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.

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