Philadelphia: The conclusion

Thursday’s “Philadelphia Story” began with another visit to Rick’s Steaks, this time with Annette, who was deprived of the cheese steak experience the other day. In the spirit of variety, I followed Annette’s lead and had my cheese steak with “the works:” provolone, mushrooms, and sweet peppers (and steak and onions, of course). Again excellent, and a completely different sandwich than the one topped with cheez whiz.

Then we walked down to the Independence Hall/Liberty Bell area of things. Frankly, it was probably the dumpiest historic area I’ve been to in this country. I mean, the museum where they kept the Liberty Bell (which had been newly constructed, actually) was nice, but the grounds, Independence Hall, and the surrounding neighborhood was kinda seedy. Of course, we didn’t have the time or desire to go to the Constitution Museum, which was also brand-new and looked pretty cool. So maybe we just didn’t give it a chance.

Here are a couple of pictures:

This is Independence Hall just before we crossed the street to see it.

Here’s me with the Liberty Bell. “Where’s the crack?” you ask? On the other side, where all the people are. There’s something interesting about the fact tht what makes the Liberty Bell THE Liberty Bell is a big-ass crack.

Oh, and I bought a liberty bell snow globe, of course.

We had an early dinner at The Continental Midtown, which was right around the corner from our hotel. As the link here suggests, this was a kinda swanky/yuppie/tourist-y/manufactured hip bar/restaurant. The decor is “the 50s meets the 70s meets the 80s meets now,” complete with a thumping soundtrack that sounded a lot like space age pop music to me. We didn’t see the third floor mentioned in this web site, but we did sit in a groovy sky blue vinyl booth.

One of the things we found appealing was its tapas or “small plate” style of eating: you get something, put it in the middle of the table, and then everyone shares. Annette S. joined us for a drink before catching her train back to New York City, and she enjoyed some of the Continental Cocktail Food Platter, which included crab wantons, chicken and broccoli dim sum, and a couple other quasi-Asian appetizers. After Annette S. left, Annette (as in my wife) and I split an order of fish tacos and the Continental chopped salad, which was about a foot-high mound of greens in a light Greek dressing and dotted with some hunks of feta. If we were watching our money more closely and/or generally smarter, we would have gotten the version of the salad that came with chicken and then called it a meal right there.

But hey, when you’re a tourist, you indulge, right?

By the way, judging from the crowds I saw eating in there, the Continental Midtown hasn’t exactly caught on with the “jet set.” Sitting next to us was a couple in their mid-60s who seemed a tad confused with the food placed before them; in the big booth behind us, there were a couple of yuppie Moms and about 10 little kids who looked like they might have preferred Chuck E. Cheese.

One other Philly note:

Because Annette and I were in Philadelphia for a conference, we weren’t up for partying all night long, and because we’re basically old, we watched movies three out of the four nights we were there. We saw Anchorman (hilarious, laugh outloud kinda movie), Napoleon Dynamite (pretty good, but kind of a plain old weird movie disguised as “art”), and Team America: World Police (which was an interesting premise, but we thought it was just not funny, boring, and highly over-rated). So you get some film reviews there, too.

Philly Day Three: food, art, and food

Just a quick entry for now– I’m doing a little laundry in the hotel this morning and it’s time to switch the load. This is what I get for bad planning and packing. Anyway:

* Had breakfast yesterday in the Reading Market at Jack “Food Network” McDavid’s Down Home Diner. I got there at about 7:30, and by 8 am, the place was completely packed, and with good reason. Excellent diner food with a slight gourmet twist: fresh buttermilk biscuits, homemade fruit spread, etc. Very worth it.

* After we were both done with conference stuff, Annette and I went out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It was great, of course– I mean, it’s one of the premiere art museums in the country, if not the world. But to tell the truth, it was kind of overwhelming. It’s just so huge. Of course, the other problem was neither Annette nor I had had the time to have lunch and we were both pretty tired from the conference, so shelpping around a museum for a couple hours was kind of taxing. I did get a very cool snowglobe, one depicting Rodin’s “The Thinker” sitting out in front of the museum.

* We had an early dinner at Le Castagne, an absolutely excellent Italian place around the corner. Everything and everyone there was pretty: the food, the dining room, the servers. Annette and I splurged a bit and split what amounted to a five course meal, which was highlighted for me by the gnocchi served in a cream and white truffle sauce.

Today it’s off to the “Constitution Center” (the liberty bell, Independence Hall, etc.) and then tomorrow we have to be out at the airport by about 5:30 AM at the latest.

Oh yeah– a belated good luck to my fellow MLA travelers/bloggers

I was just taking a moment to scan through blogland tonight– man, even the so-so hotel I’m staying at here in Philly has free WiFi!– and I wanted to give a belated good luck to some of the folks out there who are or who have interviewed for jobs, especially if it’s their first time “on the market.” I won’t link to you; you know who you are.

And now, despite what I’ve said before here and despite my remarkably good internet connectivity on this trip, I really am going to be “out” until school starts at EMU. But if you are visiting here and dying for details about my “life,” feel free to visit my unofficial blog.

Eating Philly: Day Two

The food yesterday wasn’t nearly as interesting as the day before. How could it be? There were no “ordinary spices.”

Nothing memorable for breakfast, and dinner with Annette was a meal at the Independence Brew Pub in the Pennsylvania Convention Center– very good food and a nice and relaxing atmosphere, but nothing all that different from the sort of thing that we can get in Ann Arbor, basically. But I did have a unique lunch experience. I had a “cheese steak.”

“Great cities” all have some kind of great local food, and of course, the cheese steak is Philadelphia’s. I had mine– hopefully just the first– at a place called Rick’s Steaks in the Reading Terminal Market. The market is itself a great “foodie” experience: it’s a series of stalls selling produce, meat, fish, pretzels, knick-knacks, caviar, sandwiches, and so forth– damn near everything, actually. So far, I’ve spent almost as much time there as I have at the conference.

Rick’s Steaks (as they make clear with lots of signage) is owned and operated by the same family who run the famous Pat’s Steaks. Not that that would make a whole lot of difference; a cheese steak is ultimately not that complex of a dish. In any event, the line was long but moved quickly, and I ordered what was (according to a Food Network show I saw, at least) the “true” cheese steak: not with provolone or American cheese, but with Cheez Whiz.

It was great stuff: a nice soft white hoagie roll topped with thin slices of beef (and not some pressed together SteakUms kind of thing, either), onions, and the Cheez Whiz. The Whiz gave it an unusual saltiness and “cheeziness” that I enjoyed. A good and greasy mess of a sandwich.

Just a few MLA Picts

The MLA is being held at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, which certainly has its advantages and disadvantages as a venue. On the plus-side, it has a lot of fine amenities, as I’ve mentioned before. For example, I am typing this message now in a lounge area equipped with huge and comfy leather chairs. I’ve been to my fair share of conferences where you had to fight to find a spot to sit on the floor. The down-side is that this facility is so enormous, it’s like there isn’t anyone here. Of course, isn’t it true that most people who attend MLA don’t really “attend” anything? Aren’t most of us in meetings or interviews or what-have-you?

Anyway, a few pictures:

This is actually a shot of City Hall on my walk to the convention center. It doesn’t really do the building justice; it’s a beautiful and enormous structure.

This is a picture of what I guess you’d call the “entrance hall” for the convention center. To the left is the MLA registration area. The thing on the ceiling is some kind of funky sculpture.

This is just another shot from inside the convention center. Like I said, the place is absolutely huge, and other than the book exhibit area, this about as crowded as it gets.

Eating Philadelphia: Day One

I’m sure there will be more about the sights and sounds and experiences of Philly later (in brief, the “city center” is pretty cool), but besides the conference, mostly what we’ve done so far has involved food.

Yesterday, Annette and I spent the morning doing a little shopping and then we got a pizza at Lombardi’s Coal Oven Pizza. At first, I thought this was a “local” delicacy, but apparently, it’s a New York City import. In any event, the point of the “coal fired” oven is that it gets super-duper hot, which gets you a pizza with excellent crust: quite crisp, even a bit charred in yummy ways. We had the “original,” which was a simple fresh tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, and fresh basil. Good stuff and actually a pretty light lunch, all things considered.

But the big meal was last night at Marrakesh, a place that bills itself as the “East Coast’s Premier Moroccan Restaurant.” Since I have not eaten in a Moroccan restaurant before this, I have no point of comparison. At the same time, I have no reason to disagree with this self-praise.

Annette and I went with our friend Annette S. and some friends of hers. Getting there was the first adventure; the cab dumped us off at the address, and what we came across was a sign and an elaborate door we had to knock on to get in. The inside pretty much looks like the picture on the restaurant’s web site: dark, pillows and couches around low tables, colorful draperies, Arabic writing on the walls, etc. Very, well, Moroccan.

We had some “issues” with the seating arrangements that irritated our waiter, who continued to be pissed at us for the rest of the evening for complaining a bit. Whatever.

The wine choices were limited and kind of bad, but the food was indeed excellent. They started by washing our hands and then giving us a large towel, an important item since all but one of the seven courses were consumed with our own hands. That towel was half dirty mess/half impromptu plate by the end of the evening. Nothing prissy about this meal. There was an assortment of salad items, followed by something called B’Stella, which was a sort of filo encrusted chicken pie with sugar and cinnamon on top– I know that sounds weird, and it kind of was, but it was very good. Then there were many more courses, dessert, and some wonderful mint tea.

I think my favorite moment of the night was during the first main course (there were three “main” courses), which was an excellent chicken dish of some sort– interesting spices, olives, etc. I couldn’t figure out what was in this stuff, so I asked the surly waiter “So, what is the seasoning here?”

“Oh, the ordinary spices,” he said and scurried off.

Anyway, great food and a fun evening. And frankly, if we had had a better table and a more polite waiter, I doubt it would have been as memorable.


Well, it turns out that this place was kind of like actually going to Morocco and being ripped off by third-world con men.

Our friend Annette S. and one of her friends (and they were the two who were in charge of the bill) thought that we ended up paying too much money, but they couldn’t really tell for sure. For one thing, Marrakesh is cash only, which is of course a recipe for fraud. For another, theyd didn’t bring us an itemized bill– just a total. But hey, we had all had some wine, we enjoyed the food and atmosphere, and it didn’t seem that expensive.

Well, Annette S. called back the next day. I’ll spare the details, but it turns out:

* We were charged $27 apiece instead of the listed price of $22;

* Tip was supposed to be included in that amount; and

* We paid twice as much as wine we were supposed to.

Annette S.’s friend was going to go down there and get a refund, but I don’t know if she ever did. Anyway, just a tip to anyone who comes across this site because of a google search for Marrakesh in Philadelphia: good food, but pay attention, or you will be ripped off.

Two good things about MLA…

For perhaps obvious reasons, I won’t be writing here about the various “professional engagements” I have at the MLA conference. I will say that it is nice to come to something like this as someone who is very happy with his current job, but it makes me feel a bit old to see all the freshly minted PhDs in their brand new black or navy suits pacing about or trying too hard to look very very busy while waiting for their interview.

But I will mention two very nice things about the conference so far– or rather, about the location of the conference, the Pennsylvania Convention Center:

* It’s right next to the extremely cool Reading Terminal Market, which has diners, sandwich places, meat markets, book stores, chocolate places, fish markets, produce stands, miscellaneous gift items, etc. Lots of fun.

* I’m online wirelessly in the convention center. Which means I won’t be waiting in line to use one of the five or six computers MLA has available for using email. 10,000 people at this conference, and MLA has fewer than 10 publicly available computers. Pretty sad, if you ask me.

I’ll post a few pictures tonight or tomorrow.

NY Times offers its annual spin on MLA

Not much time to write right now, but see this article, “Eggheads Naughty Word Games.” Essentially, it’s the annual “wow, English professors sure are silly” article that appears in the Times and other places.

It’s not that I don’t disagree with the article, because I don’t. I might go to a few panels, but to tell the truth, I kind of feel like what happens at most of the sessions is pretty far removed from what I do as a teacher, scholar, and writer. Comp/rhet folks tend to be in English departments, but this is definiately a “Literature” conference; the “Composition” conference is in March, and this year, it’s in San Francisco.

Off to MLA

I doubt I’ll have the same high level of internet connectivity and amount of free time at MLA that I’ve had here at my in-laws house, so probably no posting until the 31st, possibly the 1st. I have a few promising interviews and meetings, I’ll try to hit a couple of those computer sessions, and I certainly will find some way to get to Pat’s Steaks on the south side for the “authentic” Philly Cheese Steak. Details later.

Using WebCT for the first time: off to a (kind of) bad start

I know it’s Christmas and all of that, but around here, the big celebration night is Christmas eve, so really, this is the night after Christmas (as I indicated on yesterday’s post). I’ve been doing “family fun” all day long, so I don’t feel too bad about doing a bit of work tonight.

Anyway, one of the things I have to do is plan for three different classes for winter 2005, two of which are completely new preps and one of which is kind of a new one. One of the “completely new” is a class called “Writing in the Professional World,” which is a class that focuses on writing things like memos, letters, reports, and the like. One of the many experiments I’m going to attempt in this class is using WebCT. You would think that someone like me– teaching with things like email and web sites for about 10 years now– would have used WebCT or BlackBoard or something like that by this point. But I haven’t had a reason or an opportunity yet. This semester and for this class (just this class), I decided to take the plunge.

So far, the results have been less than, er, excellent.

For starters, the server isn’t responding right now. I don’t want to be too critical about this because it is Christmas day, but there’s no reason why the server should be down at all, in my opinion. And it bugs me because I was going to monkey around on it a bit tonight.

But okay, I’ll let that slide.

The main problem I have with WebCT so far is it doesn’t strike me as all that “user friendly.” It has some features that would be hard for me to pull off on my own (a grade book, a chat feature, the ability for students to log into their own accounts, etc.), but the process of uploading and manipulating files seems to me to be pretty cumbersome and not any easier or more difficult than learning some simple HTML, a bit about an HTML editing software, and the means of uploading it to a server.

The other thing I worry about is some of the technical issues in making the software work for many of my average (less than techno-savvy) students. Long story short, there are some issues with WebCT and javascript that requires students to install MS Windows Service Pack 2 (which is notoriously horrible) and installing some Sun javascript software, and doing all this before they can use WebCT. None of this is particularly difficult, but it is just the kind of complication that might make this a problem for students, and which, in turn, might make it a problem for me.

Well, we’ll see. I’ll give it a chance.