LA is the health conscious, laid-back blond surfer cousin you can never quite figure out. New York is the suit wearing, on time, planned-to-the minute business man with his chic, art-oriented wife. And Philadelphia is the older, wiser, great-uncle of the family. You know, the one that’s seen better days but oh what stories he can tell!
It was rainy and overcast the day we drove into Philadelphia and I’m sure the bad weather impacted our impression. The streets, like so many East Coast streets, were narrow and full of pot holes from the snow. The buildings were old and narrow too, and unlike the older buildings of New York, seemed more unkempt. But even on this cold and sleet-filled day, there was a warm light in every window and the people walking on the streets seemed comfortable and at home in their city.
Independence Hall was awesome. It was amazing to walk in the small rooms where the Declaration of Independence was signed and our government was formed. It was humbling to think that such great ideas were inspired in those small, simple rooms and that men like Washington and Jefferson walked the halls and faced down the British Empire. The Liberty Bell is smaller than I thought but the exhibition tells a bigger story. I never realized what that bell has come to mean to so many people. Yes, I was impressed.
Everywhere in Philadelphia there were large, federal type buildings. They’re huge and magnificent with their grand pillars but I can’t tell you what they are because we never found a sign for any of them. Not even the one that took up several huge city blocks right in the middle of town. We passed through two college campuses just trying to get to the turnpike and I can well imagine that in the spring with flowers and grass, Philadelphia would be beautiful. It’s apparent even in the worst weather that it’s loved, like the favorite great-uncle.
Atlantic City is the family’s dame. In her time she was probably quite the good time girl with her magnificent hotels and boardwalk. Today, she’s still the one you’d like to have around. As long as the drinks are flowing, she’d be the life of the party. But I doubt very seriously you’d want to see her the day after.
Atlantic City literally exists on the boardwalk. The casinos face the ocean and the wide, wooden walkway. Life takes place there. But one block inland, away from the boardwalk there are abandoned and derelict buildings everywhere. I’d like to think that like Las Vegas, there are suburbs where people have nice homes and comfortable lives far from the glitz and decay but I didn’t see any evidence of that.
The Atlantic Ocean is just like the paintings and pictures you always see. There’s a large hill of sand. At the top is a crooked wooden picket fence with small tufts of grass. A slatted wood walkway leads up and over the hill. On the other side, the waves are small and break further out. It seems the water is even a lighter color than the dark blue Pacific.
They tell me in the summer time Atlantic City is packed with people, trying to escape the humid heat of the cities. The boardwalk is full of carts with people being pushed around like they have been since the turn of the century. They say it’s the place to be. I believe it. But you still won’t want to see her the day after.
In my previous blogs, I’ve said a great deal about the things I love here on the East Coast. For a few minutes, let me mention some of the things that are not so pleasant. For instance, if you park your car and go into a store or restaurant, be sure to take your GPS with you. That way you can program it before you walk to your car. If you think you are going to be able to sit in your car and program it after you return, think again. People in their cars will sit behind you, waiting to take your place. If you don’t leave, there will be horns honking and the possibility of fights.
Follow the same procedure if you are looking for a parking place. Wait for a person coming from the store to their allotted parking place and be the first in line. If you don’t you’ll never find a place, honking will occur and there may be fights.
If you want to eat at a restaurant anywhere in New Jersey during breakfast or dinner, go early. Otherwise, the place will be packed and you will encounter a half-hour to an hour wait. For a while, I wondered if they put kitchens in the homes in New Jersey but everyone assures me they do. There’s just that many people.
If you lose track of time and arrive late at a restaurant, you will wait. There will be wall to wall people in the entryway and every possible space, sometimes standing in the snow with the door open. They’ll be packed in like sardines and something I call the ‘herd’ affect occurs. As soon as someone is called to their table a space opens up. The herd sees the space and says ‘Fill the hole! Fill the hole!” Before you can move, the crowd shifts and just like that the space disappears.
When you open a door and hold it for a little old lady with a walker, fifteen people will zoom in before you can. They are not necessarily being rude. It’s just the herd affect taking over. As they run past, you can hear them muttering, “Fill the hole! Fill the hole!
There are some strange little quirks we’ve noticed. Here they don’t charge tax on their clothes but do on their food. In California, it’s just the opposite. There’s an upscale downtown area with fine restaurants. The best burger in New Jersey is reported to come from an eatery there. You’ll find great food but don’t count on any alcoholic drinks. There’s an ordinance disallowing liquor licenses. You can bring your own bottle. They’ll pour and charge you to mix it, but they can’t sell it to you.
About ten miles up the turnpike, we drove through a town on Sunday and noticed there was no one in the Home Depot parking lot. Closed on Sunday? Not possible. Then we saw an empty mall parking lot. We couldn’t believe anyplace still had an ordinance against shopping on Sunday. But then we drove past the empty Wal-Mart parking lot and knew it had to be true.
Apparently, Californians aren’t as discerning as Easterners about how they get their revenue. Liquor permits. Shopping on Sundays. Who cares! Just show us the money.
For me, the East Coast continues to be a fascinating melting pot of cultures. In my Catholic bible study I sat next to a woman with an accent. I asked her where she was from. She said her mother was Italian, her father was from Malta but she was born in Libya. Her husband was a Libyan but they had fled years ago, at the beginning of the Gaddafi regime.
She said they were not too surprised when the persecution first began. All of her husband’s family in Lebanon, Marionite Christians, had already been killed by Muslims or fled to America. At first when the Muslims of Libya targeted her and her husband, they tried to comply. They were told they had to become citizens. She said, “I was born there, I didn’t know I wasn’t a citizen”.
She and her husband did everything that was asked of them but still found papers shoved under the door of their beautiful villa. The papers said, “Your blood is for shedding. Your property is for taking.” Even then they didn’t want to leave their home.
But when they were told their fifteen-year-old son was to be sent to the army, they packed, booked a flight and left everything behind. On Friday they left Libya. On Monday, her husband began to work for an American company in the United States. Her son grew up to be a doctor and now she has four grandchildren.
Coast to coast, state to state we have our differences, our difficulties and plenty of eccentricities. But we’re still one country, one big family. And we’re still the land of the free and the home of the brave.