I've spent almost no time in Philadelphia. Although it was the scene for a major career moment; thanks to my Marketing Manager at Sun, Philadelphia was the site of my very first conference talk. The venue was something called the National Computer Graphics Association, the topic was Artificial Intelligence and Computer Graphics, and lacking anything to say about the use of AI in graphics, I put some examples together of the use of graphics in AI. Not the best talk in the world, but nobody threw anything. And I got a taste of public speaking that I cultivated for the next decade or so.
Sadly, I don't have any pictures from that earlier visit. That was before digital cameras; heck, it was before the web. And it was certainly before the combination of the two took over my life, or at least all those free moments on an endless succession of business trips.
Anyway, flash forward fifteen years or so. I was in New York on business, and preparing to visit my parents in Florida before returning home to the left coast. That's when I got a call asking me to stop in Philly first for a couple of customer meetings. And, much as I was looking forward to getting home, I agreed to help out. My schedule left me with a whole day to explore before work interfered. And so, camera in hand, I went exploring.
My first impression (I had almost none left from that earlier trip)
was that downtown Philly is like a more densely packed version of
Manhattan; the buildings may not be quite so tall, but the narrower
streets make them seem even more imposing. There's very much a
Metropolis feel to the place; the 50s TV version, not the more
recent incarnations. I particularly enjoyed the view at right from
my hotel room; there's something about looking down at all those
ornate structures and the streets below that makes me feel superior
to mere mortals. Too bad the feeling doesn't last.
Map in hand, I started walking. And after a half hour or so, turned the map 90° to align it correctly with the streets. (So much for my sense of direction.) I was headed in the direction of the Delaware River, which borders the city on the east, separates it from Camden, New Jersey and which, if my map was to be believed, would get me to the more historic part of town. Which it did; that's Independence Hall at right, which had something or other to do with the American Revolution. I think. I didn't actually go inside or try to locate the Liberty Bell; too many tourists clogging up the place for my taste. And no, I am not a tourist. I am a traveler. There's a difference.
After a couple of hours of walking, a combination of sore feet and
the determination to check another city off the list impelled me
down the stairs to Philadelphia's subway system. My destination was
uncertain, but I wanted to get across the Schuylkill River,
downtown's western border. On the cab ride in from the airport I'd
noticed some interesting views as we crossed. I had to walk quite a
distance along the river, as the views from several of the bridges
were mostly of other, equally nondescript bridges. But finally I
found the vantage point I wanted, where the old riverside factory at
left made the view a little more interesting. I must say, I found
the Schuylkill River views something of an improvement over the
Delaware, even if the latter has the advantage of historical
significance, to say nothing of easier spelling.
Both my first employer and my
fourth were based in eastern
Massachusetts, one in the small towns of Southboro and Westboro and
The other in Cambridge. (Cambridge isn't the center of the
universe, although you'd never know it by talking to the locals.)
All the time I spent visiting headquarters gave me a lot of
opportunity to explore and appreciate Boston, a city I love for its
history, its architecture, its food (is there anything better than a
big boiled lobster?) and its culture. Now if it weren't for its
drivers (I know I'm in Boston when I get cut off at least once
before I leave the grounds of Logan Airport) and those horrendous
Here's a study in contrasts. Only in Boston would you find a
relic like the Boston Tea Party ship adjacent to the former site of
the Computer Museum, now lost to history. I made my first
pilgrimage to the museum in 1987, along with an Navy analyst from
Pearl Harbor. (Think Jack Ryan in Hunt For Red October, only older,
grayer and not so smug.) I particularly enjoyed a diorama of a
programmer's office circa 1965, with its green Steelcase desk, stack
of green and white striped printouts, old manuals and such. Ray had
a rather different reaction: he complained that they'd duplicated
his current office!
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California