Sunday, May 25, 2008

Gas prices


The average European looks jealous at the gas prices on this photo (click on it for a larger picture), and wonders why people still pay that little money for fuel.

Last week, the gas price reached almost $ 4 per gallon, which is $ 1.06 or € 0.68 per liter. Still, the gas price is daily news, and Obama & Hillary talk a lot about it – how to decrease the price and the usage of gasoline. Why is there so much going on about gas prices in the US, while it is still inexpensive?

First of all, the gas price increased with $ 1.50 a gallon (60%) in one year, and in 2002 people only paid little over one dollar a gallon. So people here were used to almost-free gas, but they now start seeing it in their pockets.

Secondly, many American cars use a lot of gas, especially the SUV´s and pickup trucks… An example: my car (1999 Honda Accord) was sold in the Netherlands with a 1.6 and 2.0 litre 4-cylinder engine, which was big enough for most Dutchies. However, I have the lightest version in the US, which is a 2.3 litre engine; there is also a 3.0l V6 version of it! And don't assume that everybody likes to race here - not at all!

Thirdly, people in the US need their car. There might be trains in between cities, but they are expensive. And once you’re in the city the subway will take you to many places, but visiting someone or something outside the city is impossible. And don’t even start about the bicycle – that is used for entertainment, not for practical transportation! The distances won’t let you use your bike. The country is built on space, gigantic metropolitan areas and suburbs, and using busses there would be impossible.

The fourth reason: people drive long distances! Are there people living in Amsterdam, working in Leeuwarden, and visiting their parents in Paris on a regular basis? Over here, it´s pretty common!

So you could understand that the people here are filling up their gas with a little frustration nowadays. You will hear tips about fuel-efficient driving on TV (like we had in the Netherlands 10 years ago) and websites started comparing fuel prices. After all, I´m still filling up the gas with a little smile, thinking about the $ 9.50 a gallon that people pay in the Netherlands!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Kanye West concert

Last weekend I went to a performance of Kanye West, Rihanna, N.E.R.D. and Lupe Fiasco. A colleague of mine had some tickets left (thanks, Ken !!!!!!). It was amazing!! A video impression:

Thursday, May 15, 2008

New York, New York

Last weekend, I took a trip to NYC. The capital of the world is only a 90 minute drive from Philadelphia, and still I didn't have a chance to visit it in the previous four months!

Someone told me I could easily park my car in Jersey City, which indeed works perfect. You park the car near the water for $10 a day, you enjoy the view over downtown Manhattan and you take the subway, which takes you to downtown in three minutes.

Despite the fact that I had already seen a lot of NYC last summer, I still enjoyed it very much. It is just the melting pot where people give 110%. Everything is more impressive, faster and full of energy. The commercials are huge and colorfull, and the stores have no limitations - think about basketbal courts and waterfalls within stores.

At a certain point, I was waiting for a traffic light with a group of pedestrians when we heard a sirene coming our way. When the light turned green, we waited and looked for the police car. Nothing to see... Then, Batman came by on a bicycle, imitating a perfect sirene! Everyone laughed and walked on like nothing happened. (I guess NYC traffic is too busy for the BatMobile...)

The pictures (click on them for a larger version):


Sunday, May 11, 2008

The curse of Billy Penn

I introduced the Curse of Billy Penn last week: when Philadelphia City Hall was built in 1901, a Gentlemen’s Agreement said that no building in Philadelphia should ever be higher than William Penn's statue on top of the City Hall. A series of successful years for the four sport teams from Philadelphia ended in 1983, while the construction of Liberty 1 (the first building to rise above City Hall) started in 1985. Some people believe that breaking the Gentlemen's Agreement led to a curse on Philadelphia's sport teams. A collague told me some more details - it's a great example of the American culture:

Let´s start with the statistics (something that people in the US love – especially when you talk about sports): until 1983, the big teams of the four major sports (baseball, ice hockey, American Football and basketball) were quite successful. In 1980, all four teams were in major national finals! The Phillies were able to win championships in '80 and '83, the Flyers won the Stanley Cup in '75 and '76, the Eagles were in the Superbowl and the 76'ers won the NBA in '83.

In 1984, the government approved the construction of Liberty 1. The construction started in 1985 and the first building that was higher than William Penn was finished in 1987. And since 1983, no sport team in Philly has won a title!! By now, Philadelphia has the longest time without a championship for a big city in the US. Enough people started believing in the curse n 1993: when the Phillies came into the World Series, a Phillies cap was put on William Penn's statue. Unfortunately, without a success. They did the same thing in 1997: when the Flyers played the Stanley Cup, William Penn was dressed up with a Flyers Jersey. Again, no luck… (By the way: William Penn´s statue is still the largest statue on top of a building, so you would say ´what is he complaining about?´)

In 2007, the Comcast building was finished, which is the first building higher than Liberty 1. The CEO of the construction company thought he had the solution for Philadelphia: put a statue of William Penn on top of it! William Penn is able to look over the city again. And, look at the result: the Phillies are number 1 at this moment, and the Flyers are in the playoffs of the Stanley Cup. Maybe the curse has finally come to an end?

the original statue, with Liberty 1 on the background:

William Penn’s new statue:

Monday, May 5, 2008


Last weekend, I took a trip to the 'Adventure Aquarium' in Camden (New Jersey). This place really shows the American way of entertainment: swim with sharks, walk trough a watertunnel where the fish and sharks swim right over your head, touch fish and see dozens of aquaria with aquatic animals you've never even heard of. Pictures will show this better - Here they are!

Saturday, May 3, 2008


US cities are famous because of their amazing skylines. New York is by far the most familiar: skyscrapers in Midtown and Downtown Manhattan, with a huge park on one side and water on the other side. Cities like Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Atlanta, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Dallas en Seattle all have their own unique skyline; whenever a movie or TV show is recorded in a city, it usually starts with an overview of the skyline.

Philadelphia’s skyline started back in 1901 when the City Hall was finished, with a statue of Pennsylvania’s founder William Penn on top of it. The completion of the City Hall started a gentlemen’s agreement: no building in Philadelphia should ever be higher than the shoes of William Penn´s statue, or 548 feet.

City Hall was the tallest building in the US till 1909, and the gentlemen´s agreement was intact until the 1980s. By then, this agreement was becoming less important than business space in the city, and Philly needed to compete against other cities. That´s when Liberty 1 and 2 were build: two skyscrapers, based on the Empire State Building, with heights of 945 feet and 848 feet. Some people believe that building these skyscrapers released a curse for Philadelphia´s sport teams: the Flyers, Phillies, Eagles and 76´ers had had some great years, however this completely changed when Liberty 1 was build!!

Years later, the Mellon Bank Center (792 feet) was build, also with a pyramid-like top. Until last year, these buildings were the skyline of Philadelphia, but last year the Comcast building beat all of them with 975 feet. During my daily drive back from work, it is still impressive to drive towards a skyline!

Here are some pictures of Philly´s skyline (nope – I didn´t make all of them):

The skyline in 1901:

William Penn's statue:

City Hall:

From left to right: Liberty 2, Liberty 1, Mellon Bank Center, City Hall

Liberty 1, with Liberty 2 in the background:

Philly's current skyline with the Comcast building: