Last weekend I found myself in an improbable position: on a bicycle, in Valley Forge. Biking isn’t really my thing. It was once, when I was far younger, but I’ve always preferred two legs to two wheels. Call me a naturalist.
But, I had signed on to a press trip for a gay weekend in Philadelphia. Group activities are also not something to which I’m inclined and I needed some time away from New York City, with which I was falling out of love.
So, there I was, following a guide named Graham, on a bike and hearing tales of revolutionaries in the then-heartland of the infant United States. Deer peppered the countryside, the cool wind crept into my button down shirt and, for the first time in a woefully long time, I felt young. Yes, I know, I’m only twenty-six year old, but New York City, where I live, had depleted my sense of adventure. This trip, I hoped, would help reignite my youth. Fitting that a bike tour, definitely an enjoyably childish endeavor, had been fit into our breakneck schedule.
I’d arrived to Philadelphia the following morning on Amtrak’s Acela Express, a new experience for a boy accustomed to the far less evolved Metro North line. Or the bus – I am, after all, just a journalist.
My adventure began almost immediately when David Moore, the editor of Open Congress who had been in my train car and now was now behind me in the taxi line. I try to stay familiar with my surroundings, so I definitely noticed Moore’s, but clung to my adopted New Yorker’s sense of self-reliance. Besides, one’s not supposed to talk to strangers. This then-stranger, however, apparently couldn’t help himself and swiftly predicted my destination: the Loews on Market Street, a reformed bank turned into a swanky, modern hotel. It turned out that Moore, who was in town for the Freedom of Information Summit had also been put up in the Loews and we ended up sharing a cab, something I do in New York only in the most dire of circumstances. Still, I knew my ultimate mission and decided to enjoy the ride.
We arrived safe and sound after a pleasant trip. I don’t quite recall what we chatted about, but Moore, who’s got a bit of a baby face, left me with a renewed excitement for my forthcoming whirlwind.
The room at the Loews definitely exceeded my expectations – and, I think, the size of my Brooklyn apartment. I won’t get into the details. The website can do all that, but I’ve included some pictures below of the room. These selected snaps also give you more of a look at my regained youth.
After assembling in the lobby, the press folk were led to Reading Station, one of the nation’s oldest Farmer’s Markets still in operation. We were let free to roam for about an hour and I strolled around the fresh fish, cookie stand and by what appeared to be authentic Quakers performing some sort of folk dance: a welcome change from the often lewd and/or solitary acts I see in the city.
I occupied the rest of the hour with some fried chicken and pleasant conversation with Jeff, who works for the tourism bureau part time and plans to travel to China for the Olympics this summer. He’ll be working for NBC news as a gymnastics expert, which found endless fascinating. Who knew there were gymnastics experts? Not me, a man whose interest in gymnastics is purely superficial.
Unfortunately I had a story to work on, so I spent the rest of the afternoon holed up in my room, calling sources for the gay delegate war story. My Loews phone, which I needed to record the conversations, wouldn’t dial out, so the impressively patient concierge had to connect me me, for which I am eternally grateful. I later went down to thank him in person only to be confronted by a familiar face: Jonathan Vendrick, a former New Yorker with whom I’d protested the Republican National Committee in 2004. We had a mutual friend and had only met once or twice, but I always remembered him fondly and couldn’t believe my luck in finding him once again. It turned out that he’d given up on New York to live wit his boyfriend.
Jonathan absolutely raved about the city, but I kept my objectivity in check during an evening’s stroll through Philadelphia’s Old City, one of the tourism bureau’s group efforts.
Now, I’m kind of a closet sucker for guided tours, so, without getting too much into it, I must recommend you attend the one we walked: the Tippler’s Tour which, blessedly, goes amongst the neighborhood’s pubs with a trickle of history and a gush of booze. The tourism bureau obviously knows the way to a journalist’s heart. We finished up at Triumph, a gay-owned restaurant with notable food, but a remarkable on site brewery.
The rest of that night’s itinerary included Bearapolooza, which, I skipped to play cards with a college chum. I may have been reclaiming my youth, but the day had been long and I wanted to enjoy the accommodations. And, as you saw in the pictures above, I had a managed to reclaim some youthful sprite with a teddy bear, which had been provided by the tourism bureau. It was originally wearing a t-shirt bearing (ha!) the tourism bureau’s gay Philadelphia catch phrase – “Get Your History Straight And Your Nightlife Gay” – but I disrobed him. He’s far too sweet for branding.