The Beast and I had a week-long American road trip in November. What follows are the highlights, told in two parts. Here is Part II: Sons of Liberty.
Recap: After Nantucket, we made our way to the Woodbury Commons Premium Outlets, just outside of New York City. We shopped until 8:30 p.m., much later than we’d planned. Afterwards, I decide to take over the driving duties for the first time on our trip. Traffic is ugly. I can’t remember what the fuck highway or freeway or interstate we were on–the New Jersey Turnpike?–but we can see the Chrysler Building’s illuminated top on the driver’s side. We don’t arrive in Philly until very late and my nerves are shot. The city seems a bit rough around the edges at 12:30 a.m. We settle into our hotel room, shower and are asleep by 1:45 a.m. In the morning bright light, the city looks just lovely. The Beast insists that we line up at 8:30 a.m. to get our tickets for a tour of Independence Hall–that’s the building where the room that all those founding fathers met to work on the Declaration of Independence, and eventually signed it there, is. Then we visit Benjamin Franklin’s grave and what would have been his house. The rest of the day is a non-stop museum visiting and eating.
Lowlight: Deciding to go to the Mütter Museum (a collection of medical oddities) after lunch, and not mapping out enough time at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and not taking photos on the Rocky steps. But we did see a Pitbull skateboarding there.
Highlight: Taste-testing the duelling Philly cheesestake spots that are right across the street from each other, Gino’s and Pete’s. We hear authentic accents and see authentic people ordering their cheesesteaks! I see a real Philly cop at the back of a very large line-up at Gino’s and the lady behind the counter sees him too, nods, and 10 seconds later, he had his foil-wrapped cheesesteak in his hand! It was crazy authentic. But we both agreed that Pete’s cheesesteak took the cake. We also had a slice of Lorenzo’s pizza, even though we were stuffed–and even though I kept complaining about feeling fat and having bad skin–but the New York Times said it was the city’s best slice, and how often do you get to eat authentic Italian-American food? We almost got a third cheesesteak at Lorenzo’s, because it looked super-duper authentic. Instead, we opted for a couple of espressos and a cannolo at an authentic-looking cafe in the Italian market. Through out the day, the Beast continues to honour my back and shoulder pain, which has subsided a great deal.
Beast (driving through Hartford, CT): Holy shit, there are signs for Mark Twain’s house. Can we stop?
Foodie: I don’t think so. We are on a tight schedule here. Besides, it’s probably one of those places where he lived once and it’s been completely redone and it’s just bullshit.
Beast: I HAVE SEEN PICTURES OF MARK TWAIN IN THAT HOUSE!
Foodie: Well, we just passed the exit. Oh look at the pretty yellow trees!
Beast: I don’t care about the yellow trees. Everything is black to me now.
Recap: The real reason we took our trip was to join our friends in Bethesda for our first American Thanksgiving (authentic!) The meal is more elaborate than I could have possibly imagined. We also spend a day visiting Mount Vernon in Arlington, VA. That’s George Washington’s farm. It was much more fun than I thought it would be, mostly on account of it being a beautiful day and there were plenty of beautiful outdoor grounds to cover. Indoors, there was an especially interesting exhibit on food. They had authentic recipe cards featuring some of Martha Washington’s dishes, including a Christmas cake, which I hope to make. And we also spent a lovely afternoon visiting the National Portrait Gallery, and both the Lincoln and Jefferson monuments.
Lowlight: I can’t think of a single one.
Highlight: Thanksgiving dinner with our friends, of course, and also a trip to Ray’s Hell Burger. President Obama loves this place. It is extraordinary. It also sparks an interesting conversation with our American friends about how it is actually illegal to serve a burger in Canada anything other than well done.
Foodie (driving): Can we take a break from Moby Dick?
Beast: Sure, what do you want to listen to?
Foodie: Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants please!
Beast: I didn’t put that on the iPod.
Foodie: But I asked you to!
Beast: There’s only room for one funny girl in this car. Besides, why would you want to listen to that?
Foodie: Ah, because it’s supposed to be hilarious?
Beast: Ah, [in Tina Fey voice], ‘Here’s me saying something sarcastic about something; here’s me being sarcastic about something sarcastic…’ Let’s listen to all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies. They’re all on here.
Recap: The last time we visited Washington D.C., in 2006 I think, we missed Gettysburg, a misstep that the Beast would not let me forget in the proceeding years. Needless to say, we were stopping on the morning that we would drive back to Toronto. It was very cold. But there was a really interesting visitor’s centre with a great film narrated by Morgan Freeman that got me in the mood. Then there were the actual battle sites to see, outside, in the cold. For many of them, I asked if I could stay in the car. The Beast would grant me that, only to come back to the car, overwhelmed with emotion, and asking me to please just go read the one placard or to please just go and look at the field and think, really think, about enormity of loss for a cause of equal enormity. I did, of course. And I am glad of it.
Lowlight: Deciding to order meatloaf from The Cracker Barrel. It tasted like rotten sausage!
Highlight: The entire drive home from Gettysburg to Toronto. Maybe we were delirious after being in the car together for so long, and listening to 54 chapters of Moby Dick, but everything that the Beast said was absolutely hilarious! And everything I said I was even more hilarious! It was like a five-hour stand-up routine between two comedians who basically would tell a joke and then the other comedian would say the same joke, only a little differently. Most of the jokes centred around a character we invented: A Southern American, maybe slightly hickish, obsessed with Starbucks and their amazing line of products. He is also obsessed with Ralph Lauren.
Beast: Which one of y’all cocksuckers is gonna get me a caramel-brulee latte?
Foodie: Which one of y’all cocksuckers is gonna get me one of them cake pops over there?
Beast: Which one of y’all [insert racial epithet] is gonna heat up this Thai tuna wrap for me?
Foodie: Which one of y’all cocksuckers got any of those maple-caramel lattechinos back there?
Beast: Y’all motherfuckers got your pumpkin spice lattes yet?
Foodie: I said Venti! And light on the whipped cream. Y’all cocksuckers can’t hear.
Beast: Y’all need to tell me where you got yer shirts with ponies on ‘em! I said, PON-eyes! P-O-N-N-E-Y-S.
Foodie: I said P-O-N-E-Y-Z! PON-eyes!
Summary: Our American trip was perfect: From New England, where the rarity of literary giants–Thoreau, Alcott, Hawthorne and Emerson–all existing at the same time, and in the same place (Concord), moved us, and where (Nantucket) the one-time biggest and most important industry (whale oil) in the world once thrived, to visiting some of the places where American ideals were born. It was also the first time that the differences–sometimes subtle, sometimes shockingly bold–between Canada and the U.S. really hit home.
The Beast has always been fascinated with American history, particularly with the awe-inspiring coincidence that progressive, yet complicated, men like Adams, Jefferson, Washington and Franklin all existed at the same time. I think my eyes were opened to the progressive part when I read this carved quotation in the Jefferson monument:
“I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.”
The Beast and I talked about the quote on the drive home, specifically that in the current midst of such puritanical “founderism” on the American right, for men like Franklin and Jefferson, the chief virtue of the Constitution was that it was living document, not only capable of changing over time, but that changing it was a given.