My husband Mike and I recently took a trip back East to attend a wedding. Since it’s a five hour flight we figured we might as well make it worthwhile, so we decided to visit some friends and family and throw in a new city to explore. From New York to Philadelphia to D.C. and its suburbs, each city had it’s own unique feel.
In the New York subway I observed the fashionistas, looking like they’d walked out of a movie or a clothing designer advertisement (sorry – I don’t even know the names). Like the flashy movie posters on the walls, the high heels and matched outfits stood out against the shadowed, gritty tunnel home to rats. The wearers of these ensembles were oblivious to the stares of the plain Midwesterner in their midst. Finally, we all heard the plaintive, demonic screeching of metal straining against metal, and the fashionistas steeled themselves against the gush of air fluttering their designer skirts as the train pulled into the station.
From that foreign world it is just two hours by Amtrak and you are in Philadelphia. I was completely charmed. I’m told that my view may be different if I had ventured outside of Center City or the South Street neighborhood where our bed and breakfast was. Maybe it’s that I’ve got a sweet spot for murals. Our neighborhood had them in both painted and mosaic varieties. I don’t know why, but Seattle doesn’t know how to do murals. The few that are here are less than inspiring. More puzzling – like, “what’s that supposed to be?”
In Philly’s downtown there are public squares festooned with statues of our forebearers surrounded by impressive, attractive, old buildings housing surely important matters. In that way Philly, along with D.C. reminds me of European cities. They have a grandeur befitting a capitol. Philadelphia was in fact the nation’s capitol for a time and I can see how it is worthy. It even has a long grassy mall with the new Constitution Center on one end dedicated to the document signed in Independence Hall on the other.
What was so wrong with this place that the early nation’s leaders decided some other city should be capitol? My understanding is that it had to do with the North/South divide, and locating the nation’s capitol in the South was a compromise appeasing factions. While there is at once a sense of patriotism seeing all the history of this country, established with the apparently radical idea that all people are equal and have basic rights, there is also an awareness of the ongoing failings in realizing our nation’s ideals. The tour guides talk about the idea of unity and overcoming differences, and seeing all of the black professionals in the city who obviously claim just as much pride in this country and rights of citizenship, I can think that we have come a long way. Yet I am also told that if I ventured to neighborhoods farther out I would see that Philly has just as much racial tension as most other American cities. I also saw only a tiny fraction of the homelessness I’m used to in Seattle’s downtown, but I wonder if that too is simply pushed out of the tourist zones.
We did not have much time in D.C. but in the time we had we must have gone through half a dozen metal detectors. From the way the security guards barked at us and the tour guides glared, I got the impression from the Capitol tour that despite the implications of doing otherwise, it is only in grim resignation that the buildings of government are kept open to the people. Perhaps I am just bitter from being made to throw away both my snack bars and a stainless steel KUOW water bottle.
It was on this trip that we got the news that Mike was offered the position of transportation planner back in Madison, WI. On our way east, about three hours into the flight we looked out the window and saw a large oblong lake stretching in both directions, and we realized we were passing over the western shore of Lake Michigan. The “fly over” state directly below us was Wisconsin. Its only coasts are on the great lakes, but this place still resonates with us deeper than East or West Coast. After three years in Seattle we are going home . . . which means this blog will soon be in need of a new tag line and theme. Now taking suggestions.