The Canadas at Play: Postcards from Pennsylvania

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

May 15-21, 2000: Only the world's greatest optimist or the world's biggest fool would pile his wife, his two-year-old daughter, and 23 college students he doesn't know into three vans, drive eight hours to a city he has never seen, and spend a week herding them through all of the attractions.  I'll let you decide which I am.  But first you have to hear the whole story.

I came up with the idea for Philadelphia in the Life of America several months ago after I heard about the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Junior Enrichment Experience.  Teaching Fellows are outstanding students who receive four-year college scholarships in return for agreeing to teach at least four years in a North Carolina public school.  During the summer between their sophomore and junior years in college, these students participate in a Junior Enrichment Experience of their choosing.  Some work for the Special Olympics, for example, while others volunteer for Habitat for Humanity.  Many sign up for one of the trips that the program offers.

When I heard about the Junior Enrichment Experience, I thought I saw a great opportunity.  As a teacher, I enjoy broadening students' experience.  As a person, I love to travel.  It looked like a perfect match.  Having never been to Philadelphia, I went to work planning a trip there and advertised it to Teaching Fellows all over the state.  To my surprise, more than 20 students signed up for it.  I was excited.  As the trip approached, however, I started to worry a little.  Although the two vans Lisa had rented were supposed to carry 15 passengers apiece, the quarters might have been cramped for the 23 students, Lisa, Essie, me, and all of our luggage.  We could take our van, as well, but that meant allowing one of these strangers to get behind the wheel of our month-old Honda Odyssey.  I imagined the news coverage of our fantasy trip turned sour: "English professor's negligence leaves three dead," something like that.  I worried also that Essie, not yet a seasoned traveler, would drive the students nuts on the eight-hour drive to Philly.  As an undergraduate, I had gone to Indiana University--a renowned "party school"--and even worked as a resident assistant, and I knew how wild some college students could be.  What if some of those students were going on this trip?  What if some of them just plain had a lousy attitude and would taint the experience?  In short, I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.

Before we had even reached Philadelphia, my fears had dissolved.  These students were wonderful!  In fact, in their maturity, flexibility, and patience, they were even a little hard to believe.  When my van ran out of gas in a seedy portion of Petersburg, Virginia, they laughed and made jokes about the experience.  Later, when I dragged them all to the Rodin Museum and found it closed for renovation, they spent 30 minutes taking every possible photograph of themselves in front of a reproduction of The Thinker in front of the museum.  There were other mishaps, as well.  Not accustomed to driving a van as tall as this one, I nearly redesigned its roof in a shallow underground parking garage.  As I creeped under the concrete beams and metal pipes, my shotgun leaned out the window and gleefully informed me I had just missed one pipe fitting by "millimeters."  One night, I took the students on my van on an unannounced and unplanned tour of Philadephia's ghettos before I realized that I was going the wrong direction.  Through it all, the students laughed and reminded me of what a good time they were having.  Our student driver, Anna Williams, was impeccable--and tireless.  Over the course of a trip to, from, and around Philadelphia, she drove more than 800 miles.  Finally, far from getting annoyed with Essie, the students entertained her on the vans while Lisa and I drove, and they played with her throughout the trip.  One student, a birth-to-kindergarten major named Crystal Lynn Lee, even asked to take Essie to the Please Touch Museum, where Essie had the time of her life.  Indeed, watching this student and the others interact with Essie was one of the highlights of the trip for me.  Two students, Rorie Marlowe and Emily Anthony summed up the whole experience perfectly when they described it as an "extended family vacation."

It was an amazing week.  With our combined energy and enthusiasm, the 26 of us turned Philly upside down and squeezed it dry.  I won't even attempt to cover everything we saw, heard, felt, smelled, and tasted.  Even my list of highlights is long, though.  One of the main reasons I chose Philadelphia is its history, and we took in plenty of it at sites such as Independence Hall, where Benjamin Franklin and others adopted the Declaration of Independence and signed the Constitution.  Some of us also visited the Liberty Bell and the Graff house, a reconstruction of the building where Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence.  On my own, I took in several artifacts and sites related to one of my heroes, Benjamin Franklin.  At the Franklin Institute science museum, for instance, I saw a Franklin stove, a glass armonica built according to his design, and a lightning rod believed to be one he constructed or used.  Outside I visited the original site of his house, his grave, and the site on 10th and Market streets where he is believed to have conducted his famous kite experiment, in which he demonstrated that lightning is a form of static electricity. Thanks to two wonderful tour guides from the Balch Institute for Ethnic Studies, we also got a taste of modern Philadelphia as we took a driving tour through the city's busy and incredibly narrow--take it from the person who had to negotiate them in an oversized rental van--streets.  Discussing Philadelphia's rich history of immigration and settlement, the tour guides showed us the Italian Market, sites related to the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal church, and several other places, ending our tour in Chinatown, where we had dim sum for lunch.  We also got an eyeful at the Philadelphia Museum of Art--famous for its enormous front staircase, which Rocky Balboa ran up in Sylvester Stallone's first movie.  We were even more impressed by what we found inside: a Gothic chapel, a Buddhist temple, a Japanese tea house, several gorgeous suits of armor, Shaker furniture, beautiful cloisters situated around a peaceful courtyard, and, of course, scores of paintings.

I was delighted by the way the students responded to the parts of the trip I had planned.  Jenn Stumpf, Adam Rugg, and Corrie Davis all glowed as they talked about the Museum of Art, and Donald Barringer and Alycia Crews proudly showed off the educational toys they had bought for their future students at the Independence Historic Site gift shop.  Several raved about authentic eighteenth-century fare and atmosphere we experienced at City Tavern, a reconstruction of the building where some of the country's founders once congregated.  Even more exciting, though, was hearing the students talk about the adventures they had sought and experienced when I gave them opportunities to explore Philadelphia on their own.  They could have been making a commercial for lifelong learning as they talked about shopping in the city's famous Fabric Row or watching a production of La Cage aux Folle at the Walnut Theatre, the country's oldest.  One student, Brian Smith, even talked me into accompanying him to a concert, where I got my first taste of an avante-garde jazz trio called Modesky, Martin, and Wood.

Lisa and I have had a vacation or two where we felt that a black cloud was following us around.  Had the students and I entered this trip with a different attitude, we might have felt that way about this trip, especially when our gas ran out or we got lost.  Instead, we saw the black cloud, but we just waited for it to pass.  An anecdote comes to mind.  On the morning we were scheduled to visit Independence Historic Park, where we would have to walk outside from site to site, the skies were menacing.  Several students alerted me that rain and even thunderstorms were predicted.  We drove into the city anyway and stuck to our plan.  That day, we added to our experience such things as lunch at City Tavern, demonstrations of eighteenth-century printing, and visits to Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and several historic churches.  Some of us even went to a Philadelphia Phillies-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game and saw future hall-of-famer Mark McGwire hit two home runs.  The storms never came.  Even if they had, I think I know how we would have responded: "Yeah, we got soaked, and the van slid into the Delaware River, but look at this great picture I took of the Liberty Bell being struck by lightning!"

Personal Highlights

Lori Wolz: I had an absolutely wonderful time on the trip!  I really enjoyed everything, especially the Museum of Art and watching the production of Les Miserables.  I got to meet some wonderful Teaching Fellows from other colleges, and was able to spend quality time with my friends from NCSU.  We did have a few unsuspected twists on the trip, but oddly enough they only made the trip more exciting.  All the activities you planned were both educational and fun, from touring where Ben Franklin resided to walking into the crazy shops on South Street.  I think we experienced all Philly has to offer--the ethnically diverse neighborhoods, the beautiful skyline of downtown, the open air markets, the historical buildings, and (in Anna's van) even the seedy side of town, thanks to my own misreading of the map and bad directions.  I think I can speak for several of the group when I say that you guys chose some wonderful restaurants for us to eat at as well.  I have to admit that was one of the greatest parts--although I can't limit myself to choose one favorite (it's between City Tavern and the Dockside Brewery!) You and Lisa were wonderful leaders on the trip, and made it successful.  I also enjoyed having Essie along--she is a bright, beautiful child and was very well behaved the entire time.  Thank you so much for taking the time and energy to plan such a wonderful trip, and for taking us along.

Crystal Lynn Lee: What can I really say about our trip?  It was one unexpected adventure after another.  Just because things didn't go as planned doesn't mean we didn't have a good time.  It was quite the opposite!  It was the unexpected adventures that really made the trip all it was.  I must say that I was worried when we ran out of gas in VA. I think we all were and I was wondering what I had gotten myself into, but after that....I was still wondering what I got myself into (but it was a good thing)  Unlike other trips I've been on in groups this one I really came away with allot more than a headache and an empty wallet.  I feel that I got to know people, and their personalities. It was truly wonderful and if I had it to do all over again I wouldn't want it anyother way. I must also say that people handled my exsesive talking very well. As far as my most memorable moment goes it is really hard to say but I think my most memorable moment was sitting outside of Walnut theater, waiting for Mark for a number of others, and singing show tunes while people looked at us like we had lost our minds.  Then getting up off the steps thinking that Mark was finally here only to see it was some other van full of kids.  It was a great time.  I will always remember Philly as one of the great trips of my college career

Whit Barrier: The trip up North was actually really fun.  The people in Philly seemed really nice and the town was kept in good shape.  I was impressed by how well the trip went; yeah there were the darker moments, and I'm an idiot so I forgot a coat, but overall I'd have to say that kind of trip would be worth doing again.  Good luck with any future plans that include a trip like this again!

Lori Beiles: The trip to Philly was a wonderful experience!!!  I have to say that it was the best thing I have ever done with Teaching Fellows.  I was a little scared at first because I knew no one else from Carolina was going on the trip, and I though no one would want to hang out with me and that I would have the worst week of my life.  Boy was I wrong!!!  Not only was everyone extremely nice and friendly, they were all funny too!  I was so glad that the group made me feel welcome even though they did not know me from their Teaching Fellows programs.  And even though the trip had some ups and downs, we bonded through them all.  I feel that we all made friendships that will last for a long time, even if the only time we ever see each other is at Teaching Fellows events.  I think it was the fact that we all got along so well that made the trip a success.  I think I knew that Philly was going to be a great trip from the very first day when we ran out of gas in Petersburg, Va.  I can remember Mark saying "I'm pushing the gas peddle and we're not going anywhere"...I was a little scared then, but when Lisa laughed at him for five minutes for running out of gas, I knew that this was going to be one interesting trip!  Everything that we did was great - from going to the museums, to China Town, to the Italian Market, to all of the wonderful restaurants that were planned.  The restaurants were what surprised me the most becuase I thought it would just be fast food every day.  But Lisa did a wonderful job of picking out diverse and tasty places to eat!  I was so happy that I got to experience the history as well as the culture of Philadelphia.  I am eternally grateful to Mark and Lisa for planning such a wonderful trip, and to Essie for being a little bundle of joy (that loved getting attention from us =)  But I think the one thing I will always remember from this trip was how all of us, despite out differences, got together and made the trip a great Junior Enrichment.  It was the students, Mark, Lisa, Essie, and the organized planning of Mark and Lisa that made the trip unforgettable.  I had such a wonderful time that I made my own web page for the trip off my personal homepage.  I would love for everyone to visit it and sign my guestbook so that I can have Philly memories to last a lifetime!!!  Good luck to everyon in the future!!!  You guys are the best!!!  Lori =)

Mark Canada: To my delight, Philadelphia turned out to be an ideal place to indulge in what I call "moving experience," a hobby that combines travel and exercise. On Saturday afternoon, I went for an hour-long jog that followed the footsteps of two famous self-made Philadelphians: Benjamin Franklin and Rocky Balboa.  My experience began at the Bourse shopping center, where I snacked on two baguettes in an effort to emulate Franklin, who wrote in his autobiography of purchasing two "puffy rolls" on his arrival in Philadelphia.  After dropping off my gear in the van I was driving, I headed to the spot where I estimated that Franklin, a 17-year-old boy on his own, had in 1723 landed at Philadelphia and set off to make his way in the world.  Following his route up Market Street, I tried to imagine the city of his era while also taking in the modern-day version before my eyes.  Along the way, I passed the site of the newspaper office where his grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache, had published the controversial Aurora.

After taking in other sights--including the stately Philadelphia City Hall, which I could see several blocks ahead--I turned right on 10th Street and ran through the heart of Chinatown.  It has been perhaps 20 years since I watched the original Rocky movie, and I don't remember the exact scenes of his jog through downtown Philadelphia, but I knew that I was experiencing this colorful, lively city up close, just as he had.  I passed dozens of storefronts, for example, as well as the striking Cathedal of Sts. Peter and Paul, the huge fountain at Logan Circle, the historic Walnut Theatre, Declaration Square, numerous outdoor sculptures, and Washington Square, the burial place of many Revolutionary War soldiers.  Of course, the high point--both literally and figuratively--was the magnificent Philadelphia Museum of Art, which lies about three miles from my starting point at the Delaware River.  Like Rocky, I raced up the dozens of steps and even shared in some of his exhilaration along the way.


To extend the educational experience of this trip, I asked each student to read a book related to the art, culture, history, or science of Philadelphia. To extend your educational experience, click on the links below and read their reports:





Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

August 3, 2000: History occurs in unassuming places.  As Lisa, Essie, and I drove through the peaceful farmland in Gettysburg National Military Park, past a large barn that once belonged to a local farmer, I thought about the people who were living their lives and minding their own business here back in July 1863.  Except perhaps in the First Folio of the Divine Playwright, the Battle of Gettysburg was not scripted, scheduled, choreographed, or rehearsed.  It just happened--live on the first take, in front of an audience that could not get up and leave or flip the channel.  Soon after some of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's troops accidentally encountered some Union cavalry near McPherson's farm, the rolling hills and bucolic meadows of Gettysburg became the set for what would become perhaps the most famous battle in American history.  In just three days, some 51,000 Americans lost their lives, and, some might say, the South began to lose the Civil War.

Made sacred by those three days, this land has been preserved and today looks much as it probably did nearly a century and a half ago.  From Seminary Ridge, we looked over at the copse of trees on Cemetery Hill, just as the men in General George Pickett's division did before they charged boldly into the fire of Union troops.  "Pickett's Charge," as this fateful maneuver came to be known, left nearly 3,000 men dead, injured, or captured -- all within a few hours.  We stood atop Little Round Top and gazed down into the Devil's Den, a gnarled collection of tipped and turned boulders where Confederate sharpshooters hid undercover and fired at Union defenders above them.  In Gettysburg National Cemetery, we stood where President Abraham Lincoln first pronounced the ground sacred.  His brilliant Gettysburg Address, perhaps the most famous and beautiful 14 sentences in the history of English oratory, was the only scripted portion of the Gettysburg drama and the perfect epilogue to it.


© Mark and Lisa Canada, 2000