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Friday, November 18, 2011

Mister Magoo Goes to Philadelphia

OK, it’s a catchy headline, but I don’t want it for a new nickname.  Recently, I took a vacation to Philly.  It was the first time I flew alone since before my vision decreased in 2003.  That time, I went to Chicago.  In 2008 I flew with a friend to Boston.  I like going to big cities.  I’m developing a fondness for the Northeast.

Not seeing well enough to watch the movie or read on the flight gives me time to think.  I realized how much happier and healthier I am this fall than last fall, when the cancer was diagnosed.  Then I flipped back through the fall of ’09, ’08, etc. and discovered that this is the happiest fall I’ve had in quite a while.  It set the tone for the next few days.

Who says re-circulated air is bad for the brain?

I’ll admit I was nervous about flying alone.  But I notified United Airlines of my visual limitations and they had some meet and assist me to the gate I needed.  When I changed planes in O’Hare, a young man was there with a wheelchair.  There’s nothing wrong with my legs and pride almost made me tell him I would just walk beside him.

Then I remembered how big O’Hare is and all the times I changed planes in big airports when I worked for airlines.  A ride would have been nice back then.  So I rode for about twenty minutes.  The concourse was a blur of moving people, passing waiting areas, and brightly-lit shops and restaurants.  The aroma of different kinds of food rose and fell away.  Seafood.  Italian.  Hamburgers.

Near my gate, I ordered a small pizza from a man with an accent like John Belushi’s character in the Saturday Night Live sketch who said “Cheeburger, cheeburger.”  One big difference was this guy was extremely helpful and took me to the last available table where I had plenty of time to relax and eat. 

At Philadelphia I was met by another airline employee with a wheelchair.  This one told me he had MS and I almost offered to push him if he would tell me where to turn.  That would have stressed us both out more than it was worth.  My friend, Alan, drove me to his home in a suburb in the rush hour traffic.  We ate at a diner where they have me a huge sandwich.  The fries and a cup of Manhattan Clam Chowder were standard sides that went with it.  It's a Philly thing.  I was stuffed.

I should point out that, for me, any trip out of town means sampling the local cuisine—or at least food I can’t get here.  A big part of my travel budget includes food—anything from street vendors to fine dining.  I don’t leave my stomach and taste buds at home, so they should enjoy the trip too.

Saturday was the busiest day.  We went to Center City (their term for downtown) and stopped by Reading Terminal Market (or as I call it, Food Hog Heaven).  It’s like a mall food court on steroids, but with A LOT more choices and without the annoying mall.  I tried a Pennsylvania Dutch turkey sausage on a bun, known in many parts as a hot dog.  It tasted better than the average hot dog, though.
I could have spent a few hours there, but we had a 1:00 appointment to see Independence Hall and were told to be there early.  Alan guided me through the bustling big city streets and I wished I could see more of it.  He pointed out a few things along the way and I squinted in the bright sunlight to make them out.  It’s a National Park, so a funny park ranger with an encyclopedic knowledge of history quizzed us and kept us laughing. 


It didn’t take long for me to realize sighted friends with digital cameras come in handy at times like this. 
     “Can you see the design on the ceiling?” Alan asked.
     I squinted up at it, “Nope.  Take a picture of it.”  I knew I could probably see it with the magnifier program on my computer.  My only regret is not being more aggressive and elbowing my way to the front of the crowd.  My cane was unfolded, so they would have given me right of way.  If they wouldn’t have, the cane doubles as a weapon.

The Liberty Bell is next door.  It’s in front of some tall windows, so the light in my face kept me from seeing the famous crack very well.  But, it’s much bigger than I thought it was, so that made the rest of it easy to see.  We could walk all the way around it.  With the light shining from behind me, I saw the back of it much better.


On the way to Betsy Ross’ house, we stopped at an old cemetery where Ben Franklin is buried.  It was frustrating not to be able to read the headstones.  Alan told me some of them were worn too smooth to read.  It was easy enough to make out the size and shape of all those tall headstones, though.  Really old cemeteries have always fascinated me.

Later that afternoon, we found ourselves back at (surprise!) Reading Terminal Market.  I was hungry and wanted to sample new things.  One such item was from the Middle Eastern food stand.  It was ground lamb and beef with pine nuts in a thin dough shell that was fried.  I could taste spices like the ones used in pumpkin pie.  All I remember about the name is that it started with a K.  It was the best tasting thing I ate all weekend!

After that, we stopped at the Jewish deli, where I tried a kanish.  Let’s just say it had a tough act to follow.  I was hoping for something spicier.  Alan told them I’m from Arkansas, so they felt sorry for me and let me sample a bite of lox.  It’s very salty smoked salmon.

Somewhere along the way I had gourmet coffee from Central America and a shrimp eggroll.  It was good, but I’ve had Chinese food too many times to count. 

The last stop on my gastronomic world tour was the Italian bakery.  It was almost closing time and the line was pretty long.  It was worth the wait.  We both ordered cannoli and watched the woman behind the counter fill the pastries with cream filling from a hose hanging from the ceiling.  It tasted incredible!  If you ever get a chance to eat fresh cannoli, DO IT.  Life is just too short not to.

Alan pointed out certain buildings while we walked around Center City.  The sidewalks were so well lit I could see better after dark than during the day.  I was happy to watch the last glow of orange, red, and purple light of the sunset contrasted against the tall dark buildings on both sides of a street.  They were the same colors I’ve seen in sunsets here, but in an urban landscape.  Whenever I get a chance to see stuff like that without having to strain, I savor it.

That concludes Part 1 of my Philly trip.  Next: A live zydeco and blues show, eggplant fries, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and an authentic Philly Cheese Steak sandwich.

  

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