Today, Franklin is easier to find on an oatmeal box than on the city streets, and the liberty bell is cracked and silent. But Rocky? The fighter who never was, except, of course, in the movies? He's big and bronze and easy to find, right by the foot of the museum steps.
Tourists from all over the world seek him out daily, eager to pose for pictures with fists raised triumphantly, just like his. This group included my brother-in-law and his sons, visiting from Israel.
After their moment with the statue, the tourists run up the steps, just the way Sylvester Stallone did in the movies. But you may recall that when Rocky "really" was training for that first fight and running all over town, it was wintertime. He wore a hoodie and sweatpants, and we could see his breath.
This past Fourth of July weekend, the Rocky wannabes among the tourists–and they were legion, as always–were in shirtsleeves, if not shirtless. The sun was unforgiving, and the air was almost too thick and heavy to breathe.
But straight up the 72 steps everybody went, as their friends held up cellphones to record the moment. Entire tour buses emptied out to run up the steps. Children ran up with their grandparents. Dogs ran up with their people. Cyclists ran up with their bikes in their arms. Earbuds or no earbuds, everybody had "Gonna Fly Now" in their heads.
Search for "Rocky steps" on YouTube, and you'll find 86,500 results. Here's a nice short one in Spanish, viewed by more than a quarter of a million people.
The crazy part, of course, is that Rocky isn't real. People all over the world say his story in the movie is inspirational, proving somehow that even a nobody, just another bum from the neighborhood, can beat the best.
"I will do the stairs on my 50. birthday, december 2013," wrote one of the inspired people. "From germany just for one day. It's crazy, but it's a dream since 30 years. In all of us there is a rocky...."
At the top of the steps, some people feel ready to take on the world. Some of them propose marriage. Some of them go on into the museum, eventually. All of them turn around at the top and look out over the city, just like Rocky, and raise their arms high and then . . . probably they start thinking about cheesesteaks.
By 7 a.m. on June 21, 1942, the line of cars at this Texaco station, and at pretty much every gas station in America, spilled out of the lot and on down the street. Strict gas rationing to conserve fuel for the war effort was set to begin the next day, June 22, 1942.
Note the corn plants growing in the grassy spot in the lower left corner of the picture. Note also the car closest to the camera: a brand new 1942 Packard.
McDowell's Texaco was in the 5200 block of Wisconsin Avenue NW, near Friendship Heights at the edge of Washington, D.C; a parking garage now occupies the spot.
On a cold night in January, more than two hundred firefighters from all over Chicago battled a huge blaze in the Harris Marcus warehouse in the city's Bridgeport district. The job was complicated by extreme cold, as hydrants froze and ladders iced up; the water department was called in to de-ice the ladders with steamers.
The next day, embers in the smouldering ruin reignited, and firetrucks had to go back there and spray even more water.
Nice looking skyline, is it not? The city is Albany, New York, which may or may not be a nice place to live or even a nice place to visit; I've never been there and yet . . . here I am squawking about it.
It's actually one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the Western Hemisphere, founded in the early seventeenth century as Beverwijk, a Dutch village outside the gates of Fort Orange. Beverwijk was renamed Albany when the English took over in the mid-century, and in 1686, the city was officially incorporated under a charter that is said to be one of America's oldest governing documents still in effect.
Albany was also the eastern terminus of the Erie Canal and for many years produced beer that was shipped westward on the canal to all the thirsty pioneers out in the hinterlands.
The painting below shows Albany's North Pearl Street in approximately 1800.
Yesterday, we caught the view from New York City's High Line rails-to-trails boardwalk, a park that winds along the western edge of lower Manhattan, thirty feet up in the sky.
Today's glimpse of a tracks-to-boardwalk project is in Philadelphia, alongside the Schuylkill River, where barge-mounted heavy equipment is currently driving pilings into the riverbed for a boardwalk that will soar out over the water to extend an existing twenty-plus-mile asphalt biking and walking path.
The asphalt path follows an abandoned railroad bed downriver from Valley Forge past Fairmount Park and the Philadelphia Art Museum and on into Center City. But at Locust Street, the trail ends abruptly, crowded off the riverbank by half a dozen railroad lines that are definitely not-yet-abandoned.
The plan is to extend the path southward by snaking it out over the river as a boardwalk with observation platforms and maybe some fishing decks. (Although the Schuylkill is a bit shy of what you'd call a pristine river, there are definitely fish swimming in it, and they are catchable, if not eatable.)
After about half a mile over water, the new boardwalk will pass under the South Street Bridge and then curve back onto dry land for the remainder of its route. It will terminate in southwest Philly at Bartram's Gardens, an eighteenth-century homestead where America's earliest botanists planted the New World's first collection of botanical curiosities.
Planned completion date for the boardwalk is . . . early 2013, or so it is written. Whenever.
One thing we have in abundance in America is abandoned railroad tracks. Many thousands of miles have been torn up and paved over with asphalt, repurposed for walking and biking through cities and suburbs. Many of these rails-to-trails are pleasant amenities, but few are interesting to look at or exciting to experience. Today, we turn our eyes to a few of those few.
New York City's High Line Park, which we last visited back in 2011, is a garden in the sky, snatched from the ruins of an industrial el line that once carried cattle and chickens to the slaughterhouses of lower Manhattan's Hudson riverfront. Both the industrial roots and the post-industrial decline are celebrated in the park: everywhere, the grit and grunge, patched brick walls and rusted steel fixtures, are lovingly preserved, with landscaping that looks a lot like weeds and old-looking new (creosote-free) train tracks in the flower beds. Amongst the weeds are miles of boardwalk for strolling and people-watching.
This photo was taken from the High Line's amphitheater, a performance space cantilevered out over Tenth Avenue, with glass walls that keep the sounds of the city at bay. Down below, about a block away on the left side of the street, you can glimpse the edge of a parking lot that is also being reimagined as performance space, for a senior project by a Parsons School of Design student, our own Amelia Stein. All of us Hole-in-the-Cloudsians are eager to follow the progress of this work by one of our own.