Monday, August 10, 2009

Road Trip: Bringing the Ill to Philly

It was coolish, clear and bright in Southeastern Pennsylvania when we woke up and drove the remaining 70 miles of our Road Trip into Philadelphia to deliver me to my destination and btw, spend Independence Day, in the experienced old city where it all went down over 200 years ago.

I've taken all kinds of approaches to the 4th of July, but generally skewing away from any challenging pursuit in favor of drinking and relaxing. As I've got older, fireworks even, have taken a back seat to the aforementioned lack of effort. Really, what better way to commemorate the legendarily dire struggle of our ill-equipped forefathers, facing the longest of odds against the world's greatest army, for the dream of a freedom we now take for granted, than barely lifting a finger?

But then we were in Philadelphia and I thought, well, this is an opportunity for a new, high-minded kind of Fourth of July. And we went for it and 'did our thing out front,' per the advice of living-in-the-moment master Ken Kesey. The result was a steaming-rich slice of Americana you can't get outside the 215.

Being that we needed our beauty rest and we're late to rouse after a large day of driving on the 3rd, we didn't get into Philadelphia until around lunch time, which was fine because the day's first priority was cheesesteaks and the first decision was Pat's or Geno's?

We weren't alone in this determination and found ourselves in a busy Italian Market neighborhood with both Pat's and Geno's sporting horrendous, multi-corner lines. Some clown from a local radio station was broadcasting Pointer Sister's tunes at ear-wrecking volumes in front of Geno's, so we retreated to Pat's and braved the line. 15 minutes later, we were mowing down steaks 'whiz wit,' spicy cherry peppers, fries and cokes. Satisfying. Delicious.

And perfect brain food for the introspective afternoon that followed, where we found our way north and east up to Independence Mall to soak up some meaningful history. We'd missed the parade (probably a good thing) but there was still plenty of historically-themed stuff going down around Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Center, which offers a pleasant and educational stroll through an air-conditioned glass corridor with more than you could ever want to know about the Bell.

We did the tour, marveled at this Bell which has achieved more as an inanimate object than most of us could ever hope to, including serving as an inspiration to nascent democracy around the world, and then posed with this awesome Colonial American to capture the moment.

By this time our feet and brains were aching, and I had a lump in my throat from all the nostalgia being a lot to handle and making me feel sad and guilty for the comparatively little that I've sacrificed for this country besides tax money. My grandfathers both answered the proverbial call of duty and spent their lives battling America's foreign enemies. What proxy in my modern life is there for this kind of sacrifice? I thought about it for a second and remembered the call to arms of late is simple: consume, for the benefit of America, consume. And away we went to the bar at Jones, where the 4th of July as I know it officially began. I started to cheer up as we drank American beers from local brewers like Victory, Yards and Yuengling and watched the Phillies stick it to the Mets on tv.

From there the only thing we could do was eat and drink some more to kill the time until the free Sheryl Crow concert and fire works at the Art Museum at 10. So we decided to take advantage of Philadelphia's fantastic BYOB tradition and drop in on the Jamaican Jerk Hut where ridiculous island-style decorations and a reggae band stand liven up an empty lot next to the restaurant with rastamon vibrations. The chicken's ayrie and so is showing up with your own bottle of Mount Gay and ordering cups of juice alongside dinner.
Them belly's full, we joined the throng in the streets headed for the Art Museum and caught the tail end of Sheryl Crow's free set culminating in an encore, which I called, of 'All I Wanna Do.' But then she tacked on a second song in the encore and wrapped up her show with a Zeppelin cover, 'Rock 'N Roll,' which, alright, I dig it, but shouldn't any musician prefer to close with their own material? Or was Crow really saving the best for last?

After fireworks the crowd of probably 250,000 (since I'm really good at estimating large crowds in the dark you can trust that stat) dissipated back into the City and we along with them headed to South street to close out the night with yet another Philadelphia tradition, 'the special,' at Bob and Barbara's. The Special, at any Philly bar that honors this savvy order, is an ice-cold can of PBR accompanied by a shot of Jim Beam, and at $2.50 per Special at Bob and Barbara's it's an economic way to get your drink on.

There we spent the rest of the night, jamming on with the house band and their slippery smooth instrumental grooves on old '70s hits from Stevie Wonder and Al Green to the Chi-Lites. God Bless America.

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