Philadelphia for breakfast

Food. It sits at the bottom level of the pyramid of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lumped in with other necessities such as water, sex, homeostasis, breathing, and sleep. We must have it to survive. But in the past few hundred years as humans we have pushed it up the pyramid. We more than need it.  We crave it, we love it, we have relationships with it, and we are creative with it. There is now even a term for the type of person that pushes food beyond physiological needs category and it’s called being a “foodie”. I don’t know that I am a foodie, but I do have a certain nostalgia with food that permeates my life. I am drawn to the worst kind. Greasy bar food. Chicken wings, hamburgers, hot dogs, mac and cheese, and even tater tots. Something about all of these items brings me some level of comfort even though my doctor has evangelized the benefits of low cholesterol. I take Simvastatin, exercise regularly, and eat sensibly when I can to keep it in check. But sometimes you just have a craving that must be met. The force is too strong.

My recent food desire and excuse for a motorcycle ride was the infamous Philly cheesesteak. I’ve never had the original so I decided a quick trip down to Pat’s King of Steaks in Philadelphia was in order to quash the pangs of my hunger. I’ve made it a goal of mine to eat the original versions of all of my favorite foods. Last June, I ate the original chicken wings from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York. A week later I had the original Sloppy Joe at Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Florida. I’ve eaten many a hot dog at Nathan’s in Coney Island (not the original but as close as you are going to get) so I decided the next check mark would be the cheesesteak.

I got up early in the morning so I could beat the traffic. I am slowly tricking out my bike to be more tour friendly. I tend to get lost a lot so I bought a RAM handlebar mount for my iPhone so I could utilize it as a GPS to help guide me on my way. I also utilized some miracle material, Velcro,

The bike fired right up and I filled her up with gas at a nearby Shell station. I shot up the Henry Hudson Parkway and got on the George Washington Bridge. The expansive beauty of  bridges never ceases to amaze me. The odd thing is that their beauty is just a byproduct of their function. The towers and the suspension cables all are designed for the specific purpose of support. The residue is a perfect example of symmetrical design. I am that kind of person that will choose form over function every time. I guess that’s why  bridges and I always seem to get along fine.

The road was wide open. I sped along the charcoal ribbons that slice our states into puzzles and pondered the labor it took to lay down these byways. Calculating the hours would be an impossible task so I diverted my attention elsewhere. I continued on and saw the planes peeling of the tarmac at Liberty Airport. Even more road – roads made for planes. We rely heavily on the paved surfaces we travel. I never really noticed how much until today.

I stopped about 35 miles from Philadelphia in Trenton because I had not had a coffee yet. I unfortunately had to support the store named after a certain Moby-Dick character. I am not too big a fan of their overly strong and somewhat burnt coffee, but my options on the Jersey Turnpike were extremely limited. I was really enjoying myself so far,  and relaxing with a coffee and a bagel was just what I needed.

I got back on the road and heading to cheesesteak heaven. When I ride, I don’t listen to music as most people do. I just spend time thinking. Riding a bike takes an incredible amount of focus so I don’t let my thoughts carry me off. I keep my eyes fixed on the white line and maintain a hyper-awareness of the traffic around me. Meanwhile in the background of my mind, I’m thinking about elements of my life. Past. Present. Future.

I got a little lost, but finally arrived in Philly at 10:15am. I drove through the suburban neighborhood with the city looming in the distance. It had a very old school community. You could sense that these people have lived here a long time. Tons of stop signs later I pulled past Pat’s King of Steaks – the home of the Philly Cheesesteak – mecca. I found a great parking spot right near the establishment, locked my helmet, put on my “old man hat” that I kept in my top case and sauntered over to Pat’s. Sitting at bright red PVC coated perforated steel picnic tables were the biggest collection of characters one could hope for. The aged men jabbered on about some frat kids being gently hazed at the baseball diamond across the street and gave a running color commentary about every event that happened. It was truly entertaining. I gave the place a quick once over, walking around the building and checking out the signage and lay of the land. This place had been here a long time. It was an institution.

I stepped up to the line and read a hilarious sign on how to order a cheesesteak. “Wit” or “Wit-out” onions was an option that gave me a laugh. The regulars scoped me out as I ordered an American Cheesesteak “Wit” and handed the sandwich maker my money. I ordered a diet coke as to someway amortize the health damage I was putting my body through. “Drinks next window” he muttered as he prepped the bun on a piece of wax paper. He handed it to me in the most nonchalant manner, but to me it appeared to glow. I was about to ingest a piece of history. Turning around, I noticed a condiment counter with a huge bin of hot peppers. I took one and found a table near the locals as they continued to razz and heckle the college kids moving a large log as part of some frat entrée.

I try not to put a lot of pressure on the original versions of my favorite foods. As in life, high expectations are rarely met. Your mind has the power to imagine something unfathomable – something unbelievable. The reality is that there are always limitations to what can be achieved. The original buffalo wings at the Anchor Bar were really no better than my local dive bar’s version. But that is not what these journeys are about. They are about the quest. The thinking, relaxing, and getting away from it all is the true purpose. I do not seek to find the Tree of Enlightenment but to find the enlightenment on the path that lead up to it.

I put the sandwich and the red pepper away pretty quickly and was very satisfied. The meat was slices of actual steak, and the cheese was fresh white american not some Kraft cheese food product. The bun was toasted and had a buttery flavor. The sandwich really was better than my expectations. My concept of a Philly Cheesesteak prior to this outing was Steak-umms and Cheez Whiz but this was vastly superior. Every now and then, life tosses a pleasant curveball like this when expectations exceeded. It’s like finding that twenty-dollar bill in your winter coat the first time you put it on for the cold season. It’s rare but reaffirming when it happens. I hung out for a while enjoying more of the local flair and snapped a few pictures. My goal was complete so I figured I would just take in some sites. I calculated the location of the Liberty Bell on the iPhone and headed that way. There was a slight hitch in my trip. My iPhone battery was almost completely exhausted.

I drove to the liberty bell location and found an awesome “motorcycle only” parking spot that had a 12 hour meter. I was right across from Independence National Historic Park right on the corner of Market and 5th. My first order of business was to get my iPhone charged up so I could navigate home later in the day. I found one at a Kmart up the street and decided to have a beer while I waited for it to charge. I happened upon a little place called the Las Vegas Lounge. It was a little nicer than the typical dive bar I like to frequent, but was very relaxing. The bartendress asked me a few questions to pass the time as Molly Hatchet played over the sound system in the desolate bar. It was a nice haven away from the tourists that were milling about the streets. I sipped my Guinness as the energy flowed back into my iPhone and pondered how I am going to install a usb port on the K75.

I entered Liberty Bell Center and approached the iconic 2,080 pound casting of Copper. The bell cracked upon its first use. I wondered why such an imperfect object could serve as such an icon for liberty and independence. I concluded that perhaps it represents the fact that no matter how hard we strive for freedom there are always some that will never be free. I didn’t look upon it long as I wanted to get home before the night fell.

The trip home was peaceful. The Flying Brick just whined down the road with little effort and plenty of torque on tap, occasionally popping when I let off of the gas. It’s a pleasant sound to me – a tone that let’s you know the engine is burbling with life. Approaching the George Washington Bridge I got caught in a one hour snarl. It was getting hot, yet the bike did not over heat at all. In days past I would have gotten aggravated by being in a traffic standstill. But reflecting on my journey and the fun I had I just waited it out with a smirk on my face and a cheesesteak in my belly.

I made my way home down Riverside Drive. It was a Chamber of Commerce kind of day with the sun shining brightly and a slight cool breeze. I was calm, relaxed and dare I say healed in some way. I  pulled the bike into my parking garage and popped it up onto the center stand. Staring at The BMW under the buzzing fluorescent lights, I thought about the parallels between the 24-year-old motorcycle and myself. The both of us are somewhat past our prime, but more than ready for the amazing adventures to come.

Philadelphia Gallery – click images to expand

RAM iPhone mount Mecca… How to order
The original Free red peppers Half original
Local reflections Don’t make it Las Vegas Lounge
Independence Hall Liberty x-ray Dalai Lama
The Liberty Bell Brick on the turnpike Stuck on the GWB
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5 Responses to Philadelphia for breakfast

  1. tylordurand says:

    Great read/ride…I’m dying for a cheesesteak!

  2. tylordurand says:

    Even Tam wants one!

  3. Rebecca says:

    Awesome road trip, Joe! Wondering where you put your guitar….? 🙂

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