Like Florida, I had Pennsylvania down in my mind as a state left in an untidy state. I had visited the city of Philadelphia before, back when I looked like this…
…but another trip was required, so I could make it ‘official’ and take lower-quality pictures of grown-up me with the same underwhelming Liberty Bell like this…
…so that is exactly what we did. Together with Mike, Randi’s friend from New York, we enjoyed a whirlwind but quite glorious weekend in Philly. I’d forgotten how much I liked the East Coast! Since we were only there for one night we stayed in a ‘proper’ B&B (the kind with cooked breakfast and free wine in the evenings) as an extra treat, right in the historical centre, which put everything within easy walking distance. We saw the quirky Magic Gardens, took an excellent walking tour, hung out by the harbour, ate lunch at Reading Market, visited Independence Hall (“we don’t really know what the actual layout was, and this isn’t the original furniture, since the British burnt it all”) and were treated to lunch by my something-something-somewhat-removed cousins Roger and Lily Ann. Oh, and before leaving I made sure to eat a proper Philly cheesesteak too. All in the sunshine!
The most unexpected experience, however, came in the last few hours of afternoon wine at the B&B. In the living room, a cheerful couple from Georgia introduced themselves, explained that Southerners will always start up conversations with strangers, and told us that they were on a trip to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary. Things got a little weird when they started to enthuse unironically about the ‘life-sized’ Noah’s ark in Kentucky, and it soon became clear that we were sitting opposite two bona fide creationists.
“Were you brought up in the church…?” asked the man. You have to understand that he had the sweetest, kindest face you can imagine, sounded a little like Bill Clinton, and we were all having a warm and friendly conversation. So we certainly didn’t want to start fighting with them. Randi parried the church question with her Jewish upbringing (which earned warm smiles and much praise for Israel) while I tried to use “I’m English!” as a euphemism for ‘godless heathen’.
I really wanted to gently introduce the a-word at some point, just so they could go home and tell their own stories about meeting out-and-out atheists at a B&B, but sadly I never quite worked up the courage for fear of derailing the vibe. Instead, when Randi and Mike left to catch their bus to New York, the couple asked permission to say a prayer over them for their safe journey. Later, once Randi and Mike had gone, the three of us tiptoed around the topic of healthcare together, and I saw again how the “some people are cheating the system” feeling can be so overpowering of all other rational consideration.
To be clear, I’m not trying to mock them. They were obviously wonderful people, and while I’m sure we were not that far away from reaching more uncomfortable topics, they actually said nothing ‘offensive’ on the Great Culture War issues you can easily think up. But I did feel sad, because creationism always makes me sad, and despite being sat on a sofa opposite them we might as well have been on different planets. No possible way to get through. As a human being, it’s a terrible thing to not know what you are, what you’re made of, and were you came from. (That’s why the moment Buzz Lightyear discovers he’s a toy is so devastating!) And yes, I know they feel exactly the same way in reverse.
Earlier in the week, back in the secular bubble I inhabit, I had a birthday to celebrate! Randi prepared a carefully curated list of restaurants to eat at, and naturally I picked our nearest Indian place because (a) I’m unimaginative, and (b) Cumin is really and truly delicious. For a few days we also hosted Tash’s friend Rhi on the Chicago stop of her around-the-US trip (by train, obviously). We wanted to make sure Chicago made a good impression, so lined up a blues night at Kingston Mines plus Like It, Love It, You’ve Gotta Have It at Improv Shakespeare. (It was a particularly good production, as two dairy farmers sought revenge on the King for murdering their cows.) Rhi is the kind of sophisticated, thoughtful traveller who has already written her own blog post on the visit so you can judge for yourselves how successful we were on Chicago’s behalf.
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