Independence Hall Philadelphia, PA
I am now staying at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City. Friday morning a good friend will arrive and take me to New York City for a day's visit and then to his home for the evening. Saturday, I will fly from Newark to my Oregon home which I have not seen for six months. It will be good to be "home for Christmas" and to reacquaint myself with my wife, my family, and my friends.
Hopefully, over the holiday season I will have time to reflect on my journey. When I began this walk, many were concerned for my welfare and safety yet this has never been an issue. I have met many Americans along the way and all have been kind, helpful, and supportive. It truly has opened my heart to others as others have opened their hearts to me.
I also wish that my secondary purpose be not be lost in the wash of affairs. I have this entire journey tried to raise an interest in the study of American history and of the importance of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It has been encouraging that all - and I really mean all - have expressed concern for our civil liberties - our freedoms as Americans. Republicans or Democrats, Left or Right, Red State or Blue - everyone is in agreement that the ideals and principles upon which this country was founded are still important to us today. They are liberties we wish not to lose and most people see them slowly slipping away.
I am also particularly grateful to the schools that opened their doors to me. Of all the people, it is the young people I enjoy working with the most.
In addition, I wish to thank those of you who commented regularly. It was lonely "out there" and your comments let me know that people were following my journey and supporting me in spirit.
In closing, as I have always been a person who challenges authority - I will fly back to Oregon dressed in my colonial outfit, choose for an opt out, and as I have but a one-way ticket I will automatically be a "red flag" to the TSA. In addition, I am carrying copies of the Bill of Rights and plan to hand these out at the airports through which I pass. This should make for an interesting situation.
Tuesday Afternoon, December 14
Once, listening to a businessman speak, I remember him saying that all employees are representatives of the company - from the custodian all the way to the top CEO. Each employee's public interaction leaves an impression - good or bad - and that it is important we remember this - both for the company's image and for its success. Tim McShea has been a personal ambassador for Philadelphia - "The City of Brotherly Love."
Tim is a Philadelphia fireman and a vice-president for their union. As such, as you might guess - he is a "people person" who seems to know not a stranger. And pulling into town as I did - they probably didn't come any stranger than I.
Based on a single phone call from Marty Kelly - a friend of Tim's whom I had met and shared some conversation - Tim:
1. Arranged for me to stay the night at "Ladder Two" on 4th and Arch Streets.
2. Arranged for me to speak at Constitution High School in Philadelphia two blocks from Independence Hall.
3. Took a day off from work to take me around Philadelphia as if I were a long lost friend - not permitting me to pay for anything.
4. Made sure I was well fed.
5. Several days later, drove from Philadelphia to Atlantic City with his friend Dave so I would not be alone at the end of my trip.
6. Took me to an Irish Pub for lunch and toasts after ending my trip.
6. Transported my cart to a warm Atlantic City fire station and helped take it apart so that I could send my things back to Oregon.
7. Drove me to Egg Harbor City, NJ to a UPS center to ship my stuff.
8. Arranged through his friend, Dave, a free stay for me at Harrah's Casino in Atlantic City.
Please remember, that until several days ago - Tim and I had never met. Even when thanking him for all of his help, Tim merely shrugged it off saying that I had been an inspiration to him and I owed him nothing.
I owe him a lot.
Tuesday, December 14
With mixed emotions I approached Atlantic City and the end of a very long journey. At one moment I would be emotionally overwhelmed thinking back to that beautiful beginning in Oregon surrounded by students and well wishers. The next moment, with temperatures in the 20’s - all sentimentality would be swept away by the biting wind causing me only to hunker down and quicken my pace.
Nearing the city, I received a call from Tim McShea, my new friend from Philadelphia. Tim had not wanted me to end my journey alone and was on his way with another fireman, Dave, to show their support. In short time I was gratefully warming myself inside Tim’s car for today was truly the coldest day of the entire trip. Then, for me, it was back to the road one last time as they drove ahead to wait at the Boardwalk.
Not long after, I was met by a television newsman who interviewed me briefly and filmed my cart from various angles and then filmed me walking down the road. It was so cold that I felt sorry for him having to get out of his warm car but I was glad for the publicity nevertheless.
As I entered Atlantic City, Tim called and gave some last minute directions and a few minutes later I was pushing my cart onto the Boardwalk. There waiting were Tim and Dave - along with a couple of policemen who, braced against the cold wind, found it unbelievable that I had walked here from Oregon. It made me feel good that they were there.
As planned, I proceeded to the beach’s edge and collected some Atlantic Ocean water and New Jersey sand. Wow - you can only imagine my feelings. I stood there a moment savoring a wash of emotional warmth and then began making phone calls - beginning with my wife, Cynthia. Without her love and support - this trip would not have been possible.
Monday Evening, December 13
I have but eight miles to go and if all goes as planned I should arrive at the Ocean's edge around 11:00. It is supposed to be only 20 degrees so this should speed me along my way.
Sunday, December 12
I awoke to a hard rain but decided I need to keep moving. Therefore I covered my cart with a tarp and headed out. After a short while the rain abated a bit but the sky was gray and the rain threatened to begin again at any moment. I made it to Hammonton and got a motel fairly early in the day for there are no other facilities until Egg Harbor. I took advantage of the extra time by blogging, doing my laundry, going to the store, and making some overdue phone calls. Hopefully tomorrow the rain will be gone. I seem to be finally in the New Jersey countryside and have taken a few pictures.
Saturday, December 11
Well, after saying goodbye to the guys at the fire station it was time to cross the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and enter my 11th and final state - New Jersey. Now I know that New Jersey bears the brunt of a lot of jokes but I wish to reserve judgment and let it reveal itself to me without preconceived notions. As Atlantic City is but 60 miles away, it will have to happen fairly quickly for I plan to finish in the next three or four days. Having written a lot tonight and wishing to go to bed, I will keep these last two posting brief and to the point.
I had enjoyed myself in Philadelphia but as it was time to move on - I crossed the Deleware River with mixed emotions. Wheeling up the pedestrian ramp onto the bridge was an easy matter in Pennsylvania but arriving at the New Jersey side of the river I was nearly thwarted by steep stairs. Again - deal with things as they arise and I found myself having to lower my cart carefully one stair step at a time. Just off to the south was Camden Field. I think somehow it is a famous baseball field but I can't remember why. Perhaps some more knowledgeable fans can fill me in on its significance. After conquering the bridge and stairs it was on to playing human dodge ball on the freeway. I did not want to walk through the maze of Camden, New Jersey's streets so I chose to stay on Route 30 the entire time which put me in a dangerous position - literally. I made it all right but probably aged a few years in the process. Finally in Collingswood, Route 30 begins to release the strain and traffic slows down a bit. As I am motel hopping - motel locations will determine where I stop and tonight finds me near Atko, New Jersey.
Friday, December 10
Constitution High School is a public charter school located just blocks from Independence Hall. Having a select student body, all applicants must have good grades, excellent attendance, positive behavior, and complete an essay and personal interview.
The School’s mission statement is:
By engaging students with an appreciation for history and an understanding of the democratic principles embodied in our country’s Constitution, this college preparatory high school will develop the next generation of engaged citizens and civic leaders in government, public policy, and law.
The school was founded by the current principal - Thomas A. Davidson, ESD.
This excellent high school is the school Tim McShay’s two sons attend and I was asked to visit. May I mention that former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Conner visited and spoke at the school last year? Now we can say - so too did Ray Brown, AKA "A Son of Liberty!" I am overwhelmed with honor. I spent three hours visiting and interacting with the students. It is one more Philadelphia experience I will always remember.
Friday, December 10
Nearly frozen, I found my way to the fire station and knocked on the door. Unsure of who I was but permitting me entrance - I told them that Tim McShea (a fireman and friend of Marty Kelly) had arranged for me to stay at the station for a night. Hearing this, I was immediately welcomed and given a cup of hot coffee and asked to rest myself - which I sorely needed after my cold march into Philadelphia. A fireman there by the name of Don Adams was particularly kind and sat listening as I told him and others about my mission of walking across America. Being fatigued and cold - I was overwhelmed emotionally by the kindness and support shown by everyone. It was as if I just been admitted to a fraternity.
Soon, Tim McShea showed up (whom I had never met) and he turned out to be the nicest man to interact with. He welcomed me to Philadelphia and asked many questions about my journey. Tim had taken the day off and was prepared to take me wherever I wished to visit but had only one favor to ask. Would I be willing to talk to the students at his sons’ school - a charter public high school located two blocks from Independence Hall? He had told the principal about my arrival and the school was interested in hearing about my trip and its purpose. The school’s name? Constitution High School! Could it get any better than this? I felt I was in the middle of a dream!
Leaving those details for later let it be said that following my school presentation (which he attended) Tim took me to the National Constitution Center, the Philadelphia Firemen’s Historical Museum, the Firemen’s Union Hall, and any other place I wished to visit. He would not let me spend a dime of my own money and everywhere we went he introduced me to people as if I were his long lost brother. I cannot tell it all in a blog post but I am still reeling from the kindness he showered upon me.
I ate breakfast at the fire station, I ate lunch at the fire station, I ate dinner at the fire station, and I slept in a bed at the fire station. The fireman would not accept a donation for food, let me wash a dish, or clean up in any way saying I was their guest. During the night the alarm went off twice and the driver even told me I could’ve sat behind the seat and gone out on a run with them. Do you believe this? It is all true! These guys at “Ladder Two” as the station is called, were the best ambassadors the city of Philadelphia could have ever asked for. They actually adopted me for a day and I was given a Philadelphia Fireman’s sweatshirt and a tee shirt to boot! In addition - Tim wanted to hook me up with other firemen in New Jersey if possible to “take care of me” along the way. He said they have contacts in Atlantic City (my destination) and wants me to call daily letting him know where I am and when I am scheduled to arrive.
This post may seem like crazy rambling but so too was my experience. Let me say this clearly - I have met many people in my journey across America but nothing can top the Philadelphia Fireman at Ladder Two on 4th and Arch Street. I owe them big time with a special thanks to:
Marty Kelly, Don Adams, Ray Vozelli, and particularly Tim McShea!
If you're ever at Independence Hall, stop by and tell them what great guys they are. It's quite easy to find.
Friday Morning, Dec. 10
Leaving Lancaster Avenue with relief I next had the downtown streets of Philadelphia to conquer as I sought my way to Independence Hall. Though I had visited two year ago, I wanted to see it again as well as the Liberty Bell. Utilizing both the streets and sidewalks to wend my way in the cold I eventually found Walnut Street and after many city blocks suddenly there it was - Independence Hall. I tried pushing my cart in front of the building for a photograph and was sternly told by a guard to take it across the street which I totally understood. Who knows? Perhaps I was a terrorist with a cart full of dynamite trying to blow up our national treasure! They had no idea who I was and I promptly heeded his demand. Once on the other side a big beefcake of a guard for the National Park Service came over to find out who I was and what I was up to. In our conversation he determined that I was “all right” and his demeanor lightened and he provided directions to the fire department on the corner of 4th and Arch - my temporary home. I took a couple of pictures that turned out grainy due to the early morning's lack of light. Now nearly frozen, I took off to find the fire station and get warm.
Note: Independence Hall is under repair and is currently surrounded by scaffolding. In addition to today's pictures I have included a picture of me on site and one of the Liberty Bell taken two year ago by my daughter Linden.
Friday, December 10
I awoke at 1:45 A.M. and could not go back to sleep for worrying about having to share a narrow road with Friday traffic going into Philadelphia. Therefore I decided to get up and begin the fourteen mile walk hoping to get near the city before the morning rush began. Though I had been warned about the neighborhood through which I would be passing and the possibility of being robbed - I decided that that was a “maybe” whereas the traffic issue was a given. So 3:00 A.M. found me heading down a very cold and dark street that would lead me through “The Bottoms” - a low income area on the outskirts of Philadelphia. I wasn’t overly concerned for with the hour being late and the temperature being frigid - I guessed that no one would be out and about. I was wrong.
For several miles I had the road to myself as I walked through some fairly nice neighborhoods but after crossing Route 1 the road began a downhill descent - both physically and economically and all began to change.
Walking down Lancaster Avenue alone with my cart I must have presented a crazy sight - a white guy in a poor black neighborhood at 4:00 A.M. in the morning. Pushing my cart with its American flags past piled up garbage and broken glass I really had no business being in this neighborhood but like always on this journey - I do what I have to do and therefore here I was.
On various street corners stood young men silently watching me with hoods pulled up and cell phones in hand - rather like sentinels guarding a territory. For the first time I began to grow concerned for my safety but not one word was said as I passed silently by. I had the bear spray ready to use if necessary but I was allowed to pass unmolested. After several miles and much to my relief the street suddenly popped me into the main city and I left “The Bottoms” behind. It is a commentary on our society that just beyond the bright lights of downtown with its hustle bustle and latte' sippers that these poor neighborhoods exist in its shadow.
How disenfranchised they must feel from the American Dream.
Thursday, December 10
The end is in sight for I am only 75 miles from Atlantic City. As a former distance runner I know it is important to run the finish lap as well as the others and I plan to finish strong - tired or not.
Today I was back to dodging traffic for I am now in Philadelphia's shadow with no bike lane for me to use. A couple of passing drivers yelled some things but I chose to ignore them and not respond to their ignorance. I am sorry if they are held up a few seconds in their busy lives but I have no choice.
In addition, I was warned by several people of a low income area called the "The Bottoms" and of the danger of being robbed there. I plan to walk through during the early morning and as it is also very cold - my guess is that the streets will be nearly empty and I shouldn't be hassled. I have my bear spray that I saved from Yellowstone specifically for this purpose. If it will stop a Grizzly bear I figure it will stop a human and I plan to carry it in my pocket tomorrow as well as when I pass through Camden, New Jersey - another area I have been warned about. Like always I take it one day at a time.
On the positive - I will be at Independence Hall tomorrow by the afternoon. I was here two years ago with my daughter, Linden, after she graduated from college in Connecticut so I plan to stay but one day and to move onward to the ocean. In addition, today I met a Philadelphia, Marty Kelly, fireman who arranged for me to lodge at a fire station near Independence Square. He liked what I am doing and called "The Boys" at the station telling them about me and they said I could have a bunk for the night. Once again I benefit from the kindness of strangers. Needless to say, this will save me a lot of money.
I apologize to the readers if these postings lack literary flair. I am a busy boy at the moment and look forward to a good overdue rest.
By the way, how cold is it? This morning my gallon jug of water was a solid block of ice!
Wednesday, December 8
I left this morning early at 6:00 A.M. for I had a long day ahead of me. In the rural countryside motels are few and far between so with the help of my computer’s Google Map - I picked out a place for the evening 28 miles away and proceeded (note: I did not call).
Same old same old for most of the day.
- the elderly people from yesterday passed again in their car and stopped. The man told me he was so impressed with what I am doing that he would never forget me. He then handed me a bag of cookies his wife had made and it almost made me cry.
- I collected $56 dollars in unsolicited donations from various people.
- I had to push my cart with my hands clenched into a ball inside my gloves in order to keep my fingers warm. I wish I had mittens instead, though clumsy, they keep your hands warmer.
When I finally arrived at the small motel I had chosen to stay, the owner told me that they only rent rooms for a week at a time - therefore - keep going.
The next hotel available was a Holiday Inn in Exton, Pennsylvania, five away. I arrived in the cold and the dark only to find that it too, was full, as well as were the only other hotels in the area. Now I was not sure what to do, so what else? I called my wife! She got on her computer and found a glorified bed and breakfast only 3/4 mile away. Five minutes later I was wheeling down the darkened streets to the small but wonderful German themed inn - the Duling-Kurtz House.
All’s well that ends well.
Tuesday, December 7
The days are starting to blend together as I continue my eastward progress across Pennsylvania. Though it was another cold day with temperatures in the 20’s - I feel so lucky weather wise. The snow seems to be piling up right behind me as I go - Pittsburgh had several inches, Ligonier had a foot and a half, and Bedford had a foot of snow. These are all places that I walked through just over a week ago! I cannot explain the trouble and inconvenience this would have caused had it snowed while I was there. I feel that I have been truly blessed. I can handle the cold for duh - it’s winter.
- A photographer from the York Dispatch caught up with me along the highway and took some pictures for a newspaper article.
- Some elderly folks stopped and braved the cold to converse for quite some time. They were so nice to talk with and expressed concern for my comfort in this weather offering me their place to spend the night. I had many more miles yet to go so I continued moving on - but though it was cold - they warmed my heart.
- My ear drum was almost shattered by a loud public siren as I walked through the town of Wrightsville. I passed unsuspectingly in front of it at exactly 12:00 noon when it blasted off at decibels that seemed beyond measure. It sounded like one of those WW II air raid sirens that the town evidently continues to use. This may sound humorous but I couldn’t hear for quite a while and it caused a headache. I will write a letter to the mayor when I return home for seriously - these things cause ear damage. I wear ear dampeners when I mow the lawn and ear plugs if I go to a live music concert. It really made me mad that it happened. I cannot explain how loud it was and it is uncalled for these days.
- I crossed the Susquehanna River and was surprised that it is a mile wide. The residents had burned their former bridge to prevent the Confederates from crossing to attack and burn Harrisburg in 1863
- I passed what looked like an Amish "used car lot" with buggies for sale.
- My cousin Ella Dowell, who lives in Middletown, Pennsylvania, sought me out and took me to an Amish home style dinner. It was unusual in that you pay one price at the door and they then bring you many different foods in copious amounts. I hadn’t eaten this much in a long long time. It was good to have home styled cooking for a change from my usual fare.
I called the motels in Philadelphia and was shocked to find that all are booked solid due to the Army-Navy football game this weekend. I found one motel near Independence Square that had a room for Friday only. Therefore, I will leave Philadelphia Saturday morning and head for New Jersey.
Monday, December 6
It was quite cold with temperatures in the 20’s when I left Gettysburg in the morning. In addition, a brisk wind blew the entire day making my walk an even more frigid experience - but on the positive side - the wind was to my back and actually helped propel me down the highway. No doubt about it - it was a very cold day!
Twenty-eight miles later and as darkness was falling, I stumbled into York, Pennsylvania, and checked into the Yorktowne - a rather swank hotel right in the center of the city. Normally I would be seeking out a Motel 6 or something of the sort but as there was nothing else available for miles - I decided to go for it and spend the night. Without a doubt, it is the nicest hotel in which I have stayed the entire trip.
Looking rather like a vagabond, I explained what I was doing and to my surprise - the staff happily helped carry my cart up the stairs and into the lobby where it remained for the night. No matter what - rich or poor - its presence always makes for good conversation and I was thankful the staff was so kind. In addition, they gave me a free meal and called the local newspaper providing some additional press exposure for which I am grateful. I was interviewed by telephone and tomorrow they will seek me out along the roadway to get a photograph.
One additional note I wish to make. I am very impressed with the architecture of the many old buildings in York. Though I will be leaving early in the morning, it is definitely a place to which I would like to return to visit for it a city rich in early American history.
Sunday, December 5
I arrived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, this afternoon after an 18 mile walk from Fayetteville. Initially, the road climbed upwards through a low mountain pass but then became relatively level making for a cold but easy walk. I believe the mountains are now behind me and if I can stay ahead of the snow - everything should be fine. To my surprise, I crossed the Appalachian Trail and took the time to traverse it a couple of hundred feet. I had done the same on the Pacific Crest Trail in Oregon last June. The cold wind was brisk, but so too was my pace and I hummed along with thoughts of the epic battle that took place at Gettysburg in 1863.
The Battle of Gettysburg is often considered the “high water mark” of the South during the American Civil War and still stands as the largest battle to ever take place in the Western Hemisphere with approximately 50,000 American casualties. I have visited the battlefield twice previously - the latest only two years ago. Therefore, with bitter cold, a whipping wind, and no car for transportation, I could not pay a proper respect and chose instead to visit a couple sites quickly and then headed for a warm motel.
In the morning, I hope to continue on Route 30 toward York, Pennsylvania.
Saturday Dec. 4
I had breakfast at the “Milky Way” in Ft. Loudon before beginning the 20 miles to Fayetteville. While eating I noticed people looking at my cart and commenting positively about it. Being in a good mood and with the restaurant full of customers - I decided to hand out copies of the Bill of Rights before leaving. Walking up to each booth I told them who I was, my goal, and why I was doing it. Everyone, and I mean everyone - was supportive and thanked me for my efforts. I left the restaurant feeling very good about the experience and headed toward Fayetteville reenergized. The rest of the day was uneventful except that I lost one of my gloves. With its loss I felt as if I had just lost an old and necessary friend.