Mostly our trip east was to see family. We are scattered about the country now, and getting together takes a bit of planning and effort. But that’s what you do, because it’s worth it.
Here in the Central Time Zone, Kim’s mom came down to watch over the house and the various critters in it, so we could travel without worry. It’s good to have family. The cats, rabbits and goldfish were all healthy and happy when we got back, even if one of the goldfish has subsequently departed for wherever it is that goldfish go in their afterlives. Is there a goldfish heaven? And if so, what does it look like? I’m thinking there are a lot of things to eat, and a conspicuous absence of glass walls. That actually doesn’t sound that bad for people, either.
Wait, where was I? Oh, right, traveling.
We left Hershey and headed east to the suburbs of Philadelphia, where my parents awaited. It was a nice drive – the minivan has definitely proven its worth, and after this trip I may have actually figured out how to drive it without too much anxiety – and we got there in time to have cheesesteaks for lunch (as noted earlier). And then we settled in for some good times.
Some of those times involved running about, because we don’t really stay put much on vacations.
As I am insufficiently reverent when it comes to art (apparently if you refer to a room full of paintings by Dutch Masters as “pictures of men with beards” just once you will never live it down around here…) and Lauren was uninterested in any museum where you are not allowed to touch anything, we stayed home with my dad while Kim took Tabitha and my mom over to the Art Museum. They had a grand time, and apparently did not touch any of the paintings at all.
Lauren and I made up for this by going to the Franklin Institute, one of the greatest places in all the world because you can touch everything. We rode the train to Center City and walked up the Ben Franklin Parkway to the museum, where we went through all sorts of exhibits – you have to walk through the heart, otherwise it’s not really a visit to the Franklin Institute, and they had a neat exhibit on the brain as well. There was also a short presentation by two Cirque du Soleil performers, advertising their upcoming show. That was impressive.
Lauren’s favorites were the things she could do, such as the bungee jump (physics in action!) and the gravity bike (more physics in action!).
We walked around the neighborhood and found a nice little corner shop for lunch (cheesesteaks again, if you can imagine). They had tables outside so we ate there on that bright sunny day in the middle of the city. “Would you ever want to live in a city like this?” I asked her. “No,” she said. “Where would I keep my chickens?”
We also spent a day cruising around Valley Forge. It’s been a very long time since I was there. We went on a field trip when I was in 7th grade, and Kim and I walked around the place before we were married, but the girls had never been there. They’ve really made the place handsome.
It has a nice visitor’s center where you can see all sorts of exhibits (and touch some of them), and there is, of course, a gift shop.
We took a bus tour around the park, which is an easy way to see things. It’s a big park. We enjoyed the guys with the muskets, and we saw where George Washington actually slept.
I never really know what to do when the tour guides ask questions. On the one hand, having been a tour guide at a museum, I know they are just trying to get some conversation going and keep the audience involved, and when nobody responds it’s just awkward. On the other hand, having a PhD in the history of late-18th-century America means I probably know more about most of what they’re saying than they do – not all (I certainly learned a few things on this tour), but enough so that if I actually did answer the questions that nobody else was answering, I’d just be “that guy.” It’s a quandary.
Afterward we went to the King of Prussia Mall, mostly because if we didn’t Lauren would explode. She likes hanging out in retail space, and there’s more of it there than anywhere else on the east coast. We ate lunch there at the food court (guess what I had – go ahead, I’ll wait…) and then split up, with the more shopping-inclined (Kim and Lauren) heading off in one direction and Tabitha and I heading off in another.
There is not a single book store anywhere in the King of Prussia Mall. Not one. Think about that. This is the largest mall in the most heavily populated region of the country, and there is no place you can go to buy a novel. There are stores just for paper. There are stores for clothing. There are four – count ‘em, four – stores from the exact same franchise where you can buy a large and nut-infested pretzel, one of which stores managed to shatter their plate glass display window into pea-sized pebbles mere moments before we walked by. There is even a store devoted entirely to fountain pens that you, personally, cannot afford.
Tabitha and I went into that one. It was very nice, in a surreal sort of way.
Here we are, tourists in our shorts and t-shirts, and within seconds of our entry into the store we were greeted by an impeccably dressed, elegantly slender young man by the name of Kevin who did a very nice job of hiding his dismay at such rabble entering his shop. He shook my hand, introduced himself, and asked if he could do anything for us. We politely declined, and spent the next quarter hour looking at a wide array of exquisite writing instruments, not a single one of which had a price tag anywhere visible.
It was kind of a relief to find the Nerd Store after that, which featured a pleasingly large display of Doctor Who knick-knacks. We spent a lot of time there. And at the Puzzle Store, which catered pretty much to the same audience only at different ages.
We also spent a day together in Center City. We took the train in that day too and walked down to the Reading Terminal Market. If you’ve never been there, you should go. It’s an amazing place – basically a 19th-century street market crammed into an old railroad station. There are all sorts of places to buy meals. There are spice shops, knick-knack shops, delis, bakeries, even a used book store. And people. All sorts of people, coming in waves. It’s feeding time at the human zoo – almost literally, in our case, as we (and a good portion of Philadelphia’s population) were there for lunch. Of course we had cheesesteaks. What else would we have?
We walked down to the Independence Hall area after that, though we didn’t really go anywhere in particular – mostly we just visited and looked around. At one point we passed the house where Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence and we were trying to figure out how to get in, but several passersby went out of their way to explain a) how we might do this and b) how we really couldn’t because it was closed. For all the awful things you see on the news every night, it’s nice to be reminded that most people are pretty good.
So we did a lot of things, running about.
But mostly we were there to visit, and visit we did. We had dinners with my parents, and introduced them to 2048 (a devilishly addictive computer game that even ensnared my Luddite mind). Tabitha and I played Carcassone with my mom. I took my dad down to the firehouse for a visit so he could spend some time in the old stomping ground. It’s different from when I was a member in some ways, but otherwise still very familiar. It still smells the same. Lauren took Tabitha, my brother and me geo-caching in the local park, an activity whose appeal I have yet to figure out, but which she enjoys immensely. There were long conversations and good times. That’s what it’s all about, really.
On our last night there we went out to dinner, all of us together. And then we gathered in the living room and played games. Eventually my friend Jenny joined us and the whole thing became a joyously chaotic mess of conversations and snacks. That's how evenings ought to be, I think.
I travel to visit. To see people and be with them. I never get to see everyone I want to because life is short and I don’t call people the way I should, and to those I missed on this trip I am sorry – I will try to be better next time. Because there will be a next time, and won’t that be a time?