Friday, July 31, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 5

Old North Church – The tallest and oldest church in Boston is Christ Church, known by just about everybody in Boston as Old North, and it’s because of its towering steeple that it was chosen to hang the lanterns for Paul Revere and William Dawes so they could alert the arrival of British troops.

The Patriots learned of General Gage’s plan to ride to Lexington and Concord to arrest Samuel Adams and John Hancock, so they set things up for Revere and Dawes to ride through the countryside warning all the important Tories when, as the saying goes, the Redcoats were coming. One lantern would be hung in the Old North steeple if they were coming via land, and two if by sea. Just as Longfellow mentioned in his poem.

We know Revere, thanks to Longfellow, but a lot of Americans will have never heard of William Dawes, even though he completed his ride an hour quicker than Revere. The reason for this is that Longfellow, who wasn’t even born until decades after Revere died, wrote the poem as a romantic gesture to the new lady in his life, who just so happened to be a direct descendent of Revere. Henry wanted to butter up her and the family, so he wrote the poem, and took a few artistic liberties in doing so. He didn’t write it to be history; he wrote to impress potential in-laws.

That’s not to say Revere wasn’t an important guy, because he was. He just didn’t do it all by himself. He and Dawes and several other riders all helped in trumping the Brits’ plan that night. There’s no need to marginalize the guy, but he just wasn’t quite the huge hero American mythology has made him out to be over the years. He can thank Longfellow for the publicity, because for a long time history books used his poem as the foundation for what they included about Revere.

Whatever happened, it started at Old North. We weren’t allowed to go up into the steeple, but the church itself is still used for Episcopal services and is set up in a curious manner. Set up in box pews—tiny cubicles that families purchased the same way we’d purchase season tickets to the Red Sox today—Old North comes off pretty strange at first. Knowing it was built in the early 1700s, though, makes the odd seating arrangement a little more reasonable.

There was no way anyone was going to light a fire in a church back then for fear of burning down a neighborhood’s most beautiful and expensive building, so the box pews were installed to keep out drafts in the winter, while also boxing in the body heat of families sharing a cubicle. They’d put a hot stone or brick in a little metal box and that would help keep things warm in the winter as well.

It was a really neat old church, and the second-to-last Revolution-era attraction of the day. But that didn’t mean we were done with The Freedom Trail. There were still a couple of stops to make—on the other side of the Charles River.

Bunker Hill Monument – After stopping by the U.S.S. Constitution, a warship from the War of 1812 that earned the nickname “Old Ironsides” because British cannonballs bounced off its sides as if they were made of iron, we humped it uphill a few more blocks to the Bunker Hill monument—a gigantic obelisk that marks the end of the trail.

The thing we remember most about 1775’s Battle of Bunker Hill, the first major battle of the Revolutionary War, is the famous line, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes,” a saying which nobody really knows the origin of. America lost that battle, forced to retreat because of a shortage of ammunition (hence the famous saying), but took out a lot of British before calling it quits.

Click HERE for More Pictures!

Today there’s a giant tower standing a top a hill in Charleston where all this fighting went down, the cornerstone of which was laid down in 1825, fifty years after the battle. I almost had to drag my wife up the steps to see this thing because she was so tired, but she was a pretty good sport about following me to the end of our day’s voyage. She took a picture of me at the last Freedom Trail marker, and then we were done.

That is, until I found out you could go up the monument.

It’s only a 294-stair haul, which is absolutely as bad as it sounds, and Amy gave me that womanly look of doom as we schlepped up each and every one of those steps. It was hot and exhausting and we had walked almost four miles over the course of the day, so I can’t blame her for regretting my decision to go up this thing. It’s not like the Arch in St. Louis, where you just take an elevator to see the view. You earn the view in Boston, but it was cool to see everything so high up. Plus, we felt a certain sense of accomplishment when it was all said and done.

A short hop and a skip to the nearest Subway stop, and we were finally on our way to our hotel in Cambridge—exhausted, educated, and absolutely starving.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 4

Old South Meeting House – On December 16, 1773 Sam Adams and thousands of other Bostonians met here to discuss what to do with the 30 tons of taxable British tea on boats moored in a Boston harbor. Nobody came to any real conclusion, so Adams said “Screw it” and led what would later become known as the Boston Tea Party. He and up to 130 other man dressed up as Natives and dumped all 342 chests of tea into the harbor as a protest to the Tea Act, which played into the whole Taxation without Representation mantra that helped kick off the Revolution.

By 1775, the British had raided and taken over the meeting house, ruining the interior by using it to practice horse-riding, and they also stole an original 1620 manuscript of William Bradford’s “On Plymouth Plantation,” a memoir about the Pilgrims journey to American written by the colony’s original governor. It’s no longer a church today (the congregation built a new one after a 19th century fire almost burned this one to the ground), but stands as an interesting footnote to one of Boston’s most famous historical happenings.

Old State House – Built in 1713, the Old State House is the oldest public building in Boston, and like a lot of places in this city it’s been used for more than a couple different purposes over the years. It started as a sort of British headquarters, but once they were driven out it became the seat of the first elected legislature in the New World. In the years between declaring independence and electing George Washington the first president of the United States, John Hancock was elected the commonwealth’s first governor. That, of course, happened in this building.

Boston was the third place the Declaration was read (the first obviously being Philadelphia behind Independence Hall, the second being New York), and that was done from the balcony of this beautiful red brick building on July 18th, 1776.

Today it’s available for tours and actually is a popular place for wedding receptions. The subway runs through part of the basement. We wanted to go inside and check out the little museum, but our tour guide didn’t allow much time for breaks, and even though we said we’d come back the day never really provided us with the time or energy to make it back. We’d get more than our fair share of history before bedtime, though. Way, way more than our fair share.

Site of the Boston Massacre – Right across the street from the Old State House is the intersection where the Boston Massacre took place in 1770. The site is supposed to be marked by a ring in the sidewalk of a small traffic island, but our tour guide said that was made the “official” location to keep tourists from running out into traffic to take pictures with the “actual” location, which is right in the middle of a crosswalk a few yards away.

Other than Crispus Attucks, four other people were killed in the massacre, which is, in my opinion, a bit dramatic a word to use for the killing of five people. I’d call it more an “incident,” but this downplays history, and I would rather not be called unpatriotic for changing the name to the Boston Incident. Doesn’t quite resonate the same way, does it?

No matter what you call it, the whole thing must’ve been pretty intense and frightening. Obviously tensions were high in 1770, what with the whole British soldiers babysitting Americans and the tea taxes and what have you, so when a Redcoat hit a kid with the butt of his gun for insulting a commanding officer, the colonists went nuts. It started off with us throwing snowballs at them amidst a barrage of insults, but ended up with the Brit soldier calling for reinforcements as the rowdy American crowd grew to the hundreds.

When a club got thrown instead of a snowball, the soldier who was hit fired his gun. Anarchy ensued, colonists stormed, more gunshots went off, and when the whole thing was done five American men were dead.

So what ever happened to the soldiers who did the killing? All but two were actually acquitted of all charges and sent on to live their lives, thanks to the efforts of John Adams, who defended the British soldiers. It was a tough call for him but seemed like the right thing to do, even though it pissed off his cousin Sam to end. Again, the cajones these early Americans showed never fail to amaze me. How John Adams can defend the friggin’ Brittish in the early 1770s and then sign the Declaration of Independence a few years later is amazing to me. You can see why some people get so into history with guys like this to read about.

Faneuil Hall – Before doing my planning for the Boston trip I’d never even heard of this place, but it’s one of the top five most-visited tourist destinations in the country. Yeah. After seeing it all for myself I can understand why—there were just rows and rows of restaurants and shops and trolley tour booths and street performers. Think Navy Pier on land, without all the rides and stuff.

Actually, Faneuil Hall itself really isn’t all that big. It was built by Peter Faneuil in 1742 as a sort of combination marketplace/meeting house, and Sam Adams did some of his best work here, firing people up about the Stamp Act and other such British nonsense, and that’s why his statue stands in front of the building. On the lower level there are still a number of shops and a post office.

Faneuil’s extremely rich uncle Andrew died a childless widower and left his fortune to his two nephews, with the odd condition that neither one of them ever get married. Money or Chicks, boys? Faneuil’s brother chose chicks, but Peter, who was portly and disabled, didn’t have much luck with the ladies anyway so he took the dough and built the hall. Ladies most likely came a-knockin’ later, but Pete kept his bread and did a lot of good things for Boston with it.

Behind the Hall is Quincy Market, which is where all the crazy shops and restaurants are. Pretty much any sort of toursity shirt or restaurant or saltwater taffy you can imagine is behind there. In the midst of a tour laden with history, this was sort of the opposite of what we wanted. We were also hungry, it being lunchtime after a morning of walking and learning, so it was time to find some grub. There was only one place we would even consider…

Cheers – We knew we wanted to eat lunch at Cheers, probably Boston’s most famous bar/restaurant, but as far as we knew the original location was somewhere on Beacon Street—which was back the way we came. Little did we know there was a second location right there in Quincy Market, but we found that out after having eaten a mile’s walk away. Sounds like a hassle, but the version at Quincy looks and feels like a TGI Friday’s. The original, on the other hand, was the Cheers we’ve all grown to love over the years.

Originally called the Bull and Finch Pub, the Cheers on Beacon Hill is the one used for the exterior of the TV show, though the interior was never filmed. The commercial branch at Quincy Market is supposed to be a replica of the bar from television but only somewhat resembles what I’ve seen on Nick at Nite about a thousand times.

The ambiance in this original bar is much more Cheers-ish, and the food is actually really good. Amy and I each bought a shirt at the little gift shop and did our best not to wear them while actually in Boston. That would’ve been a little too nerdy, even for us. Sadly, nobody knew our names, as was advertised, but it was still worth the haul. To work off those lunch calories, we now had to hoof it back to Faneuil Hall to pick up The Freedom Trail where we left off.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 3

Day 2:

Boston Common – In Boston there is what’s known as The Freedom Trail, a 2.5 mile path of history through the streets of Beantown that leads to all kinds of early American wonder. To follow the trail is easy; all one must do is walk the red line—sometimes painted, sometimes made of red brick—throughout the city, and it’s impossible to miss the main attractions.

The path begins at Boston Common, which is one of the country’s oldest public parks. It’s been around since the 1630s, when it was purchased by the Massachusetts Bay Company to be used a central grazing area for Puritan cows (also known as Pilgrim cows, or cows that came to America to avoid religious persecution), but later played home to the British in the time leading up to the Revolutionary War. It was also there that many public hangings took place, at least until 1817 when that whole business was shut down for more humane ways to kill criminals.

It became a park in 1830, and a fence was put around it and trees planted all throughout the grounds. Today it’s a pretty expansive area, lush with trees and statues and all the things you’d expect from a public park in a big city. This is also the location of the city’s visitor’s center, where we went to try and set up a tour of The Freedom Trail. Having bumped into a kindly gent dressed in colonial-era garb, we found that a tour of the first two-thirds of the cites would be starting soon, so we paid the cost of admission and began one of the longest walking days of our lives.

The Granary Burial Ground – A couple years ago I started getting into visiting famous people’s graves. In fact, my fellow road trippers would tease me for including so much death into what was supposed to be a fun trip, but when you’re in the neighborhood of a famous dead and buried person, why not stop by?

The Granary was, overall, probably the coolest cemetery I’ve ever seen in my life. Amy and I were pretty much in awe the entire time we were there, and this was definitely where the tour guide took the most time to tell us stories about the famous early Americans who are buried there.

Click HERE for More Pictures!

We started with John Hancock, who’s got one of the tallest headstones in the place. Most of us remember him as the guy who signed his signature to the Declaration of Independence before anyone else, and did so in such huge letters that even today we use the expression “I need your John Hancock” when asking for someone’s signature. What most of us don’t know is that when Hancock was the first to sign the document, most of the others didn’t sign until much later, meaning for a while he was the only guy with the balls to sign a genuinely treasonous document and publicly put himself out there as anti-British. Dude could’ve gotten arrested and killed for that. As if that isn’t enough to make him one of the biggest B.A.’s of his era, he also helped plan the Boston Tea Party. The Brits must’ve seriously hated that guy.

As for his grave, the original marker doesn’t exist anymore, but in its place is a huge memorial placed above the spot where historians are pretty sure he’s actually buried. Other prestigious burials in the grounds have the original headstones, but Hancock’s is just a little less certain. When he was buried, grave robbers dug him up and cut off his famous right hand, which did the signing, to sell on the black market. Some other idiot cut off his left hand for the same reason, just in case Hancock was a lefty, without giving much consideration to the fact that almost nobody in that era would’ve been left handed. Left-handedness was thought to be sinister, so parents and teachers beat kids’ hands with rulers until they got it “right.” So wherever Hancock is, he ain’t got no hands, and some collector out there has himself a nice, priceless little relic. I smell another “National Treasure” sequel!

Today all the stones in the Granary are arranged neatly in rows, making it convenient to mow, but before FDR paid struggling American workers to move the stones in that manner back in the 1930s (stupid New Deal), the place was a smattering of stones. People got buried wherever there was room.

Our tour guide told us not to worry about where we stood because no matter where our feet lay inside the burial grounds’ walls we’d be stepping at least one of the 8000 bodies interred below.

Included among those bodies is Paul Revere, known for his Midnight Ride thanks to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem. There’s a memorial there now which most people mistake for his headstone, but the real thing is just to the right and is extremely small. It says only “Revere’s Tomb” and calling it a modest marker would be an understatement.

Samuel Adams, probably most famous today for the beer named after him, actually had nothing to do brewing ale. His father dabbled, but really the brand is just the results of the Boston Beer Company issuing their first beer, the Sam Adams Boston Lager, in 1985. To make the whole booze connection even more ridiculous, the guy pictured on the bottles isn’t even Sam Adams. It’s of a younger Bostonian chap so that it can appeal to younger audiences.

So other than being a beer brand and John Adams’s cousin, what did he do? Basically, Sam was the biggest hero possibly to the Patriots and the biggest prick possible to the Loyalists in the time leading up to the Revolution. He too played a huge part in the Boston Tea Party and did pretty much anything he possibly could to push the colonies towards independence. He was also one of the signers of the Declaration.

Ben Franklin’s parents also are buried at the Granary and have the biggest memorial in the whole place dedicated to them. Right next to the Sam Adams grave is a headstone marking the group burial of the five victims of the Boston Massacre, the only name of which I recognized was Crispus Attucks, who was black and allegedly the first martyr of the American Revolution. Anybody who’s seen Revere’s engraving of the Massacre knows Attucks is front and center, and that’s probably why he’s the only guy we remember from that particular moment in history.

Of the two hours we spent with the tour guide, easily 45-50 minutes was spent here, and not a one of us complained. There was so much to learn here that it’s a miracle I’m even able to remember this much two weeks later. Very easily one of the coolest things Amy and I did the whole week.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 2

Liberty Bell – Literally right across the street from Independence Hall is one of the nation’s most iconic and recognizable symbols of freedom: the Liberty Bell. It was ordered in 1751 for the bell tower atop Independence Hall, but got its first crack within months of finding its new home. And that’s how it all started.

Amy and I realized as we walked through the building that houses the bell that we had pretty no clue as to why the darn thing was so important. Was the Star-Spangled Banner first chimed out on this thing? Did it alert the Minutemen that the Redcoats were coming? Did it killer Hitler?

Turns out it did none of these things. It’s just a bell for the most part. It rang to announce the opening of the First Continental Congress and after the battle of Lexington and Concord at the start of the Revolutionary War. In the 1830s it was adopted by the American Anti-Slavery Society as a symbol of the abolitionist movement. Before then it wasn’t even called the Liberty Bell. Originally, it was called Independence Bell or Old Yankee’s Bell, which sucks considering Philadelphia has way more Phillies fans than Yankees fans. I can see why they changed it.

And here’s a little somethin’ to pass onto those looking for Liberty Bill trivia—the huge crack we see today isn’t from the bell breaking; it’s from a crap attempt to fix the bell that went horribly wrong. You know how it is when you continue to use something that’s clearly broken. One of my recliners, for example, makes cracking noises every time I flip up the footrest. Does the fact that I’m probably continuing to ruin it hinder my using it? Not at all, and so it goes with Philadelphians and the Liberty Bell.

When it came to fix it, the bell doctors separated the crack a little bit to insert pins at the top and bottom of the split that were supposed to stabilize the structure and return the bell’s natural timbre. But instead of saving they day these two goofballs pretty much forced the bell into retirement forever, which worked out for Independence National Park, because it was still in that bell tower they couldn’t make any money off it being on display. See? Everybody wins. Except the Brittish. And Hitler.

Ben Franklin’s Grave – Christ Church in Philadelphia, where Benjamin Franklin attended weekly services, purchased two acres of land in 1719 for the purpose of burying the town’s glorious dead. Today there are something like 4000 historic Philadelphians within those walls, including five signers of the Declaration of Independence, but you have to pay $2 for the full tour.

Were Franklin himself buried somewhere in the middle of the grounds, only to be seen with the price of admission, we would’ve sucked it up and dropped the two bones. But as it happened Franklin’s grave was visible from the sidewalk, and we arrived at the same time as a city tour guide and so got to listen in a bit.

Click HERE to view more pictures!

The thing about doling out for a tour guide is that you get extra tidbits you wouldn’t have known anything about otherwise unless you’d read a pretty detailed biography. In this case we found out that Benjamin Franklin’s son was a Loyalist, so the two never really got along and after The Good Guys won the Revolutionary War, Franklin Junior had really no choice but to move back to Britain and finish out his days there. Sort of messed up the American descendancy of the Franklin family tree. Ben’s wife is interred at the Christ Church cemetery, though, as his grandson. So there’s that.

On the topic of Ben Franklin and death, we also learned that because infant mortality rates were so horrible in the 18th Century, families would actually give several of their infants the same name knowing that it was likely some of them would die. In Franklin’s case, “Benjamin” was an important family name, so he actually had four brothers named Benjamin Franklin, even though he was the only one to survive his childhood. George Foreman would have been right at home in the 1700s, wouldn’t he?

Betsy Ross Home & Grave – We all know the Betsy Ross story. George Washington and a committee allegedly came to the Ross home in 1775 to ask Mrs. Ross, an upholsterer in the Philadelphia region, to design and construct the nation’s first flag. The result was the precursor to our modern flag, except there were only thirteen stars then, and they were arranged in a circle instead of rows.

Unfortunately, this whole story might be a big stinky load of yoo-hoo.

They don’t tell you this at the Betsy Ross Home, of course, because you’re paying admission to learn more about how awesome and iconic Ross was. But that’s okay. It was neat to look straight into the room that plays the backdrop to the most famous Betsy Ross painting. The place was very small but had a cool basement, which served as a combination store room and work area.

As for how much Ross actually had to do with the construction of one of the world’s most instantly recognizable flags, most of what we know comes from Ross’s grandson, who was 11 when his famous grandmother passed away and didn’t share the story we all know and love until 34 years later, when he was well into adulthood. Thing is, there’s really no evidence to discount his stories. More importantly, however, is that there’s really no evidence to successfully prove it, either.

While it’s indisputable that Ross made flags for the burgeoning U.S. government, nobody really knows for sure if she made the first flag. There were seventeen other people in Philadelphia with the same profession as Ross, and other artists and government men claimed to have had a hand in designing our banner. In any event, I’m not one to rain on the parade of one of America’s earliest female heroes. I’m just sayin’, that’s all.

Eastern State Penitentiary – One of my favorite things to do on vacations is visit old prisons. I blame the Ohio State Reformatory (a.k.a. Shawshank) for this, since touring that dilapidated old prison was one of the coolest things I’ve ever personally seen. Alcatraz was a cool experience, too, and Philly’s Eastern State Pen was supposed to rank pretty high on the list of neat-o American prisons, too, so I talked Amy into going with me. She may have been reticent at first, but the place was so old and so creepy that we were too overwhelmed to be bored. This place was right up there with the best of them.

ESP’s claim to fame was that it was the first prison to fine-tune the use of solitary confinement, which was there way of actually reforming inmates instead of just shoving society’s outcasts into a cell so they could either rot or kill each other. The idea of prison reform was relatively new in 1829 when the jail opened (it closed in 1971), but the success had by prisoners there inspired a whole new way of looking at the American penal system.

It was designed to look like a castle for the sole purpose of looking imposing to its residents. At the time it was built it was the biggest and most expensive public structure ever built. This wasn’t a quaint little town jailhouse. Al Capone and Willie Sutton did time here, as did many other less famous hardened criminals, and having seen it myself I can say it’s an extremely daunting structure.

Sprawling out like some sort of giant spider, the Eastern State Penitentiary’s wings stretch out in all different directions from one central hub. Since it’s been closed for almost forty years many areas are sort of falling apart, which creates a really cool ambiance up and down the wings. Paint is peeling off the walls, bars are rusted, old bed frames sit twisted and broken in the middle of dirty cells. If you dig the vibe of haunted houses, you’d dig this place, too. My only concern now is that I’m running out of awesome old prisons to visit. Where do I go from here?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Joel & Amy Across America, Part 1

My wife and I know that someday, we will have children. When these children—hopefully smiling, poopless little bundles of joy—arrive into our world, vacations will have to be organized with their short attention spans in mind. Disneyworld, for example, would be an ideal place to take small children, as would any other flashy and colorful amusement park with $15 bundles of cotton candy and human-sized fuzzy replicas of the cartoons the kids watch on TV.

What absolutely will not work for children between the ages 1 and 17 is five rigorous days of purely historical information, visiting buildings with a color wheel varying from brick red to cement gray with very little in between. Young people do not appreciate the rambling zeal of obsessed historians and tour guides the way two educators would. Knowing that at some point in the coming few years that children will in fact be part of our lives (we hope, at least) to rob us of our vacation money and ability to enjoy the historic beauty of America, we decided to take a trip out East while the getting’ was good.

So in planning this particular trip for Amy and myself I crammed as much American history as I could into one week, and we then drove for several hours through several states to learn, dammit. And learn we did.

Now, of course, you can too…

Day 1:

Independence Hall – Because it’s an 18-hour drive to Massachusetts, we stopped after our first full day of driving to spend some time in beautiful Philadelphia. As far as downtown is concerned, it’s one of the more gorgeous American cities I’ve ever been to. Lots of red brick and pillars and fountains and statues and greenery. Just a very cool place to wander (As long as you don’t wander too far; Fresh Prince wasn’t kidding when he said there people makin’ trouble in the neighborhood).

The first stop of our vacation was Independence Hall, and truthfully if you’re starting a trip that covers most of the bases of early America, is there a better place to kick things off? This is, after all, the place where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were drafted, debated, and signed. When the Declaration was done on July 4, 1776, the delegates just went out the back door of the building and read it to the people of Philadelphia for the first time.

That area behind Indy Hall is still a grassy park known as Independence Square, and that was the first mind explosion of the trip—to imagine being in that very building while George Washington and Ben Franklin and John Adams and scores of others argued about how the country should be outlined, or to be one of the minions out back hearing the Declaration or Constitution for the first time. What an amazing time in history.

The country was split back then about whether or not we should quit England. Sure, life was crappy in a lot of ways, and it was nearly impossible for Britain to govern us effectively 3000 miles of water away, but about half the population in the colonies actually wanted to avoid war. It freaked them out, as it should have considering England was a clearly superior military power at that time. It was people like this who Patrick Henry spoke to in his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death Speech,” which is a damn convincing piece of oratory, by the way. To have been someone who wanted peace listening to the Declaration must have been one of the most frightening things in history. It’s like being the shrimp at school who gets picked on the bully all semester, then you finally stand up for yourself by telling him no, he may not have your milk money today. Sure, taking that stand was necessary, but that sort of freedom doesn’t come with impunity.

An interesting snippet about how we were able to convince the people that war was inevitable—remember hearing about that whole Taxation with Representation business growing up? According to my childhood history books, that was like THE reason we were driven to fight the English. They were levying taxes on us without giving us a seat in Parliament to stand up for ourselves. It’d be like holding Rhode Island to all the same standards as the rest of the country without any congressmen (or women).

Well apparently that was a stinky load, at least partially. We didn’t have any representatives IN Parliament, but we had a representative TO Parliament, and his name was Benjamin Franklin. Benny was pretty famous overseas for his work with electricity and other inventions, and he’d spent some time living in Europe so he knew some people and certainly could get his voice heard when the legislature met up. His buddies in America, however, told him that if he were ever offered an official seat he was to turn it down immediately.

They did this for two reasons. The first is that if Franklin had a seat he’d a have a voice, sure, but the rest of Parliament would out-vote him every time. That would hardly get anything done, which leads us to reason number two—much more powerful than having a real seat in Parliament was NOT having a real seat in Parliament, which would piss the people off to the point that they’d get behind a war against the motherland. Ah, politics. They’ve never been clean at all, have they?

As for Independence Hall, it was neat to be in the same room in which all this stuff was debated. Just about every piece of furniture in the place was a replica, but the chair at the head table was the actual chair George Washington occupied during these proceedings. American history at it’s finest, folks, and a great kick-off to what would be a great trip.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Top Five Summer Flavors

Summer rocks, partly because I’m a teacher and I get those three months off, and partly because my birthday is June. Also partly because of warm weather and baseball and bikinis, perhaps most importantly, the summer food.

And so, this week’s Top Five counts down the most delicious edibles for the summertime. One note on the way I judged this stuff—things like burgers and hot dogs on the grill are definitely a summer must, but they’re not on the list because those things taste equally awesome in the dead of winter. The following five items are some better because they’re eaten in the summertime. Keep that in mind while you read…

#5 – Popsicles – While all popsicles are acceptable, I’m most referring to those little plastic wands with frozen Kool-Aid inside of them. The ones where you have to snip the top off with scissors, but you suck the tiny piece of frozen fruitiness out of the plastic lid before tossing it in the refuse bin. Moms don’t have to feel bad about giving their kids one of these because there’s like two ounces of juice in them. Personally, I could never chomp down on these things the way other kids could. I preferred eating about 2/3 of it frozen and then tipping the thing back and drinking down the leftover juice. Sometimes, when the popsicle was still too cold for me to chew, I’d drain all the flavor out of a particular chunk, leaving a bland, white-washed ice cube. But there was always juice at the bottom to make up for it. That’s also kind of why snow cones are so awesome.

#4 – Sweet Tea – Growing up I didn’t really appreciate the value of sweet tea, but it’s literally the perfect beverage to supplement a barbecue. Let’s be honest; if we’re cooking out we’re at least good for two or three burgers with the works, and sometimes beer can just be too heavy for that sort of meal. Soda’s too sugary, water’s too bland, and milk is always a horrible choice in excessive heat. That leaves delicious, ice-cold sweet tea, which has that refreshing splashy watery feeling going down, but just enough tingle of a taste to separate it from boring ol’ H2O. And if you’re going to do barbecue for real—I’m talking ribs, brisket, pulled pork—you literally can’t drink anything else.

#3 – Watermelon – First and foremost, God bless the person that invented the seedless watermelon. As a kid I never fully appreciated the fruit because mining for seeds made the whole process more trouble than it was worth. Now you can buy an eight-pound melon, slice the whole damn thing up in fifteen minutes, stock a gigantic Tupperware thing for your fridge and have watermelon for the next week and a half. And there’s no seeds! Cool, delightfully crisp, and just sweet enough, nothing can beat a watermelon in the summer months. Plus it’s like the only healthy thing on this list, so… bonus.

#2 – Ice Cream – My summer job for like the entire second half of my teens was a Dairy Queen, which I enjoyed very much. Because my Dairy Queen held itself in such high regard and actually did things the proper way, I transformed into something of an ice cream snob over the year. But for realzies, ice cream in pretty much any incarnation rules the universe when it’s hot outside. This is why children go berserk for the ice cream man—because he provides the nectar and lifeblood of the summer. Remember orange push-ups from the Schwann Man? Good God. My favorite growing up was the Nerds Blizzard at DQ. That or I’d get a sundae in a mini baseball helmet to add to the collection (I’ve still got all those somewhere—the complete set plus some retro caps. I rule so hard). As I’ve gotten older, chocolate ice creams have grown on me, but at the end of the day it’s all the same to me. At this point in the post you’re either salivating like a bulldog or you’re a Somali Pirate. It’s got to be one or the other.

#1 – Lemonade – That cool, refreshing drink. The bite of lemons intertwined with a syrupy, sugary undertone makes it one of the most unholiest alliances in the history of beverages. I’m talking hand-squeezed here, though the powder stuff isn’t horrible I guess. Still, when you get a lemon shake-up at the fair, or pour yourself some fresh lemonade before curling up in the hammock with a good book, or you drink a glass of lemonade in June and win the lottery in July, nothing can beat it. That’s why it’s #1 on the list. It takes a lot to beat out ice cream, but citrus does it again.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Nice to Meet You #19 - Daniel Tosh

The funniest single standup comedian I’ve ever seen is Eddie Murphy. If you haven’t seen “Delirious,” you’re missing comic genius. Ice cream man, James Brown, Goonie-goo-goo… All classic. The best. Actually, give me an hour, I’m going to go watch it right now.

Back. Still awesome.

Anyway, the point is that even though 1980s Eddie is the best, it’s pretty difficult for me to pinpoint who my second-favorite comedian is. Mitch Hedburg and Steven Wright are the kings of confusing one-liners, Mike Birbiglia is the king of awkwardness, Brian Regan is one of the best storytellers, and Chris Rock is far and away the best active “ghetto” comedian. Those are all my guys, but none of them win the silver.

Daniel Tosh does.

He’s irreverent, witty, a little bit crass, and most importantly, hilarious. I’m reminded of him because he’s finally got his own show on Comedy Central, “Tosh.0,” which centers around the internet’s most interesting viral videos and Tosh making fun of them all. Personally, I love it, but I know it’s destined to be cancelled soon enough. These types of shows rarely last. It’s a sad thing, too, because Tosh is the (second) best.

I’ve seen Tosh live twice in my life, both back in college, and once when I ran sound for him, probably circa 2003. (It’s truly depressing that I’m already forgetting these things).

After the show, as we always did, we went downstairs and had a beer with the comic and talked about times past. Tosh, for example, revealed to us that he was inches away from joining the cast of “Punk’d” but pulled out at the last second because Ashton Kutcher was such a huge douchebag. It made sense, but considering Dax Shepard got himself a couple of feature films from that show, it probably wasn’t the smartest career move. Last time I saw Tosh he was a bully in “The Love Guru.” So, yeah.

In any event, he’s a guy with principles. Would YOU sell YOUR soul to Kutcher just for a couple of movies? Me neither. Genuinely cool guy, and one of the best comedy shows you’ll ever see. Seriously, rent “Completely Serious.” You’ll have tears in your eyes. Tears of joy.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Extreme Rice and What Have You

This child is hilarious, yet mildly disturbing...

The only reason this "Extreme Rice" bit is so amusing to me is because the dude in the video looks so much like my insane buddy Rich.

Kitty Viddy of the Week: Slinky Cat!