Monday, May 31, 2010
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Saturday, May 29, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
My flight home from Philadelphia was delayed more than six hours yesterday ... and that turned out to be a good thing. It gave me the time I needed to visit my Alma Matter, the University of Pennsylvania, for the first time in nearly 25 years. Penn is a great school, and one of the first true Universities in the country. It was established by Ben Franklin in 1740 and his spirit lives on in the statue pictured above, which sits on the college green in the center of the campus.
When I was a student, I volunteered as a campus tour guide for the admissions office, so I was eager to see if I could retrace my old steps. I made a beeline for where our tours used to meet, at College Hall, and was pleased to see that everything still looked familiar. In fact, College Hall might look familiar to you, too. Another alumnus, the famous cartoonist Charles Addams, used the building as the basis for Gomez and Morticia's house in "The Addams Family."
I continued on to one of my favorite buildings on the campus, the Furness Library. Furness was always a quiet, inspiring place to study, but its style -- a blend of Roman and Moorish architecture -- was what attracted me the most. I used to love climbing what I called the "stairway to nowhere," a grand staircase of wood and iron which dominates the lobby but gets smaller and narrower as it twists and turns its way to the top of the tower pictured above. When you finally reach the top, you're left standing on a small platform, suspended hundreds of feet in the air, facing a brick wall. I tried climbing to the top yesterday, only to learn that they've blocked-off access to the uppermost level. And that wasn't the only change. After nearly 120 years, they've changed the name of the building from "Furness" -- after the man who designed it -- to "The Fisher Fine Arts Library." I guess money talks.
Locust Walk is the main pedestrian thoroughfare which runs through the length of the Penn campus. Back when I was a student, all it took was one quick trip up and down Locust Walk to get the latest news and connect with hundreds of friends. Yesterday, however, I felt more like a corporate suit lost in a sea of "youngsters." I ran to the bookstore (only to learn that some Moron moved it from Locust Walk to Walnut Street), bought myself a baseball cap and put my blazer in storage at the nearby Hilton. Now I was ready to continue, disguised as an "insider."
I continued my tour until I got to Phi Kappa Sigma, the fraternity known as "Skull House." It was always at this point in my tours that some acquaintances -- classmates who knew my tour schedule -- would lean out the upper story windows and yell "Penn Stinks ... Go to Princeton!" I'd always make a joke out of it, preparing the prospective freshmen on the tour by telling them to block their ears, "don't pay any attention to what you're about to hear" and etc. I guess every campus needs its Animal House.
On the opposite end of the housing spectrum was Hill House, a closed community where people pretty much lived and studied together, designed by the architect Aero Saarinen in 1960 to resemble a modern-day fortress. You even have to cross a draw-bridge to get inside. At this point in the tour, I always used to knock on doors at random to give the prospective freshmen and their parents an idea of what a dorm room looked like. I'll never forget the time when, after knocking unsuccessfully on a few doors, I finally found someone who answered: A guy with stringy brown hair hanging down to his waist, wearing no shirt, no shoes and a pair of purple pajama bottoms. He was smoking pot and blew a large cloud directly into my tour group. "Hiya, folks!," he said. I slammed the door in his face and said, "I guess that's why they call it a Higher Education!" Apparently, the tours today are more tightly organized. The receptionist at Hill House told me that these days, the University sends pre-selected Hill House Greeters to meet the tour groups and bring them to pre-approved dorm rooms. I like my way, better.
Somewhere between the craziness of Skull House and the eccentricities of Hill House is "the Quadrangle." Known as the first university dorm in the United States, the Quad was built in 1895 and modeled after the Tudor styles at Cambridge. When I was a student, the Quad was mainly used as freshman housing and you were assigned to a room based on a lottery system. Today, the Quad is divided into four separate "houses" -- Community, Goldberg, Spruce and Ware -- and, if I understand correctly, a computer places you into one of the houses based on your interests.
Next-up was a trip to my old stomping grounds, the Communications School. I majored in Communications so this was where I had most of my classes. The school -- and the building -- were funded entirely by Neighbor Charlie's family. I'll have to remember to thank him one of these days.
I concluded my visit with a trip to Franklin Field, Penn's historic football field and home of the Quakers. The stadium opened in 1895. It's the site of the nation's first scoreboard, the first football radio broadcast and the first football telecast. Back when I went there, thousands of people would crowd into Franklin field for every game and pelt the opposition with slices of toast. One of the traditional Penn songs -- called "Drink a Highball" -- ends with the words "Here's a toast to dear old Penn." That last line, sung in unison by a frenzied crowd, was always our cue to throw entire loaves of toast on the field. Wonder Bread was our weapon of choice. Today, those words -- like a fine wine -- really have matured with age. Here's a toast to dear old Penn, and to my parents for sending me there ...!
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Speaking of cracked, no visit to Philadelphia would be complete without a trip to the Liberty Bell. I made a beeline there after my meetings ended today. Legend has it the Liberty Bell was used to summon the citizens of Philadelphia for the very first public reading of the Declaration of Independence on July 8, 1776. The bell itself has been cracked ever since its first "test" ringing when it arrived in Philadelphia in 1752. But what do you expect ... they only paid 100 pounds for it!
I made a quick stop at Independence Hall -- where the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution were debated and adopted -- and continued walking due East through the city's cultural district, towards the waterfront and Delaware River.
I walked across Penn's Landing until I got to the Nina and the Pinta. Yes, it was that Nina and Pinta. Life-sized replicas of Columbus' ships are docked right near the Korean and Vietnam War Memorials and just across the river from New Jersey. Columbus never had it so good!
I finished my walk with a stroll through Society Hill, a neighborhood of quiet, tree-lined streets and rowhouses dating from the 1700's. Many of the homes here belonged to notable figures in the American Revolution and everyday tradesmen who no doubt prospered -- like their neighbor Benjamin Franklin -- by going early to bed and being early to rise. One thing's for sure, I doubt any of them hid plastic bottles of lemonade in their groin ...!
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Also in the lobby, directly over the reception desk, is a massive, 84-foot tall, 2,000 square-foot LCD screen which plays a series of incredible, lifelike video images 18-hours a day. For example, today I saw the lobby transformed into a tropical oasis, a modern artwork and a dance hall, complete with acrobatic dancers who looked like they were doing a tango atop the elevator bank.
Monday, May 24, 2010
Not far from the Temple, I ran into a character worthy of 7th and Montana: a Local Loon with a song in his heart. He was zig-zagging his way up and down Juniper Street in a Motor Scooter, singing "Moon River" at the top of his lungs through a megaphone. It was so painful to listen to, that I gave him a dollar to stop ... but he didn't. He merely changed his tune to "Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head." I didn't have the heart to tell him it wasn't raining.
From there, it was on to dinner with a colleague at Morimoto, a Japanese restaurant owned by Food Network Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Morimoto is famous for his creative fusion of Japanese and American styles. I had "Omakase," which means Chef's choice, a sampling of various dishes. Every one of them was great. So great, in fact, that I would have gladly eaten a tentacle if it appeared on my plate. Now that's what I call Mind Over Mood ...!