Thursday, August 28, 2014

Boston Uncommon

     The road less traveled eventually led back to a major highway and a big city.  The jagged coast that caught the pilgrims so long ago gave way to the harbor and bustle of Boston.  Our journey through history that began in Gettysburg, led us to Valley Forge, wandered the streets of Williamsburg, paused in awe at the Liberty Bell, and even fired antique cannons from the cliffs of Fort Lee, now brought us to the beginning of it all, the site of the Boston Tea Party.
     There, sitting in the harbor, are two replicas of the ships that were raided on that fateful night in December as part of a new museum dedicated to this revolutionary history.  The experience is not an all together long one, easily visited in a short afternoon, but is well worth the visit.  As we approached the museum we were greeted by period-garbed Revolutionaries attracting a crowd with their indignant cries of improper taxation.  Once inside more re-enactors circulated feathers among the participants of the town hall meeting so that we may wear them as a disguise for when we raided the ships.  In the dark of the mid-afternoon we would assume the appearance of an Indian raiding party.  Along with our disguises we were given small cards depicting our true identities as New Englanders, Bostonians, soon-to-be Americans, and forgotten Revolutionaries.  And soon we come face to face with Sam Adams, patriot.
     Riled by the town meeting and the rhetoric of Sam Adams, we storm out of the town hall and out onto the deck of the ships in the harbor and proceed to toss crates of tea into Boston harbor.  We explore the small merchant ship and huzzah at our criminal mischief.  Disembarking from the ship we come to a plaque memorializing all the participants of the protest.  Looking to our ID cards, we are able to find our names on the plaque and read the history and background of that person.  The rest of the museum is back inside with cool holograms and talking paintings and a short movie chronicling the beginning of the war with England that would lead to our country's independence.  We retire upstairs to take tea in a colonial tea room along with a small pastry and reflect on our civil disobedience.
     With today's classrooms concentrating more and more on the basics of reading, writing, and arithmetic in order to meet quotas and deadlines and state-mandated test scores; with more detailed subjects like history, and the literary, artistic, and scientific milestones contained therein, being glossed over with only the broadest of strokes, I (perhaps in my older age) have become acutely aware of many gaps in my children's education, especially when it comes to how we as a country, as a society, as a government, as Americans have come to be in the 21st century.  I will not allow my family to go blindly into life to form opinions without a thought to the history that has made this country great and the hardened men and women that have laid the foundation for us all.  And so we pack up the truck and head further down the road into history, smiling with a feather in our cap.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Pilgrim's Coast

     The warm winds of August fueled our journey for salty air and fresh seafood.  So we packed up the truck once again and headed north to find the succulent tails of lobster and rocky shores of New England.  The ride seemed to pass quickly as we added some roadside attractions to break the monotony of the highway.  A few welcome centers supplied fresh brochures that would create ideas and itineraries for future journeys.  Cabela's served as the halfway point, a place to refuel and visit the restroom and stretch the legs among the wildlife.  We reached the shores of New Hampshire before the sun had gone for the day.  The truck windows opened to the salty air.  We had found our destination.
     Portsmouth is an interesting port town on the border of New Hampshire and Maine.  It is one of the oldest sea towns in the United States.  The streets are narrow and lined with shops and cafes, street performers and sidewalk vendors, and a brewery.  It lends itself to wonderful strolls along the streets breathing deep of the sea air with the quiet roll of the ocean always in the background.  A short stroll across the drawbridge brings you into Maine with a view of the harbor and the lobster rolls to go with it.  We dined at the Portsmouth Brewery while we listened to the musicians play outside in the town square.  The sun set on us as we wandered among the antique shops.
     The sun rose on our northern starting point of Route 1A.  We would follow the old highway out of Portsmouth south along the coast passing beach after beach.  These are not the hot, sandy beaches equipped with boardwalks and roller coasters and game hawkers of New Jersey.  The shore was rocky with boulder fingers that jutted out into the ocean.  You could scamper across the rocks until they disappeared into the Atlantic, find a seat amongst the seaweed and snails and watch the waves pound against the shore.  The beaches are more solid here, tight sand, grey in color, that holds a footprint crisp and defined before it is erased by a wave.
      We crossed the bridge into Newburyport, Massachusetts and the beaches became harbors and the antique stores became farmers markets and craft bakeries and, as always, small breweries.  We arrived just in time for the Yankee Homecoming and a town parade led by Revolutionaries coming home from the war with England.  A perfect taste of true small town New England.  A little further south, we stopped at one of the roadside clam shacks for a couple of crab rolls and some fried fresh clams.  There is something utterly satisfying about seafood right from the boat prepared along a forgotten highway eaten outside on a picnic table situated among the marsh grass with the sand beneath your feet.
     With our bellies full of fresh caught sea fare, we followed the highway south and east to Gloucester.  A workman's town made up of blue-collar homes that look out beyond the harbor into the infinite horizon of the Atlantic.  Large commercial fishing ships were docked at the processing plants and smaller fishing vessels made their way under the drawbridge that stops traffic along the main street.  The kids followed the statues along the walkway that told the tale of fishermen's wives awaiting the return of their husbands and the memorial to all the fishermen lost at sea.  This is more a town of proud people steeped in tradition not unlike their cousin farmers that are the staple of small towns in the center of the country, providers of food for a nation, calloused and tough.
     With no more road or land to the east, we follow the southern coast back west again toward the big city.  Boston looms tall toward the western horizon and the whole country seems to roll away from there.  It is odd and amazing and humbling to stand on the eastern shores and look out following the sun's trek westward and the land that unfolds beyond the eye's sight.  A sight the Pilgrims, the Revolutionaries, the Industrialists, and now my family, have all seen.  A place where so many journeys have begun.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The City of Brotherly Love

     It was the weekend of Independence, a few extra days off wouldn't hurt.  I filled the car with family and bags and headed down the Turnpike.  All roads branch off this toll road and in Jersey it is only a matter of what exit you live off of.  Our exit would be the one closest to the Ben Franklin Bridge and America's First Zoo.  A relic hidden within the town limits of Philadelphia, the zoo is a quaint place, not as large and bustling as the one in the Bronx, but friendly.  It was a clean, quiet, entertaining walk between exhibits down shaded walking paths.  It's size lends itself to a shorter visit taking less than half a day.  It leaves plenty of time to venture through the rest of this historic town.
     We were able to stop by a few landmarks, plaques placed throughout the city.  The kids' favorite being the historic marker for the site of the first Girl Scout cookie booth.  Where, in the window of the old Philadelphia Gas and Electric Co., Girl Scouts baked and sold their cookies to raise funds for their endeavors.  Four years later the national headquarters for Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. adopted the annual cookie sale nationwide and a true tradition was established.  We cruised the cobblestone streets down towards Penn's Landing to cool off with old fashioned ice cream sundaes doled out at The Franklin Fountain.  A nostalgic place where soda jerks make honest-to-goodness egg creams and the toppings are house made.  The fans are still belt-driven affairs and the register only accepts cash.  The kids were filled with wonder and ice ream and sodas made from syrup and seltzer.  It was a refreshing stop in so many ways.
      Cool and relaxed, we were ready to gaze upon an ancient artifact, preserved within a glass building.  A metallic wonder forged over 250 years ago.  The security was tight around the grounds of the Liberty Bell and the lines were on the long side of a free attraction but I felt a visit to the Liberty Bell and the history surrounding it were especially important for the kids.  So much nowadays is read or even more so seen on the screen of TV's and computers and "smart" phones, that we as a society have forgotten that these things, places, artifacts, landmarks, really do exist in solid form.  We fought the throngs of tourists shuffling through the building and stood our ground to read all the history fixed upon the walls.  I see no point in pushing people out of the way to secure a poorly taken photo with a phone of a significant historical piece that holds no meaning to the photographer (I mean picture-taker for I feel photographer denotes caring about the subject matter).  The iconic piece was there looking out a glass wall toward Independence Hall.  I felt goose bumps run atop my skin as I tried to detail the importance of the Bell and the building behind it to my kids.  We were walking grounds that our country's forefathers stepped upon and railed against tyranny centuries ago.  We were surrounded by ghosts of greatness.
      We left the manicured grounds still discussing the history that had taken place here.  The Reading Terminal was our next stop and did not disappoint.  What more can be said about an old landmark filled with homemade offerings of every kind but "Oh my goodness".  We bought fresh butchered bacon and sausage for at home and sampled America's Oldest Ice Cream, Bassetts (oh, it was so creamy and rich and good).  The cooler in the back of the truck was now full with food stuffs for future grilling sessions back home and all we (I, really) needed was some beverages to wash it all down.  Our SMV rode through the neighborhoods of Philly picking up beer from several of the local breweries to bring back home.  And the tangle of streets eventually led to a dinner table with outside neighborhood flair.
       No visit to Philly would be complete without grabbing a table and a cheese steak at the intersection of Passyunk and Wharton.  Pat's King of Steaks and their across the street rival Geno's are landmarks and destinations and foodie goodness all rolled into one.  The intersection glows with neon lights and hums with hungry people and the laughter of kids playing in the park next door.  The grease rolls down your arms and the cheese covers your lips.  The kids devoured their first-ever originals with Cheez Whiz in minutes while slurping on a lemonade.  With bellies full, our trip to Philly was a good one.
       Before leaving the area, we followed more history through Valley Forge and visited Washington's headquarters.  We mapped our way back through time to Amish country and Bird-in-Hand.  The coolers would be near bursting before we returned home.  History would be all around us.  And my family would be looking forward to our next road trip.  But first there would need to be fireworks to celebrate our independence and my family will watch them with a better understanding of why the night sky is lit up red, white, and blue.