Philadelphia | ‘A Few Hours In Philly’

Things are all quiet on the exploration front right now. There are only so many times I can write about Manchester and Liverpool after all. The one bit of Manchester I have left to visit (alright, two if you count the inside of Cheetham’s Library) might be a bit of a pain to get to because the Metrolink doesn’t go down that way. There’s always a bus I suppose. Yes, I know I said I’d explore the Wirral and I’ll get round to it. I was going to start over the summer but then I decided to go to Crosby instead. I could start now but I’m thinking of waiting till after Christmas, although seeing that Unilever has been in the news a visit to Port Sunlight would be quite topical. It was built as a model village by the original Lever Bros. if you didn’t know. It’s a bit too dreek out there for my tastes right now, however- So let’s go back in time instead. Let’s go back to the good old US of A, to that time in February of 2008 when Hillary Clinton was running against Obama for the democratic nomination. I’ve already told of my time in D.C and I left off that story with the coach (full of college students) heading for New York, with a scheduled stop off in the birthplace of American independence: Philadelphia.


As the coach gets going it travels through some outer suburb of D.C. This looks like kind of a rough area. It’s all wild and untamed and, dare I say it, derelict. It looks like the kind of area you don’t want to be hanging around in at any time, especially during the day. I don’t think the driver went for the same route to the freeway as Google suggests for I’ve looked and I can’t see any parts that remind me of the squalid area I saw from the window of the bus. Where it was I couldn’t tell you, I don’t know. Someone behind me is talking about gun shops though… This is the sort of place you find them, apparently. I feel uncomfortable, and it isn’t the paddingless coach seat that is doing it. I want to get out of here as soon as possible, thank you very much. Our journey through this place is thankfully brief but it just goes to show that everywhere, even the capital of the most powerful nation on earth, has its less glamorous sides.

‘Years of movies and television have regaled me with tales of the great American road trip, where the sky is blue and the open highway is a thing of beauty…’Onto the highway, the long I-95 which runs from one end of the east coast to the other. Years of movies and television have regaled me with tales of the great American road trip, where the sky is blue and the open highway is a thing of beauty, lined with motels full of illicit rendezvous, strange shops and restaurants with friendly owners who thrive on the passing trade, huge inventive billboards with messages hailing the second coming of Christ. I expect to see a Godzilla sized Hillary Clinton by the side of the road, promoting her campaign for the Democratic nomination. I expect to see the true beauty of the American landscape. I expect to see the open road promised by the movies. Well not on this highway I won’t! This isn’t the great American highway that was promised by movies and television, this is more akin to the M6 about three miles outside of Birmingham. It’s dull, without beauty. There are no motels, no billboards promising the second coming and no Godzilla Clinton. There’s practically nothing to see and all the scenery consists of is boring trees, lots and lots of trees. I settle myself into my seat and carry on with The Man With The Golden Gun. I’m quite enjoying it, more than the scenery anyway.

A sign on the road and a change of view out of the window announces that we’ve hit Baltimore. It’s not the most famous of American cities but thanks to knowing a little bit more than I should about Andrew Lloyd Webber songs (One of my great flaws) I’ve heard of it. ‘He’s doing some deal/Up in Baltimore now/I hate it when he’s away…’ or so the song goes. I’d like to know a bit more about this place but it doesn’t look worth it. The view isn’t very pleasant. We’re talking huge belching chimneys, factories and other industry. It’s a smoggy, grimy looking city, not the sort of place that might be welcome to tourists, it seems. Impressions can sometimes be misleading though. I see from the map that the highway only passes through the dock area and the outer burbs and that’s hardly a representation of the whole place. Baltimore, looking through a certain online encyclopaedia, has some places that look like they could be worth visiting. There is Fort McHenry, for example, which if you aren’t aware is the birthplace of the US national anthem. That’s worth a look I think. There are a few more bits as well. Baltimore could be a worth a good few days visit, maybe a weekend.

(Image from Movoto.com)

(Image from Movoto.com)

Beyond Baltimore the road goes back to tree lined dullsville and I settle back into my seat and my book. We’re soon over the Mason-Dixon line and slipping through Delaware. I’d be really interested in getting a flavour of this little known state but those damn trees get in the way so I can’t see it. Thus the only bit of Delaware I have experienced is a god damned dull road. Another reason to go back. The state soon slips away entirely and we’re into Pennsylvania, almost to Philadelphia. From beyond the highway it rises out of the haze, a quite beautiful sight. I’m eager to explore but there won’t be much of a chance of that for we’ll only be here for a few hours. Still, it impresses me upon first sight.

The coach pulls into the car park of a not very impressive looking concrete building- The U.S Constitution Centre. The exterior makes me think that there won’t be much here, that it’s going to be a bit dull. Being corralled into the reception area I see there’s a lot of empty space and I’m further worried. In my experience if there’s a lot of empty space there really won’t be much here. At least there’s a little shop though. After a moment’s wait we’re ushered into an auditorium space to watch some kind of a show- According to a quick look up it is called ‘Freedom Rising.’ I don’t expect this to be good. Can I not go back to the coach and keep reading? No. Oh well… Might as well watch this and if it’s that bad I can always try and fall asleep.

‘Where else in the world would you find something like this? Nowhere. Well… Except maybe North Korea but here patriotism is actually a choice and not a dictation.’I’m amazed. I’m astonished. This show exceeds expectations, which wasn’t too difficult to do considering I thought it was going to be rubbish. It is a brief look at the formation of the United States and the constitution and it’s all super interesting, delivered in a passionate, electrifying way by a young woman who gets more and more worked up the longer the show goes on. She has me sold and by the end, when she’s shouting ‘WE THE PEOPLE,’ over and over again as though she’s attempting to reignite the war of independence, I’m feeling the vibes myself. I’m feeling all ‘AMERICA… FUCK YEAH!’ For a moment I can truly believe that this really is the land of the free, the greatest country on earth. This is U.S patriotism in full flow. Where else in the world would you find something like this? Nowhere. Well… Except maybe North Korea but here patriotism is actually a choice and not a dictation. Mixed into this patriotism is a pride in the nation, something which I noted a lot of back in D.C. As I said when I wrote of that, I think it is something the rest of the world should take note of. In these times especially, what with all the shit going on in the world, a little more pride in where we come from will go a long way to helping us muddle through whatever lies ahead. I’m not saying go over the top into full blown jingoism or nationalism but a bit more patriotism, like they have in the U.S, would be lovely.

I come out buzzing, having actually loved the little show. I’m following a few other people and wandering through this exhibition space. I’d like to stop and look around but seeing as people are just wandering through I’m guessing we don’t have time. That, as I soon discover, isn’t the case and now I can’t get back. I thought I was following the main group but nope, just some idiots who didn’t want to be there. This puts a dampner on how buzzed I am. There’s still more of the museum to see fortunately, specifically the ‘signers hall’ which is a room full of life sized replicas of the signers of the constitution. I really like this bit but I’m both saddened and ashamed at having missed bits of the previous part of the museum. At the end, in the shop, I buy a mug depicting this scene, one which I still have to this day.

Ben Franklin and the Liberty BellThe constitution centre done with, and with myself quite happy to have visited (I don’t think everybody felt the same) it’s up what is known as ‘Independence Mall’ for a visit to the Liberty Bell. There really isn’t much here, mostly just the bell itself. It won’t ever ring again because of the crack down the middle but does it need to? True liberty will never die after all. No matter what pussy grabbing halfwit comes along and tries to kill it, it will always rise again. So long as there are people willing to fight for it, to stand up against slavery and tyrants, it will live forever. It’s a big bell and all, a thing that even for me, a boy who grew up in an obscure one horse town in the north of England, has the power to stir the soul. Thinking on it, I want to go back because I did not stop and stare for long enough- And the best part is that you can see it for free, for that should always be the fundamental price of human Liberty- Nothing! It rarely ever is that low, however, unfortunately.

Outside we stop and stare at Independence hall, waiting for everyone to pass through and look at the Liberty Bell. We don’t go in, though it’s free and I would really like to go in. Inevitably it brings National Treasure to mind… I think the bit with Independence Hall was the same bit where I got into a fight the first time I watched it. Best you don’t ask about that one in all honesty. It seems like we’re there for a while but then comes the long walk back to the constitution centre car park.

We’ve not been here for very long at all, less than a couple of hours. I’d rather stay a bit longer, go around Independence Hall and see whatever else is here. Instead the next stretch of the dull as ditchwater I-95 awaits, 155 kilometres of it all the way to New York City. It should be fun, it should be exciting… But I’ll say this, what is about to happen in New York is staying firmly in New York!


Independence Hall

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