In Philadelphia after the storm

My tense of timing has thrown me into more than one drama in my lifetime. In this case, I had booked what turned out to be one of the first non-delayed flights into Philadelphia months in advance of Hurricane Sandy. Philly was hit much more mildly than some of the surrounding areas, and as the plane’s wheels touched down on the tarmac at 11 p.m. Tuesday, I pressed my nose to the window and saw gentler weather than I had left in Idaho. The storm had moved inland, and it was quietly misting.

The friend who was picking me up filled me in as we rolled my suitcase to his car. There was minimal damage in the city; a few trees and branches down, but it was nothing compared to what had happened over the Delaware river in Jersey, not far away. His parents’ dry cleaning business was destroyed, he said. They found flooding above their counters, and the clothes, as well as the computers keeping track of who the clothes belonged to, were soaking wet. “The computers are totaled,” he said.

“I don’t know,” I said “If you take it to the right person, they should be able to recover the data. Like, someone who works for… the government.” I realized after saying this that I had no provable basis for the statement, any more than I had such a person in my back pocket. But I was still pretty sure it was accurate. Yong brightened up and said he did know a hacker who had “almost” worked for the CIA, and maybe he could help out. Slightly more cheerful, we made our way into the city, parked his car a mile from his house (quite literally) and slept.

The next morning, Yong had to go in to work as a mental health therapist in Camden, New Jersey, which apparently is the most dangerous city in the nation. “Don’t come visit me at work,” he said. I had other plans, and so for about three hours this morning, I wandered around the Old City. I could still see very little evidence of the hurricane, other than the overcast sky, a proliferation of leaves on the ground, and some scattered clean-up crews working behind yellow tape that re-arranged the tour of Independence Hall. There were not a whole lot of tourists, either. I stayed close to a pod of French schoolchildren who posed in front of the Liberty Bell and then sat blankly through the lectures on the signing of the Constitution. They missed the tour of the Congress Hall, however, and thus the prominent (replica) portraits of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. “That’s on purpose,” the guide told the group of seven on the noon tour. “The French monarchs were the first to support our nation. So the founders kept their portraits in the committee chambers.”

By the time I was done, I was starving, so I found the nearest cheesesteak food cart. The cook was smoking, but he stabbed his cigarette out as I approached and slapped a mess of onions, meat and cheese onto the grill. I said yes to everything, salt, pepper, and ketchup, and regretted it as I sat on a wooden bench outside Independence Hall and downed the thing. I should have known better than to order anything edible in a tourist district, particularly with extra salt.

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