July 4, 2002
“It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!”
Seems everyone I met and spoke to on July 4th heard my happy birthday announcement. I also told a few people about my dream to travel to Philadelphia on July 4th to celebrate my 50th birthday in the city that made my birthday a national holiday. Philadelphia was having a big birthday bash and I was part of the festivities.
After standing in line with the group ready to take the Independence Hall tour, we went through the building and I found myself alone in the courtyard. I looked back. Big smile of satisfaction that I was here, peered into the most historical room in America and had my picture taken in the Assembly Room. A lifelong dream came true.
I had no other agenda for Philadelphia other than to explore and enjoy another evening in the city. I did have a quest though. I’m on my own on my birthday. Birthday cake? Check. Birthday present? Hmmm. What could I buy for myself that would be a reminder of being in Philadelphia on my 50th birthday?
I decided to buy a ruby ring–July birthstone. Nothing expensive, just something that would be another memory of my road trip. A ring that I could keep on my finger every day to acknowledge my accomplishment. I did it. I turned fifty in Philadelphia and took a tour inside Independence Hall on July fourth. I made my dream come true. This ring would be a symbol that I could achieve whatever I set my heart and mind to accomplish. This year-Philadelphia. Next year-move to Maui!
I wandered around a few downtown streets searching for a jewelry shop that was open on the holiday. I thought retail stores surrounding downtown Philadelphia would be open for business with all the tourists in town. Jewelers Row wasn’t open.
I walked back to the Visitors Center. The gift shop, as well as other local shops in the vicinity sold mostly red, white and blue souvenirs or Americana trinkets. I’m patriotic, but I don’t want to buy a glitter flag pin today.
I approached a tall, red brick building that appeared to have several commercial shops at street level–The Bourse at Independence Mall. Inside was an open galleria with ornate metal staircases leading several floors upward to offices. There was a central food court and small specialty shops around the parameter.
I wandered past the shops, looking for a gift store that sold jewelry. I was on a quest to find the perfect ruby ring for my 50th birthday present. I came upon a promising store and eagerly went inside to examine the cases. Gold and silver chains. Scores of sterling silver rings of various designs perched in velvet-lined trays. The bored clerk barely raised his eyes from the magazine on the counter when I walked into his store.
Not finding a tray of rings with gem stones, I stood in front of the clerk. He looked up. “Do you have any ruby rings?” I asked. Without bothering to search his cases, he told me no. I persisted. “Any rings at all with a red stone?” No.
I nodded my thanks and left the store. Wandering around the edge of the food court a second time to notice all the gift shops, no other store carried a line of jewelry. VERY discouraged. I WANT A RUBY RING! And I want to buy it NOW!
Well, I went into an Americana-themed souvenir store and the best I could settle for as a 5oth birthday reminder of my trip to Philadelphia was a pretty porcelain heart with a painted rose in the corner and Diana scripted along the edge. It came with a delicate gold chain. Sigh. I guess this present to myself will have to do. It wasn’t my first choice, but I bought it.
My quest to acquire a ruby ring on my birthday was an intense determination to get my way in this situation. Somewhere inside The Bourse Building HAS to be a ruby ring. I’m going to find it and buy it.
I was drawn back to the jewelry store. Same clerk working and reading the same magazine when I walked in. For some reason, I stood in front of him and leaned over the glass case. I blinked. I looked closer. My heart pounded, for nestled in a tray, I spied a silver ring with a red center stone!
I pointed to the tray. “There’s a ring in the case I’d like to see.” The clerk brought it out and I knew right then and there I had found my 50th birthday present! I tried it on and it fit. (Of course it did!). A simple sterling silver band with a center red-faceted, oval stone. It was flanked on each side with a tiny rectangular “diamond” and round chip next to that. Seeing how the ring was inexpensive, it was all glass. I didn’t care. I found exactly what my heart desired for my birthday. The clerk took the ring, which had an antiqued dark patina, and rubbed it with a jeweler’s cloth. The ring he handed back to me shone bright as newly polished silver. It looked like a different ring.
I left the Bourse Building with a huge grin! Second mission accomplished.
It was around three o’clock in the afternoon by the time I walked several blocks back to the hotel. The only food I’d eaten all day was the piece of chocolate cake. Lunchtime was spent standing in line to take the tour of the Assembly Room inside Independence Hall. I didn’t stop at the food court in The Bourse because I was intent on buying a ruby ring. Now I was starving.
The desk clerk told me I was too early for dinner in the restaurant. There didn’t seem to be a coffee shop near the lobby. I inquired about room service. Sure–I can get room service round the clock. I went up to my room and grabbed the menu. The Southwest chicken salad looked yummy. I was about to pick up the phone when I said–“Hey! I’m in Philadelphia–gotta eat a Phillie cheese steak!” I ended up ordering both a cheese steak and the salad.
What I didn’t realize when room service brought my order is that the salad was huge and the cheese steak came with fries and was a meal in itself. Now the hotel cheese steak can’t compare to the famous Geno’s Steaks in Philadelphia, but I enjoyed dinner none the less.
Why share about my abundance of food from room service? Because when I checked out of my room the next morning, there was no record of my meal. I knew how much it cost and was prepared to add it to my bill. Between the desk clerk and the kitchen staff, nobody had a ticket for a salad and cheese steak. The desk clerk smiled and told me if the restaurant isn’t concerned, she’s not going to charge me for it. Freebie. I grinned and considered it a birthday treat. Thank you Philadelphia!
Around five o’clock I changed clothes and prepared to take a cab across town to find an early spot to watch the annual July 4th parade. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I talked with the woman at the Visitors Center this morning, but I had a pleasant conversation with a woman named Janet. Discovered she was also from Ohio, Youngstown, which is located about two hours due east of where I live. Small world. Janet was in Philadelphia with her brother who attended a business conference while she explored the city on her own.
We spent some time together and the subject of watching the parade came up. We both planned to go. Janet suggested I rent a cab and stop along the way to pick her up in front of her hotel (since I stayed farther away from the parade route). I made a new friend. We both went to Ben Franklin Parkway, past a beautiful central fountain, near the Pennsylvania Museum of Art. The cab dropped us off and we settled into a prime viewing location near the curb.
I learned Janet was a retired English teacher. I regaled her with my story of taking a road trip to turning points in American History and turning fifty today. We discussed writing and books and living in Ohio. We got along great that evening. It was like God sent a companion so I wouldn’t be alone to celebrate the evening festivities. All I know is, she just appeared and we hit it off. We exchanged emails and communicated for a few months when we got back home to Ohio.
The parade was televised live on WPVI-TV 6-ABC starting at 7:00pm. The theme was “A Salute to Heroes” and the highlight of the groups passing by were the firemen who were the first responders on September 11. Remember, this was the first Fourth of July after the 9-11 tragedy that occurred on American soil. Wounds were still raw. People still grieved for the massive loss of lives on that day. Patriotic reminders were received with an extra degree of pride and appreciation during the parade.
Watching the parade
The next group represented colonial times of the 1776 era. Marchers walked along the parade route dressed in colonial garb. Revolutionary War soldiers marched in the uniform of the time. The Liberty Bell was featured on a float. Another float showed a giant replica of the Declaration of Independence document.
Following behind them a ways back, came along a Civil War Union group of soldiers, dressed in blue uniforms. They marched behind drummer boys. I thought about the moment I watched the Gettysburg reenactors join together at the Angle. Had it only been yesterday? It seemed a lifetime gone by.
What touched my heart the most was when the volunteer fire department drove by in their small, red fire engine. Stroystown, PA was in gold letters on the side door. Yes, the salute to heroes included these brave men. They were among the first responders to the crash site outside Shanksville when United Flight 93 fell out of the sky on September 11, 2001.
Every place where I stopped to honor those who sacrificed their own lives for America’s freedoms and way of life passed by during this parade. I visited the turning points in American History this week and the parade established that for me. There was a purpose in this road trip. We will never forget.
And I got to do a goofy thing during the parade. Every so often the floats and marchers stopped and a large gap was in the street before they continued. A neighboring local watching the parade explained that the groups stopped in place because it was televised and the TV station breaked for commercials. When I saw a gap on the street, I asked Janet to take my picture. I ran quickly into the center of the parade route and waved. The photo looks like I’m in the parade too!
It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday! It’s my birthday!
The appreciative crowd followed the trail end of the parade marchers toward the Philadelphia Museum of Art. A stage was set up on the massive front entrance steps. Someone sitting on the ground near Janet and me mentioned that this building was filmed in the movie, “Rocky”. Rocky Balboa ran up the flight of steps and waved his arms high in the air in a triumphant gesture–it’s an iconic movie scene. I figured if there was any way I could get the chance this evening, I’d try it too! Nope-didn’t happen.
Musicians entertained the crowd. The main event was shooting off fireworks after dark. The music played and the featured artist sang four or five of his top hits. I knew who Brian McKnight was, but Janet didn’t recognize his songs and wasn’t impressed. His biggest hit that I knew was, “Back at One.” After he finished it was time to see fireworks.
I’ve seen bigger and I’ve seen better and I’ve seen fireworks in nicer locations. Janet told me a local suggested crossing the river for the best advantage of viewing the fireworks. They went up behind the Art Museum and some barely rose higher than the roof line of the building. But I enjoyed watching my favorite “mums” explode in a colorful display. The crowd oohed and aahed like crowds did all over America that July 4th.
As part of my research for the Philadelphia trip, I read that John Adams believed July fourth would be a tremendous occasion because of what 56 men of honor transpired together to accomplish when they signed the Declaration of Independence. He urged cities and towns and communities across this fair land to build huge bonfires and ring church bells and give speeches every July 4th in recognition of the historical date. Well, sir, America still does.
Janet and I walked back to an area where we could get a cab and she paid half of the fare. We hugged and parted ways at her hotel and promised to stay in touch. It was close to midnight when I finally reached my room. Incredible day. Amazed at how much there was to see and do and every moment seemed filled to the brim with memorable events. Satisfied, I gathered my personal items into the backpack, ready for the following day’s journey up to Albany, New York. After a good night’s sleep, I’d pack my suitcase in the morning and leave Philadelphia.
Too exhausted to comtemplate my next turning point in American History, I’d think about it tomorrow. It was going to be a long drive but I was excited. I was on my way to find my family roots. What genealogy treasures await me when I search for my Dutch ancestors on Van Schaick Island?
The pilgrimage continues——–