Tooling around Pennsylvania I – Mar 5, 2011

After a brief and expensive sojourn at the second largest mall in the United States — in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania — I took a quick trip up to Valley Forge to see how George Washington and the troops fared without the benefit of Starbucks, Nordstrom’s and a the international billion-calorie food court.  I had never been there before, or anywhere in the area for that matter, so in my mind the Valley was perpetually filled with snow, starving soldiers and the rich woody smell of revolution.

The reality was much smaller.  I know that sounds strange, but the whole day was like that.  You know how you go back to your childhood home after decades away and you suddenly realize how much smaller it was than in your memories?  It was like that, but on an historical scale.  Valley Forge was where AMERICAN TROUPS WERE FORGED in the ICE of INIQUITY and GEORGE WASHINGTON became the HERO of our fledgling nation, and other very big things.  In reality, Valley Forge just looks like a very nice, hilly sort of place that would get really, really cold in the winter.  What else would it be?  No idea.  It was like seeing the movie after reading the book.

But it wasn’t disappointing; not in the least.  There were reconstructed cabins that soldiers had built to survive the winter of 1777 as the British occupied nearby Philadelphia.  They were small, but they also looked solid and warm.  No wonder we created the Army Core of Engineers.  And Philadelphia itself was small then — the major city in America, but all of about 25,000 people plus 15,000 wig-wearing British invaders holding up along the ice cold Schuykill river.  Valley Forge’s rolling fields, its large monuments and tiny cabins, its Boy Scout-swarmed gift shop ADA compliant multimedia exhibits was perfect; a large story told about what might have been a small event in human history.  But now one of the first and simplest morality tales about the most powerful nation in human history.  Good stuff.

Side note; I tried to take a picture of the National Memorial Arch without anyone in it, but I couldn’t seem to find any angle where there weren’t several very heavyset (American) tourists.  The George Washington quote towering above their heads in every shot?  “Naked and Starving as They are We Cannot Enough Admire the Incomparable Patience and Fidelity of the Soldiery”.  I think they would be glad that we are now so well fed, but maybe they should make us fast for a few hours when we visit the Valley.

It IS always Sunny in Philadelphia
After Valley Forge, I was headed back to the hotel to do some work but “somehow” missed the Conshohocken exit and ended up in downtown Philly a half hour later.  Several things I quickly learned.  One, you can apparently park anywhere at any time in the downtown area if you do it in a sufficiently bold and erratic manner.  Two, there are so many police in the City of Brotherly Love that if you stacked them head to toe the last one would be able to catch a lift on the International Space Station.  Which is perhaps related to the third thing, which is that everyone was surprisingly friendly.  One nice homeless person with a brand new Droid offered me some change for the meter.  Well, not quite, but people were absurdly nice.  Or maybe people in Southern California really are narcissistic punters.

After a bit of wandering, I found myself in the Liberty Bell.  It’s cracked, you know.  And then at Independence Hall, which is currently undergoing restoration and is more accurately called Independence Scaffolding.  The main tour was done for the day, so I couldn’t see where they signed the Declaration of Independence or that Constitution thing, but the East Wing was open.  Turns out it was where Congress resided from 1789-99.  Turns out it’s also very, very small.  The whole place was small and quaint.  While they were building Washington DC down south aways, America was unabashedly tiny.  We were a small nation with small buildings and a wee little Congress you could easily fit inside last year’s printed federal budget without anyone noticing.

And the Library of Congress?  Smaller than the magazine rack at your local Wawa market.  Just a few bookshelves in the corner of an ante-room under the steady painted gaze of Marie Antoinette who, it turns out, was rather more rotund than Kirsten Dunst.  So she at least was bigger than I realized.  But overall?  A great deal of smallness.  America was microscopic at the time, an electron of a nation etched into the pages of history by sheer force of will.  All the more amazing when you see what we’ve become.

Somewhere in here I ended up in Chinatown and was taken back to the sites and smells of Hong Kong.  Dim Sum and stores filled with gold trinkets and chickens strung up in windows.  There was even store called Mong Kok Station.  Good memories that made me smile.

But now it was time for something larger.  And colder.  And deliciouser.  It was time for The Franklin Fountain ice cream experience.  I love ice cream, but I would never have gone here if not for Man vs. Food, so all that television has finally paid off.  I came, I saw, I ate chocolate and mint chip and pistachio and waffle coney goodness.  I highly recommend it.

And then of course it was time for beer.  I ended up about 20 feet away in Drinkers, which had a nice self-aware name.  Like calling bathrooms shitters.  It makes the point without any hoity-toity extra words or punctuation.  They served pulled-pork sandwiches on the same bread I remember from elementary school Sloppy Joe’s.  Also again with the nice people, who were more than happy to talk about all the touristy nonsense I felt like asking about.  And of course these people were there to Drink.  It’s a very literal place, Philadelphia.  I loved it.

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