Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection (plus New Jersey)

(Originally posted on MySpace on Sunday, September 28, 2008)

I'm back after a week off and ready to tell you all about my trip. Most of you know that Skip and I went to New Jersey to ride roller coasters and then spent two days in Philadelphia to check out a city I've never really liked before. Instead of writing this in a day-by-day mode, I think I'll divide it into genres. I'll start with the transportation and go from there.

TRANSPORTATION: We always fly American Airlines since that's were we store our frequent flyers miles. That also means that we hardly ever get any direct flights since the airlines save those for the paying customers. We left Los Angeles about noon on Thursday the 18th and flew to Dallas/Forth Worth. We had a three hour layover and then we flew into Philadelphia, arriving just about midnight. The trip back started at 5 PM on Tuesday the 23rd. We flew into Chicago, but only had a 50 minute layover before boarding a plane to LA that got in around 10:30 PM.

We were worried about that short layover in Chicago. If the plane was the least bit late, we may not have made our connection. But everything was right on time and the flights were all relatively painless.

That doesn't mean that there weren't things that irritated me. American's coach seats are not made for anyone over 6 feet tall. I had to spend most of the flights with my knees pressed on the seat in front of me or sticking out in the aisle where the flight attendants always managed to bump them hard with their food carts. I also still feel that the "search and seizure" procedure passengers are forced to go through by Homeland Security is still just as silly and useless as it's always been. But at least they've streamlined the process a bit since the last time I flew. So my complaints are small and there was no real trauma. Plus all the flight attendants were friendly and helpful, despite the knee bumpings.

Once we got into Philly, we rented a car. The best deal I could find this time around was at Avis. The big problem we had when we arrived at the Avis depot was that it was about 1 AM and they had only a skeleton staff working there. Unfortunately, the place was packed with customers and the staff was scrambling to keep up. One service representative would type up the paperwork for a car and the other representative would take the same car for another customer. Then the two representatives would start yelling at each other. It was all a bit frustrating and once we made it to the front of the line, our compact car that was held for us was suddenly no longer on the lot, forcing me to go back into the building and complain loudly. My service person solved this problem by upgrading me to a beautiful, silver Mustang Coupe for the same price as the compact. That made us very happy and everywhere we drove, especially in New Jersey, we got compliments and envious gazes. Returning the car was a breeze, so a big thumbs up to Avis. Despite the wasted time getting the car, the experience left us satisfied and happy as clams.

HOTELS: Not much to say here. The best deals I could find in both New Jersey and Philadelphia was at Best Western. We stayed at the Best Western Bordentown Inn in Bordentown, New Jersey for the first part of the trip and then changed to the Best Western City Center Hotel for the final two days.

Bordentown is only about 20 minutes from Six Flags, so it was still convenient while being far enough away to be much cheaper than the hotels next to the park. The City Center Hotel was in the city center, although way to the west side, near the Museum of Art famous for having the steps that Sylvester Stallone, as Rocky, ran up during his training. Downtown Philly isn't that big though and we found that we could walk all the way across town in less than an hour.

Both hotels were clean and comfortable and the service was friendly and unobtrusive, especially at the City Center Hotel. Plus the City Center Hotel had a bar that remains open until 2 AM every morning and that was a big plus. (We sat in the bar one night playing a sex trivia game, laughing hysterically over the various terms for masturbation that was listed. "Han Solo" was the winner.) I recommend both hotels.

AMUSEMENT PARK: I've been to Six Flags Great Adventure ( in New Jersey once before, back when Poster Children were recording their first Sire Records album in the outskirts of Long Island. I don't remember much about it at that time, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't as great as it is now. And it is a great park, probably a rival for our own Magic Mountain Park here in LA.

There were three rides we were going out there for. The ultimate reason for going was to ride Kingda Ka (, which is the world's tallest and fastest roller coaster. The cars blast off to 128 miles an hour in 3.5 seconds and then head straight up 45 stories (458 feet) before rolling over a curve at the top and heading straight down, with a 135 degree twist, the 45 stories you just went up. It was one of the most intense rides I've ever been on and was extremely thrilling, even if it was only 28 seconds long. I actually didn't like riding it much in the very front because the wind would force your eyes closed. I preferred sitting a bit back, where I could see, and fear, the climb and descent. We ended up riding it a total of six times.

But the other two coasters we were there for turned out to be better than Kingda Ka. Our favorite was called El Toro ( It is a wooden coaster and is just completely insane. It features the longest and steepest drop for any wooden coaster at 176 feet and it just never let up after that drop, climbing, dropping and twisting and turning at crazy speeds (up to 70 miles per hour) for 1 minute and 42 seconds. We loved both the front and the back of this coaster. I've never laughed so hard in my life and I think this is now my all-time favorite roller coaster. We rode it five times.

The other coaster we were crazy about is called Nitro ( This is a mega-coaster that reached a height of 230 feet before plunging 215 feet practically straight down. It then went crazy with twists, turns and hills for 2 minutes and 20 seconds. The air time on this coaster (time you spend out of your seat) is amazing. Again, we loved both the front and back of this coaster, although the front was probably a bit more fun just for the view. We rode it four times.

We also rode every other coaster in the park. They ranged from copies of Magic Mountain rides (Medusa/Scream, Batman) to smaller versions (Superman/Tatsu) to original rides (The Dark Knight, Skull Mountain). They were all fun, but those major three were what made the park as great as it was.

The first night we were there was a private party, thrown as a Gay Night. This is the first time I've been to an official Gay event at any amusement park. Here, at Disneyland, Knott's and Magic Mountain, there are Gay Days, but they are unofficial, with the parks denying any involvement in organizing them. For six hours, we had the park to ourselves, and although it was packed to the rafters, there were only small lines at all the rides, so we rode all three mega-coasters twice that night. We made friends with a couple of park employees who told us that we were actually lucky that night as it was a fairly uneventful Gay Night at the park. Sure, a fight broke out when two lesbians tried to cut in line and then went crazy when a group of gay men refused to allow them to do so. The police had to be called and the lesbians actually broke a windscreen on one police car and throttled a cop with a pair of handcuffs. But other than that event, people were calm and friendly and we had a blast. The employees told us that there were usually many more fights and it could sometimes get very unpleasant there, although nowhere near as bad as the Halloween Fright Nights that bring out the gangs from New York who use the event to battle out their differences.

We had a blast and I was amazed at the number of black and Hispanic gays who were at the park that night. At Disneyland, you see a black man or woman there every once in a while, but the event predominantly brings out gay white males. At this New Jersey event, I would say that more than 1/3 of the crowd was made up of gay, black men and woman, and most of them were dressed in hard-core hip-hop style. That's something I'm not used to seeing here on the west coast, although I do know that we have a pretty active gay hip-hop scene here in LA. Those people seldom go out to these kinds of events though. I loved that they did in New Jersey, as it made for a much more interesting mix than the white twinks and bears that mostly make up the Disneyland event. (Don't get me wrong, I still love the Disneyland event and will be spending four days there next week to prove it.)

The second day we spent at the park was a normal business day and it was packed to the rafters. We got into the park for free because we have a Six Flags season pass that lets you into any Six Flags park anywhere. But we paid $60 each for what is called a Gold Flash Pass. This is an electronic device that allows you to reserve a ride time on almost any ride in the park. We would reserve a time on Kingda Ka and then ride one of the smaller rides. We usually didn't have to wait long for our reservation to clear. The longest we had to wait to get on any ride was perhaps 30 minutes. It turned out to be a good thing to have as we wouldn't have been able to ride the big coasters more than once and probably wouldn't have had the time to get on all the other coasters without the Flash Pass. Some lines were as big as two hours long and we got to skip all that. (There was a Silver Flash Pass as well for half the price that would also electronically reserve a place in line for you, but your reservation wouldn't come up until the time had passed that you would normally spend in line for that ride at that time of day. You still save some time, but not nearly as much as the Gold Pass.)

PHILADELPHIA: I have been to Philly three times in the past with bands and never liked it much. The first time I was there was with Redd Kross. We went to Independence Hall after our sound check only to find it closed. But when we tried the front door, someone had left it unlocked. So we went inside and gave ourselves a tour, including the off limits upstairs, before finding a cop and telling him the place was unlocked. This was before all the Homeland Security paranoia, so the cop just asked us a few questions and went to call whoever he had to call the rectify the situation. The only other event of notice in Philly was when I was there with Thin White Rope, and the guitar player for Flock Of Seagulls (at least he claimed he was) tried to pick me up in a bar. I wasn't interested. All three shows I worked in Philly were okay, but I just never thought much of the place.

This time around we had a blast though and we left loving the city. We only had a day and a half, so we decided to forgo any of the art museums, as we can see art anywhere. Besides, most of them weren't open on Mondays anyways and that was our full sight-seeing day. For the same reason, we nixed the zoo as well. So we decided to go see the Eastern State Penitentiary (, a large prison right in the middle of town that is mostly known as the prison that housed Al Capone. The placed is largely in disrepair now, but was still a pretty amazing thing to see. It was actually quite a spooky place to walk around. For the price of admission, you got a recorder that explained various things about the prison, from the history, to the famous inmates, to prison sexuality. It was all extremely interesting. My favorite part was seeing the cell and hearing the story of Prisoner C 2559, or Pep. Pep was a black Labrador dog that was put in the prison for life when he killed the warden's cat. This was in 1924. I bought a refrigerator magnet that has Pep's mug shot on it.

We also went to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell ( for proper tours. Both were interesting and inspirational. They reminded me what this country was all about and how astray it has gone from its original vision. I bought a hat that says "Got Liberty?" to wear to this year's Gay Days at Disneyland. We also walked all over the old town to see all the places of historical interest, including Benjamin Franklin's and Betsy Ross's houses and the cemetery where Franklin is now buried. Skip also went into the United States Mint for a half hour tour. I had to wait outside because we had his cell phone with us. It wasn't allowed in because it is able to take pictures. Skip's extremely interested in old coins, so I watched people, which is a much more interesting activity to me, and he saw all the old coins and how they were made. He loved it, but I was glad for the break.

(The night before, we arrived at Morimoto's for dinner a bit early, so we walked the two blocks to take a look at Independence Hall. It was closed and surrounded by about 7 large SUVs, a limo, and what seemed like a zillion Secret Service guys. Some of them were disguised as street people, but were still way too obvious with their little wires running into their ears. There were also about regular 50 people milling around across the street, so we asked what was going on. It turned out that John McCain was in there for some reason or other. Perhaps he was looking for inspiration as well, although I doubt he found it from the way he's been shaping his campaign. I told Skip that we should get out of there before he comes out because I wouldn't be able to resist booing loudly. I could end up in Guantanamo and never make it to dinner that night. We were about half a block away when we heard the crowd scream and we turned to see the man himself hurry out surrounded by agents. He actually took about 5 minutes to walk across the street to shake some hands, which I have to admit impressed me somewhat, and then he was ushered into the limo and all the cars rushed away. Within moments, the place was deserted and quiet, just as it should be at 7 PM at night.)

Besides walking through Old Town, we walked all over the downtown area, from our hotel, past all the museums, to the beautiful City Hall, and on to the river. Philly has a small, but beautiful and striking skyline and we just loved seeing the amazing skyscrapers up close. Just about everyone we met was friendly and helpful. It was a pleasure to be there.

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