Monday, September 29, 2008

Philadelphia: Home of grit, culture, and cheesesteaks

Last week I went to Philadelphia, PA for my annual work conference. Previous years have found me in Boston, Seattle, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis, and I was looking forward to exploring a new East Coast city and spending some time with my once-a-year friends who I only see at these conferences. So, in a very large nutshell, here was my Philly experience.


My Untied flight is a cattle car. We are crammed in like sardines and everyone is miserable and uncomfortable. Luckily, it is a nonstop flight, and getting from the airport to my hotel isn't that difficult. The shuttle driver acts as unofficial tour guide, mentioning points of interest during the 15-minute ride. I had no idea Philly had so many bridges. This is because I am totally ignorant of most East-coast cities. I arrive, check in, am told I have a "water view" (the hotel is right on Penn's Landing) and discover that if I look to the left through one of my windows I can kind of see a ship. Water view, indeed. I check in at the conference registration desk and get the materials I'll need (being on the board for this organization, I'm expected to actually be there the whole time and do some stuff rather than just passively attend) and am told I must be present at an event Tuesday evening.

I am still quite out-of-sorts from my travel so I head out of the hotel to explore a little bit nearby. My hotel is very close to what is considered Old City, with cobblestone streets and old houses, every building seems to be an historical landmark, and everyone is taking their dogs out for an evening constitutional. Famous historical crap is everywhere. Back at the hotel, I learn everyone else has gone to dinner in a restaurant on a boat, but I'm not hungry yet, so I shower and change into nicer clothing for the evening event at which I'm required to make an appearance. I appear; I go to dinner at an Afghan place nearby with some once-a-year friends.

I am unable to sleep until 3 AM.


The alarm goes off at 7 AM and I know I am not getting through the day without caffeine; 4 hours of sleep is just not enough. Breakfast (with green tea) is edible and I find my good once-a-year friend from Wisconsin. We were both new at our jobs at the Boston conference; 4 years later we are old hat and still the youngest people in the room. Last year I was engaged; this year it is her turn. We talk weddings when we can snatch conversation in between general conference sessions. Lunch is surprisingly good. I sneak out to get a workout in during breakouts and am back to fulfill my moderator duties for the 3-5 time slot. Everyone is talking about all the Federal updates and what it will mean for their programs.

When it's all over, I change my clothes and head out to meet Adina at a bar called Sugar Mom's, also in walking distance from my hotel. I'm early, so I stop into a used bookstore to find a fantastic selection of childrens' books. I make a note of a few titles I wish to own and vow to come back later in the week. The bar is below street level, dark and brick, Christmas lights and old velvet furniture, smoke and unidentified metal things. Adina is awesome. We talk for hours, have sushi for dinner, talk politics over drinks, and I am asleep by 11 PM, totally exhausted.

Adina = cute Me = scary


I am required to function much earlier than I'd like as I am scheduled to present in a breakout session attended by 60 or 70 people. I am nervous but things go well and people ask me questions about my presentation later. The rest of the day I spend just happy that the morning session went well, sneak in another workout, and take a much-needed nap while other people ride some ducks in terrible weather. When I wake up, it's time for my annual Night of Carousel with my Wisconsin friend. We have Italian food and drink in an Irish Pub holding trivia night. We don't technically participate but have fun guessing anyhow and walk all the way back to our hotel in the rain. We talk more about weddings (ours, her sister's, hers) and she asks to see our wedding photos when we get back from our night out. I am happy to oblige.


Another early morning; this is the first one I am not feeling a complete zombie. I guess I'm getting acclimated to east coast time just in time to go home. The conference is over for the day by noon, I have lunch with the board and we have a meeting until 3 PM. My original plan was to make it to NYC today, but based on conversations with Adina on the feasability of getting there and back in one afternoon/evening plus the added bonus of rain makes me ultimately decide not to do it. I spend the afternoon exploring more of the city in the rain (up Chestnut street and down Market) and trying on clothes in H&M, deciding not to buy anything because I am too fat for all of it, and make it back to the bookstore to purchase my finds and a trashy Jonathan Kellerman paperback for the plane ride home. I go out by myself for dinner and eat at the bar of a Belgian beergarden-style restautant. My chicken sandwich is heavenly and I even drink a beer (a sour lambic, but technically still a beer). I pack before bed and am so glad to be going home.

Saturday: Up early for breakfast, then an hour with the board again before I take the shuttle to the airport. The weather is still sort of crappy but there are no delays and I get back to Denver mid-afternoon. I am so happy to be home.

My observations of Philadelphia (at least the bits I got to see, which granted wasn't all that much):

Philly is a far dirtier and grittier city than I expected, even in the old historical parts. The city it reminded me most of was Boston, but it seemed a little more real than Boston and the people were far more diverse and integrated, at least from what I saw. The streets are narrow and close together and everyone is in a hurry but the people in Philly don't seem too upset if you stop to take a photo of something. It's not an especially safe city, but then, neither is San Francisco. People take their food (whether it be cheesesteaks or sushi) very seriously. And everyone I met went out of their way to be nice to me.

There were so many places I wanted to see and so many things I wanted to do that I just didn't get around to. I guess we'll have to go back someday, if only so Dan can run up the steps like Rocky and eat an authentic cheesesteak.


Yank In Texas said...

That is a scary photo of you.
Philly sounds cool and the food yummy.

Anonymous said...

Ooooh, I forgot to tell you about the food market downtown where you can see all the Mennonite ladies. I had the best cookie of my life there at one of the bakeries.

Something to check out when you go back.

Cilicious said...

Looks like a successful journey!

Anonymous said...

Yay! I was so curious to hear how your Philly trip went. I'm glad you had a good time.

Oh, and for future reference, running all the way up the Rocky stairs is totally do-able. I was afraid I'd start out then get winded and have to stop (EMBARRASSING), but there really weren't that many stairs. So either I am awesome, or Rocky was a wuss.

(Brad totally killed my buzz by telling me that in the movie, Rocky had run, like, ten gazillion miles before going up those stairs, so yeah...maybe he's not a wuss. Whatever.)

Crafty Mama said...

My husband is from Philly and we live in MA now, about forty miles west of Boston. Authentic Philly cheesesteaks are the best! You are right about people taking their food seriously, Philly was even the fattest city in the nation at one time. And are so right!