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13 January 2011


Leslie and I began our final day in Philadelphia with front row seats to an episode of "Cooking with Laura" - we were treated to the famous Laura sandwich for breakfast. Eggs, basil, chicken sausage, lettuce tomato, carglic, conion, cilantro and homemade aioli on a toasted English muffin, and somehow I also managed to eat my leftover pumpkin cupcake - needless to say we were stuffed and spoiled as we packed up our bags.

Soon we said our good-byes and were on the train, cruising smoothly into central Philadelphia. The whirring of the train past the transitioning urban landscape made me wish that I could ride trains more often. We headed straight for the Independence Visitors Center to get our free tickets to tour Independence Hall.

With about two hours to kill, we had time to visit Benjamin Franklin's grave and walk past the U.S. Mint before heading to the University of Pennsylvania to meet Alisa for Lunch. The only problem was, Alisa wouldn't respond to our calls and text, which meant that we were alone to explore the University. It was a warm and sunny day. The campus's tree lined brick paths led us between buildings that appeared aged and venerated. Squirrels chased each other across the grass and up the treees.

Our impromptu tour of UPenn led us to the medical center, where our last chance to see Alisa came and went. Carrying our full backpacks made us tired, so a grassy ridge provided the perfect sanctuary. We then rushed back to the subway to get to Independence Hall in time.

We made it. After getting our bags rifled through and queuing for about 15 minutes, we squeezed into our tour room. There were at least seven strollers and at least seven babies who began to cry just as we entered and the tour was to begin. The touristy crowd, bedecked in XL Old Navy t-shirts and husky khaki shorts, seemed enthralled and enchanted by the tour guide's description of the founding fathers and the Pennsylvania state house.

Oddly, I felt detached from the history of the room. It felt more like a 7th grade classroom or field trip, with patriotic cliches peppering the entire experience. Nevertheless, it was still very interesting to be in the room where the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and Articles of Conferedration were adopted. As Leslie later remarked, it fills you with a strong sense of American-ness. Which is cool.

The tour was short, only taking us into two rooms of the statehouse, and lasted only about 10 minutes. That was it?!, I thought. It was a bit of a let-down. I guess you get what you pay for.

We then walked across the street to visit the Liberty Bell. There was another security checkpoint where they demanded to rummage through our bags. The squat black woman who rifled through my bag remarked that my bag was really full.

"It has my life in it." I responded.

"You trust my with your life?"

"I don't have much choice do I?"

And with that, she proceeded to delicately unzip my backpack and completely remove every single item. Every item that had been carefully rolled, stacked, and compartmentalized now lay crinkled on the security table as she handed my opened bag back to me. I would have quipped back a snarky reply, but my mind was too aghast at the task of re-packing my clothes. I frustratedly jammed everything back into my bag and rushed to catch up with Leslie.

The Liberty Bell center has an exhibit detailing the history of the bell; I'm sure it's informative and interesting, but I just rushed past it all to see the bell itself! It was there, a large bell surrounded by velvet ropes. Great.

Done with that, we rushed into the warm October afternoon and searched for something to occupy or last two hours in Philly. The answer was clear: Cheesesteak! It was too far away to go to Jim's, so we went to nearby Campo's (which looked like a chain restaurant). And it was here that I had my mediocre (at best) cheesesteak served with a side of attitude.

And that was it. Before I knew it, it was time to take the subway to 30th St. Station, where I said bye to Leslie (who had a bus to catch back to DC) and where I caught my train to the airport. The SEPTA train runs directly from the station to the airport, which is very (very!) convenient for travelers like me. The train ticket checker even looked up which terminal I was supposed to get to. How surprisingly helpful! The train let me off right at the terminal! I simply had to go up an escalator and I was right at the security checkpoint. Philadelphia airport gets my seal of approval!

I had about an hour to kill in the terminal; I did some reading and listened to some music. Seated next to me was a couple from Australia, and the pilot of the flight also had a noticeable Aussie accent. What is going on here?

The flight was a little early. Los Angeles was shrouded in fog, which made the plane's descent into the glowing abyss surreal.

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