The Early Bird Gets The Cheese Steak

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By Meena Kannan, Eve McGloon, Olivia Siegel, and Claire Cherrick (Illustration by Sophie Navratil)

Empty stomachs, full tank, can’t lose, right? Well, that’s what we thought. Captain Olivia, Aux-master Claire, Cheese Connoisseur Meena, and Sleeping Beaut-Eve were ready to start the 139-mile trek up North to the city of Brotherly Love. We left with high expectations. We expected to see the Liberty Bell (maybe even take it back with us), run the Rocky Stairs, possibly enroll in a new high school, see a balanced male-tofemale ratio, and face a real challenge. This wasn’t our reality. At all. The Philly Cheesesteak Challenge is a longstanding tradition passed down among teenagers in the DMV community. Let’s say, for illustration sake, that it’s President’s Day- you have a hot yoga class that ends at 8 am and a Soulcycle class that starts at 1:45 pm. What else are you going to do other than drive to Philadelphia, buy a cheesesteak, and bring a second cheesy sandwich back as proof? Our adventure started at 8:00 AM when we geared the Highlander into drive. As we merged onto 495 towards Baltimore/Silver Spring, the traffic was as light as our worries, a completely straight shot. Here’s the math. Going the legal speed limit, it’s 139 miles from Bethesda to Pat’s Cheesesteak. There and back is 4 hours and 38 minutes, leaving 2 hours and 7 minutes of eating. The clock struck 10:16 AM when we finally arrived in downtown Philadelphia. Traffic was heavy. We had never seen more confusing streets, all seeming to be “one way” in the wrong direction. The next move was a sharp left on Vine Street. Ahh, Vine Street. Just as we reached the intersection ready to turn, we faced our biggest obstacle yet. Vine Street was closed, and our mission took a turn (not on Vine St) for the worst. The arrival time was delayed exponentially, as we sat in the aggressive Philly traffic for 30 more minutes. Parking was our next task. We crept along the one-way neighborhood streets looking for an opening that would fit the car. After succeeding in finding a space, parallel parking took under two minutes, but the line of cars behind us had no problem showing their famous “Brotherly Love.” We were honked at several times. Swiftly exiting the Highlander, our crew ran through the bitter cold and straight to Pat’s ordering window. Little did we know, there is a specific way to order a cheesesteak. Since we are not cheesesteak extraordinaires, we asked the employees for their best works. The employee dipped his spatula into a swimming pool-sized vat of Cheese Whiz and promptly slapped it on the flat steak. Our hopes for some melted Provolone were never met (vegetarian Meena, however, devoured the cheese whiz, and proceeded to consume it raw on the ride home). Before venturing back to the 301, we needed to find a bathroom. As we walked in the wrong direction back to the car, we passed a Mexican restaurant with its doors open, although it appeared to be vacant and closed. We seized the opportunity, but while Claire was gone, we were kicked out by an angry worker that emerged from the back room. The next part of this experience proved to be the real challenge: finding the car. Somehow, we left a different way than we came and wound up searching four different streets for the car. At one point, we even considered the possibility that it had been towed. While frantically roaming the city streets trying to locate the missing vehicle, we were stopped by an elderly man. We were unsure of whether he was asking us for A.) $900 in cash, B.) a ride to an unspecified location, or C.) our lives. The answer was all of the above. Before we could formulate a response, Meena had put the jets on full blast. Alas, the car was still MIA and time was of the essence. Eve assured us she knew exactly where we parked, yet being the only junior, we didn’t listen to her at first (of course). But with dead phones and frozen hands, we decided to allow the junior to lead us back to the missing car. Departure was at 11:18 AM, and we completed the swift drive back to Bethesda, arriving at 1:42 PM to fulfill the Philly Cheesesteak Challenge. The trip was…to say the least, iconic. We bit off more than we could chew, literally and metaphorically. However, the drive there included a compilation of smash hits (shout out Claire’s Spotify premium) with Migos, Ty Dolla $ign, but most importantly, Ke$ha. Yes, you heard that right. We spent the majority of a 137 mile drive blasting Ke$ha, singing at the top of our lungs, with the windows down and the refreshing breeze of 16 degree winds blowing in our faces.

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