I awoke at about 7:30. It was Thursday, the second day of the ALPCA Convention in Valley Forge. The room service breakfast——that I had ordered last night——was scheduled to arrive at 8 o’clock; this way I could let my 8-year-old son Greg sleep in after some gruelling exercise and sleep deprivation over the previous 48 hours. I pulled back the curtains a bit and quietly flipped through my convention finds from the previous day. In addition to the smaller Ontario PCV plates, I also picked up a 1935 Ontario truck plate that was an ideal candidate for cleaning. The price was right, and I was pretty sure I could shine it up.
The plan for today would be to spend time on the convention floor throughout the morning, and then attend Chuck Sakryd’s plate-cleaning seminar just before lunch. After that, it would be time to switch hats and take Greg into Philadelphia to see the sights. I knew, when I was planning this trip, that I wouldn’t be spending every moment in the convention hall, as I had in previous years when I attended solo. This was my first convention bringing one of my kids, and of course, I’d have to make it interesting for both of us.
Eight o’clock came. I woke Greg up and got him dressed, in anticipation of our hot breakfast that was due to arrive at the door. We would eat conveniently and head downstairs to the convention hall. By quarter-after eight, our breakfast had still not arrived. I called room service and was dismayed to be greeted by a generic voicemail message. I tried again a few minutes later, and still got the voicemail. By 8:30, we decided to eat our leftover fries and chicken strips from last night’s dinner at the mall. Since I had no way to talk to a real person on the room service line, I called the front desk and told them to cancel the order and see to it that it wouldn’t appearon my hotel bill. So that was our Radisson Valley Forge breakfast: Order room service in advance, and then eat leftover fries after being ignored for a half hour. What kind of hotel was this, anyway? They already had a pool my son couldn’t use.
The convention hall opened at 9, and I was determined to make the most of the morning. There’s a lot of eye candy at an ALPCA convention. For example, New Jersey porcelain plates. I don’t collect New Jersey plates, and had never been there before——we’d fix that the following day. The Garden State has a history of some really interesting plates, especially in the porcelain era. I couldn’t help but admire them and wish that Ontario had stuck with porcelain for a few more years in the 19-teens.
One US jurisdiction that I do collect, a little, is Pennsylvania. When I first joined ALPCA in 1995, there was an extensive PA feature in the magazine written by Jake Eckenrode. I love the blue-and-gold colours of the mid-era, state-border plates from the 1940s and 50s, and of course, their porcelain plates from the early years are really cool. I stopped at Jake Eckenrode’s table, and started pawing through a big bin of Pennsylvania non-passenger plates, such as tractor, new car dealer, used car dealer… I love how the types are just spelled out on each plate. I snapped a picture and figured I’d shop around first, rather than spending money on impulse.
I struck up a conversation with Tim O’Connor of Virginia, who is a surprisingly strong enthusiast of Ontario graphic plates. He used to partner up with Matt Embro and split pairs when Matt was actively ordering graphics from Service Ontario, but Matt has stopped collecting them, and Tim no longer has a source. I sympathize, but I’m not a big enough fan of the graphic plates (or Service Ontario for that matter) to become an alternate source.
The convention hall is always an interesting place. There are familiar faces everywhere. Sometimes those faces belong to people you know well, sometimes they’re people you recognize (and maybe they’ll recognize you), and sometimes they’re folks you’ve not met yet. Jeff Francis has no idea who I am, but he’s recognizable to most club members. He seemed to be on a mission with someone else: “Oh, just keep looking and see what we can find,” he said as he passed. With his legendary collection of North American plates basically complete, I wondered what he looking for.
The previous day, I was walking in the hotel parking lot when I stumbled on a very interesting plate on a parked car. It could only belong to Tom Lindenberg:
Michigan? Check. US Army Veteran optional graphic? Check. Short plate number? Check. Initials TL on the plate? Check.
I greeted Tom at his table, and he was his usual, jovial, sassy self. “If you don’t see it on my table, you don’t need it!” he said. The last time I saw Tom was in Rochester four years ago, and I bought a Quebec veteran sample plate from him at the time. This time, I found a graphic Northwest Territories bear plate, in very good condition with a slightly torn sticker, for $30. Great price! Back in Rochester 2014, people were selling those for $100 a pop, and they were moving quickly. Even though those hundred-dollar days are long gone, Tom didn’t have to put up much of a sales pitch for me to buy it. Sometimes, the best things come to those who wait!
I brought Greg back to the hotel room so he could take a breather and play on his tablet. He didn’t really want to spend downtime at our table in the convention hall. With Greg safely up there and able to text me, I went back downstairs to the ballroom where good ole Chuck Sakryd was starting his seminar on cleaning plates.
Chuck doesn’t restore plates. He straightens them and uses various polishes and chemical cleaners to treat them. In this way, he can bring back the original colours and shine them up. These cleaners and waxes are not all equal, and some are better suited for specific situations. I had heard great things about his seminar, which he’s given before at prior conventions. I wanted to know about stateside products he uses that might not be available up here in Canada. Not only that, but Chuck is a natural entertainer, and we’d be sure to get some laughs while learning something. “I’ll be sitting there, on the sofa, waxing away in front of the TV,” Chuck said. “It’s like knitting for guys!”
Chuck scratched the surface of his expertise and performed a few live demonstrations of different cleaning techniques. The most interesting one, for me, was the use of a wire wheel cleaner to remove rust stains from reflective plates. You know the problem: When the bolts get rusty, and rainwater dribbles down the plate over months and years, leaving a brown trail embedded in the Scotchlite. The cleaner contains hydrofluoric acid, which is strong stuff, and it removed some pretty hopeless stains just by sitting on the surface of the plate for 3-4 minutes before wiping away. The only problem is that this cleaner isn’t sold in stores, so you have to find a distributor-- and it costs $50 US per gallon. But what a difference! The Ontario plate he’s holding had nasty rust stains on both sides. Chuck treated the left side, which had the darker stains. All the rust staining is gone, and the scotchlite hasn’t been etched, and the paint on the characters hasn’t lifted. With a bit more time, the bolt mark can be erased, too.
An hour went by in a flash, and the clock was just reaching into the PM. It was time to take Greg into Philly. I timed it so that we could drive into the city during light traffic around mid-day, and then head home after rush hour in the early evening. We’d park outside the downtown core and then grab the subway if needed.
Our first stop was at the Eastern State Penitentiary, which takes up an entire city block in the Fairmount neighbourhood. It was opened in 1829 and closed in 1971. Much of the cell block infrastructure is essentially a ruin now-- much of the reason it closed was because it was crumbling faster than it could be repaired. It’s a fascinating place. Greg and I learned a lot from the audio tour (narrated by Steve Buscemi).
All that time in jail made us hungry, so we hiked eastward a few blocks and took the southbound subway, after which we hiked eastward a few more blocks to get to cheesesteak corner, where 9th Street and Passyunk Avenue meet at a sharply oblique angle. Two longtime competing steak joints are locked in a permanent cross-street staredown. Pat’s King of Steaks, on the south side, was founded in 1930 and was the location where a scene from Rocky was filmed (there’s a plaque showing where he stood while ordering dinner with his boss). Geno’s Steaks, on the north side, opened in 1966. It doesn’t have quite the iconic status that Pat’s has, but they’ve compensated for that by festooning the narrow, wedge-shaped building with bright colours and huge neon signs.
We chose Pat’s, since Greg had seen Rocky and recognized the locale. The guy who took my order (“Provolone wit”) was a dead-ringer for Joe Pesci, accent an’ auwl. I had to practice my ordering technique quietly first, as shown by the signs, lest I be ridiculed or booted to the back of the line. It was delicious. Of course, It was now-or-never, so I tried Geno’s as well... just a basic sandwich with onions and cheese like I had at Pat’s (yes, eaten within 15 minutes of each other). Geno’s has the marketing and loud neon, and the sandwich was great, but I give the nod to Pat’s-- but it could be because I was hungry when I got to Pat’s, and not hungry when I got to Geno’s (although I still had room).
Greg and I hopped on a bus with the hope of checking out Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell inside, but the lineup was too long, so we settled for a walk around the building and through the surrounding parks, lined with centuries-old Sycamores. Downtown Philadelphia is a interesting place. For every modern skyscraper, there’s another well-preserved building or historic public square. It’s an interesting mix of old and new. What’s more is that the history of the place, including the street layouts and parks, dates back to the late 1600s. I’m not used to that. Ottawa and Toronto, where I spend the bulk of my time, were forests back then and weren’t really laid out as potential cities until the 1800s.
It was late afternoon, and we had to get back to the car, which was parked near the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The museum itself was already closed for the day, but there were a few dozen people milling about on the expansive Rocky steps, so we stopped to check them out. It’s a busy place through the early evening, with people reenacting Rocky Balboa’s training run that culminates at the top of the steps. They’re huge! There are five tiers of steps leading from street level. Pictures can’t really depict the scope of them.
We drove out of the city and back to the hotel at Valley Forge. Rush hour was finished by then, and the drive was fairly manageable. The ALPCA convention hall was closed by then——I knew it would be——so we weren’t rushing. We detoured to the local Walmart so I could buy a kind of wax that Chuck showed me at his seminar. We also bought some breakfast cereal and milk so that we could just eat on our own terms the following morning.