108 Hours in Philadelphia

A few months ago, I was invited by the coaches of my high school speech team to serve as a judge/chaperone/adult-like person on the team’s trip to Nationals in Philadelphia. Naturally, I immediately agreed and started plotting my move into the Betsy Ross House. I became even more enthused about the trip when I learned that my sister, Cricket, and my friend Annie Allright would also be along for the ride. I’m incredibly lucky to know this team and these coaches, and I feel so blessed to be invited along for this adventure. This is what happened.

DAY 1—MAY 23

Things I Did

  • Wake up at 4am on Thursday, only to realize that I could have woken up at 4:20 instead. Curse Wednesday night self.
  • Board bus at my high school at 4:45.
  • Sleep until 7am, when we stop for breakfast. Coffee is finally drunk. Balance is restored to the universe.
  • Watch Hercules, Mulan and Mulan 2, distribute surprises from Hannah’s Bag of Fun, lead a bus dance party, take pictures of sleeping people and nap.
  • Greet Philadelphia around 7pm, only to wait in hotel lobby for 45 minutes while Papa Bear checked in the entire group. Ecstatically hug Annie Allright who joined our merry band from Pittsburgh. Upon finally making it to our rooms, we collapsed on beds, only to spring up, and dress for dinner.
Annie, Cricket and I waiting for our room keys.

Annie, Cricket and I waiting for our room keys.

  • Ate cheesesteaks at Rex’s. YUM. Be surprised when the mayor of our city walks in because he’s attending a conference in Philadelphia as well. Return to hotel to collapse on beds, because sleep is good

Things I thought about doing, but didn’t do

  • Drink coffee at 4am
  • Wake people up for food stops with kazoos
  • Fall asleep in hotel lobby
  • Immediately run to make my pilgrimage to the Betsy Ross House.

Things I didn’t do

  • Take a picture of sleeping Papa Bear on the bus.
  • Take a picture of the mayor with the proprietor of Rex’s.
  • Sing “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” every three hours as I previously decreed.

Day 2—May 24

Things I Did

  • Make an early morning Starbucks run for coffee and pastries
  • Ride the subway with the gang to the Liberty Bell.
The team in the City of Brotherly Love.

The team in the City of Brotherly Love.

  • Take a picture with the Liberty Bell that mirrored one taken 17 years previous on my first visit to Philadelphia.
Seventeen years later, still  loving the Bell.

Seventeen years later, still loving the Bell.

  • Borrow Otter Staniel’s sweatshirt when it began to rain while waiting in line for Independence Hall.
  • Join in a sing-a-long of “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” under our umbrellas.
I had earlier decreed that we would sing this song every three hours. These girls complied. Ten points to the houses of their choice.

I had earlier decreed that we would sing this song every three hours. These girls complied. Ten points to the houses of their choice.

  • Accost a Betsy Ross-type interpreter/tour guide outside of Independence Hall. We were both wearing yellow dresses. My Betsy Ross finger puppet wears a yellow dress. Clearly, fate brought us together.


  • Tour Independence Hall with the awesome Larry and a school group from New York, complete with “1776” flashbacks.
Thomas Jefferson was HERE.

Thomas Jefferson was HERE.

  • Take the train to Reading Market for lunch. There, I sat across from an 82-year-old Italian-American woman named Henny from Pittsburgh. A retired nurse, Henny encouraged me to finish eating my delicious lunch of Mediterranean chicken salad as she told me of her travels to Haiti, Mexico and Brazil to fix cleft palates.
  • Met up with Willow Hopkins in Reading Market for a long overdue reunion. We gabbed, ate giant cookies, and marveled at the idea of chocolate-covered bacon.
  • Took the Philly Phlash to the Rodin Museum to marvel at the amazing.
  • Collapsed into a warm bed to watch Ellen and nap before dinner.
  • Ate dinner at Ralph’s, the oldest Italian restaurant in the United States.
  • Learned that Bruce Springsteen forgot to mention that the streets of Philadelphia are super narrow.
  • Marveled at the various incompetencies of Jim, our bus driver.

Things I Thought About Doing, But Did Not Do

  • Lick the Liberty Bell
  • Ask the Betsy Ross tour guide to join our group
  • Steal Otter’s sweatshirt

Things I Did Not Do

  • See the Betsy Ross House—YET.

Day 3—May 25

Things I Did

  • Wake up at 5:30 because early is stupid.
  • Text everyone I know until my judging rounds began at UPenn. Haikus were included. Coffee had not yet been consumed.
  • Met coaches from Massachusetts and Louisiana, some of whom seemed confused about speech being fun.
  • Finally consumed coffee. It was delicious.
An Ivy League judge's lounge

An Ivy League judge’s lounge

  • Judged three rounds of OI, Duo, and DP. Endured Duo in a tiny room that was approximately 107 degrees. Was 20 minutes late to my DP round because it was on the other side of campus, but made up for it by laughing uproariously at every HI and making sad faces during the DIs.
  • Wandered the University of Pennsylvania campus in search of a UPenn pen.
Hi, Ben.

Hi, Ben.

  • Rescued the debaters from Limerick, PA where they had been since 6am. They weren’t even allowed to have coffee in their rounds! (Insert look of horror and sympathy here.)
  • Ordered in Chinese food made of deliciousness while waiting for postings. Philly, you win for food.

Things I Thought About Doing, But Did Not Do

  • Immediately transfer to UPenn.
  • Nap in a stairwell.

Things I Did Not Do

  • Faint in the heat during my Duo round
  • Yell at Jim the bus driver.

Day 4—May 26

Things I Did

  • Walk to my 7:30 judges call and watch the city wake up.


  • Laughed out loud when it turned out I was pulled to judge Extemp, which I had never judged or really even seen.
  • Watch six of the best high school extempers in the country compete while I gave them incorrect fashion advice and worried that one would spit on me.
  • Had lovely coffee break with Cricket and Annie until we separated, Cricket to judge out rounds of debate, and Annie and I to escort six students to watch quarterfinals of DP.
  • Saw the eventual National Champion and National Runner-Up go head to head in their quarterfinals round.
  • Walked to Walnut Street, where Annie and I released the girls and wandered around shopping. Hello, Free People! Aloha Urban Outfitters! Aren’t you dashing, Jack Wills! Immediately called dibs on the pink and yellow fabric Free People bag Rider Jones got to hold his sweatshirt. Forget to take a picture of aforementioned Rider Jones wearing the very girly bag for blackmail.
  • Made my pilgrimage to the Betsy Ross House with a freshman. It was super fun, but also super far. 3.2 miles from starting point back to hotel, to be exact. But we saw most of Old City, Chinatown, Franklin’s Grave, and of course, the home of the Mother of the Flag herself.


  • Met up with Annie and Cricket at a delightful crêperie for dinner.


  • Became bored out of our minds during the awards ceremony.
  • Packed, had a late night confab with fellow chaperones and collapsed (once again) into a super comfy hotel bed.

Things I Thought About Doing, But Did Not Do

  • Host a team-wide Apples to Apples tournament.
  • Move into the Betsy Ross House immediately.
  • Call a cab so the freshman and I wouldn’t have to walk back to the hotel (but we totally didn’t see any! So, we kept walking.)

Things I Did Not Do

  • Fall asleep during the awards ceremony.

Day 5—May 27

Things I Did

  • Slept in until boarding the bus at 8am.
  • Serenade the girls with showtunes with Cricket while boarding the bus
  • Watch “Brave” and “Tangled” and nap on the bus.
  • Ordered a kid’s meal at Wendy’s just for the juicebox.
  • Arrived back in Louisville with lots of memories, postcards and stories with which Cricket and I regaled the Parents Z for two hours before conking out.

Things I Thought About Doing, But Did Not Do

  • Hiding in my high school to surprise the three faculty chaperones on Tuesday morning
  • Demanding the Bruce, our replacement bus driver, always be our bus driver.

Things I Did Not Do (Ever on this trip.)

  • Get lost.
  • Cry.
  • Get run over on a busy street.
  • Eat a cheesesteak with whiz. I’m sorry, I just can’t do it. Cheese should not come from a can.

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