Day 10 – Philadelphia

So, in case you were wondering, it’s now July 2nd 2011. I wasn’t actually going to say what day it was at any point but we’ve got July 4th coming up soon. We’re in Philadelphia, having just done Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, and it’s nearly Independence Day!

Thankfully, if movies have told me anything, we’re nowhere near the White House. Hopefully we should be safe from marauding aliens and their bloody massive lasers. And Bill Pullman isn’t President, so we’re all good. No, he’s busy in Torchwood: Miracle Day – Torchwood being a favourite show of mine (better than Doctor Who in my opinion). Unfortunately, Torchwood should have finished at Children Of Earth – bringing it back for Miracle Day was sort of like Miracle Day’s whole plot in real life – something that just won’t die for no reason.

But enough of that – Philadelphia!

Now, we’ve got a fair few plans for today. Basically, early July is when Americans throw all their national public events, seemingly at the same time, culminating in July 4th. July 5th is left relatively open so people can recover and go home. But, in contrast to us Brits, there seems to be little drinking – but that’s a topic for later.

July 2nd is a good day to see what’s going on, go to a few events and explore the city. Well, not so much explore, but go from one event to the other. There are a few things we plan on doing today – China Town is having a street party, there’s a big “all-you-can-eat” ice cream thing going on, and a concert over at Penn’s Landing.

So, leaving the hotel we head over to China Town. Takes us about 20 minutes, shorter than when we went there two days earlier for dinner, to see the street party. There’s a big Chinese gate at the main entrance to the China Town, and plenty of stuff going on including some dancing and stalls. Overall though, there’s not a huge amount to take our attention.

It does seem, however, that the event is being sponsored by Wawa, a chain of stores not dissimilar to Spar or something of that ilk here. And they’re sponsoring it like nobody’s business – even bringing along trucks full of soft drinks (pink lemonade – great stuff) to give away for free! We manage to bag ourselves a few bottles, and basically drink them for a few days. Hey – free drinks, why not? Thanks Wawa, sorry I didn’t have time or cause to give you any actual custom.

If you’ve had a look at a map for Philadelphia (I’m actually cleaning out my backpack at the moment and found a street map, which I’ve kept), we head east now and manage to find ourselves at Franklin Square. A nice little park, today this has all sorts of stalls and exhibits dedicated to July 4th and the abolition of slavery, hosted by a local man who’s made it his mission to spread the word on the evils of slavery. And boy, does it sound evil.

It seems crass to say it, but this is one of the nice little “surprises” of the holiday – something we weren’t expecting. But, as nice as it was coming across this, the man’s tales are nothing short of despicable regarding the acts done, even fairly recently. That slaves were kept chained in the holds of ships, crammed in like sardines in a tin for weeks, literally without being given any exercise or stimulus of any variety, and the methods employed to imprison the slaves, speaks volumes.

From here, I can’t quite remember why but we head south. It’s along this route that we stop for lunch and I get to sample my first Philly Cheese Steak. A greasier, unhealthier and yet nicer sandwich I have never had. There are pizzas around where I live which taste very nice to start with, but after a while just get boring. The Philly Cheese Steak tastes exactly like these, but doesn’t last long enough to get boring.

And yes, it does drip from time to time. Not the best of things to be eating, by any margin.

Heading south and east-ish we hit the riverside and then start walking north along it, towards Penn’s Landing. The all-you-can-eat ice cream is there, as is the big concert later. Penn’s Landing is fenced off for security, and we head in, along with lots of other people. This place is crowded!

We pass on the all-you-can-eat ice cream – it looks packed and we’re actually quite full. We would have loved to have done it, but just can’t quite muster it at the moment.

Seating is… well, uncomfortable. We manage to pick out a place in front of the stage with a great view, except that it’s just concrete steps. Ho-hum – for free you can’t really complain. There’s a bit of time before stuff starts.

The river passing by Philadelphia actually divides the states – from what I gather, Philadelphia Pennsylvania is on the west side, and Newark in New Jersey on the east. Docked in Newark is a battleship, which is clearly visible from where we are. There is a bridge nearby going over to the Newark side, though we don’t go across. Basically, the premise of the concert is that it is taking place on either side of the river, with a huge firework display at the end of it all.

Eventually the music gets started. I don’t pay much attention to music and have a poor memory about it, but I do remember there were three acts that evening – one of them being Tim Urban (or so the internet says), a runner-up of American Idol. There is also Straight No Chaser, an accapella group who I do remember – very good, and it was like watching a real-life episode of Glee. Just minus the annoying teenagers.

Rounding off the evening was the United States Army concert band Pershing’s Own, performing booming renditions of various military-themed (and non-military-themed) songs.

Somewhere along the way we got something to eat. I honestly can’t remember what I had – just some fast food of some variety. There was a huge amount of people lined up at the temporary tents that were serving food. My wife had a funnel cake, which I think mitigated the Philly Cheese Steak I had earlier somewhat.

The evening turned into night and, as it grew dark and Pershing’s Own stopped playing, everyone got ready for the fireworks. And how spectacular they were! Being launched on either side of the river and actually from the battleship itself too, they went on for a good 20 minutes at least and put, well, just about any other firework display I’ve seen before or since to shame. All timed to music too. It’s hard to describe so you’d just have to imagine the huge amount of pyrotechnics flying about in the air.

Just before the fireworks though, we do hear someone telling off another person for smoking – they don’t want their kids near it and the offender obliged in putting out their cigarette. Here in the UK, it does seem like smoking is frowned upon but we dare not call someone out on it for fear we’d get stabbed – in the States, smoking is accepted so long as people keep themselves to themselves. Theme parks have dedicated smoking sections that are welcoming and have a good amount of upkeep. You cannot smoke within a certain distance of some businesses, and we never noticed anyone smoking outside these places or causing a nuisance – a stark contrast to the UK where, as I commute to work on the train each day, I always witness a flagrant disregard for the rules as people smoke just outside the station entrance – right under the “do not smoke in the station, or outside the entrance” signs.

I’ve just re-read that. People in the UK being afraid to call someone out on smoking in fear of being stabbed, compared to America where they’ll politely oblige. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way round?

Nevertheless, all too soon the fireworks are over and it is time to walk back across Philadelphia to the hotel on the other side of the main city area. It’s late and extremely crowded. There is an element of feeling uncertain walking back – I guess there is anywhere – but there are a lot of people around. We do get back to the hotel fine and everything but I guess we wouldn’t like to walk around much at night. Having said that, I know I wouldn’t like to do the same here in the UK (once on the way back from a meal with friends I nearly had two gangs decide to have a go).

And that’s the end of that day. Next, well… more of the same – nearly.

Previous – Day 9 – Six Flags Great Adventure

Next – Day 11 – Philadelphia (again)

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