Rand McSteffie

Steffie’s college roommate is back at school for some summer classes. Steffie thought it might be nice to bring her their shared television and some other things we’d stored here in Connecticut. So yesterday afternoon, with her friend Sam in tow, Steffie set out for Long Island.

It’s really not a difficult trip and before long they were there.

Flash forward to departure time. By this time Sam, suffering from a headache, dozes off in the front seat. Steffie hops onto the Meadowbrook and heads home.

Everything was going so well, so smoothly until she got to the Cross Island Parkway. That’s how Helaine and I get to the Throgs Neck Bridge. The problem is, just at the point you exit to the Cross Island there’s a sign beckoning you to a different exit for the Throgs Neck!

Confused, Steffie followed the sign… and so began her great adventure through the boroughs!

Instead of heading north, into the Bronx, she was heading west toward Manhattan. Somehow she got on the Long Island Expressway, driving past the apartment where I grew up, past Queens College and the New York World’s Fair site.

Her exact route isn’t certain. She doesn’t totally remember and probably had no way of knowing anyway. I am reconstructing it from a conversation we had a little after 1:00 AM.

“You know that tunnel,” Steffie asked?

“Did you go up on a very high section of roadway with a great view of Manhattan?”

Holy crap! Steffie had made her way to Long Island City and was heading into the Queens Midtown Tunnel.

“It went on forever and was really narrow,” she said.

She’s right. The twin tubes of the Midtown Tunnel run around 1¼ miles. The lanes are narrow and the tunnel does curve. Even worse, as you leave you’re faced with three choices, “Uptown, Midtown and Downtown,” none of which would make any sense to Steffie!

She remembers Lexington Avenue and seeing Times Square on her right. She was totally lost.

“You know the glass building?”

Glass building? I looked at my toes – where all answers emanate. Glass building… uh… “You mean the Javits Center?”

It was around this time in the conversation that Steffie admitted that she knew she’d drive in Manhattan at some point, but had hope she’d wait until she was around 40.

Back in the car she pulled into a parking lot, hoping to find an attendant. No dice there. She yelled across at a taxicab stopped at a light. As he explained, the light turned green.

The time between a green light and horn honk in Manhattan is measured in milliseconds.

The were signs for the Holland Tunnel. She knew she didn’t want to be there. There were also signs pointing toward the George Washington Bridge. That sounded more familiar.

She didn’t know it at the time, but she was now heading north on the West Side Highway.

On family trips, we often make a decision as we approach the George Washington Bridge. If there’s heavy traffic on the bridge heading into the Bronx, we continue north and wind our way through the Bronx and Westchester. If the coast’s clear, we take the easy way – I-95, the Cross Bronx Expressway.

Steffie looked at the bridge and decided to continue. It’s lucky for her she did, because as it turns out, she would have taken the GWB. She would have headed across the Hudson into New Jersey!

Heading north, the West Side Highway becomes the Henry Hudson Parkway. She drove through the toll, over the Henry Hudson Bridge and into the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

Now nothing looked familiar! Exits came and went, but no names she recognized… until Mosholu Parkway.

Unfortunately for Steffie, she knew the name because we’d had brunch at the Mosholu, a boat moored on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. She took the Mosholu anyway.

Even with a map, it’s tough to reconstruct her trip from here. She did panic a little when she saw signs pointing to Albany. A little after that, a sign for the Hutchinson River Parkway.

Steffie headed north on the “Hutch,” finally breathing a sigh of relief as she passed the “Entering Greenwich” sign. She was back in Connecticut.

The 100 minute trip had taken her four hours. She had visited Queens, Manhattan, The Bronx and was within a few hundred yards of Brooklyn.

Steffie probably expected Helaine or me to get angry. We didn’t.

Do I wish she would have called me at some point? Of course.

It’s a great story we’ll have forever… one of those family fables grandparents will someday tell grandchildren about their mother.

The Rest of Our Philadelphia Trip

One of the prime reasons for going to Philadelphia was to go the see a Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park.

Before we go on, let me say how displeased I am with naming rights to stadiums and arenas. It’s a shame there’s no longer a Veteran’s Stadium in Philadelphia or Oakdale Theater near me in Wallingford, CT. Maybe there is a benefit to me by having Citizens Bank or Chevy (in the case of the Oakdale Theater) kick in some cash… though I don’t see it.

I am tilting at windmills. It’s never going back.

My friend Peter picked us up at the hotel and it didn’t take long to drive to South Philly and the stadium. Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Core State Arena (it’s hurting me to write this) are all located on the same tract of land that held the Vet, Franklin Field and the Spectrum (still there, but now with a corporate name preceding the word Spectrum).

I paid the $10 to park and we found a space fairly close to the entrance. Helaine had bought four tickets from a broker – though they were only marked up $4. We walked into the stadium.

Since this was my birthday trip, Helaine had arranged for my name and age to be flashed on the scoreboard with the other 11 year olds. We went and signed in. There was a charge, but I got a very nice Phillies hat.

The ballpark itself is a very nice place. Whereas the Vet was all concrete and steel with no thought of aesthetics, there’s lots of exposed brick and other warm touches now. And, Vet Stadium’s turf – possibly the worst playing surface in all of professional sports, has been replaced by beautiful real grass.

Beyond the outfield is a huge food court – Ashburn’s Alley. That’s where we headed first.

Steffie wanted to have a genuine Philly Cheesesteak, and Geno’s of South Philadelphia fame is represented. This is not ‘old school’ baseball food. It wasn’t soggy. It was hot. It was delicious. We found a place to sit and ate our lunch.

The game was scheduled for 3:15, so we headed down and took our seats. I was surprised that there had been no hassle when I brought my camera and two lenses in. The Phillies web site said it would be OK, but I had a sneaking suspicion there would be scrutiny over any camera with a removable lens.

These were probably the best baseball seats I’d ever had. We were behind the Phillies dugout, in the sun, 25 rows from the field. We were in foul ball territory. We were very close to the action.

The Phils were playing the San Diego Padres… and the Phils had gotten hot! The night before, Chase Utley ended the game with a walk off homer. Is there a more macho act?

For us, the game began slowly. It seemed like Robinson Tejeda, the Phillie starter wasn’t in control. I say ‘seemed’, because when you see the box score, you see a pitcher totally dominating the opposition. It’s funny how those two elements don’t always match up.

I took a lot of pictures at the game. Some might say I took too many pictures. Here’s my favorite, Bobby Abreu ducking out of the way of a Pedro Astascio fastball. Judging by the catcher’s glove, this pitch was traveling where it was aimed.

We stayed until the very last out, anticipated the worst when Real Cormier was called in, but getting a one inning gem instead. Billy Wagner picked up the save.

After a short stop back at the hotel, the four of us (Peter included) went out searching for dinner and the sights. We hit South Street first, but realizing that wasn’t the right spot for dinner, headed to Market Street and the Penn’s Landing area.

Again, we found Italian food. Again, it was very good. But we were very tired.

Our walk back to the hotel was uneventful, but left me uneasy. There were too many places which seemed sinister.

Tonight, I sent an email message to Mayor Street. It’s attached to the link at the bottom of this entry. Whether this kind of message makes any difference or not is beyond me, but I am always willing to write and make my opinions felt.

We finished up our stay Sunday with brunch on the Moshulu.

Since the launching of the Moshulu (pronounced Mo-shoe’-loo) in 1904, she has had a long and exciting career on the seas working the ports of Europe, South America, Australia, America and Africa. She was confiscated by the Americans in one war and by the Germans in the next. She has traveled around Cape Horn 54 times. She has hauled coal and coke, copper ore and nitrate, lumber and grain. In lesser days, she has served as a floating warehouse. In grander days, she won the last great grain race in 1939. Today, the Moshulu is the largest four-masted sailing ship in the world still afloat.

I once heard someone say you should never go out to dinner at a revolving restaurant. I think the same applies to converted sailing ships. The food was OK – nothing special. The ship was OK too… but just OK.

The interior of the ship was larger than I expected. I know that because of the schlep from our table to the buffet!

By 1:30 we were heading home. We headed north on I-95, over the Delaware via the Betsy Ross Bridge (A white elephant when it was built, I hope it’s more useful now), Route 90 to Route 73 to I-295 and then the New Jersey Turnpike.

We waited as long as we could before getting off I-295 and onto the Turnpike. It made no difference. We were stuck in stop-and-go traffic for the better part of an hour before things opened up. The rest of the trip was uneventful.

Oh – there was that sign on the George Washington Bridge that I captured. I’m hoping it’s legal to take photos before you get to the sign, as I did.

So, what have we learned? We were surprised and pleased that Steffie enjoyed the game. Yes, she got a shirt and excellent junk food… but she bought another shirt with her own money and seemed to be interested in the game.

We also enjoyed visiting Philadelphia, the place where we met 25 years ago, as tourists. There are rough edges that need to be smoothed for Philadelphia to become a better tourist destination, but so much is in place right now.

Continue reading “The Rest of Our Philadelphia Trip”

We’re In Philadelphia

The trip to Philadelphia wasn’t terribly bad… for a Friday afternoon… in the summer… on I-95. There is a place, about halfway through New Jersey, where the four roadway Turnpike becomes the two roadway Turnpike. At the point (or actually a few miles before it) the traffic slows to a crawl.

We made Philadelphia by mid-afternoon. The hotel was easy to find (considering Helaine had grown up here and I lived here for five years, we should know where things are) and nicely located.

We’re on the Delaware River. When I was here, this area was industrial and well into an era of hard times. It’s been reclaimed now as an entertainment area with restaurants and hotels.

Just across the way, and over an expressway, is the main body of the city. The streets in Philadelphia are numbered – so we’re ‘below’ First Street.

After we checked in, we decided to walk north, along the river, and ended up at Dave and Buster’s. D&B is a national chain of arcades on steroids… with a bar!

I found a flight simulator and attempted to takeoff and land without killing any of my passengers. No sweat. Next it was a boxing simulator. I’ve never played an arcade game that took so much out of me. There was even a readout with the number of calories you burned!

While I was playing games, Steffie and Helaine were working the ticket dispensing machines. What were they looking to get? Who knows? They were acquiring tickets as its own end.

I settled in next to them on a machine that tosses a coin onto platform. Small ‘sweepers’ push the coins forward. Hopefully, if your coin ends up in the right place, it will dislodge other coins causing them to fall in a tray, getting you tickets.

By the time we were done, Steffie had a dragon. It’s actually quite cute.

We went back to the hotel to wash up and get ready for dinner. Then, we headed to Society Hill and Old City. The latter name comes from the fact that this was the colonial center of Philadelphia. This is where Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross lived… though not together.

It was in Society Hill where the beginning of Philadelphia’s in-town gentrification began with the Society Hill Towers, two luxury apartment buildings. As I remember, they’re condos now.

We walked past Bookbinders and up Chestnut Street. This part of Philadelphia is an amazing mix of old and new. There are glass box office buildings and historical sites. Some streets are paved with cobblestones.

Philadelphia has a system of streets and alleyways. In some ways, that makes its downtown similar to Boston’s. Some of these alleys are just wide enough for a car – barely.

We went hunting for a restaurant to have dinner. Steffie and Helaine read the menus posted near the doors. We finally settled on an Italian place, Amici Noi, at 3rd and Market.

Good choice. The food was excellent and the portions large.

Surprisingly, all the restaurants we look at were fairly empty. Maybe Philadelphia isn’t the tourist city it should be. Certainly, on a hot Friday night, plenty of locals would be headed to the Jersey Shore.

It’s a shame, because this is such a beautiful and livable city.

After dinner I decided to head to South Street, knowing Steffie especially would like it. First, a detour. I wanted to see Independence Hall.

I remember, back when I lived here, how cool I thought it was to just drive by the Liberty Bell or Independence Hall. It’s no different now. There’s something very impressive knowing these icons of American history are right in the middle of modern life.

We walked down 4th Street past some beautiful neighborhoods of very expensive, very small homes. I can only shudder to think how these places have appreciated since I left 25 years ago this month.

How to describe South Street? Eclectic. Bohemian. Over the top. Very much like Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.

South Street is where you find stores… like Condom Kingdom!

We walked and Steffie darted into some stores looking at clothing. We also stopped at Rita’s so Steffie and Helaine could get ‘water ice’ and I could get some custard. Perfect.

Meanwhile, South Street was packed with cars and cops and parking enforcement officers. I have never seen tow trucks move as quickly and deftly to get cars off the street! Something tells me this is a very expensive way to get unwanted valet parking.

We headed back to our hotel. We were, to understate it, tired. In fact, I went to bed a good seven hours before my normal bedtime!

Today, we head to the Vet&#185 for the Phillies versus San Diego Padres. I’m psyched.

&#185 – The Phillies play in Citizens Bank Park. I know that. I still want to say they play at the Vet… and it is, after all, my blog.

Destination Revealed

I woke up today waiting to go on my mystery birthday trip. Helaine held the secret.

We headed south down I-91 to I-95 and then turned toward New York City. I asked if we were taking the Cross Bronx Expressway? We were. We headed onto the George Washington Bridge. We weren’t going to New York.

I turned to Helaine and asked, “Are we going to Philadelphia?” She said, “Yes.” So, here we are.

We’re in a very nice hotel on the Delaware River, across from Camden, NJ. Camden looks very nice from this distance.

There’s a lot to tell, but I am totally bushed. There will be lots of photos. That much is already established. And, tomorrow we’re seeing the Phillies play San Diego.

How cool is that?