Wednesday, June 12, 2013 : Philadelphia, Jersey Shore, New York City


The workers who are busy making noise in  the hotel lobby do not realize the favor they are doing us  by unwillingly waking us up at 6:30am. That means we have a whole day ahead of us, while our only schedule is to return the car at Hertz in New York City before 5pm.


Immediately after breakfast, our first visit is the First Bank of the United States, pretty close to our hotel.


Philadelphia, the First Bank of the United States

The First Bank of the United States

The First Bank of the United States was setup by Alexander Hamilton, the very first Secretary of the Treasury (or budget minister, in France), in 1791. This bank had a triple assignment :

  • Provide clarity to the young nation's financial order,
  • Regulate credit, both inside and outside the United States,
  • Give confidence in a non immediately convertible new currency, the U.S. dollar.


To mitigate the objections of the Anti-Federalists such as Jefferson or Madison, this bank was chartered for a twenty-year term, until 1811. A second bank took over, until 1836. After that, the United States were left without a central bank until 1913, when, in the wake of the 1907 bank panic, President Wilson decided the creation of the Federal Reserve.


The building, in the purest neo-classical style prevalent at the end of the 18th century, remained a bank until 1929, before being transferred to the City of Philadelphia, and later to the National Park Service. The first floor, a reconstitution of a 19th century bank, is open for visits. Higher floors are essentially National Park Service office space and are not open for visits.


It is only a short walk to the Independence National Historical Park visitor center. There are two more visits we want to make before leaving Philadelphia : Independence Hall and Liberty Bell. We quickly write off Independence Hall : the next available visit is at 2pm, much too late for us. On the other hand, Liberty Bell is OK, we just have to wait in line outside the Liberty Bell Center.


Philadelphia, Liberty Bell

Liberty Bell


Liberty Bell was originally a very ordinary bell, ordered in 1751 from a British founder to be installed in the Pennsylvania State House, today Independence Hall. It was meant to announce important proclamations of the Provincial Assembly. At that time, Pennsylvania was indeed not yet a State.


The bell began to crack as soon as it arrived in Philadelphia in 1753, during the first test on a simple wooden scaffolding, the Pennsylvania State House steeple being not yet complete at the time. It was repaired twice by unexperienced local craftsmen, and immediately cracked again. It was twice melted again, and each time it cracked again.


In 1975, analyses concluded that the original alloy contained way too much lead and tin and not enough copper, admittedly much more expensive, making the bell too brittle, and that at each of the two subsequent remelts, poor quality alloys were added. It is therefore not surprising that the bell cracked. Though it is probably older, its present crack was recorded by a local journalist in 1846 and became its trademark sign, immediately recognized by everyone.


There is absolutely no indication that Liberty Bell tolled on July 4, 1776, for the Proclamation of Independence. Indeed, no public announcement was made on this day. The first official proclamation of Independence happened on July 8, and all the bells of Philadelphia tolled, so Liberty Bell may have rung on that day.


Anyway, the bell's symbolic value does not come from its role during Independence but from much later. In an article published in 1847, George Lippard, a young writer with a fertile imagination, completely fabricated the legend  of Independence Bell. Liberty Bell was then placed in the audience room of Independence Hall, which by that time had been converted into a courtroom. Fugitive slaves were therefore judged under the very symbol of Liberty, an inconsistency that was not lost on the Abolitionists at the time.


From 1866 to 1947, Liberty Bell was travelled and exposed in the whole country, but each time its crack worsened, and souvenir hunters managed to grab little metal pieces. Its official custodian, the City of Philadelphia, grew more and more reluctant to show Liberty Bell, and even more to sound it.


Eventually, after harsh discussions, the National Park Service took over Liberty Bell in 1948, during the construction of Independence National Historical ParkThe bell was placed in a small pavilion built on purpose for it, and it is where I saw it for the first time in 1979. The present Liberty Bell Center, much larger since it accomodates several themed exhibitions, was inaugurated in 2000 amid a bitter controversy. Indeed, it is partially built on the site of former slave dwellings.


Like the American democracy it represents so well, Liberty Bell has its share of imperfections, but it certainly stands the test of time.


Then we hit the road again, cross Benjamin Franklin Bridge into New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen's home state. Me, a fan ? What a pretty mild understatement !


Freehold, New Jersey, Saint Rose of Lima Church

Freehold, Saint Rose of Lima Church


Less than 70 miles from Philadelphia, our first stop is at Freehold, the town where the Boss grew up. Bruce Springsteen is often linked to Asbury Park, New Jersey, but he actually almost never left Freehold before the age of 18.


We park on McLean Street, one of his childhood neighborhoods. We are just in front of Saint Rose of Lima church, where his mom, a fervent Catholic of Italian ancestry, worshipped. The church is at the corner of McLean and Randolph Street, and we unknowingly pass in front of one of his childhood homes, almost across the street from the church.


A little later, we walk by two more places where young Bruce Springsteen used to live.


Freehold, New Jersey, Saint Rose of Lima school

Freehold, Saint Rose of Lima school


After crossing the parking lot beside the church and walking by the presbytery, we are now standing in front of Saint Rose of Lima school, where Bruce Springsteen went between the ages of 6 and 14.


Bruce Springsteen never actually went to the school shown on the picture. In 1965, this building replaced an older school, founded in 1875. Bruce had already left two years earlier.


Bruce Springsteen has not been a particulary brilliant student. Although he resented the strict discipline imposed by the nuns of the school, he never hated them for this. He even played a benefit show for the school on Nov. 8, 1996.


Freehold, New Jersey, and the Battle of Monmouth

Freehold, New Jersey, and the Battle of Monmouth


The town of Freehold did not yet exist in 1778, but the Battle of Monmouth, one of the earliest major engagements of the Revolutionary War, was waged here anyway.


On June 28, 1778, after a lengthy training period, George Washington's Continental Army attacked the rear-guard of Charles Cornwallis' British Army, which had left Philadelphia to protect New York City, threatened by the French troops. The soldiers and some of their officers were still young and short on experience, and the battle basically ended with Cornwallis' troops unceremoniously retreating under cover of the falling night.


The Battle of Monmouth nevertheless cemented George Washington's reputation as a great strategist, as well as Lafayette's.


We then leave Freehold.


Belmar, New Jersey, crossroads of 10th Avenue and E Street

Belmar, New Jersey, crossroads of 10th Avenue and E Street


About 20 miles from Freehold, our next stop is at Belmar, on the Atlantic coast. David Sancious, the first pianist of the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen's band, lived at 1107, E Street, and his mom allowed the band to rehearse in the house garage. According to the legend, the name of the E Street Band comes from the name of the street.


Very close by, E Street crosses Tenth Avenue, which gave its name to the song Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, second title on the album Born To Run, released in 1975. This song, which never climbed higher than 83rd place in the charts, remains to this day a favorite of the fans during Bruce's shows, in ceaselessly rearranged versions. It is no less than the history of the formation of the E Street Band.


Although many have attempted to explain it, to this day nobody really knows what a freeze-out is, and the song lyrics do not provide much help. It is likely a description of the tension that inexorably builds up during the beginnings of the E Street Band, and is finally resolved with sax player Clarence Clemons' joining the Band :

"There's been a change uptown,

And the Big Man joined the Band."


Without a doubt, the intersection of E Street and Tenth Avenue is the most mythical crossroads of the whole history of rock'n roll. It obviously made those miles worthwhile.


Asbury Park, New Jersey, the Stone Pony

Asbury Park, New Jersey, the Stone Pony


A few miles from Belmar, we are in Asbury Park, and we park the car just across the street from the Stone Pony, the club where Bruce Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt, Southside Johnny and so many others have started their careers. All rock stars of New Jersey have played here at least once. The Stone Pony is even more than that. It is the club where every aspiring rock star, big or small, dreams to play, even more mythical than the Madison Square Garden.


I would not feel more emotional if I were standing at the opening of the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethleem.


From its initial opening in 1974, the history of the Stone Pony is not exempt from highs and lows. It is no longer possible to count the number of times the club had to close to reopen later, whether due to bankrupcies, legal actions against drunk driving or the greed of developers with an eye on a plot of land so close to the ocean.


I remember first coming to the Stone Pony in 2002. At that time, there was a small restaurant, in which, not too surprising, a full wall was covered with pictures of rock stars, with obviously the Boss in the most prominent place.


Nowadays, the Stone Pony is more alive than ever, and remains the focal point of the Jersey Shore sound. Well attended by a knowledgeable audience, it gives a starting point to many local artists.


In France the only comparable place would be the Golf Drouot in Paris, in which, from 1955 to 1981, legions of aspiring rock stars did their earlier gigs. Sadly, it has now been replaced by a fast-food joint.


We then drive thru Long Branch, the town where the Boss was born (in the USA, of course), we refill the car for the last time, and we drive back to New York City.


New York City, Manhattan skyline seen from Brooklyn

New York City, Manhattan skyline seen from Brooklyn


We voluntarily divert ourselves thru Staten Island, to cross Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and Brooklyn Battery Tunnel, now rechristened Hugh L. Carey Tunnel, from the name of the former Governor of New York State. This costs us a hefty $20. Outerbridge CrossingVerrazano-Narrows Bridge and Hugh L. Carey Tunnel are all toll.


The weather is still gorgeous. Stuck in the mid-afternoon traffic jams, we have ample time to take pictures. On this one, we can see the Manhattan skyline, with One World Trade Center on the left and the Empire State Building on the right.


New York City, Brooklyn, mural against the war

Brooklyn, mural against the war


Here too, there are murals, at least this one, painted in 2008 by a group of 13 young colored Brooklyn women, as a protest against the Armed Forces recruitment effort for the War in Irak.


Later, we return the car at Hertz and try to find a cab to take us to our hotel, at some distance up in the West Side. Unusually in New York City, it is Mission Impossible, and we end up riding the subway instead. At rush hour, with our big bags and the hot air, it becomes exhausting. At least, the weather stays fine.


After taking our room, we leave again for a long walk in Manhattan and purchasing the last presents for the family.


New York City, wooden water tower on top of a skyscraper

Wooden water tower on top of a skyscraper


It is our last night in New York City, and we are keen on enjoying it as long as we can.


We are looking for a few interesting pictures to take. Glancing upwards, we notice there are still a few water towers on top of buildings, though they are becoming rare. At my first visit in 1979, there was almost one on every rooftop !


This one is in perfect condition. It really deserved a close-up picture.


New York City, stretch limousine in Manhattan

Stretch limousine in Manhattan


New York City also epitomizes the excesses of America. Even in Hollywood, I have rarely seen so long stretch limousines. This one is awaiting its passengers in front of a luxury hotel on Seventh Avenue.


New York City, Manhattan, Empire State Building

Empire State Building


We walk down Seventh Avenue looking for a correct angle to take a picture of the Empire State Building. We find it at the corner of West 34th Street, one of the few two-way streets in Manhattan, therefore slightly broader than other streets.


Compared to the pale shots at the beginning of our journey, this one is a highly welcome change.


After a few last-minute purchases, we have dinner at Il Punto, a nice italian restaurant at the corner of Ninth Avenue and West 38th Street, which at long last puts an end to the lasagna curse that had been with us from the start.


New York, Manhattan, the top of Empire State Building in the night

The top of Empire State Building in the night


After dinner, the temperature remains nice. We take a walk along the banks of the Hudson River where, a long time ago, transatlantic passenger ships would dock. From my first trip to New York City, I remembered this neighborhood in a sorry state, totally derelict, but everything has changed. There is now a convention center, the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, which gave its name to our hotel. There is also the landing of the ferries crossing the Hudson. The banks of the river have been totally renovated, with gardens, children's games and a bike lane.


Even at night, it is now really good to have a walk here.


And last but not least, buildings here are not as high as in the center of Manhattan. At a street corner, we take this picture of the top of the Empire State Building. Lightning is carefully crafted, passing from red to blue to green to white, with several more color combinations. It is a show by itself.


New York City, fire station open at night

A fire station open all night in Manhattan


New York City is really the City That Never Sleeps, as Frank Sinatra so brilliantly used to sing. On our way back, we walk past the wide open Engine 34 Ladder 21 fire station, one block away from our hotel. Everything is quiet, no intervention seems to be imminent. We take this picture.


A little further up the street, we see two garages open at night, which essentially service taxis. It is always unexpected to be able to get your car serviced close to midnight.


New York, Manhattan, police bus in the night on West 38th Street

A police bus in the night on West 38th Street


It is getting late, we should be going back, now.


On 38th Street, almost across the street from our hotel, surprisingly, we see this police bus parked along the kerb, sort of abandoned. What the heck is it doing here ? No idea. Perhaps its driver simply came back too late and could not park it in the lot across the street. We will never know.


Behind the bus,  we take a minute to enjoy the beautiful multi-colored lights of the Midtown buildings, then we go to bed.

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