Friday, November 15, 2013

City Of Brotherly Love

As if I hadn’t had enough after the Paris-to-Seattle flight returning from Italy, we were back in the “friendly skies” enroute to Philadelphia for the PRSA/PRSSA International Conference in late October. Since my brother Robert (above, left) and his wife Elaine live in Philly, Rebecca joined me to spend a little time with family.

This time, however, the skies weren’t so friendly. We missed our 5:45 a.m. flight from Eugene-Denver-Philadelphia by one minute, thanks to a long line at security extending to the baggage claim area. Our checked bags made the flight, however; they took off without us. We waved as they left and hoped we would see them again later.

Understandably miffed, the agent rescheduled us on a Delta flight in the early afternoon and provided a couple of food vouchers, which we used later for lunch. To its credit, United Airlines went above and beyond to take care of us; they booked us exit row seats with more legroom on the later flight, which was much appreciated.

When we arrived in Philly, our names resonated over the loudspeaker when we stepped off the plane announcing that our bags were waiting in customer service. Finding a town car jockey almost immediately, we proceeded to the Philadelphia Downtown Marriott adjacent to the convention center. Our chauffeur called it “the big house.”

The conference is always a highlight of the year, and it doesn’t seem that long ago that daughter Gina and I attended the same conference in Philadelphia in 2007 (with Robert, above). The gathering features top-flight keynoters, breakout sessions, meetings, networking socials, mentoring appointments and much -- almost too much -- more.

Keynoters at the event are always heavyweights. A few from past conferences: Mary Maitlin and James Carville, Republican and Democratic political strategists, respectively; Tim Russert, host of “Meet the Press” and political reporter; and Mitch Albom, sports columnist for The Detroit Free Press and best-selling author of Tuesdays with Morrie and Five People You Meet In Heaven.

This year was no different in terms of prominence, although you can see the shift to digital media. This year’s keynoters included Brian Solis, digital media expert and principal analyst at Altimeter Group, and Vernice “FlyGirl” Armour, an executive leadership trainer and founder and CEO of VAI Consulting and Training.

Solis, a noted author and blogger, emphasized that because of fast-moving changes in the digital world, it’s important for public relations practitioners to never stop learning. Discussing digital platforms, he noted that sharing on social media is “always an emotion. It’s always something related to an experience. The future of public relations is about creating those experiences.”

Amour, the first African-American female combat pilot, introduced her high-energy presentation to the theme song of “Top Gun” while high-fiving delegates on her way to the stage. She emphasized the need to discover your passion and said a breakthrough mentality creates a breakthrough reality. “Life is about transitions and failures lead to success; positive thoughts create positive actions.”

Despite the busy schedule, we still found time to see the sights of Philadelphia and beyond. The Reading Terminal Market was directly across the street from our hotel. An enclosed public market not unlike Pike Place Market in Seattle, the Reading Terminal Market features over 100 merchants offering fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, ice cream, flowers, baked goods and specialty and ethnic foods.

The market occupies the ground floor and basement levels of the Reading Terminal’s former train shed and every space in the market is rented out; three of the vendors are descendants of the original market merchants. We had lunch in the market one day, where I dined on a requisite Philly cheesesteak sandwich.

My brother also drove us to one of the great arboretums of the world -- Longwood Gardens --the personal estate of Pierre S. du Pont, a chemist who directed the E. I du Pont de Nemours company, and later was a key figure in the success of General Motors. However, du Pont is most famous for opening this estate -- featuring its beautiful gardens, woodlands, meadows, fountains and conservatory -- to the public.
At over 1,000 acres, Longwood Gardens features dazzling displays of botanical wonders that elevate the art of horticulture. The site, located about 30 miles west of Philadelphia in the Brandywine Valley near Kennett Square, features a four-acre conservatory.

We visited Longwood Gardens during its “Autumn’s Colors” season, which also featured a Chrysanthemum Festival (we just call them “mums," like the two yellow orbs below) in the conservatory, the largest temperature-controlled growing structure I have ever seen.

The conservatory alone is nearly five acres and home to nearly 6,000 types of plants featured in 20 gardens. The mums were inspiringly beautiful, and though we spent over an hour in the massive heated greenhouse, we were unable to see the whole place before it closed. On the way back to our hotel, we stopped at Winnie’s LeBus Manayuk in West Philadelphia’s trendy Manayuk district near St. Joseph University for a bite to eat.

Other sights worth seeing in Philadelphia include the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University campuses, South Street (with its bohemian appeal and shops, a popular tourist attraction), the home of Edgar Allen Poe (below), Penn’s Landing (above) on the Delaware River across from Camden, New Jersey and Independence Hall.

The Philadelphia Eagles, with new coach Chip Kelly, were in town while we were there, but we simply didn’t have time. It was for the best; the Eagles lost to the lowly Giants. Besides, my brother reminded me, many of the fans are boorish at best. We also decided that the "Rocky" statue was best left to the tourists.

After five days in the City of Brotherly Love, it was time to head home, first to San Francisco and then Eugene. Funny, but you don’t realize how big the U.S. really is until you fly from Atlantic to Pacific. At an average distance of 3,000 miles from coast to coast, this country is as wide as the entire Atlantic Ocean.

When our pilot announced that we’d be fighting a 300-knot headwind the whole way, we knew we’d miss our connecting flight. We did. Eventually, we departed from San Francisco and arrived in Eugene at just after midnight. Sigh. Oh, well. As Mel Brooks mused, if we were meant to fly, God would have given us boarding passes.


Angel Nguyen said...

May I ask the address of the garden to view the chrysanthemums.Thank you

Gonzo said...

Angel, it's the Longwood Gardens near Philly. You can see their website at for your reference.