Instagram feed

12 November 2010

From DC to Philly Cheesesteak Heaven

I woke up on Leslie's couch at 8am. I had a bus to catch at 10:15am. As I had some cereal and packed my bags, I watched some CNN (the TV stations here seem to emphasize national news more than entertainment) - the program was debating Marijuana legalization; specifically, Prop 19. Yet another example showing that wherever I go, I can't escape California.

I said bye-for-now to Leslie (she's going to Philly too, but on the next bus), and I walked to the bus stop in the same parking lot as yesterday's food truck festival. The city was much quieter this Saturday morning. People queued and boarded the bus. Our bus driver was an entertaingly loud and friendly black woman named Carolyn. She prodded us passengers to say "good morning" like we meant it! (Unfortunately all these east coast people were more interested in getting to their destination than talking.) Carolyn then proudly proclaimed without any hint of timidness, "I HAVE MENOPAUSE."

Okay, now she got my attention. "This means that the temperature in the bus can either be TOO HOT or TOO COLD. Feel free to come up here and tap my shoulder or slap me in the face so that I'll adjust the a/c."

I was happy to finally encounter someone with a shred of genuine personality.

As the bus left DC, I began texting my friends in Philadelphia to see whether they'd meet me there or wait until Leslie arrived. After a few minutes, I looked up from my phone and saw that we were already driving through the forest (aka suburban Maryland). The rest of the ride went by smoothly.
  • I kept my ipod on as the scenery flew by. As I tried to take a picture of the scenery, I had a difficult time juggling my camera, phone, and ipod; I wish there was some gadget that combined all three into one! IF ONLY!
  • The bus passed through a tunnel underneath Baltimore harbor, and suddenly the freeway signs read "95 North - New York" ... but what about Philadelphia? Isn't that the next city?
  • The bus stopped in a suburb north of Baltimore to pick up more passengers. I noticed that the bus driver announced the stop as "Murryland" - is that how the locals pronounce it?
  • Every car on the freeway is from a different state - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, New York, DC.
  • I noticed the couple in front of me, about college-age, were playing a luge/bobsled game on their iPhone.
  • Traffic is bad. Especially with all these toll plazas every few miles. The worst backup was trying to cross into Delaware.
  • I just crossed from The South into The North. Interesting.

Before I knew it, the bus had whizzed through the industrial areas south of Philadelphia and I arrived in the city of brotherly love.

    There to greet me at the bus stop was my friend Vy. It was lunchtime, so we embarked on a quest to get some of Philly's finest cheesesteak before Leslie's bus would arrive in 2 hours. We took the subway, which is much more gritty than DC's metro. In fact, they use old coin tokens as fare. Fascinating.

    As we waited for our train on the platform, a young couple approached me and Vy. The guy said, "Do you mind if we take a picture of you talking to each other using your hands like you're Italian? We're doing a scavenger hunt."

    Vy and I responded to this man's abrupt and unusual request with an enthusiastic YES!

    We took the subway to 5th street, walked past lots of old colonial buildings, discovering a cool old cemetery along the way.

    We arrived at South Street, which is essentially Philadelphia's epicenter of counter-culture. The vibe reminded me of San Francisco's Haight or LA's Venice Beach. The tattoo parlors and oddball vintage clothing shops made me feel right at home. And there, right on South and 4th, was Jim's steaks.

    The queue for Jim's wrapped around the corner. Clearly it was popular. And boy, did it look good. I ordered my cheesesteak with grilled peppers and melted provolone, and a beer to wash it down with. Vy and I squeezed our way to the tables upstairs, finding a small table near the wall, and took our first bite.

    Oh. Oh yes. YES! It is definitely worth devoting a paragraph to the juicy savoriness of my first true Philly cheesesteak. I had been raised not to think much of cheesesteaks, since the sandwiches lacked the unique spices of Mexican or Asian food. Bread and meat and cheese, that's it? Sounds like a lazy compromise, not a cuisine. Clearly I didn't know what I was thinking, because as I held that cheesesteak in my hands, the autographs of countless celebrities looking down upon me from the walls, and the steamy smell of seared-in savoriness saturated my senses, I was overwhelmed by the simplistic beauty of it all. Bread, cheese, steak. And in my case, some onions and peppers to put it over the top. With the first bite I took, a choir of angels began to sing above me, and the fresh bread balanced the steak's juices and the gooey cheese with a perfection that would bring a tear to one's eye. This is it, a true American cuisine worthy of our admiration. Philadelphia, I love you already, brother!

    No comments:

    Post a Comment