I made a decision a few years back, that being alone would not deter me from continuing my travels when the opportunities presented themselves. While still living in Boston, I was determined to see as much as the Eastern Seaboard as possible.
I took an Amtrak train in early spring of 2003 and headed to Philadelphia. I had a cousin in the area but that was not my entire motivation for going there though it served as a backdrop which propelled me forward. I enjoy train rides for both the scenery and the tranquility and I can let the conductor do the navigating of the terrain.
Of course, I did my homework and made arrangements for my hotel stay and tour guide plans. I remember the train stopping in New Haven, Connecticut, the home of Yale University. That was a memorable stop because I knew that that was about as close as I would get to that famed university.
But, when the train stopped at Penn Station in NYC, it was a poignant moment for me. It was my first return to the city post 9-11. I felt a quiet hush as I looked out of the train window, and it was surreal for a few minutes as I thought about what had occurred there since my last visit.
We slowly pulled off and moved further south until we finally landed at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia. After coming upstairs out of the terminal, the first place I saw was Drexel University sitting across from the station. University and college campuses always get my immediate attention for several reasons.
I do remember a professional brotha as my taxi driver and I recall the warm reception that I received at the Sheraton University City Hotel. My room was nice and though it was a gray day, I vowed within to make the most of my journey.
I went down to the hotel restaurant after resting and I realized that the venue was also a hot spot for the locals. As I ate, I enjoyed watching the young people dancing and enjoying life which made me feel less alone. I was totally absorbed in the food, the decorum and the joy exuding from the youth.
I later went upstairs and called my cousin who lived in nearby Deptford, New Jersey. Though she was not that far away, she kept talking about some bridge that she would have to cross if she came to Philly. I was not expecting that of her for neither of us were spring chickens at that point. We enjoyed spending hours on the phone talking and laughing. She was close to my mother who had passed a few months earlier, so we visited via the tele and it was one of the highlights of my trip.
The next day, I took a bus tour of the city which left from the hotel. I highly appreciated our tour guide who was diminutive fella who had once been a jockey. He was animated and truly lightened things up for us on that sunless day. As he showed us some of the city’s landmarks, he said of the city’s inventions, “If not Ben, it’s Penn.”
We saw the statue of William Penn sitting high up the top of City Hall, the victory steps that Sylvester Stallone mounted as he played Rocky in the blockbuster movie, the grave of Benjamin Franklin, some really skinny houses, Betsy Ross’ home and the Clothespin Statue, to name a few. We stopped and had Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches close to where we disembarked to see both The Liberty Bell and Independence Hall.
We entered the place where the Liberty Bell is housed and there was a small group gathered around listening to docent. I was shocked to see how small the actual bell was because I thought it would be huge like the bell that the Hunchback of Notre Dame swung on in the movie. But as we stood there in reverence, I silently claimed as Langston Hughes wrote, “I, too, sing America.”
We crossed the grounds and headed over to Independence Hall. It looked as if it was a picture from the 1776 era. I could see Benjamin Franklin and his comrades hammering out the words of the Constitution in my mind’s eye. It too held special moments for me. The space, size of the hall and even the speaker’s box seemed so small but there was still a feeling of great respect for what had been accomplished there.
I had hoped to do a little shopping at some of the well-known jewelry places that customize in the setting of stones for customers. However, I picked up catalogs, other memorabilia and jotted down detailed memories of my trip. It was a short, but sweet trip and I am happy that I made to Philly while still living on the East Coast!
February 26, 2022