Wednesday, July 31, 2013

road trip chronicles day 15

  There are certain cities that we pass through too quickly and we all agree that Philly is one of them. Sure, we saw Independence Hall, the LOVE sculpture, Ben Franklin's grave, Thomas Jefferson's walking stick, the Liberty Bell and (today) Eastern State Penitentiary with Al Capone's cell - but there is so much we missed.

We never even glanced at the Franklin Institute, Adventure Aquarium, the working 18th century print shop, the National Constitution Center or Betsy Ross' house.  But hey, I did get to lock Punk and Kooka in prison, so I guess it was time well spent.

The Eastern State Penitentiary was envisioned by Benjamin Franklin, built in 1821, and continued to house criminals until 1971. Originally planned as a silent and foreboding place for criminals to be thoughtful and repent, this prison was home to some of America's most notorious criminals including Slick Willie and "Scarface" himself - Al Capone. We were fascinated by the walking audio tour which included tours of the cell blocks, the solitary confinement "hole," the hospital, Al Capone's cell, the yard and death row. It was the perfect place for a haunted house tour (which apparently is held each fall), and is likely why Yoda (who seems to share Punk's love of everything creepy) and I had this conversation:

Yoda: What's dis place?
Me: It's a jail. A place where bad guys go when they get in trouble.
Yoda: (running her hand across the pale blue, lead paint flakes covering the cell walls) I like dis place.
Me: You DO?!
Yoda: Yeah. Can we live here? Live here in dis jail?
Me: Uh.
Yoda: We can live here. Or maybe we could just go to a hotel.

Here's a sneak peak at her dream home:

Punk had the chance to unlock a cell, and then we got to shut him inside. We traded spots soon after and Yoda and I both found it a little suffocating. We weren't quite screaming, but we both said, "Let me out," as soon as we felt the iron door close.

We checked out Al Capone's cell, which was decked out with a writing desk, carpet, a radio - a far cry from the pathetic digs of the other prisoners. As Kooka said, "He was the worst of all of them, why does he have the best cell?" 

This led to a discussion of bribes, the mob, and who exactly is responsible for the crime - the guy who pulls the trigger, or the guy who gives the orders, which led us to a discussion of prison rules, which led to Rico purchasing a list of them to post in our home. 

They are mostly perfect rules for our family.   In a nutshell, they say:
*Keep your space clean.
* Obey your superiors and do it quickly.
*Clear your plate and make sure you throw extra stuff in the garbage.
* Whatever you are told to do - do it well, and spend your free time improving your mind.
* Address any complaints to the warden.
* Be courteous and don't get sidetracked by angry or vengeful feelings
* Observe the Sabbath.
* The wardens will treat you with humanity and kindness, and they expect you to follow the rules.

Nevertheless, our children were not terribly thrilled with our new acquisition.

So while Philadelphia is old in the best way possible, we can't say the same for Hoboken, New Jersey.  We wouldn't even be here in the first place if it weren't for middle child's fascination with reality TV's Cake Boss. Kooka loves to bake, loves to create cakes (check out Yoda's birthday confections). The line to get into Carlo's Bakery snaked down the block and took an hour to get through, but this was like Mecca to the cake princess, so we waited.

Twelve dollars later, Kooka was in heaven with a mini chocolate truffle cake, Punk was munching a sprinkled cookie, and I was snacking on a flaky, lobster tail pastry. Worth twelve bucks? Maybe. Worth an hour wait? Well, the smile on Kooka's face was - we'll leave it at that.

Rico and Yoda, who couldn't handle the wait stopped at Dunkin' Doughnuts and met us down by the Hudson River for a view of NYC.

The people in Hoboken are nice, but the place is a mess. Dirty, disheveled and generally unkempt, even city hall ( located across the street, where everyone from the bakery line goes to use the restroom) is full of broken tiles and a thin coat of grime. Come on Cake Boss, throw them a bone and at least spring for the 409. 

Rico was ecstatic to have an unobtructed view of his beloved New York.

Good thing he enjoyed it, because our view was plenty obstructed when we drove through Manhattan during rush hour.

Of course since this is Rico's hood, we were just driving to get more food. Because as he will tell you (or anyone who will listen), there is no such thing as good food anywhere except New York. First it was a stop at the Lemon Ice King of Corona in Queens.

 This was the kid's first taste of Italian ices, and they were in heaven. Between the five of us we had vanilla chip, raspberry, peanut butter, bubble gum, peach, rainbow and piƱa colada. They are like little bursts of freezie flavor heaven, and Punk said it was the best thing he'd eaten on our entire trip.

He held tight to that notion for about six minutes, which is when Rico pulled into Amore's pizza for some real New York slices. One bite and he changed his mind, this was his new best thing. Bagels tomorrow, so we'll see what happens.

Tonight we are in a Springhill Suites in Milford, Connecticut. After tonight the big kids will have seen 41 states - not as close up as we'd like for all of them, but enough to let them taste ices and independence and maybe that's the best we can hope for.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

road trip chronicles philly

We spent the entire day in the city of Brotherly Love, and I couldn't be happier.

We arrived at noon, just in time for a Philly Cheesesteak lunch. Apparently there are only two places ou should go for cheesesteak in Philly and they're right across the street from each other. We took the advice of two ladies sitting on the stoop near the street we parked on, and headed to Geno's. At Geno's the walls are filled with police and fire department patches from all over the country. A sign on the window says, "This is America. When ordering, please speak in English." They mean it too, aside from selling "freedom fries," Geno's was the center of a large controversy for even posting the sign. Story goes that his parents were immigrants from Italy, they worked hard to learn the language and the owner thought everyone else should too.  Anyway, the sandwich was about what I expected - not quite disgusting, but I certainly don't need another anytime soon, or anytime ever. Punk said, "amazing, awesome, LOVED it," Kooka said it was "really good," Rico said "that's a good sandwich!"  

It was school grade roast beef slices covered in hot cheese wiz. If that's what Rico considers "really good" then I should never hear him complain about not being able to find a good restaurant in Minnesota.

After passing some of the most beautiful grafitti we've ever seen, we stopped at Isgro's Pastries for fresh cannolis before going to Christ Church Cemetery. The cemetery is the final resting place of some of our founding fathers, including Rico's namesake - Poor Richard - Benjamin Franklin. 

Common lore says that tossing a penny on his grave will bring you good luck, but since I'm a stickler for monument respect, we didn't. Besides, the man who said "A penny saved is a penny earned," was probably OK with us keeping ours.

Just a block away was the Liberty Bell, where we stopped for a quick photo, before taking off to Independence Hall.

Of course, I cried.

Like we didn't see that coming. 

If Graceland and Gary, Indiana can bring a tear to my eye, certainly this place would.

It wasn't just standing in the very same spot where Lincoln stood, touching the bricks where George Washington was inaugurated, or walking the same path as Thomas Jefferson. It was so much more than that.

Every single freedom we have, every right that so many people take for granted, started here. Every single man who signed that Declaration of Independence knew he was committing high treason. Each of them knew they would be hung by the British just for signing their name - but they did it. They did it because they believed in the promise of America, they believed in the future, they believed in us.

And maybe that is why I left feeling sad. I wonder how they'd feel about us now, I wonder if we are worth it. There is a big difference between being unable and unwilling to pursue your dreams. If our kids left with anything today, I hope it is fire in their souls, hope in their hearts, the belief that they are worth it, that people risked their lives just so they could have the freedom to be dreamers, thinkers, speakers, believers.

If nothing else, I feel somehow vindicated in my children's early education. When the tour guide asked the easy questions, everyone knew the answers, but it was Punk's lone voice who piped out "General Cornwallis," "Spain," and "France."

Score one for Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and the mom who shelled out $24.95 for the Schoolhouse Rock DVD twelve years ago.

Score another one for the Fairfield Inn in Philly where they greeted us with free subs, warm chocolate chip cookies, fresh strawberry lemonade, and a pool all to ourselves.

Monday, July 29, 2013

road trip chronicles day 14

Quotation on Abraham Lincoln's Monument
 After yesterday's complete waste of brain space at Pedro's South of the Border, it felt really good to get a giant helping of culture in Washington D.C. today.

It was a repeat trip for all of us (if you count fetus Yoda), so we all had favorite things to see, but less than 10 hours to do it.

We started off at the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space. Like his mama, Punk is more of a history buff and is mostly interested in the genuine article - the real Sprirt of St. Louis, a genuine piece of moon rock.  Kooka likes that stuff too, but really loves the experiments, and recreations. Yoda liked looking at the airplanes and demanding we put more goldfish crackers on her tray every three minutes.

Amelia Earhart's record setting plane

Next was a tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural history. The dinosaurs and bugs are always a favorite for us. We saw live tarantulas as big as our palms, centipedes that made us grateful to be heading north, and jeweled scarab beetles that are simultaneously fascinating and disgusting.

Yoda shares a "snack" with a Neanderthal.  She said they were roasting marshmallows.  I didn't have the heart to tell her it was probably a lizard.
We stopped in to peek at the Hope Diamond again, which always elicits the same response. This time it was Punk, "WOW! That was terribly disappointing." 

Hope diamond never fails to disappoint.

But the meteorites always make up for it as we imagine a giant hunk of space metal crashing through the roof of some completely unoccupied building that could never possibly be our house.

A chunk from a 30,000 ton meteorite

Further down the national mall (the large outdoor green space that connects several monuments, museums and memorials), is the Smithsonian museum of American History. 

We love pretending to be the president, checking out the White House china (and passing brutal and copious judgement on the tastes of the owners - Clinton's, both Rooseveldt's and Reagan's win hands down), wading in the fountain outside, gazing at the real Star Spangled Banner and looking at all of the old protest signs.

"These aren't old," says Punk.
"Yes they are," I tell him.
"Great," he says, "forty years later and we're still arguing about the same crap."

True dat.

But despite all of the deep history in this place, the real draw for us is always much more shallow. Yeah, we know we can see the genius of Henry Ford, read about the history of cardiology, and marvel at the Philadelphia warship, but who has time for that when there are ruby slippers to be examined, Kermit the Frog voices to be imitated and Harry Potter's robe to be gaped at. 


Yeah -THE Harry Potter's robe. Griffyndor crest and all -which we do realize has as much business being in the American history museum as wontons in an Italian restaurant. Like we cared!!!!  The magic of Jim Henson, OZ, and Hogwarts all in one place is the real reason we love this museum.

We headed to Chinatown for dinner. Chinatown Express is our favorite little joint in D.C. We order sesamee chicken, chow fun, dumplings, egg rolls and hot tea.

Chinatown for dinner!

We decided to dine outside tonight, and the conversation went like this:
Rico: We should eat outside.
Me: OK, but why?
Rico: Just in case we run into somebody we know.
Me: What?!?! Who do you think we know in DC?
      Not ten seconds later. . . 
"Ms. J?"

Unreal!   Two of my most favorite Shattuck students walk by (Nicole and Adrianna)They both go to GW and were heading to the Beyonce' concert they saw us sitting outside. I was so happy to see them. They both just turned out to be adorable, happy intelligent people and it was wonderful to see them. 

It was almost eight o'clock when we decided to take an evening stroll past the White House. Kooka asked which one of my kids would be most likely to live there. I suspect she already knew the answer. Yoda is by far too bossy, Punk couldn't handle the first three minutes of a negative campaign. Still she seemed rather pleased when I confessed that she was our best hope.

Even though Thomas Jefferson is one of our favorite presidents, and by far our favorite memorial, we decided to visit Abe Lincoln before we left for Maryland. It was rather inspiring after visiting his boyhood home last week. He was just a guy, just a regular kid, and he changed the face of the world. We stood on the steps of the monument for a moment just taking it all in. It was Punk who summed it up best.

"Wow," he said, "Just think of where I'm standing. I'm in the exact same spot where Martin Luther King Junior stood." We all nodded. And he is completely serious when he says, "and Forrest Gump, and Ben Stiller. All of the greats."

And now us.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

road trip chronicles day 13


 Still two days away from the trip we actually planned to take, so we are barreling through the south, just so we can get to the northeast on time.

Rico and I are not doing much to help - first my hospital stay, and now Rico has a fever and raging sore throat. The poor guy will muscle on no matter what, so I am trying to plan low key stops so he can rest a bit.

Today's first stop was South Of The Border, a tacky tourist trap on the South Carolina side of highway 95. It is just as tacky (and un-P.C.) as it looks, but Rico stopped here every summer as a kid, so we decided to christen the next generation. Not that we felt we had much choice, there are signs every four miles reminding us of the wonder that is Pedro. 

In our down time, we spend a lot of time with play-doh, friendship bracelets, books and the occasional video game. The backseats usually look something like this:

The second stop was right outside of Richmond, VA, in Glen Allen. We met up with Rico's old friends Dave and Martha, who greeted us with good conversation, a home cooked meal, and ice cream cones all around. They even joined us at the hotel for some late night hot tubbing.

I'm off to tuck in kids, make reservations for tomorrow, and kiss Rico goodnight. Tomorrow is supposed to be D.C. We'll see how everybody feels.