Around 1995 my grandson, Johnny Upshaw, began playing youth hockey
at the local rink in Fresno. At the same time, he became a fan of
the Pittsburgh Penguins, largely because they were led by
Lemieux, a star player most consider the second best ever after
Wayne Gretzky. They also boasted a rising star in Jaromir Jagr,
who, amazingly, is still playing at a high level at age 44.
fan's dream is to see their team on home ice, but until March 20,
2016, Johnny had to be content with traveling to San Jose when the
Penguins played the Sharks. Finally, after I took his younger
brother to see HIS favorite team, the Colorado Avalanche in Denver,
Johnny and I scheduled a trip to Pennsylvania, where the Penguins would host their hated rival and number one team in the league, the Washington
the Penguins are led by a true superstar, Sidney Crosby, always in
contention as the best player currently active. Competing with him
for that honor is the Capitals' captain, Alexander Ovechkin.
With the game starting at 6 p.m. Sunday, March 20, we were able to find an early
flight through Phoenix that would land in Pittsburgh at 4:12 -
cutting it close, and leaving little room for error. Long before the
big day the airline changed the arrival time to 4:30, which still
would work as long as all went well.
before I set my alarm for 4 a.m., a time of day that should only be
observed in the p.m. sector, got up and had a quick breakfast, and was ready to
go when Johnny came by about 4:45. Our flight to Phoenix was
uneventful, and too dark for any scenic enjoyment out the window.
Both of us started catching up on our reading.
We had a
layover of about an hour in Phoenix, and the plane started for the runway on
time. Then we stopped, and the pilot announced that there was
a minor mechanical problem, which should be fixed within ten
minutes. As I tend to do in these situations, I fretted and worried
about something I could not control, but Johnny was relaxed and
confident we would make it on time.
happens, the crew was able to make up some of the lost time, and we
landed in Pittsburgh after four hours or so, and got an Uber ride to
downtown. Our hotel was literally across the street from the Consol
Energy Center, so we left our luggage with the concierge, walked
through falling snow to the arena, and were in our seats a few minutes
before the start of the game.
We had made our travel plans at the start of the season when all
teams are equal, so as our travel date
approached, I was a little
nervous about how the game would go, with the Capitals having the
best record in the league, and the Penguins having an up and down
season. By this time the Pens had moved into 3rd place in their
division, a guaranteed playoff spot, but had not yet clinched.
out we could not have chosen a better game to
see. The Penguins
opened the scoring, putting up two goals 90 second apart before the
first period was half over. In the second period Washington mounted
a comeback, scoring early in the period, and again with just under
six minutes left. However, the Penguins answered 42 seconds later
and started the third period with a 3-2 lead.
In the final
20 minutes of the game, the home team scored three times, triggering
loud cheers from the crowd. When favorite villain Ovechkin delivered
a big hit against a Pens player the chant of "Ovie sucks"
added to the fun. At one point Johnny remarked, "This is the
kind of game, if I were watching on TV, I'd wish I could have been
there in person."
game ended we made our
way out along with the rest of the fired-up crowd, and walked back
to our hotel in a snow storm. In fact, it had snowed all day and
continued into the evening until we were in for the night, but it
did not stick on the ground anywhere. The flakes were tiny and it
was not unpleasant to be out in it until we went out to dinner.
checked in, then went to eat at
Cafe Milano, a few blocks from the hotel, where we enjoyed pizza
with beer for Johnny and Coke for me. When we requested a combo
pizza, we earned a blank look from the counter woman, but looking at
the menu we realized a Milano Special was a combo, even if people in
Pittsburgh don't know it.
When we walked back to the hotel, the temperature had dropped and the snow flakes seemed
colder and wetter, but we had only a short distance to go, so it
When we first began discussing plans for the trip, Johnny suggested
that while we were in Pennsylvania, we should also visit Gettysburg
and Philadelphia. I had not considered this, and was not totally
thrilled by the idea, considering what the weather could be like.
But we made our homeward flight reservation from Philadelphia, and
Johnny booked hotels in Pittsburgh and Philly. After the fact, I was
absolutely delighted that we decided to include these two stops.
morning we got up when we felt like it, ate some leftover pizza, and Johnny walked to the
nearby car rental place to get the vehicle for our trip across
Pennsylvania. It's a little over 190 miles from Pittsburgh to
Gettysburg, so as Johnny drove, I called and made reservations for
2:20 with The Historic
Tour Company, which Johnny had found before our trip.
Our trip was
pleasant and scenic, with no traffic or weather problems. In fact,
it was sunny when we woke up, and the rest of the way. East of
Pittsburgh we started driving through hills with a thin layer of
snow in the open areas. Along one stretch the leafless trees had
snow on the branches, providing a unique vista for a couple of
Californians. There was really no good place to stop along I-76
(Pennsylvania Turnpike), but I managed to get a few fairly decent
shots as we drove.
turned off the Interstate onto US30 our speed decreased
considerably, as we drove through the Appalachian Mountains. It was
also very scenic territory, as we followed the winding route up and over the mountains and
down to the rolling hills and fields at the famous Civil War
at the tour office about 20 minutes before the scheduled start, found
a parking spot, and walked over to the building, where we were
joined by about five others. The man at the office gave a talk that
covered the background events leading up to the battle, including
the hierarchy of army units in existence at the time for both
armies. We then joined our driver-guide aboard an old-style National
Park bus for the tour.
You can read
about this battle on
line and in countless
books, and I won't try to give a history lesson here. The bus
took us back and forth across the
area, as the driver recounted
major events in chronological order. Between July 1 and 3, 1863, the
battle resulted in over 15,000 men dead or wounded, 5,000 dead
horses, terrible devastation to the town, and, amazingly, only one
civilian death. On July 4th the Confederate forces began their
retreat back south. Despite some future victories, the tide of the war
had turned permanently against them.
took us from point to point across the area, and the tour guides were entertaining and knew their
subject. They were able to convey a clear understanding of the
flow of events and how good and bad decisions made by officers on
both sides affected the outcome. We stopped only once at a battle
Round Top, which commands an excellent view of much of the
battlefield, showing why its defense was key in the Union victory.
plaques and statues as well as other artifacts all over the area,
and Johnny and I wished that had we had time to drive or walk
around on our own to look at these. But we agreed that exploring on
our own would not have had the impact provided by the tour.
tour we stopped at the old
cemetery, dating from about 1740, where
the guide pointed out a tall, brown tombstone. This has been
determined to be the location of the speaker's platform when Abraham
was there to deliver his famous Gettysburg Address.
Johnny and I
drove up there and walked in for a closer look, then returned to
downtown and had dinner in a restaurant across from the tour agency.
Then it was on to Philadelphia, another 120 miles or so. We arrived
fairly late, maybe around 9 p.m., got checked in, and settled down for the night.
morning we got up fairly early and drove a few blocks to drop off
the rental car. The rest of the day, we walked around the historic
district, right next to our hotel. Our first stop was the
visitor center where we got tickets for Independence
Hall - free but required due to the large number of visitors.
Most of the historic attractions in the area are part of the Independence
National Historic Park.
Next to the
hall and just across from the visitor center is the Liberty
Bell, no tickets required (there IS a security check). Contrary
to legend, the bell did not crack from being rung with the joy of
freedom. It was flawed from the beginning, as many such items were
in the 1700s, and cracked when it was first hung in the state house
(now Independence Hall). It was ordered by the Pennsylvania
Assembly in 1751 to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of William Penn's 1701 Charter of Privileges, Pennsylvania's original Constitution.
It was repaired several times, but the crack widened in 1846 to the
extent that the bell could no longer be rung.
looking at the
bell, we walked around the area, taking photos of Independence Hall as well as the
buildings that housed the first congress and the first supreme court
on either side of the Hall, then got in line for the tour.
was begun in 1732 and served as the Pennsylvania state house.
Construction was supervised by Alexander Hamilton, and continued until 1753. The main points of interest are on the second
floor- the courtroom, complete with prisoner's dock, and the meeting
room in which both the Declaration of Independence and the
Constitution were debated, finalized, and signed.
I'm not sure
of the order in which the rest of our activities took place, but at
one point we went into the City
Tavern, where Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and others often
took their meals. Although the current building is a 20th century
reproduction of the original, we could picture Tom and Ben after a
third beer, laughing at how future generations would fight over the
meaning of some of their wording of the Constitution. We were not
ready for a big meal, so we had a bread plate and sampled beers made
from original recipes of the founders. Johnny had the sampler
different beers, and I had General Washington's Tavern Porter,
made from a recipe on file in the Rare Manuscripts Room of the New
York Public Library.
The rest of
the day we continued our walking tour. We made a fairly short visit
to Carpenters' Hall, where the First Continental Congress met in
1774. As we were heading for the Franklin Museum, Johnny spotted the Chemical
Heritage Foundation Museum. He holds a degree in chemistry,
putting it to use in his profession as a criminalist in the state
crime lab, so he wanted to go in. There are many well designed
exhibits, including an early model of a machine that he uses
regularly. The one on display was about four times bigger than the
current model. (As of 2021 this museum is now the Science History
it was on to the Benjamin
Franklin Museum, where we spent at least an hour. The visit was
well worth the modest $5 cost, and brought home to us what an
amazing person Franklin was. Not the most important aspect of the
facility, but it was amusing to see that the wallpaper in some rooms
featured little kites. We then walked to the cemetery nearby where
Franklin is buried. It was closed, but we could see his grave site
and there is a commemorative
plaque on the cemetery wall.
"tourist attraction" that we visited was Elfreth's
Alley, said to be the oldest continually inhabited street in
America. Dating back to 1736, it's still a residential
open to the public to walk down and look at the well-preserved old
When we got
back to our hotel for a rest before dinner, I was surprised to
discover that we had walked over five miles during our rambling tour
of the historic district. I'm certain we were never more than a mile
from our hotel, but we meandered to and fro a few times in getting
to all the places we wanted to see. Throughout the day we had
sunshine, with occasional light wind.
We went out
to eat at a nearby restaurant, National
Mechanics, where I had pork chops and Johnny had fish and chips,
both very good.
Heading Home: Because we were off from our usual time zone by
three hours, we didn't really keep the best schedule, but the entire
trip was short enough that we did not suffer. It was a little
strange to get up Wednesday morning at 4 a.m., knowing that it was 1
a.m. in California. We took a cab to the airport, arriving in plenty
of time for our 6:45 a.m. flight.
there was a delay. We had left the gate when the plane stopped and
the pilot announced that due to the nature of the plane, the flight,
the number of passengers or something, three pilots were required,
and they had to call the third one in. He was on his way, and should
arrive in about ten minutes. Once again I worried about something I
could not control, since our layover in Phoenix was less than an
hour. However, the crew was able to make up some of the lost time,
and we arrived with a few minutes to spare before boarding began. Of
course, after boarding, we sat in the plane for a while and took off
half an hour late, with no explanation.
We landed in
Fresno a little after noon Pacific time, ransomed Johnny's car, and
headed for home. Despite some delays, we got everywhere on time, we
had good luck with the weather, and we shared a memorable
experience, both with the game in Pittsburgh and our explorations of
our country's history.
--Dick Estel, April 2016