NECC – Day 2
I was bruised and battered and I couldn’t tell what I felt
I was unrecognizable to myself
Saw my reflection in a window I didn’t know my own face
Oh brother are you gonna leave me wasting away
On the streets of Philadelphia
— Bruce Springsteen
Morning dawned with lingering rain. I donned the prerequisite “business casual” and headed down to the South Marble Room for breakfast. The buffet was extensive, and a chef was on call to prepare any type of omelette imaginable. Everything was quite tasty. A group of men in well-tailored suits were arriving, apparently for some meeting. As I was getting back on the elevator, a man dressed as I was was getting off, and was immediately accosted by one of the suits as to his purpose in being there. I don’t think I have ever stayed somewhere that made it so abundantly clear that they didn’t really want or need your business. Come to think of it, that’s been my general impression of Philadelphia since my first unfortunate encounter two weeks ago. So much for the “City of Brotherly Love.”
With very few conference obligations, today was going to be tourist day. With the prospect of heat like yesterday’s, I changed into shorts and tennis shoes, and slipped out into the back alley. The conference shuttle bus was supposed to stop out front, but that meant standing in the rain to wait. Of course, a place like this wouldn’t let meer educators loiter in its front lobby. I walked down a couple of blocks to the Doubletree Hotel, where I hoped I could wait inside for the shuttle. This may be my strategy from here out.
There were several of us waiting, and we saw the shuttle slow down, then cruise on past, never stopping. So much for waiting here. A gentleman I had seen at the restaurant last night joined me, and together we walked to the convention center. I checked in with a couple of folks, and took a moment to update this site and check e-mail, since the hotel’s ISP was offline. Another strike against the Union League. After that, a brief stop to buy camera batteries, and I was off to try to find a way to the Franklin Institute and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The Information Booth at the subway station was just as helpful as everywhere else I had been in Philadelphia, which meant I still had no clue which train and/or bus to catch. By now it was dumping rain, and there was no way I was going to walk that far.
I wandered into the Reading Terminal Market, featured prominently in National Treasure. Now this is a really cool place. Various booths sell vegetables, meats, and prepared dishes. It was too early for lunch, but most of this looked incredibly enticing. I’ll definitely use this as a lunch stop between sessions tomorrow.
I touched base with Jerry Crisp from Summerville, and we met at the entrance to the conference center. His entourage was down at Independence Mall, so we set off in that direction to find them. His group had already entered the tour, and Jerry was busy on the phone trying to get his school district back online, so I decided to go ahead and visit the Liberty Bell (our most “hollowed” symbol.) The security measures were indeed strict. I had to remove everything from pockets, and even take my belt off. I began to wonder if the shorts were next. I saw more than one person pulled aside with magnetometer wands as they had forgotten eyeglasses, bracelets, etc. There was a series of informative displays, then the Bell itself. People were trying to pose in front of the bell, and one family in particular tryed to hog the prime photo real estate as kids, grandparents, parents, aunts, uncles, and an entire extended family had to pose for multiple pictures.
I grew tired of fighting for a picture, and so exited to witness yet another example of Philadelphian charm. A lady had asked one of the park rangers a question, and responded with a “Thank you” when the answer was given, as she walked away, the ranger mocked her “Thank you’s” out loud. The scum. About this time Jerry called to say his network demanded his full attention, so I gave up on him and headed out on my own. On the spur of the moment, I decided on a tour with Super Ducks, since it was about to pour rain, and I was tired of walking. I paid for my tour, was given a plastic duck call, and boarded the amphibious craft to wait for the tour. And wait. And wait. All this while the roof leaked like a sieve on our heads and seats. We were told that the tour would actually be on the duck vehicle behind us, so the entire group changed places. And waited. And waited. When the driver did finally arrive, the vehicle wouldn’t start. By that time, I’d had enough, so I got off and got a refund, forgetting about the duck call in my backpack.
Betsy Ross’s House
A quick lunch and some much needed drink were found at the Bourse Building, and I set off for the original Philly Ducks. This was the first group to offer amphibious tours, and they use the WWII landing craft for their tours. It was a bit more expensive, but I felt it might be more reliable. However, as I took my seat the cacaphony of duck calls all around me made me wonder to which new level of Hell I had sunk. Things couldn’t get worse. Or so I thought. Imagine this – pulling away from the curb with the sound system playing the theme from Rocky and thirty duck calls playing along.
Turns out the tour was very good. The driver/guide was quite entertaining, and people eventually tired of quacking at everything. Heck, I even quacked a few times. I made a note of several places to explore on foot, especially along South Street, the “hippest street in Philadelphia.” The water portion of the tour on the Delaware River was more novelty that substance. Because of time constraints and the craft’s speed (or lack thereof), we couldn’t go too far on the river. However, we did get a nice view of the Jersey side, the Franklin Bridge, and the USS New Jersey battleship.
Our tour meandered back to Independence Hall, and I set out on foot to find some of the places we had seen. My first stop was the Franklin Court Museum. What a disappointment. Ben Franklin’s real home has long since been demolished, and a white “ghost” structure stands in its place. However, that’s not the bad part. There is an underground museum that looks perpetually stuck in the 1960s. The place was full of anacronisms completely inappropriate for a museum dedicated to an eighteen-century character. There was a series of bright neon signs with the words Inventor, Statesman, Revolutionary, etc., flashing repeatedly in some psycho-hallucinogenic sequence. Then, the piece d’resistance was a series of pedastals with telephones. A list of notable figures from history was displayed on the wall, with a phone number next to the name. Supposedly, you could dial the number on the phone and hear what that person had to say about Ben. Supposedly, because it didn’t work. This place is hurting for funding.
After the museum, I decided to stroll along the “hippest street in Philadelphia”, which was still several blocks away. Along the way, we passed Delance Street, which our guide had described as one of the loveliest in the city. Houses on this street routinely sell for a couple million and upwards. I was on the wrong side of the duck to get a good view then, but now I wondered what the hoopla was about. All I saw was a narrow alley with a few trees. This is akin to what I will call the “Tucson Syndrome”. While living there, we noticed that in a land starved for water, they make a huge deal about the tiniest puddle that might possibly qualify as a pond. I guess the same could be said for a land starved for green regarding a street with a few trees.
|The sign reads “Tattoo Moms”. I’m not sure if it was a tattoo parlor or a bar.||Strange Art|
I finally made it to South Street, and had a chance to view the eateries, odd store signs, and even weirder architecture. There were lots of used record shops, tattoo and piercing parlors, and alternative paths to enlightenment. I poked my head into a couple of shops just to get out of the rain and into some AC, but didn’t stay long. My route took me westward, in the general direction of the hotel. As the gang tagging increased and the street became seedier, I decided to head north.A couple of blocks from South I stopped at a tiny ice cream shop to rest my toes and consult a map. As I munched some Buttered Almond ice cream, I eavesdropped on the owner and his next-door neighbor as they complained about some strange little gadget. This thing was a miniature slot machine, basically a battery powered POS that wasn’t working. The woman had gotten it from somewhere and was going to give it to someone else (and wasn’t going to charge her for it.) The shop owner was talking about forms that could be completed to transfer ownership, while the woman constantly pulled the arm, demonstrating its inability to work over and over again, while making tons of noise in the process. The implication was that you could actually bet on this thing, and I was amazed at the effort that was being put into a plastic piece of crap.
I walked the avenue till my legs felt like stone
I heard the voices of friends vanished and gone
At night I could hear the blood in my veins
Just as black and whispering as the rain
On the streets of Philadelphia
Soon I was back in territory I recognized, and came back to the room to collapse until the evening’s keynote at NECC. More wonderful Philly kindness – the shuttle bus to the Convention center blew right past us, despite our waving ID badges to it in the pouring rain. We finally caught up with it at Doubletree, and the driver said he didn’t see us. Yeah, right. I did make it to the center in time for the keynote by David Weinberger and the opening ceremonies. Dr. Weinberger inspired us all (as a good opening keynote should), and I wish most of my tech team could have heard the talk.
The crowds in line for the free food at the opening ceremonies were phenomenal, so I purchased a cheap umbrella and began a search for something quieter. I made it all the way back to my street, and decided on the Restaurante Casuale Italian Bistro. This appears to be a more upscale version of Olive Garden. I was seated at a two-seat table right next to a table with four chairs. I felt like I had been seated at a table for six, and thought I would be quite crowded if the adjoining table were occupied. I ordered a sampler with several courses. The appetizer was brushetta with chunks for fresh tomatoes and artichokes. As much as I love artichokes, the real star was the tomatoes, with a hint of acidity that really brought out the flavor. A salad with a honey champagne vinagrette dressing followed. About that time, four people were seated at the next table, and I ducked several times as the person next to me waved his menu around. They were interested in my entre when it arrived – crepes rossini with cheese, bits of chicken and some other meats that had been ground into an undefinable mix, then covered with a light tomato sauce. It was tasty, even if I wasn’t sure what I was eating. From their conversation, I figured at that my table partners were also with the conference, so we struck up a conversation. I told them that they had slipped in under my “teacher radar”, and they took that as a compliment.
I took the tirimisu that came with my sampler back to the room with me, and collapsed for the evening.