So here I was; Allentown PA, after expecting to be in NYC, I was further south, and closer to Miami.
Art had just pulled away, and I was left at the truck stop, with B1 and B2 of course. It was almost lunchtime, and I was hungry.
The franchises at this place were typical grease pits, and of course there was a Starbucks.
The entire mid-east had just been dumped on with like 3feet of snow, and there were a bunch of families on their way skiiing for the day and it was evident they were not regulars, wearing jeans and Hollister hoodies. I could just see it;
"Kids, we're going skiing today!"
"Yaaaay!!" as fist pumps went into the air at the breakfast table.
Not a single person failed to give me some weird look, either in confusion, curiosity or plain ignorance. Yes, im quite aware its very unusual for a backpacker to be passing through, especially in February, but I might has well been wearing an orange jumpsuit. I stood at the doors, asking the few people I felt might be succeptable to giving me a ride. No way Jose.
I walked down to the on-ramp, hoping if I stuck out my sign, I would be ok.
Half an hour later, in hunger, and frustration, I gave up and walked back to the food court.
I told myself if I had a full belly, I would be alright.
I walked back in, and tried my luck at a Philly cheesteak joint. The young girl tried to decipher my Mandarin request of a free meal, and then just said "dat woman ovur thurr; she my managah"
I thanked her and made my wait to tha woman in tha sweatah.
I introduced myself, and told her a little nutshell of what I was up to.
She was extremely receptive, but had to run it by her numero uno. A few minutes later she came out with a tall man who introduced himself as Ray. I gave him the same little schpeil and he thought it was awesome.
"Bout tiame we had someone recognizin' this" he said, referring to the lack of courtesy in people.
Ray told Laura to get me whatever I wanted, and I thanked him with a handshake, and let him know the impact of what he was doing. He asked me not to film, and just to enjoy my lunch.
Laura asked me a few questions in interest, and took me to order my lunch. I ordered a plain cheesesteak and small drink. She upgraded the whole meal for me.
It was a massive cheesteak sandwich, greasier than the Jersey Shore cast.
I thanked her again, handed her my card and let her know her open minded kindness is sadly a rarity.
I sat down amongst the stares and started to chow down. I can never bite the hand that feeds, but lets just say I wont be ordering from that place again. The grease soaked through the paper, and I felt my arteries clog instantly. I washed it down with some yummy fruit punch, and it was exactly what I needed. I went outside to bum a cigarette, as it was freezing, and I needed a distraction. While standing in the entranceway, a young scruffy looking man came in, and I asked if he was heading south. He told me only a few exits, but I said Ill take it. Even though it was probably worse than the busy truck centre, I was desperate to change the scenery, as the American mothers glaring at me in fear for their children were starting to get to me. Im not exaggerating; one mother even pulled her kids hand and told him not to look at me.
Andy and I hopped into his older Pathfinder, and took off down the I-95. He asked me what kind of music I like and threw a CD wallet at me and told me to pick one. His metal tastes weren't exactly my tastes, so I picked FooFighters, and popped it in. He told me some stories of his past, and it was a pretty rough upbringing. Girls, money and booze brought him on a high-low adolescent ride and he even spent some time on the streets. Now he works in IT and makes decent money.
He was curious about life in Canada, and then the next question came out; 'y'all guys smoke weed up there?'
"Imagine we didnt" and with that he slyly pulled out a joint from his jacket pocket. He told me to spark it up. How could I refuse such a kind host?
-Yes, Nathan smokes Marijuana. Nathan realizes he probably shouldnt be talking about it while hes trying to establish some sort of professionalism on his travels, but he also never says no, and wants to include every detail of his experiences. Dont hate, appreciate.
Greg and I continued talking about life, girls, the decay of Western Society, and MarioKart. He told me he could take me to a train station nearby that would take me directly into Philadelphia city centre. It was about $5 and he would pay for it. That would be most perfect, and I accepted his kindness. He told me all about the small towns, and what it was like growing up in them. When he left for the big city, he had no money and tried to make it on the streets. He more or less did, with a little help from Mom and Dad. He dropped me off, tossed me a 5er, a pack of gum and told me the direction to take the commuter train. Thanking him I carried on and bought my ticket; a token of his knowledge and experiences of life on the road.
The train attendant didnt even look up from her romance novel as she robotic-ly printed my ticked and slipped it under the window. I bet she wouldnt have even noticed if I didnt pay.
Sitting down waiting for the train, a rough-ish looking woman sat next to me, and asked me a few questions. I could tell times were hard for her, and decided to keep it short and sweet. I told her I was just backpacking the Eastern Seaboard, and she asked why the hell I would want to do that. I couldnt really give her an answer, so I gave her a piece of gum which I think she appreciated more.
The train pulled in. A 4 car commuter rail, silver bullet styles with SEPTA (southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority)painted on the side. I showed the man my ticket, and he like so many before gave me that weird stare; the one that read " are you surrious?"
I plunked down, keen on the idea in 30mins I would be in Philly, a completely new city for me. Somewhat bummed I missed NYC, it will always be there, time wont. The train slowly crawled out of the station and started passing through the snowdrifts.
The sights out of the window were similar yet so different to Canadian landscapes. The fresh snow covered every surface in gleaming white powder, yet every surface seemed to be an abandoned building or forgotten warehouse. A few posh homes scattered throughout, the winter scenes were lovely in the trees, yet it didnt last long. The closer to Philly we got, the rougher it got. After one corner, the Philadelphia skyline pentrated the blue altitude and I saw the first glimpse of 'Phila'. Along the tracks, every house was abandonded, gutted and full of crime evidence. Rows and rows of low-income housing lined the tracks and they had been vacated for years.
Typical Philadelphia housing.
We pulled into city limits, and as we passed Temple University, it reminded me of home. uOttawa and Temple had some similarities, and made me ever so slightly homesick, but it soon passed, as the Philly skyline had me excited.
We ducked underground, down the SEPTA subway line into the epicentre. As it pulled into Market station, I began to get the new city jitters. My stop was announced, and I grabbed B1 and B2 and headed street level. I was in the heart of the city, with massive skyscrapers surrounding me and busy commuters bussling along. The new city feeling is always fun, and I absorbed it all in like a Sham-wow.
I wandered around a bit, but didnt want to stay long, as hitching in major cities is about as easy as sneaking into the White House(which I will be trying today) and often very illegal. I asked a dude for directions to the I95, and jumped onto the subway. I asked the attendant if I could possibly be let on, as I only had Canadian change, and the full-figured black woman put her hand on her heart, and was possibly the nicest person I had met so far. She hung onto my every word, and when I asked to be let through free of charge she said "but of course shuugah". I wish I got her name, because her kindness was unparalleled. The subway station was littered with crackheads and spun out alcoholics. One woman was just laying on the wet, urine soaked floor screaming at the top of her lungs, and not a single passerby batted an eye. To be honest, even had I had change, I wouldnt have given it to her, she was one of the worst addicts Ive ever seen.
I continued on the subway, and a dude got on, intrigued by my look, began asking me some ridculous questions.
"Have you seen into the wild man?" "Are you that guy?"
Yes. Yes I am that guy, I am a major motion picture film star and I am currently filming a movie about living in the Alaskan wilderness, the set is just in Philadelphia PA.
Im only being sarcastic because he ranked of beer and ignorance.
I got off at Market St and 2nd, a very major intersection and tourist hub of the city. The city was in a panic shovelling the snow off cars and storefronts. It was the 2nd biggest snowfall in their history, and it was as if it was a natural disaster. The National Guard were out doing their thing; helping naive people shovel snow. I had a good laugh inside.
I saw a cute, petite girl having a cigarette outside of a resto bar, and asked her for one. She invited me into the empty bar, where she was getting ready to open up. She asked me my deal, and when I told her, ran to the back, grabbed me a plate of fries and a cold Coke.
"You have to try the fry dip". I did, and it was orgasmic.
We hung out for a bit, shot the shit and talked about life. There was even an English soccer game on TV, which I was uber happy to see. She was tres cool, and asked me what I was going to be doing after work. Giggity. I told her hitchhiking south, and she said too bad. I gave her a hug, my email and said a million thanks, as I headed back into the crisp Philly air.
EPL in Philly? Whaaaaaat.
Walking towards the I95, I began to be a bit worried about getting picked up by a cop. I allow myself one run in per state, as they are only taking my info and not charging me, so it doesnt show up(google!) I hadnt had one yet in PA, but certainly wasnt looking for it.
I walked down the ramp, under the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, past the harbour and airport and posted up on the on-ramp corner, hoping for a ride quick times.
It came. It wasnt more than 20 minutes, and I was ecstatic, as I knew how hard inner-city hitching can be. It's like quantum physics. In the dark.
I had written on the back of my sign "Canada 2 Africa" and I think that was what did it, as Mike was a Kenyan immigrant, of only 2 years. Mike was THE man. He ended is phone conversation and started asking me questions, like "are you crazy?" He was a tall, clean shaven, well dressed man in a Civic. He told me of the hardships from Kenya and how he had struggled to make it in the USA. We drove past the Flyers/Sixers and Eagles stadiums. The Philly skyline in the background, with the major harbour to the right made for a nice scene. Mike and I talked alot about Africa, and what needs to be done. He was an intelligent man, who sadly will probably not reach his potential in this country. Mike dropped me off on his on ramp, and asked to take a picture of me on his phone.
"I will neva forget the crazy whiteboy in da wintah" he said in his thick Kenyan accent as we slapped hands and parted ways.
I was on the south side of Philly, and not in a good spot to hitch. I couldnt walk the interstate to the appropriate ramp, so I got off the highway, trudged through the knee deep snow and crossed the traintracks. Kind of stupid, becuase as I stopped to go peepee, and didnt hear or see the train coming. He didnt see me either, and his horn blast a few feet from me scared the little guy right back inside. Startled, I jumped off the the tracks and it missed me by only about 15 feet. Its not much when the mofo was pounding through at 80km/h. I snapped a photo of what could have been my matchmaker, and could do nothing but laugh it off. A learning experience, and almost a costly one; imagine what the 10,000tonnes of steel would have done to my pretty face.
The rushing iron chain flying past me and my lovely haircut.
I finally made my way to the other ramp, and posted up. I propped the B's up and held out the thumb, shit eating grin and all. Three state troopers drove past me after about 5 minutes, grilled me like a waffle iron and I knew they would be back. I was praying aloud for a ride, as I knew time was limited before the PA Trooper hassle number 1.
Boy was I right. Noone stopped, except for the state trooper not 10 minutes later. I was so pissed I didnt beat them and get a ride out of there. The trooper blurted into his loud speaker for me to stay there, as if I was going to run away with a backpack that weighed as much as I do.(a big risk on the trip; I cannot outrun anyone with my bags, even though I'm like that kid from the Incredibles) He put on his goofy trooper hat and slowly made his way towards me, eyeing me carefully. I again went into happy-go-lucky kid mode and when he asked if I was 'just backpacking' I just said 'yes'. He was young, but more experienced than the rest of the young cops, and I could tell he wasnt going to give me too tough a time. He said someone had complained of a hitcher, and was worried for my safety. He told me it was illegal, but I corrected him stating the on-ramps were ok. He knew this, and told me he still had to remove me due to risk factors. I played the innocent kid role, still hoping he wouldnt interrogte me further and find out I was doing what was exactly eveything American authority would hate to hear. I asked him if he was taking me 'downtown' in my most soft spoken voice. He chuckled and said Ive been watching too many movies. He handcuffed me (policy) and ducked me head into the passenger seat. We drove off and he took me to a nearby campus; Widener University, where he said he would drop me and I could get a metro bus or something.
Im going to end this post now, as what comes next is a ridonkulous, mayhem filled weekend that is going to take me a good couple of hours to regurgitate.
I could not prepare myself for what was to come in the next 48hrs.
Im leaving my hostel in Baltimore, hoping to get to DC tonight, where I will continue the story.
Peace out girl scouts.