I first drove to the visitor center and picked up some maps of the park and its numerous walking trails. I decided that I definitely wanted to go visit George Washington's headquarters from the Continental Army's famous encampment at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. Looking at a map, I formed out a rough plan in my mind that should fill the two or so hours I had - drive over to the Washington Memorial Chapel (which I knew nothing about but thought sounded interesting), park there, check out the chapel, then head out on one of the trails that would take me to Washington's headquarters, and then continue on some other trails to eventually loop back to my car.
I really had no idea what was in store for me. When I got out of my car by the chapel, my jaw dropped just looking out at the scene I found - absolutely brilliant fall foliage lit up by the sun against a cloudless sky. Both the time of year and the day were simply ideal for my visit. I spent a few minutes just soaking up the sun and admiring the scenery (and taking pictures, of course).
I then entered the chapel, first coming into a side chamber in which I was met with a very interesting and remarkably timely sight.
The Justice Bell (I learned that day, never having heard of it before) was commissioned by Katherine Wentworth Ruschenberger for the women's suffrage movement in 1915. It's a replica of the Liberty Bell (minus the famous crack) with the addition of the words "Establish Justice" near the top of the bell. The bell was taken on road tours in support of women's suffrage between 1915 and 1920. The clapper of the bell was chained up so that it could not ring until women finally gained the right to vote.
How fitting, I thought, that here I was 100 years later viewing the Justice Bell as this country is about to possibly elect its first ever woman president, another huge milestone in the struggle those brave women undertook!
And this led me to a train of thoughts that continued to fill my head for the rest of my visit to Valley Forge.
I wouldn't call myself a very patriotic person. I'm often pretty down on the good old U.S. of A. But this country, for all its many imperfections, does have a lot of good to say about it. It has been an inspiration to people all over the world for a long time now, and there are some good reasons for that.
Those men, camped out in the harsh winter at Valley Forge almost 240 years ago, they were fighting for an idea. The idea that all men are created equal, and endowed with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Of course, at the time "all men" really meant "white males," but that was still a novel thing. We've come a long way since then. Today we'd like to think that "all men" means "all people," and while we still aren't actually there, we're a lot closer than we were in the past. It can be tempting to view historical progress as inevitable, to think that society just naturally improves as the years go by, but that's really not the case. A lot of people, from those Revolutionary War soldiers to those suffragettes and many others before, between, and after, have put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into getting us where we are today.
And where we are today is at a crossroads. More likely than not, we'll take another step in that great march of progress and finally elect a woman to the presidency. But on the other side, there are a lot of people who seem to be willing to risk blowing the whole thing up and electing the most dangerous and least qualified candidate in history.
Visiting the headquarters of General George Washington was another unexpectedly moving experience. I was awed by the knowledge that I was standing in the very same house in which the father of our country lived while leading his army those many years ago.
The previous night at the Temple of the Dog show, I had pondered what it would have been like on November 4, 2006, my first date with Cara, if I could have been given a vision of my life ten years in the future.
While in that house at Valley Forge, similar thoughts rose to mind. How would George Washington react if he could somehow have been told, "In the year 2016, the United States of America will have been the most powerful nation on Earth for many decades. The president will be a black man. There will be an election for the next president. One of the candidates will be a woman. The other candidate will be a fascist reality TV show host who likes to harass people on Twitter."
Of course, it would take a while to explain to someone from the 18th century what each part of the phrase "fascist reality TV show host who likes to harass people on Twitter" means. But I'm sure General Washington would have been quite astonished to learn of this turn of events.
This election season has been distressing to me. I like to think that most people are generally decent people at heart. The fact that so many people are supporting someone who is so outwardly racist and misogynist has definitely made me lose at least a little of my faith in humanity. When I drive through somewhere with a high concentration of Trump signs, it honestly makes me feel physically uncomfortable. And that's me, a straight white male, someone who is in about the least direct danger from Trump and his followers. I shudder to think of what it must be like for people who are more directly affected - for Muslims, racial minorities, members of the LGBT community, women - most especially, women who have been sexually assaulted. And whether you are aware of it or not, I can almost guarantee that for anyone reading this, you do know some women who have been sexually assaulted. Trump was caught on tape bragging about committing sexual assault, then a bunch of women came out and corroborated his story by saying yeah, he sexually assaulted me just like how he described, and some of those women had their stories corroborated by still other people! So there's no real doubt that Trump has a history of sexually assaulting women! How can anyone just shrug that off and still support him? What kind of example would such a president set for all the potential future Brock Turners of the world? And for the last week the biggest story in the news has been, Hillary's emails? Seriously? Trump has literally done a hundred different things much worse than whatever Hillary did with her emails. Things that would be shattering to any normal campaign for president. Remember Mitt Romney's comments about 47% of Americans being moochers? Trump has had so many stories about him that are easily worse than that, that it seems like we've gotten so desensitized to Trump's horribleness, so none of the stories get the attention they really deserve. He still hasn't released his tax returns, which alone should disqualify him from the presidency, and that story has seemingly been forgotten!
And if you're one of the people who thinks Hillary Clinton is just as bad as Trump? Wake up to the fact that Hillary has been the victim both of a twenty-five year Republican smear campaign and of a whole host of sexist double standards that still plague our society. She has dedicated her life to public service and to improving the lives of children and families, and while yes, she is a flawed candidate, there are no flawless candidates, and there's nothing so horrible about Hillary that couldn't also be said about most people who have been in politics for that long.
Unlike her opponent.
I needed to get that off my chest. Rant over. Please vote (if you haven't already) for Hillary Clinton tomorrow.
Both the natural beauty and the history of the place, the latter especially in conjunction with the timing of my visit, made Valley Forge a memorable stop on my trip. I'd highly recommend it if you're in the Philadelphia area!
Before returning to Cleveland, I had one more stop on my trip. Tegan and Sara, another band I like, had a show in Pittsburgh on Saturday, and I decided that I might as well go because Pittsburgh is directly on the way from Philadelphia to Cleveland. Driving to Philadelphia, seeing Temple of the Dog, going to Valley Forge, driving to Pittsburgh, seeing Tegan and Sara, and driving back to Cleveland all in two days? As was stated on a pair of Cara's socks, "Carpe the fuck out of this diem." That's how I'm living my life.
I wish I knew where those socks were, by the way, because I'd wear them. I swear, though, Cara had some unnatural capacity for losing socks. When I dressed as her for the Halloween Critical Mass bike ride, wearing her pink tutu and her high school marching band letter jacket, I also looked through her socks, and every single sock I found that I liked was literally that - a single sock, missing its partner. (This was something I also often noticed when she was still alive and I did laundry.) I ended up going with a mismatched pair.
The show in Pittsburgh also brought memories of Cara - my previous visit to this particular venue (Stage AE) was to see Belle and Sebastian with Cara in the summer of 2013. Plus, Torres, who opened for Tegan and Sara, also opened for Okkervil River the last time Cara saw them with me.
The show was a lot of fun. I laughed to myself at the realization that at a concert with a mostly female audience, I felt even taller than I normally do! And while the memories stirred by seeing Temple of the Dog on Friday and by going to Stage AE on Saturday were predictable, seeing Tegan and Sara also brought up a memory of Cara that was completely unexpected - always a nice surprise! For the almost nine months (from September 2008 until the start of June 2009) when she lived in Cleveland but we did not yet live together, I would often go over to her apartment at night. Although it was only about an eight minute walk for me to go from my place in University Circle to hers in Little Italy, I would often listen to music on my iPod during the walk, and pick out songs or little playlists that would last about 8-9 minutes. One such playlist that I used at least once, probably several times, was my three favorite songs from Tegan and Sara's album The Con: "The Con," "Nineteen," and "Call It Off." During the show on Saturday there was a segment featuring several songs in a row from that album, most of them performed acoustically, and it included all three of those songs, and that memory of walking over to Cara's place in the dark just came rushing back to me.
Also from The Con was the song "I Was Married." This too made me think of the upcoming election (a topic that was also directly addressed during Tegan and Sara's stage banter, I might add). The song is about gay marriage. Ten years ago, when they made the album, that was still a hot topic and was nowhere near receiving nationwide acceptance. (See, progress can be made!) Lyrics include:
Now we look up in
(Tell me who, tell me who)
Into the eyes of bullies
They seem so very tough
(It’s a lie, it’s a lie)
They seem so very scared of us
I look into the mirror
For evil that just does not exist
I don’t see what they see
(Tell them that, tell them that)
And this made me think of all the people - immigrants, Muslims, transgender people, women exercising their right to choose, etc. - who are in danger from a potential Trump presidency. People who far too many of Trump's supporters look at and see something to fear. Something evil.
Evil that just does not exist.
Because whatever Trump would like us to believe, we are stronger together.
So again, I implore you to make the right choice tomorrow.