I am standing in a long line with every single tourist in Philadelphia. It’s hot. Humid. I am sweating through my drawers.
There must be hundreds of us here, loitering in the heat, waiting outside Jim’s South Street to buy a Philly cheesesteak. Every time our line starts to move forward, it turns out to be a false alarm and we actually end up shuffling backward, a little closer to West Virginia.
I hate lines. I detest them. But part of the human condition is to wait in lines. Lines are what we do. You visit post offices, airports, DMVs, funeral homes, you’re going to stand in lines. After you die you will wait in line to enter the pearly gates. Please have a valid photo ID and two forms of identification ready.
Nevertheless, I am a dutiful tourist, and all tourists visit Jim’s.
“You gotta eat a cheesesteak at Jim’s!” is what the Philadelphians tell you. And I’m sure they’re right. But they forget to explain that the line of tourists outside Jim’s is longer than the line to the women’s restroom at a Mary Kay convention.
Even so. Here I am.
I’ve had a great time in Philly over these last days. Not only have I learned some history and seen pretty things, but I have received substantial parking tickets and almost totaled my rental car thrice.
The highpoint of my expedition was definitely the historic walking tour, led by a guy named Casey.
Casey made my whole Philly visit worth it. If you ever take a historic tour here, get Casey to be your guide. He’s a high-school teacher by day, historian by night. He’s the kind of down-to-earth guy who doesn’t just expertly tell the story of Philadelphia, but he also does the voices.
Casey had me laughing, reflecting, nodding thoughtfully, and constantly thinking to myself: “I hope the police don’t put a boot on my car.”
Our tour group visited all the important sights. We saw America’s oldest fire department. We saw the meeting hall where our founding fathers agreed to commit treason against King George III. We saw the Liberty Bell; it was everything it was cracked up to be.
We saw where the first Quakers invented oatmeal. We saw where Benjamin Franklin drank beer in Elfreth’s Alley. And we paid tribute at the grave of Betsy Ross, whose dying wish was to be buried beside the gift shop.
But, if I’m being honest, the best thing about our walking tour was our group itself.
You should have seen us. Each U.S. region was represented within our ranks. When we walked down Arch Street we looked like a miniature Kodak snapshot of America.
We had a few gals from Milwaukee. “How are ya now?”
People from Louisiana. “How y’all?”
Missouri. “Hi, you guys.”
Folks from North Carolina. “How is ever’one on this fann day?”
A family from Hawaii. “Aloha, everybody.”
People from New Jersey. “How you doin’?”
Those of us from Florida. “Haaaaaaaayyyyyyyy.”
And Minnesota. (Crickets.)
We were a few dozen ordinary Americans exploring the cradle of our nation’s liberty. Different, but similar. Unique, but alike. It made me forget all the discord you see on cable news, and the constant footage of violence and unrest. There was none of that in our group.
No, we were fun people. We laughed. We exchanged contact information. We posed for photos together. We were Black, white, Asian, Latino, Northerner, Southerner, Midwesterner, Westerner, old, young, middle-aged, and kindergartners.
And not to be dramatic here, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt more patriotic than I did when a Philadelphia County municipal street sweeping truck tried to mow us all down. Together. As a nation.
My favorite part of the tour, however, was when we all stopped walking and let our eyes land on that famous corner room in Independence Hall. A room where 56 founding delegates once signed an important piece of paper.
I felt something move inside me when I noticed the famous windows, the shades still drawn.
I made friends with an older Black woman from New Jersey who wore a cap that read: “Woman Army Veteran.” She sidled up next to me. We both looked at the iconic building and uttered a hushed “Wow.”
And when our tour guide gave his closing speech on what it means to be an American, chills waltzed up my spine. Not only because I love my country, but because I love the people in it.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to thank Casey enough for guiding us through the confusing streets of the City that Loves you Back. But I’d like to say thanks for helping me appreciate the unalienable beauty of my homeland; for reintroducing me to my forefathers; for making me think; and most of all, I’d like to thank him for leading me to the public bathrooms in my moment of need.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I believe the line at Jim’s is moving.
Whoops. Never mind. False alarm.
Carole - July 14, 2021 7:10 am
You outdid yourself on this one!
Debbie g - July 14, 2021 7:30 am
God bless America All of us And especially you Sean Thanks for taking us with you on your journey
Dean - July 14, 2021 7:37 am
Thanks for giving us a tour of important sites I will never see in person
Adrienne Possenti - July 14, 2021 10:07 am
If you’re still in the Philly area, come on “down the shore”…the Jersey Shore that is. You can be a “shoobie” so named by the locals for the folks from out of town who invade the beach for a day carrying everything they need in a shoe box. You have your choice of a crowded beach where the notion of personal space is an unknown. The beach chairs of a family of 10 or more surround you & your beach chair, including their non-optional personal choice of today’s hit parade but where the throngs can each avail themselves of the convenience of public bathroom facilities just a short walk from the water’s edge. On the other hand, a mostly isolated beach is another option where you are surrounded by the near solitude of sun, sand, surf, heavens & seas. Yup, just the way God made it. Bring along a good book you can immerse yourself in, a tube of #95 SPF sun screen to repeatedly slather on all areas of exposed skin throughout day light hours, H2o (gotta stay hydrated), a sandwich of your choice & a bag of chips for sustenance. Flip flops make for the best footwear to walk across the hot mid day sand but bare feet are best for a stroll in the surf & for finding souvenir sea shells to bring home. Be sure to stop at a local farm stand on your way down the shore to treat yourself to some fresh picked Jersey produce. Tomatoes, blueberries, peaches, nectarines and more are at their peak and make for the most refreshing beach snack. FYI-Jersey shore sea gulls detect the sound of a lunch being unwrapped from miles away. Flocks of them will instantly decend upon you & your space from out of nowhere demanding that you toss them a crumb. Warning, do not do it. Now matter how longingly these beggars look at you & your lunch, heed this warning. Under no circumstances, do not feed the sea gulls. If you give into that temptation, within less than a minute you will be swarmed by gulls from all angles, including overhead. Sea gulls hovering over your head is one of the most dangerously disgusting worse case beach scenarios you will find yourself in. So avoid this from happening at all costs. Let’s just say that Baptism by sea gull poop is not a holy experience. And I can tell you that the locals who are sharing a day on the beach with you can become a little unfriendly with a shoobie who finds it interesting to feed the gulls. Speaking of locals, they have the luxury of their private bathroom facilities at their waterfront homes just a few short steps away. On the more isolated beaches where quiet generally abounds sometimes we shoobies just casually walk out into the surf to wet the water as the tide goes out. After a long day of relaxation on the beach of the Jersey shore, you don’t want to miss out on the highlight of the day…a dinner of world renowned boardwalk pizza. Wash that down with your choice of ice cream cone flavor, maybe a 1/4 pound of ssorted salt water taffy and call it nirvana. You’ll sleep good that night and/or barf on the ride home.
Liz - July 14, 2021 10:38 am
Taylor pork roll anyone? Can’t get that in Illinois 🙁
Rosemary - July 14, 2021 10:55 am
One of your best! Thank you!!
Denise Walker - July 14, 2021 11:51 am
Thanks for reminding us that we are AMERICANS first. It’s important to remember. Glad you enjoyed your tour. I hope to visit Philly one day, too
Linnea Miles - July 14, 2021 12:02 pm
Thanks, Sean, for a great view of Philly. I lived there a couple years in my early 20’s, and , as a NC country girl, I thought I’d gone to the moon. I loved my time, experiences, and friends there- many fun and wonderful memories of living on the 3rd floor of a West Philly row house and biking to work at Misericordia Mercy Catholic Hospital. And getting teased for my Southern accent. Do you mean Pat’s Cheesesteaks in South Philly? That’s the original and famous place- delish!! Thanks for the patriotic words.
Paul McCutchen - July 14, 2021 12:06 pm
Maybe I will get there someday. I also wanted to ride a Harley to Sturgis. Thanks for letting me see things through your eyes. We were planning a trip out west but with the fire and heat we might have to wait till next year. You are letting me see things in a different light. I also have a young man that I have known since he was in grade school and he flys cargo jets all around the world. He sends pictures so I can see other parts of the world.
Anne McDaniel - July 14, 2021 12:09 pm
I read your blog post every day and love them all. Just recently started reading your books and love them as well.
jill - July 14, 2021 12:27 pm
Loving this country is as natural as breathing to those who know it’s history, and love what those men did in Philly so many years ago. Betsy Ross created for us the most awesome flag, and the liberty bell still rings for those who can hear freedoms song. Thanks Sean. Oh and the reply that suggested you head for the shore on your next stop is totally right. The Jersey shore will hold you in its spell, the smell of the salt air, with the smells from the boardwalk wafting thru, the sights, the sounds, it will hold you long after you have left. Its something I’ve carried with me all my life. Go and me free as the butterfly, and make sure you get the grease laden pizza, a really cold ice coke, and the ice cream, take the salt water taffy home with ya. :-))))))) wow, what a great walk down memory lane this morning. 🙂
Sheila G - July 14, 2021 12:38 pm
I loved this column, and I also have a deep sense of love for you, the readers and commenters of your love-community, and just people in general. I wish more people could approach ‘strangers’ as a friend-in-the-making. It makes life so much richer, enjoyable, and fun. Thank you for your wonderful way with words, Sean. I was right there with you in the room, full of awe and love of country. Made my day.
Liza - July 14, 2021 12:41 pm
Suellen - July 14, 2021 1:17 pm
The media always hypes our differences and keeps the pots roiling. We know that we are One Nation Under God and we are all American no matter what our religion or ethnicity.
Susan Kennedy - July 16, 2021 12:49 am
Rhonda - July 14, 2021 1:20 pm
God Bless Americans.
Long may we have the guts to stay independent and squash socialism and tyranny
Stacey Wallace - July 14, 2021 2:22 pm
Great piece of writing as usual, Sean. Philadelphia is a cool city. Thanks!
Christina - July 14, 2021 2:31 pm
I love Philly and its people, miss those days I lived there. Your column brought back many memories.
LauraD - July 14, 2021 2:40 pm
Hope you finally got your cheese steak, it is always worth the wait. My husband and I have been known to drive to Philly from northern New Jersey just for a cheese steak from Jim’s. As for visiting the historic sites, I actually cried with pride the first time I saw the Liberty Bell when I reflected on how much our founding father’s sacrificed and could potentially lose if they lost the war for independence.
Sandra Wolfe - July 14, 2021 3:26 pm
Cool read for those of us who LOVE AMERICA and our neighbors to the north,south,east and west.
Good job Sean!!
Linds - July 14, 2021 3:29 pm
What “Swellen” said!!!!
Karen Snyder - July 14, 2021 5:13 pm
Beautiful presentation of the invisible but palpable ties that bind us. Thanks for the reminder. 🧡🤍💙
MAM - July 14, 2021 5:59 pm
I love our country! Living overseas for 11 years just enhanced my love of the best country on Earth! God has blessed us and may He continue to bless the country built on His values. Thanks, Sean. Every time I’ve traveled outside this country and landed to see the American flag brought happy tears to my eyes.
Patricia Gibson - July 14, 2021 6:24 pm
Sean, you are so uplifting and you remind me that Americans on the whole are good people and and get along if we just ignore mainstream media. Bless you for sharing !❤️❤️
John Schaffer - July 14, 2021 6:43 pm
I think we will need a user name and password also to enter the holy gates.
Loved the line about longer that the one to ladies restroom at Mary Kay Convention
Think I would lose the one about Liberty Bell being all it is cracked up,to be.
Thanks for another great story
Lori Kilpatrick Klein - July 14, 2021 7:52 pm
Well, that made this old government teacher happy. Thanks Sean.
Linda Moon - July 14, 2021 7:58 pm
It’s hot and humid in my town today. Line-waiting was escalated to a profound description of our shared humanity, Writer. Oh, and my girlfriend Gail once sold Mary Kay products….I just thought I’d let you know because a convention of any type would be welcome now. We, the group, are representative of LIFE itself, and I loved “hearing” those people in each regional language!
Frances - July 14, 2021 10:36 pm
Harriet - July 14, 2021 11:30 pm
That was great. You nailed the Minnesota accent! Crickets😆😆
elizabethroosje - July 15, 2021 2:10 am
agreed, the people of this country are the key. I am not always commenting Sean but I always look forward to reading your blog every morning! Thank you for this.
BJean - July 15, 2021 2:13 am
What a great picture of the truth of our country that many of us know, but which doesn’t get shared enough!
Heather Miller - July 15, 2021 1:23 pm
I was 70 years young before I was able to tour Philadelphia. I saw what you saw, minus the fun crowd and super tour guide. I was in awe of the history held in that city, but you found what makes history in the first place, and that’s the myriad of different people coming together in one spot, no fighting, no arguing, no politics involved, no threats to tear down what has gone on before. JIM’S!! I ate the whole, entire, delicious cheesesteak sandwich. Just delicious. Wasn’t it worth the wait, Sean? It’s the thing you do, like Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. Wait in line for that one cup of coffee and the beignets that bathe you in powdered sugar but it has to be done because.
Bill Harris - July 22, 2021 1:18 am
Thank you Sean