought – until he arose with a lighted spliff and ambled off across the greenery. Disrespectful? Almost certainly. But perhaps fitting. The quote above the tomb: “Freedom is a light for which many men have died in darkness”. It was certainly a light for someone.

In all seriousness, though, the freedom to do that? Significant.

Speaking of freedom, I accidentally draw the ire of a security guard. I crossed a pathway that suddenly became a road, and in a bid to make my ‘lasting impression’ of America something that wasn’t a smear on the cobbles, I ducked underneath a low chain-fence. Automatic fail, do not pass go, etc. The guy – a kind of tubby middle-aged fellow with a loud voice and a louder ego – then proceeded to rail on me for a good thirty seconds. I was of course conciliatory, apologetic, but just as I was getting a little fed up – I get the point, sir – I realized ‘oh good lord they all have guns don’t they I am going to die’. Luckily, I did not die, but I’m not sure how reassured I am knowing someone with that short a fuse has something with that short a safety.

One more day in Philadelphia, then I start goin’ south.

And then I’ll really have to keep my mouth shut.

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3 Responses to “The Streets of Philadelphia”


  1. 1 Adam (Melkster/Melkor) 14/07/2009 at 5:07 am

    Your story about the cop reminds me of something. Many years ago, when I was 10 and my sister was 8, my mother was speeding on the way to Church and got pulled over. They worked everything out, Mom got the speeding ticket, all the while my little sister gaping in horror at the scary police officer. The first thing out my sister’s mouth as soon as the minivan was underway? “Mommy, why didn’t the police man shoot us?”

    I think fear of the police is a universal American experience.

  2. 2 Idoliside 14/07/2009 at 9:53 am

    Does make you wonder why the british don’t have more consititutional museums. I mean there must be one in every city of america yet you probably have to goto London to see a good museum of british heritage and culture. Despite the fact we’ve been around for hundreds of years and pretty much owned the world, we seem to be embarresed to show off the old monarchy stuff.
    Not than i’m a monarchist, just pointing out one of the differences between UK and US.


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