I’m going back to Philly…

Not really.  I've never been.  Well, it's been long enough that it really doesn't count.  Another trip up the northeast corridor!  This time not by train though.  Philly is close enough to drive – so is NYC but getting around in NYC is so crazy that it isn't worth it to drive.  So we drove up for a day of sales training.  Traffic getting out of DC was predictably horrible and continued that way until somewhat north of Baltimore.  Some day we'll have leadership capable of re-prioritizing our spending so that we can fix some of these things.  Also, if you don't have a Speedpass and you're going to drive up the coast, you need to go get one.  I was a hold out until the first time I drove to Atlantic City.  I really didn't appreciate how much the tolls where up there.  I thought I might need to sell some body parts to make it back.  At some level EZ-Pass bothers me – I'm driving around with someone else's RFID tag in my car – but unless I'm fleeing prosecution or something I guess it doesn't matter all that much.  I could always throw it out the window I suppose….

Philly is a pretty big city with some relatively tall buildings.  Philly, like Washington has had an agreement in place for a long time that no building would be taller than city hall but that was busted some years ago so it's starting to get "tall in the middle.  

philly

Philly from a distance

At somewhere around 2 million souls, it's about a fourth of the size of NYC and you can definitely feel that difference.  Philly, unlike New York, can't afford that feeling of "no, we really don't care because we're better than you." that New York pulls off so eloquently.  Granted, in NY it's part of a survival system built into every human when space and separation from other humans is removed.  When you're shoved into a pot with 8 million other people, you have to keep some part of that core identity private or you'll lose your mind.  that's why New Yorkers act the way they do and it is also why they open up and thrive when you take them out of same pressure cooker.  Anywho….We stayed about 2 blocks from City Hall which is a giant building.  

It's pretty neat that you can, at street level walk "through" city hall without entering the building.  There are great archways that you can breeze through.  The City has tried to create a public space in this very public place.  Hard to tell if it's working as we were only there around 7pm on a hot day.  Other kind of unique thing?  Window air conditioner in many of the windows.

What else to do when you're in Philly?  Well, 3 things.  Cheesesteak, Liberty bell, Indpedence Hall.  First, the cheese steak.  We had a decision to make here.  We could walk or cab it to the OG Cheesesteak Intersection of Pat's or Geno's or we could walk to the much closer Sonny's.  It was already pretty late and we wanted to walk around Independence Hall before it was completely dark.  That fact, compounded by the fact that the cabs in Philly look like they were stolen in some foreign land and shipped back conspired to send us to Sonny's however it was still a 1.3 mile walk.  I managed to order my cheesesteak properly: "steak, whiz, with" and chowed it down.  Sonny's uses steak slices that are just a shade thicker than I like on cheesesteak but still delicious.  I know some of you purists out there will insist that I've fallen for a sub-par sandwhich but it's good stuff either way.  A great Philly tradition.

After that, we humped the mile to Independence Hall:

indhall

It was pretty late and everything was, of course closed but it's still pretty cool to be around a place like this and think of all that happened there.  The Declaration, the Constitution.  I can't imagine what it was like to meet in that place, especially during the summer!  Would have been trying to say the least.  The other thing about these older Northeastern cities: there is always this odd juxtaposition of these insanely historical features with glass and steel modern buildings.  It's the same in Boston.  To be clear, both cities have tried to create some space around these areas but it's hard to do enough.  And then there's this:

liberty

The Liberty Bell is in this well-designed glass enclosure that allows you to see it pretty much any time of day.  This picture was actually taken from outside the structure.  I did see the Liberty Bell when I was a kid and I recall that back then you could actually touch it.  It is also much smaller than I imagined it would be.  I'm unsure exactly how large I thought it *should* be but it is an American liberty bell for goodness sake.  It should've required 20 tons of bronze or something…:)

So, all in all a good but quick trip to Philly.  I'd like to pop back up there for a day or two and get the opportunity to check it out a bit more.  It's a neat place.

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Escape to New York

My main job these days is running my IT Consulting services firm, Matrix Computer Consulting.  We've been in business for 15 years now.  I love it.  The IT business is great because everything is always changing and evolving in ways that other industries just don't do.  Right now, "Cloud" is all the rage.  Those of us in the industry for awhile kinda roll our eyes at "cloud" because it's the way this whole thing started but enough about that…..I traveled to NYC to attend an Amazon Web Services conference.  Amazon has, oddly, grown this insanely good cloud cloud platform and it is something I'm very interested in.  There were a bunch of vendors and Amazon had a ton of breakout events.  I got to see and hear the Chief Technical Officer for all of Amazon talk about things as he sees them.  It's always a good idea to listen to really smart people whether you agree with them or not!

verner

The CTO's name is Werner Vogels and he's a good speaker and a smart dude.  He spoke, along with a couple of other speakers for an hour and a half.  You can't see it in this picture be is wearing orange Chucks and you may or may not recognize that T-Shirt as a "Rage against the Machine" T-shirt.  It was a good thing for me to attend.  Got lots of ideas churning.

After that concluded, I walked back to my hotel to kill some time and wait for my family to arrive as we were to spend the weekend in NYC.  It was about 1.5 miles from the convention center to my hotel – A long but peaceful walk up through Hell's Kitchen to the Times Square area.  That was interesting as I had not really walked much through the neighborhoods of New York city before.  Yes, I had screwed around on the Upper East side, Central Park and Times Square and, yes, people live there but not like Hell's Kitchen.  It's all rather ordinary.

When I got back to my hotel room, I sat on my bed to dash off some emails and again heard a dripping sound that I had heard the night before.  Before I could get up and see what was going on, I heard a crash!  I went around the half-wall that divided the room and found that part of the ceiling had collapsed!

collapse1

What a mess!!

collapse2You can imagine the fun and games I had with that.  Sarah got us a new hotel and we took off.  After we were settled in our new digs, we went out to dinner and went to bed early as the next day was a virtual whirlwind tour of lower Manhattan.  The first thing we did the next morning was go to the World Trade Center memorial.  If you've not been there, here's how it looks:

wtc-memorialThere's two of those pools, one for each tower.  Out on the plaza and around the two pools, you'll find nothing at all really from the original site.  It's a wide plaza with just the two pools.  There is a WTC museum but I didn't know that was there when I was planning our day so I didn't allow for it.  The thing we did plan for was to go up in this bad boy:

new-wtcThe new World Trade Center.  It is an impressive building and, in our previous trips to NYC, we had never made the time to go up in one of the tall buildings to an observation deck.  We did so this time and from like a thousand feet in the air, here is what Manhattan looks like:

observationIt's worth the money to go up and check it out.  We paid a little extra for the "cut the line" passes that allowed us to go up at a certain time.  It's worth the couple extra bucks if you're on a tight time frame – which is pretty much where we were.  After that, we went to the USS Intrepid which is docked right up next to the street:

intrepid

Intrepid was neat.  The airplanes on the deck are really cool – they are the same airplanes I was building models of when I was a kid.  As a nerd, the other thing that was cool was looking at all of the tech that is left on the boat.  The radar screens and analog computers that they used…just amazing that it worked at all.  There must be a million pounds of cables in that ship.  Interesting fact: after 9/11 the FBI setup their initial response and investigation center on Intrepid.  They had 500 agents working on the ship.  If you think about it, it is the perfect location but I can't imagine the amount of work that went into getting the tech up and running for those guys.  One thing about Intrepid – if you go, be prepared for the heat.  That flight deck is no joke when the sun is blazing away.  I can only imagine what it was like when that baby was in the South Pacific.  The other thing is that the General Admission pass doesn't include access to the Space Shuttle or the submarine. 

After that we went to the MoMA and walked around Bryant Park…and just wherever else we wanted to wander.  I've often wondered if I could live in a city like New York.  I think I would like to try at some point however, it occurs to me that you really have to "want" it.  You have to "want" to live in a city.  There's a level of commitment that goes along with living in a big city.  Currently, if I want to let the dog out, I open the back door and point him in that direction.  I don't have to worry with him until he comes back up the stairs and barks.  In the city, I'd have to get dressed, take him down the elevator or stairs, find a place for him, etc, etc, etc.  Parking (assuming you can afford a car) is a hassle and expensive.  There are definite parts of the suburban experience that you have to give up.  Yes, there is plenty of return on your investment but you've got to want it if you are to pick up and move there.  I think it is a lot easier to move to the suburbs that it is to move into the city. 

Interestingly, I've had the same thought about Washington DC and I don't think I could live there.  For whatever reason, I don't get a sense of "ownership" from people that live in DC.  I'm sure that many there feel that way but, ultimately, DC is a "company town" and that company transfers people all over the globe.  With such a large transient population, it is difficult to build that baked in sense of ownership in that many people.

I also think that small towns like Manassas can learn a lot from places like New York.  We have many of the same challenges – yes, they're on a vastly smaller scale but there is a lot to learn there.  Yes, it often requires audacious leaders to make it happen but the examples are there for all to see….overall it's a place that I'm going back to a couple of times a year although probably not at Christmas time again!  That was a mad house.  I'd like to go in the fall and spend some time in the Village and then around Central Park…

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