STATE 06: PENNSYLVANIA
Did you guys know that Pennsylvania is super hilly? Well, we did not. I remember driving to the Warwick Hills campground in Warwick, Pennsylvania, that was located just 45 minutes outside of Philadelphia, and being surprised by the winding roads and huge hills that turned into rolling hills when we were almost to Warwick.
Funnily enough (well, at least I thought it was funny- Tyler did not), I somehow selected a setting in our phone’s GPS/navigation to avoid highways so you could say that we took the backroads to our campground. I thought it was nice, however, since we got to see what felt like thousands of horses, which led me to look up that Pennsylvania has more horses than people in its state - isn’t that interesting?
Anyway, we got to our pretty empty campground (since the off-season had just begun) and to our surprise, it had a terrifically strong wifi connection. YAY! It even allowed us to stream episodes from Season 2 of Selfridges that my friend Chris got us started on a few states ago when he sent us the first season on DVD back when we did our own version of “Netflix” by mail.
Back to Pennsylvania - right when we crossed the state border, the architecture, particularly in the country, turned Dutch real quick. That’s the beauty of an epic road-trip such as this, by visiting all states, you begin to pick up on the differences and subtleties, while also noticing consistencies.
Another beauty of visiting new places is trying new local restaurants and cafes. When you’re on a budget and in constant need of wifi and a work environment, our few dollars typically go to coffee. When we’re not utilizing Starbucks gift cards from friends and family, we try to visit local coffee shops, and to our surprise, we found an incredible one out in the middle of hardly anywhere.
The owner was incredible was well. He even offered to send us whole bean coffee on the road to support our mission in the way he could, but unfortunately we didn’t have consistent enough mailing addresses to take him up on his offer. Sad, we know :(
After having a day to settle into our new site and explore the area, we went into Philly to visit the Navy Yard where FS Investments, our Pennsylvania sponsor, is located. I’m not sure how to explain the investment firm except that it’s what dreams are made of. That might have come across as a bit dramatic; let me try again. FS Investments invests more than just for their clients; they invest in their employees.
A company that “gets it,” they understand that healthy and happy people will lead to better work performances and an inspiring work environment.
Vice President of Design for FS Investments and AIGA Philadelphia’s President, Christine Sheller welcomed and showed us around the company’s new building that included beautiful works of art from the owner’s personal collection, innovative conference and work rooms, a gym with on-site trainers, a cafeteria with a team of chefs that makes an assortment of delicious and healthy meals, and my personal favorite: SNACK STATIONS with coffee, fruit infused water, packaged snacks like Lara Bars and (beans), and fridges stocked with La Croix, chia pudding, and freshly made energy bites.
I think I got a little side-tracked by the food. In all seriousness, you could really feel the positive vibes of the place and I never thought I’d say that about an investment firm. Breaking the mold, I tell ya.
After a delicious lunch with Christine, Manager of Corporate Communications Mia Fioravanti who helped coordinate FS Investment’s sponsorship, and Video Producer Endrit Faslliaj, we decided to go explore more of the Navy Yard.
Skip this paragraph if you’re not into super cool tidbits that you can use to impress people you meet. A little history of Philadelphia’s Naval Shipyard: The original shipyard on Front Street was founded in 1776. Yep, like, the year this country was founded.
It officially became a Naval Shipyard site in 1801 when the Navy was born (“I didn’t know I was pregnant!” said the United States) and for years it was the production center of various vessels, including ships for the war of 1812 and the Civil War, but as ironclad ships became the norm, facilities needed to expand and the whole shebang moved to its current location on League Island.
As you can imagine, WWII was a bustling time for the shipyard as tens of thousands of people built and repaired warships, but when the war was done, well, then came the yard’s decline. Through the years and America’s wars, shipbuilding started to be contracted out to private companies and as the number of workers lowered to a few thousand in the 90s, it was closed in 1995.
The Navy still conducts business there; there are Naval support entities with the craziest acronyms (NAVFAC MIDLANT PWD PA and NISMF- OH, MILITARY, YOU AND YOUR ACRONYMS) that do things like maintenance and whatnot. Now the Navy Yard is home to more than a hundred companies, including FS Investments, and its continuing to develop.
Also located in the Navy Yard is Urban Outfitters’ headquarters that felt as if we were walking around a small art school campus, with creative and uniquely-dressed people walking about. The only thing missing were giant portfolios tucked under their arms and maybe more cigarettes. The aircraft carrier USS John F Kennedy (CV-67) sits right outside of Urban’s doors and it’s like, really big. As a person unfamiliar with aircraft carriers and ships in general, I don’t really understand how something like that floats.
Tyler, who is a big fan of ships and planes, went to TOWN taking photos of all of the decommissioned ships in the yard. It is essentially a graveyard for all of these ships and it did feel spooky walking around, knowing they are sitting there empty but full of memories.
The next morning we actually headed back to the Navy Yard bright and early for the Travis Manion Foundation’s 9/11 Heroes Run that FS Investments was a sponsor of. It was moving to see generations of people partake in commemorating the tragic day.
Afterwards, we headed into town to load up on some history. We had just listened to a podcast on Benjamin Franklin’s Library Company of Philadelphia and how it began in 1731 with a group of men contributing their personal books and finances to form the library. We were excited to come across the library, although closed at the time, on our way to Independence Square. My local library played a big part in my childhood and my grandmother helped found a library in her small Iowa town so I feel a particular affinity for libraries.
When we got to Independence Square, we walked around the very busy Independence Hall and Old City Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. We were able to meet up with Tyler’s cousin Hannah, her Brett, and his family that was in town for a wedding.
The Hightowers graciously got us tickets to go along with them to tour the inside of Independence Hall where a guide walked us through the hot, July days of finalizing the Declaration of Independence, windows closed and curtains drawn to prohibit any snooping. Can you imagine the sweat and smell? Well, thanks to the strong tolerances of the founding fathers, the Declaration was signed don July 2, approved by Congress on July 4, and they celebrated with a big fireworks show! Just kidding. They celebrated by starting the Revolutionary War.
We also got to see the several drafts and copies of the Declaration, all handwritten by Thomas Jefferson with little corrections and notes scribbled all about. The patience that man had, probably finding himself almost finished with a copy only to mess up on the last sentences or words. He had worthwhile motivations, however. You know, freedom and all.
I think one of the most interesting things about the Liberty Bell and Independence Square was yes, the celebration of independence for our nation, but also the opportunity that was taken to point out the hypocrisy of our nation’s origins, that it truly wasn’t freedom and justice for all. And it wasn’t bashing or anything but a moment of recognition, to not sweep it under the rug, and to understand the deep roots of prejudice in our country.
Not too far from Liberty Bell was the outline of George Washington’s presidential abode, later to be known as the President’s House, which was home not only to him but several slaves. There were videos playing, detailing the lives of each slave, their attempts at freedom, and their ultimate fates. For us and the places we had visited, it was the first time in colonial New England that slavery was acknowledged in a tourist setting.
From there we hopped to a different part of town where we visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art and I learned about Rocky. Yeah, yeah, yeah… it seems like I’m the only one in the world that hasn’t seen Rocky. Anyway, Tyler had to explain to me why everyone was running up the museum’s steps and posing at the top. It was all very entertaining to watch.
We also went into the museum and enjoyed a huge collection of art and artifacts. We’ve really enjoyed experiencing different art, history, and science museums in the different places we’ve been — especially when they’re free, and we’re not just saying that to be cheap. It’s been incredible to see the diversity in people of all ages experiencing these cultural symbols and statements collectively - you don’t see that too often, unfortunately.
Switching gears yet again, we then walked to the Eastern State Penitentiary, the world’s first penitentiary that was designed to inspire penitence and regret in its prisoners by solitary confinement and yeah, it was as intense as it sounds.
Now a museum, Steve Buscemi narrates the tour that includes excerpts by former inmates, guards, and wardens. Walking through the prison felt like a walking through a horror film set with crumbling walls, peeling paint, rusted metal, and dark cell blocks.
It was super fascinating to read about failed and successful escapes (including one that included the typical dug-your-way-out scenario), see Al Capones lavish cell, and see the creepy medical rooms.
The tour ends with an exhibit titled “Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration” that raises awareness of the incredible rise of prison populations through the decades and includes an impactful graphic structure that demonstrates the severity of the situation.
Visiting Eastern State Penitentiary was recommended to us by Christine (From FS Investments) who was so kind to invite us for dinner along with the Pennsylvania project designer Neha Agarwal and her partner Beth (Shelby Kopp, our Pennsylvania Veteran was unfortunately unable to make it–next time!), and gave us the ultimate Philadelphia experience of tomato pies and Little Baby’s Ice cream.
We had the absolute pleasure of meeting Christine’s adorable and squishy french bulldog Fonz who joined all of us in their amazing outdoor space surrounded by hydrangeas, bistro lights, and pure magic.
It was such a beautiful and fun evening that even Tyler didn’t think to capture images of it. To suffice, we asked Christine to send us a couple shots of Fonz to brighten your day. If you want more, you can follow his personal Instagram account, @frenchiefonz.
We were also able to engage in our favorite tourist activity: going through neighborhoods! On this episode of Americans home, however, we walked through the brick roads and homes of Philadelphia’s colonial neighborhoods, even getting the chance to speak to an English woman who had been living and restoring her home for the last thirty years or so. The irony! She was a very lovely woman, taking the time to talk to us about her home when all she had bargained for was taking her dog on a walk.
Our time in Pennsylvania ended with us camping out at FS Investments for a few days before we made our way to New Jersey. Wanting the Airstream to be a part of the AIGA Philadelphia we were a part of celebrating female designers, we managed to park the trailer right outside the cafeteria’s outside eating area.
Noel had quite a number of visitors that night as we allowed people to check out the inside of our little tin can home. The funniest thing was the next morning, waking up to people having coffee, working, and having meetings right outside our door.
When we stepped out for breakfast we were like, “Oh… don’t mind our bed heads, we just need a cup of coffee to feel alive.” We did move it to the other side of the building where we stayed for a couple of more days, having access to their gym and showers, strong wifi, and great working spaces. It was one of our favorite “campsites” on this tour! Thanks for everything, FS Investments - and we mean EVERYTHING.
On our way out of the Navy Yard, Tyler was insistent on getting MORE photos of the naval sleeping giants, but this time with “Queen B,” our Chevy 2500HD truck, and Airstream trailer amongst them in the fleet.
We may have also taken some photos in front of the Urban Outfitters builders as a small personal goal of our’s to one day get the “50 States: Veterans + Artists United” coffee table book sold in their stores. :)
*View the Pennsylvania state project we facilitated with U.S. Navy Veteran Shelby Kopp, designer Neha Agarwal, and videographer Endrit Faslliaj from FS Investments. Their collaborative design is entitled “The Best Time,” a illustrative message that expresses Shelby’s outgoing personality and focus on fostering friendships. Adopted from her radio host grandfather, she lives by his sign-off and motto, “The best time to make friends is before you need them.”