Monday, July 18, 2011

Bread and Meat: Philadelphia for the win

At long last here is my Philadelphia post, 2 months late, in my typical chronological and overly-detailed format. I swear it has been written for weeks; I think I dragged my feet on uploading and correctly inserting the 35 photos in this post. Yeesh.

Thursday-Friday May 19-20: Redeye, baby

When I bought my airfare, the itinerary I wanted was $100 more than one with a layover on the way to Philadelphia (nonstop on the way back though) so I sucked it up. Sadly 2 weeks later it was the same price I paid, but there was no way to know it would drop so much. I looked at it as an opportunity to see Milwaukee for the first time.

Despite having reserved a window seat online, I ended up in the middle. Also, Frontier has personal TV screens but you have to pay $6 to watch TV or $8 for a movie. The movies were lame so I bought TV, which I found out was just normal channels filled with commercials and, in the middle of the night when I was watching, infomercials. Lame. And if I may, for a moment, wax poetic about a major gripe against Frontier airlines: what’s up with the sour flight attendants? Both legs of my trip were staffed by incredibly irritable, obviously embittered employees who spoke to the lowest common human denominator, resulting in condescending and too-frequent announcements. I mean, I get it: it’s a crappy job. I hate the general public too. But perhaps what they fail to consider is that their behavior toward us is more likely to reduce the rest of us to the lowest common denominator out of annoyance with the way we’re being treated.

Anyhoo… we landed in Milwaukee at about 5:30 am with an incredible sunrise over our descent. I snapped this photo from the terminal, first in a regular resolution and then in high definition. It’s amazing what a difference high def makes:

After trying to get comfortable on two chairs pushed together, I gave up and sought out breakfast. I had a nice enough server who was just really bad at serving. Instead of pouring me coffee she gave me a cup of hot syrup. Also, my flight was delayed 30 minutes so I was leisurely reading my book while waiting for my check, but how could she have known that? I mean, if you work in an airport, people might be in a hurry. Then suddenly my flight was restored to its original departure time and they started paging my name and even THAT didn’t get her hustling to charge me. I ran to the gate, which they had closed, and they gave me dirty looks as I boarded, which I deflected by saying, you’re the ones who told us it would be late! On the plane I sat next to a tiny nun who, once we got off, had a gorgeous driver waiting for her (so much for a vow of poverty?) while I had my dear friend Matt in his trusty truck.

Friday Fun Day

Since I landed at 11 am it made sense to take the day off and have a long weekend. I dropped off my things at Adam and Lydia’s new digs – a gorgeous loft in the Italian market:

Then Matt and I ventured to a nearby Asian mini-mall for Vietnamese food and some random shopping which resulted in a jade and cool pot as a housewarming for A and L. We then checked out Matt's MFA show. I’m proud to say that Matt just completed his Masters of Fine Arts from the University of Delaware with a focus on what I consider experimental photography. I really dug his pieces, and actually liked most of the artists from his school.

The University of Pennsylvania’s MFA show was in the same building, and although there were quite a few more students showing I can’t say I liked more than 2-3 of them. I’m not a good judge since contemporary art is not my bag (what can I say, I prefer representational art) but I am certainly capable of appreciating it when it is well done/takes a certain degree of skill to pull off. I’m sure all the artists put in quite a bit of work so I won’t go into detail about what I didn’t like.

After that Matt dropped me off for a quickie nap, and then Adam, Lydia, Millar and I caught a Phillies vs. Rangers game. I scored us pretty decent field-level seats in the outfield just off the third base line:

It was a fairly low-key game thanks to two great pitchers (we got to see Halladay) and only lasted about 2 hours 10 min (nothing compared to the 6+ hour game we were originally going to see - Phils won in 19 innings later that week). The weather was mostly cooperative with a few showers. Although I enjoyed the game, I’d have to say the highlight was this ridiculous Primo’s Italian hoagie Mike brought to share, ready-cut into fourths - this is half, not 1/4:

The hoagie tied with the four of us trying our arms in the free pitching area – Adam was definitely the big performer there.

Saturday – Let the sun shine and Apocalypse Later?

I started my Saturday by wandering through the Rittenhouse fair. Walnut street was shut down but most of the vendors were just from the stores along Walnut, so that was a bit underwhelming. There was live music though, and a few particularly kickin' groups.

I made my way over to West Philadelphia to have lunch with Matt, Katharine, and Ben. By the time I arrived I was properly sweating from the heat. It felt both great and strange to be wearing so little clothing and yet be so warm. Matt experimented on us with his first Dutch Baby attempt – third try was a charm! Here's the first try, when he realized he used 2 cups of flour instead of 2 tablespoons. ("Uhh... is it supposed to be this thick?")

After a few hours of catching up and enjoying the absolutely perfect, sunny, breezy day, all three of them walked me to 30th street station for my Bolt bus to New York at 5 pm. I’m usually a Chinatown bus kind of girl, but I’d heard great things about Bolt – air conditioning, wifi, electric plugs, and not filthy – and I have to say I was impressed. Six o’clock came and went without anyone floating away or major earthquakes striking, and I was grateful not to suffer judgment in the middle of New Jersey on a bus full of strangers.

A quick subway ride uptown and I was at Beth’s apartment to drop my stuff, then back downtown we went to meet Kim, completing our Americans in Argentina trio:

After a quick glass of wine we headed to Zampa for our 9:30 reservation (oh, New York), where my recent NYC-transplant buddy Taylor and two of Kim’s friends met us to round out the evening. Beth did a stellar job of ordering enough food and wine to keep us all happy, and we had a really pleasant meal. After that we had a drink at a nearby bar where the DJ was totally rocking out to the early 90s. A special request that he play La Bouche resulted in not one but TWO songs to sing along with. That was good enough for us and we called it a night. Here I am with Taylor before heading to bed:

Sunday – damn the weather

Sunday was meant to be Kim’s graduation party from Cornell medical school in Central Park. It was one half of those things: since the weather refused to cooperate, the party was relocated to Kim’s apartment which is fortunately large by any standards, let alone Manhattan’s. She had a great turnout and Beth and I stayed for a few hours chatting with her friends and family. Taylor came as well, winning her the prize for most effort put in to see me, making two trips to the Lower East Side in a 24-hour period by relying on faulty NYC transportation.

After the party we had a few hours to kill before my bus so Beth and I went shopping. I bought two pairs of shoes at DSW and, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit, two items from Forever 21, one of which is… wait for it… a romper. They are apparently in style, or so the 30+ racks boasting a variety of jumper styles and fabrics would have me believe. A slice of pizza later and I was on the bus back to Philly, where Adam and Lydia were waiting for me with a home-cooked meal and some quality Sunday night HBO programming.

Monday in the Philly office

I agreed to work a 10-7 schedule during my week on the east coast to keep time with my west coast team. At first I thought this might be annoying, but it turned out to be perfect since most people in the Philly office keep a similar schedule. Also, it was nice to sleep in and walk leisurely to the office.

My first day there was just like old times, and after catching up with everyone I set up my computer with zero snafus, a total and unexpected relief considering past connectivity issues there – flying a tech guy to that office to get it wired properly was the best idea they ever had!
The day flew by and soon it was time to meet my friends Erica and Dan for their weekly ritual of drinks and dinner at Alfa, a convenient 2 blocks from my office. Mike and Katharine also met us there and I dragged my coworker Kyle from the office. What should have been a low-key evening turned into somewhat drunken disorderliness. I’m not really sure how that happened – who boozes on a Monday?? – but I have some great take-away stories as a result. No I'm not going to share them.

Tuesday is carb day

I was in bad shape Tuesday morning, but I woke up early and was unable to go back to bed so I showered, did my hair, and put on a nice outfit so that I looked the part of a professional even if I didn’t feel it. I had no choice but to indulge in one of the famous “street meat” food cart breakfast sandwiches. My favorite is turkey bacon and egg (no cheese) on a hoagie roll. It costs $1.75 and is sure to induce food coma, not generally what one is looking for at the start of a workday but my situation was dire. Of course once I tried to eat it I noticed the bastard had put that disgusting white American cheese on it, and I actually verbally exclaimed “that bastard!” much to the delight of my conference room officemate. I cannot express how much I hate this cheese. So, back down I went to correct the mistake, after which I enjoyed every last bite. (Yes I am aware that cheese on a breakfast sandwich is a first-world problem.)

Shockingly I felt better once I digested through the coma, and was in prime shape for dinner with Adam and Lydia at one of everyone’s favorite Italian BYOs in the city, La Viola. (If you are unfamiliar with this most delightful feature of many of Phila’s dining establishments, let me enlighten you: due to the high cost and limited availability of liquor licenses, many places are BYO – this can be a bottle of wine, a handle of hard alcohol, even a keg if you so desire - awesome!)

I stopped at the Garces Trading Company on the way to benefit from the coolest wine store in the city. (Less awesome Phila feature: all wine must be sold in a state-run store.) It’s a wine store within a great restaurant, stocked only with quality wines and staffed by wine experts who help you pick a bottle based on your preferences and likely food choices, all at fixed state prices. Score.

We shared mussels in red sauce and sautéed mushrooms to start. I had gnocchi with peas and pancetta in a red cream sauce, and Adam and Lydia each had versions of fettuccine/spaghetti with seafood. YUM. I did a lot of glutenous eating (and gluttonous for that matter) and managed to not gain a pound, so I'm officially off the gluten-free diet and pretty dang happy about it.

Wednesday – called an audible

Wednesday night was supposed to be trivia night, but the previous MC was apparently fired for being a racist idiot and not much enthusiasm had been garnered among the group for his replacement. So, at the last minute when we realized we had a tiny team, Millar, Katharine and I decided to call an audible and eat dinner at nearby Zavino, a great wine bar with really tasty gourmet pizza and outdoor seating.

I should mention here that the weather was unseasonably hot for most of my trip. Although the forecast promised thunder storms literally every day I was visiting, I was privy to nary a storm which was sort of sad since we don’t get them in Seattle. But I can’t complain that the sun was out every day, even though it was closer to 90 than 80 which is what I usually hope for during my May visits. Considering it was in the 50s and raining almost every day in Seattle, I will definitely not complain further about the heat. Or my tan, which I got. Sort of.

Thursday – work happy hour

It wouldn’t be a trip to Philly without getting the office crew off premises to a work happy hour. After a full day at the office, about 15 of us lumbered out into the 95 degree heat to Vango, a completely random and slightly trashy club that is empty during happy hour and has unexpectedly good food. Considering I drank more than my fair share on Monday and I generally only get drunk about half a dozen times a year, I took it easy.

Friday - Rooftop glory

After a full last day at the office I packed up my work station and bid adieu to my Phila coworkers. After that I headed to the Art Museum area for a rooftop party. My friend Claire - really Adam and Lydia's friend Claire who I have adopted for my own - was in town from her temporary home in Washington, D.C. to dog sit for some friends who had a ridiculous house. Claire put together a lovely spread and hosted us all on her friend's incredible roof patio where we wined, dined, and socialized in style.

Saturday - It's not Memorial Day Weekend without a BBQ

I started the day off right by getting my community acupuncture on. I cannot recommend it highly enough! After that I went to the store to get fixins for a refreshing caprese salad to bring to Matt and Katharine's, who decided to host a barbecue, somewhat in my honor, on Saturday. They always pull out all the stops and made buffalo bleu cheese burgers, pork/veggie and shrimp/pineapple kabobs, tuna pasta salad, and the famous white-wine and fruit drink known as Clericó in Argentina. Here's Erica helping Katharine prepare:

Others brought some really fabulous side dishes, including Ben who made his famous Scotch eggs. I'd heard the legend of these from the group before but could never quite wrap my head around what a sausage-coated deep-friend hard boiled egg would look or taste like. I'm here to show you what it looks like, and tell you that it tastes DIVINE:

Right across from their house in West Philadelphia is a cute little park where we set up camp. It was a perfect spot with picnic tables and a horseshoe pit (at which I was an utter failure despite my history of being not so bad at throwing games) and the weather could not have been better. Here I am in the park with another Matt friend of ours, in my now-famous romper:

Here is Matt slaving over the barbecue:
Once everyone had digested we had a rousing 2 hours of kickball in the school playground across the street. Although I was ill-shoed I did manage to run all the bases to score once, and didn't totally suck in the outfield.

It was a great day filled with delicious food and old faces, mostly from the poker circuit I adopted as a way to make friends when I first moved there. Thanks Matt and Katharine!

Sunday - happy birthday Lydia!

Sunday was Lydia's golden birthday (when you turn the same age as the day of the month on which you were born) and we started it out by going to the zoo with her friend Tiffany, in from NYC as a birthday surprise. None of us had ever been to "America's oldest zoo" and it was pretty entertaining. It was definitely hot so the animals were lethargic, but we did manage to catch giant tortoises mating and some pretty entertaining monkey/ape action.

After that the three of us headed to Sidecar for lunch, an old favorite of Lydia's and a solid eatery. We took it easy that afternoon - they watched the poor kid crash into the wall in the last lap of the Indie 500 while I made Lydia the closest I could to "golden" cupcakes (they say "Happy Golden Lyds"):

That evening a bunch of us met at Jamaican Jerk Hut, which has a huge yard and delicious (though slow to come) food. It's also a BYO and we were not lacking in that department:

They had some board games scattered about and Tiffany and I decided to play Life. Two sisters were quick to catch on that there was Game Playing and invited themselves to join us. It had been the older sister's dance recital that day and they were too cute to resist, though the 3-year-old's stubborn refusal to share anything definitely hindered the game and caused me to say something along the lines of "I don't have to be nice to you - I'm not your mom" as I pried my car out of her hands. Here's Tiffany with the girls:

We stayed at the Jerk Hut a good long time, commandeering the stage at one point to embarrass Lydia with a dreadful rendition of the Happy Birthday song, but I'm biased since I think all renditions are dreadful.
Overall it was a fun day and I think Lydia had a great golden birthday.

Monday - Free Holiday Entertainment

Plans for Labor day weekend gradually decreased in grandeur from a weekend in the Poconos, to an overnight at the beach, to a river rafting trip, to what we finally ended up doing which was swimming in a river a mere 20 minutes away. Which was the perfect thing to do. All I wanted was to go somewhere I could submerge myself in water, and that's what I got.

Erica, Dan, Matt, Katharine and I decided to check out the nearby Devil's Pool which is on the Wissahickon river (or creek, depending on who you ask) in Fairmount Park, one of the largest urban parks in the country. It's called Devil's Pool because people jump off of high rocks into shallow water and, not surprisingly, die all the time as a result. But it's supposed to be really cool and you have to hike a little ways to get to it so we thought it might not be crazy crowded. Right.

We packed a serious picnic, including a grill that Dan and Erica bought for the occasion, and hiked it all in to the site. It was a madhouse! After briefly picking a rocky location that people cut through, we found a much better spot to settle into next to the river away from the "pond" and the masses. We set up shop, busted out the grill, and got to work enjoying the beautiful day. Even though it was PACKED it was still really fun. Randomly, about 70% of people there were Puerto Rican. I found myself eavesdropping and even speaking unintentionally to passersby in Spanish. Here's a glimpse of the crowd:

It didn't take long for me to want go to swimming in the very slow-moving river, and it was at this point that I realized I'd come on a swimming trip with a bunch of non-swimmers. So, I swam up the river to where kids were jumping off rocks into a slightly deeper area of the river (you could stand in most places), and then I swam down the river, got out, and walked across the rocky, barbecue-packed plateau to the pond itself, where more kids were jumping off higher rocks into shallower water.

Back at our camp, kids were also jumping off several high trunks and a rope swing, happily into somewhat deeper water with a very muddy bottom so I didn't have to worry about anyone dying in front of my eyes. (Note that there is pineapple on our grill, a BBQ fave of mine that I've passed on to my friends.)

In my absence food was prepared with vigor. Look at Dan's face - now that's rigorous effort!

After eating I did manage to get most of the group into the water - thanks to Erica for staying behind to watch the stuff and for taking pictures!

Although it did get considerably more crowded throughout the day, we had a super pleasant time and stayed until most day-trippers had left and the creepy evening crowd was descending.

Before going we cleaned up our site, of course, and then noticing how much trash people had left behind, my totally awesome friends decided to go on litter patrol and leave the park in slightly better conditions. I helped, of course, and also shamed people into picking up their garbage, making such comments as, you're going to pick up after yourselves before you leave, right? Right.

Thanks to my rad Phila friends for being willing to do whatever random activities I come up with, and for driving and buying food and grills as the situation demands!

Tuesday May 31 - Action-packed last day

I didn't fly until Tuesday evening and managed to talk Millar into taking the day off work to play with me. We met for breakfast at Reading Terminal, and by breakfast I mean warm, buttery Amish pretzels which put all other pretzels to shame. Then we went to the courthouse to watch Adam in action for a few hours, something I've always wanted to do.

After that it was back to Reading Terminal for Sang Kee's wonton soup (a delicious deal at $1.81), Famous 4th Street cookies, and iced tea. Random combination, especially on a 95 degree day, but when you only have one opportunity to eat something in a year, you make odd choices.

Millar is part of a running group that does random things, and he needed help buying a dress for their upcoming Prom Run. So our next stop were the trash-tastic stores on Chestnut where the ladies enthusiastically helped us look for a dress. He tried on these four, ultimately deciding on the lower-right corner option (the only dress I would have actually worn myself):

Then he had to accessorize, of course. A silver clutch, silver headband with a butterfly, and silver necklace rounded out the outfit. God bless you and your incredible personal security, Millar.

Since I don't know how to not pack a zillion things into a day, I conned him into driving me to South Philly to buy a bag of potting soil and a pound of Isgro's Italian cookies to share with my Seattle coworkers the next day:

Then we said our goodbyes and I met Matt at Adam and Lydia's, where we repotted almost all of their plants (I like nontraditional host gifts) and gathered up my belongings. Matt gets mad props for both picking me up and dropping me off at the airport, and for that I rewarded him with something totally disgusting: a Pat's cheesesteak:

It is as gross as it looks, and I did want to die after eating it, but try as I might I couldn't reconcile the thought of a Phila trip without a cheesesteak. So I loaded up on low-quality meat, dense bread and goopy cheese-wiz just in time to sit on an airplane for 6 hours. It's actually fairly genius, since the only thing you can fathom afterward is taking a nap. The flight was uneventful: thank you, US Airways flight attendants, for being so pleasant.

Once I got into my apartment I burst into tears and cried for an hour, not uncommon with me after leaving one place for another - I don't think I've ever entered U.S. customs without crying, which makes the customs agent either 1) friendly and sympathetic or 2) very uncomfortable. Either way they usher you through, so drug runners, take note. Is it because I'm sad to have left? Tired from travelling? Sick from the food I justify eating on travel days? Probably all of the above, but it took me a solid week to pull out of the depressed rut (the weather didn't help) and overcome the urge to get on the next flight and move back to Philadelphia. Man, I love that place.

Don't be sad, Seattle. You're still my number one. Even if you don't have cool vacant lots like this:


Robyn said...

I loved the detail, even though I know it's like birthing something/one? Also loved the re-potting of plants for a gift. A winner, winner chicken dinner for sure.

Matt said...

The Dutch Baby snafu was a weight instead of volume mistake. The 3rd attempt was perfect and I have yet to make one that good.

It was a blast, looking forward to next year's visit!

Erica said...

Thanks for the post, with all it's details! Your trip is definitely the highlight of spring/summer :)