My flight arrived a little early and I had to wait a while for Michelle. Sitting outside the airport, the ramifications of picking up threads with a friend after 14 years occurred to me for the first time. People change. And through their twenties, people change a lot. I know I have. I felt sheer terror at the intrepidity of this exercise - not so much because it might be a difficult day ahead, but that it might be the rainy funeral of our teenage joys. When she finally arrived, calling out from the car that I was sitting in Departures while she was waiting in Arrivals, and isn't that just typical of me, I knew it was alright. That first familiar burst of friendly fire told me that only our lives had changed, not our relationship.
She spent the day and night being a tourist with me and we walked the streets of Philadelphia as if they were the drive of Mount Carmel College. We laughed like we were 18, so much so that we forgot to have lunch - which is why I have not tried a Philly Cheese Steak.
Philly is an ultra-civilised city, and the first thing that strikes you is that it has a distinctly Scandinavian touch to it. History-wise, it was a natural progression from Virginia. We saw some momentous buildings and I have the pictures to prove it. But I'd already had so much history in my first two days, that I was feeling like I'd arrived on the boat 400 years ago and personally written the Bill of Rights. The line to the Liberty Bell was too long, so we peeped at it through the glass at the back and adjourned to the gift shop. My favourite historical part was dinner at The Tavern - the selfsame tavern that the founding fathers gathered at to drink ale and lay their plans.
The second thing that strikes you about Philly is that they're very proud of Benjamin Franklin. In fact, the man has had every last word squeezed out of him on to every available surface - from the expected fridge-magnet-like things to pavements, walls and even a King Tut exhibition at the museum. It takes genius to connect Ben Franklin to ancient Egypt, but they did it. I strongly suspect this particular quote (and half of those on the coffee mugs and t-shirts) were made up by copywriters.
We saw a film on Imax. The screen is so big, they call it the Omniverse, which says it all. It made me giddy in places, but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. It seemed like the kind of thing Dubai should have. Philly is way too genteel for this kind of techno-posturing.
Sunlight is different when it pours through a picture window on to a breakfast table. Blue sky is bluer filtered through trees. Having to wake up early to catch your sixth flight in 72 hours is not bad at all, when your friend's four-year-old greets you with "Are those toys for me?", while she makes you breakfast and lets you have mango pie for dessert at the crack of dawn.
So I'm in an airport yet again, enjoying feeling thin and fashionable and quite Mediterranean among the domestic tourists. The new backpack already looks like a seasoned traveller. It's also rather heavier than it was, with all the souvenirs. Well, not just souvenirs - I had my first taste of an outlet mall in Richmond. It's a great American tradition, almost better than apple pie.
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