The Thursday before Independence Day weekend, my boyfriend and I drove the seven and a half hours to Philadelphia to visit a close friend. I had been to Pennsylvania a handful of times in the past, and even to Pittsburgh (which I consider a larger city), but had never been to Philadelphia. Our friend, Orey, had lived in the city for a little over a year, working as a supervisor for a tourism company and taking graduate classes, working toward his Masters in Creative Writing.
We were thrilled to visit Philadelphia, one of the most populated cities in the United States, and also nervous about how we would fit in. Orey had previously warned us that Philadelphia natives can easily identify people that are tourists, especially midwesterners. He had been outed as an Ohioan on a few occasions, once after saying "Bless you" to a complete stranger after they sneezed, and other times for starting a friendly conversation in public. In Philadelphia, small-talk does not exist, and sneezing is apparently a private matter.
"Where are you from?" they would ask him.
"I live in West Philly." he'd reply.
"Yeah, but you're not from here." they'd insist.
The week before we left, Orey requested that we each send him a wish-list of things we wanted to do. The first two things on my list were "TACO BELL" and "LIBERTY BELL". (In college, the three of us frequented Taco Bell more times then I care to admit, and I am a sucker for any historical landmarks). Orey excitedly showed his co-workers our wish lists, which warranted a response of skepticism and judgment. "Do all people in Ohio like Taco Bell?" one asked. "They really like to eat, just like you" said another. Orey later reported to me that many of his coworkers had never experienced Taco Bell in their lives. What do they eat? Are they rich or something? were the first two questions that I blurted, to which he responded "I just don't know. People are different here. A lot of them that I met don't even realize that Ohio is right next to Pennsylvania." (I later spoke with a little girl while getting a Philly cheese steak who didn't know what Ohio was, and thought it was a suburb of Philadelphia)
Not that I use fast-food as a major component my identity, but I was certainly taken aback. When we first got to the city, we drove to pick Orey up at his place of work.
"Here we go..." I said to my boyfriend teasingly. "You are just a country boy and I am a dough-eyed midwestern girl, taking on the big city."
"Uh, I am not a country boy." he replied, scanning his eyes across the narrow roads.
"Living in Columbus for four years doesn't count, you are still from the middle of nowhere" I replied smuggly, attempting to see the tops of the skyscrapers that ran past the car windows.
Early on in our trip, we met Orey's co-workers and friends. He introduced us as his "Ohio friends", but I decided to ham it up anyway. I was overly friendly, super smiley, and tried to sneak in as many "bless you"s and "excuse me"s as I could. Outside of meeting his coworkers, when I waited in lines at the bathroom, I attempted to start conversations with the women standing next to me. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't. At other times, I walked aggressively past others on the city streets, grazing shoulders or bumping handbags without an apology. I didn't smile or nod to children or the elderly that shuffled on by, as I attempted to blend in.
When I previously traveled to France and Ireland, I desperately tried to appear European. I wore darker colors, didn't carry a map, and turned my insides while trying to keep my face calm and neutral while walking through an exciting, beautiful new place. I didn't want to stick out. However, in Philly, I found that it was easier to be cheerful than to blend in. Of course, I should clarify that Philadelphians are not rude, horrible, or unfriendly. I met wonderful people who were helpful and enjoyable to be around, but the difference in culture between the midwest and the east coast is notable. Nevertheless, in Philly, in America, I no longer wished to mesh with what was around me. I wanted everyone to know that I was from Columbus, Ohio, where we sell cow novelty items and John Deere hats in our airports. Let Orey's coworkers know that I love imitation Mexican Food, and that I have never seen the Liberty Bell in my life but dreamed of the moment when I would lay my eyes upon its cracked glory.
So, I wore a hot air balloon patterned dress and ran to the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Steps..AKA, THE ROCKY STAIRS!
I repeatedly asked "What is the difference between a Water Ice and Italian Ice? I don't get it?"
I cried during a 3D informational film at Orey's work that was narrated by a Benjamin Franklin impersonator.
And then again at Al Calpone's cell at Eastern State Penitentiary.
And when I saw Independence Hall.
And finally when we found a cute baby bird on a porch in Society Hill.
By the end of the weekend, I loved it. The history, the architecture, but mostly experiencing how another sect of America lives and functions in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection. Plus, it was way cool to experience the Fourth of July in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed. I also got to wait for an Uber by the real Benjamin Franklin's grave.
We had an awesome time.
Did I mention that I got to see a GOAT statue?