Last week I had the opportunity to have a “do-over” in Philadelphia – after 34 years.
My friend Susan was going up to Lancaster County, where she grew up, to visit friends. She asked if I wanted to go along, and I agreed.
We stayed with mutual friends Carolyn and Jim Heffner, who live here but whose family shares a summer home in Mt. Gretna. We visited friends and family, we ate at The Hideaway, we bought vanilla long johns (my favorite), we had ice cream at The Jigger Shop, we shopped.
And we took a day trip to Philadelphia. Now, understand that the last time I was in Philadelphia was 34 years ago, and I vowed never to return.
You see, that time my family was visiting friends who then lived in Westchester. My kids were 4 and 2 and 2. We went into Philadelphia to do some touristy things – mainly Independence Square – while our friends’ 5-year-old went to a doctor’s appointment. So my friend Pat took her son to the doctor’s office while her husband, 7-year-old daughter, I and my husband and three children walked the streets of Philly. I had a very unhandy double stroller that listed to one side, making movement difficult. I knew things were going to be bad when we first got out of the car, and a homeless woman crossed the street in front of us, stopped, held out her dress and urinated on the street! I began to realize “Dorothy, you’re really not in Kansas anymore,” As we continued downtown, I tried to push the stroller with considerable effort, but no one seemed to notice that while I was occupied, son Mac was racing around on the sidewalk. Now, this is not a problem here – our streets have parking places between pedestrians and traffic. There, huge buses were racing by very close to us, so I was in a panic about Mac running out into traffic. Then my 4-year-old tried to wake a homeless person asleep on a grate in the sidewalk. Try to explain to a child why that might be a bad idea. We eventually made our way to the park near Independence Square, where I figured it would be safe to let my kids run for a minute. They chased pigeons, until Cat and Liz saw a man asleep on a park bench. Cat was fascinated by this person’s head-to-toe tattoos and wanted to touch them. Again, try to explain to a 2-year-old why that’s a bad idea. We went to a food court in Independence Mall – scary and dark and filled with questionable characters. We finally returned to the doctor’s office where the 5-year-old still had not been seen – five hours later. The only good news of the day was that when you release five children, ages 7, 5, 4, 2 and 2, in a doctor’s office, they find a way to see the patient quickly. We left, and I have never returned to the seat of our democracy again – until now.
Fortunately, this trip was much different. First, there were no children with us. We met Susan’s friend in Downingtown and took the train into Philadelphia. That was really nice. First, if you have a Medicare card, you ride free. (Well, not me, because I am only 39, remember.) Second, it was a very modern, cushy ride.
Susan had scheduled two tours – one of Independence Square and its surrounding historic buildings and the other, a food tour of Chinatown. We used “Free Tours by Foot.” These are conducted free, and you’re asked to tip what you think it’s worth. (Of course, they recommend a tip of $25 per person.) The guides were personable and knowledgeable.
On the morning tour we saw Independence Hall, Betsy Ross’s house, Ben Franklin’ house (well, the location where the house used to be), the first post office (where you can still get mail stamped with a Ben Franklin stamp), the Liberty Bell, the first Supreme Court Building (where the justices still meet about twice a year), one of the early cobblestone streets with architecture spanning several centuries, and more. The guide joked that whenever she asked who did something in Philadelphia, we should respond “Ben Franklin,” and we’d be right most of the time. With us on the tour were folks from Denmark, Italy, and France – that made things even more interesting.
In the afternoon, the tour of Chinatown and authentic Chinese food was intriguing. First, my friend Susan doesn’t eat most vegetables, so we all marveled that she was willing to schedule such a tour. The guide shared a great deal about the history of the Chinese population in Philly and showed us a number of different Asian foods – baked goods, such as sesame balls and chicken curry pastry, “bubble” tea, Korean sausage, some kind of Asian “poutine” with shaved smoked fish and seaweed, Chinese soup balls. She demonstrated the proper way to eat everything, and it was all delicious. In addition, our guide was a “mummer,” something the three with me understood, since they grew up in the area. I had no clue, and still am not really clear – I suggest you look it up, if you’re interested.
The only problem all day was the weather. It rained the entire time we were in the city of brotherly love. It wouldn’t have been a problem but for two things – I brought no rain gear, and my shoes did not like the streets. Three times I slipped going from the wet street to the sidewalk. It played havoc with my toenails. They were a mess at the end of the day.
We returned to Mt. Gretna with no real mishaps – a lot different from 34 years ago.
I also got a taste of life a bit further north. The day we arrived in Pennsylvania, it was 95 degrees and muggy. Our last two days, it was dry, clear, but 55 at night. I nearly froze – our friends’ house is not designed for winter; there’s no real heat. I spent the nights in two shirts, pajama pants, a sweater, two blankets and a quilt. It was actually nice for sleeping, but shades of racing to get dressed in the mornings without touching the cold floor at my grandmother’s fireplace-heated home when I was very young.
We returned to South Carolina on Sunday, refreshed and renewed and bearing Pennsylvania potato chips, pretzels, more long johns and Wilbur buds.
Now I just need to talk with my nail tech about a pedicure.