Jersey, boys!

Next stop: the area in and around Camden County, New Jersey. Three counties were hit by flash flooding after some heavy storms in June, and we were dispatched to bring assistance to those in need. But the area’s reputation preceded it, and the name “Camden” sent shudders through many of us.

It needn’t have.

Sure, there are areas of Camden that are rough and not places the unknowing should wander, but there are also some very nice communities in the area, including Haddonfield, Springdale, Cherry Hill, and others.

And there are other nearby areas that are definitely appealing, including Philadelphia which is just across the river from Camden; Cape May and Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Well, maybe not so much Atlantic City, but more on that later.

One of the facets of the work I do is that I’m in a given area longer than most tourists and tend to run in smaller circles more representative of everyday life than the full-blown wanderings of a tourist. I may see less of the area, but I explore it more intensively.

That was more or less OK. Staying in Deptford in Gloucester County south of Camden, I was in the heart of what clearly was a bedroom community, feeding Camden and Philly. There was the usual collection of retail stores, chain restaurants and such, but there were also some very pleasant independent restaurants, including an Italian place called Filomena’s Lakeview, where I enjoyed a couple of happy hours and where my wife and I enjoyed a lovely Italian dinner when she joined me there over a three-day weekend.

On a beautiful Saturday, we drove into Philly, hoping to go to their farmer’s market and see some of the sights. We drove by the intersection of S. 9th St. and E. Passyunk Ave, where Pat’s and Geno’s – the two shops most widely associated with the famous Philly cheese steak sandwich – sit on opposite corners of the intersection. Even shortly after 10 a.m., the lines were long.

And that, locals told us, was too bad. Both places are now living on their reputations, not the quality of their offerings. “Tourist traps” was a phrase uttered more than once. Better sandwiches, they said, could be had at Tony Luke’s, though opinions obviously vary.

We found our way to the area of the market but couldn’t find the market itself. Then it was on to the fabric district where we parked the car, got out and walked … and found the reason we could even find a parking space is that all the shops were closed for the long weekend.

Back in the car, I decided we’d go “down the Shore” and drove to Cape May. We parked near the famous lighthouse, walked on the beach, dipped our toes in the Atlantic.

Lighthouse at Cape May, NJ

On the way back, my wife spotted the Atlantic City skyline in the distance and asked about it.

I’d traveled there for work in the days before she arrived and timed my visit so that it was the end of the workday, as I intended to play at one or two of the city’s casinos before heading back. The Golden Nugget, on the outskirts of town, offered free parking but when I headed to the Hard Rock in the heart of the city, it wanted $20 just to park the car. That’s half of my average casino-going budget – clearly, I am NOT a high-stakes gambler – so I passed.

Although Atlantic City has a collection of factory outlets right in the city center, once away from those and the casinos, the city quickly becomes seedy. I saw more than one person staggering along the sidewalk and others either asleep or passed out on bus and park benches. One boy riding his bike against traffic was apparently playing chicken with my side-view mirror while I was stopped at a light. It seemed he was trying to see how close he could come to it or, if he hit it, perhaps claim that I’d hit him. Hoo, boy.

I got out of there as quickly as I could, vowing to only go back if the job required it. On the way out of town, I noticed the parking fees at other hotels and lots were about the same as at the Hard Rock.

The next day, we asked the desk attendant at our hotel if there was a better way to get into Philly than driving. “Oh, no, don’t drive!” he said, then provided us directions to a nearby station for the SEPTA light rail train that would drop us about two blocks from Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. MUCH better!

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

The weather wasn’t as perfect as the day before but we’re from Seattle so a little rain doesn’t bother us. We walked by the hall with the Liberty Bell, which is thoughtfully placed in front of a window so tourists don’t have to stand in line just to see it.

Walking by Independence Hall, we did the tourist loop, stopping to take photos of the statue representing The Signer, meant as an homage to all those who signed the Declaration of Independence.

Statue "The Signer"

We then strolled up N. 3rd Street to Arch St. and the Betsy Ross house, probably the highlight of our day. It’s small enough to be manageable, and admission was quite reasonable.

Although not an agreed upon fact that Ross designed and/or sewed the first flag, it is known that she was an accomplished seamstress and acquainted with one General George Washington. And records do show that Betsy rented the home from 1776 to 1779.

One particular docent was clearly the highlight of the tour. Dressed in period clothing, she sat at a table with cloth and needle in hand, portraying Betsy Ross herself. She wore no makeup, her hair was a natural color, she had no visible tattoos, and her nails were short and without polish. One could imagine that she might actually have looked that way in the latter years of the 18th century.

Her dialect and accentuation seemed perfect for the period: devoid of any 20th or 21st century colloquialisms. She had also perfected a puzzled look when asked questions that would have made no sense in her time, such as, “Do you do ALL your sewing by hand?” which one visitor asked.

“Of course,” she responded. “There IS no other way!”

From there, it was on to the Philadelphia Mint. The self-guided tour was interesting and informative, though the machinery was still because it was a three-day weekend. If the Mint is on your list, try to take it in on a weekday.

Across the street from the Mint was Christ Church Burial Ground, where Benjamin Franklin is buried. Although the gates were locked, his grave abuts the wrought-iron fence near the corner of Arch Street and Independence Mall, and many people simply put their phone or camera through the fence and snapped away.

We wrapped up our day by touring the Museum of the American Revolution. Like so many museums put together by people passionate about their topic, it proved a bit overwhelming. Though the place was well done and nicely laid out, we were in “information overload” after about 90 minutes. However, museum management must be aware of that facet because a single admission is good for two consecutive days, so breaking up a visit could make it more manageable.

Back on the train to Jersey, we were satisfied we’d made good use of the day.

Next stop: Dayton, Ohio

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Photos by Carl Dombek
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