Last Sunday’s jaunt to Baltimore produced some noteworthy lessons: preconceived notions can be pleasantly wrong; if you have a Perfect Hat, why leave home without it; and taking the wrong way can be the right thing to do.
The answer to the question, “If I got my ticket, can I ride?” posed by the excellent Jubilant Sykes got him a road trip with me via the Magic Bus’ sound system, as we bobbed and weaved northward behind Mike’s smokin’ hot 4 cyl. (cough, cough, lug, lug) black Dodge Avenger rental. I walked out of the house with my sensible Georgia Peanut Tour baseball hat, then at the last instant I leaped from the Bus and dashed back in for my Perfect Hat, dispelling the feeling of having left behind something important.
I know there was a television series about Baltimore called The Wire; I’ve never seen it. There’s not a place on earth that doesn’t have its shortcomings, and maybe Baltimore has more than some. But I’ve heard disparaging remarks about cities that turned out to be the prejudice or misunderstanding of the speaker. For me, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and surrounding area were a Big Fun place to spend a Sunday afternoon. The Convention Center was hosting a cheer competition, and gaggles of girls in Spandex, sparkles and smiles bounded along sidewalks. Barnes & Noble had set up shop in the old power plant, its stout smokestacks rising beside racks of cookbooks and magazines. Goofy bright green and deep plum Puff the Magic Dragon-shaped boats, their occupants sealed like human hot dogs in orange lifejacket buns, muddled about between the USS Torsk, a submarine that sunk the last Japanese warship of World War II, and the Civil War-era wooden ship Constellation. A pirate vessel sped at a remarkable clip across the water, all flags boldly flying, crossing waves with bright yellow sightseeing speedboats and blue & white water taxis. The waterside was pleasantly crowded with tourists and locals together, taking in the sun and warmth and breezes of the day.
Almost at the very outset of the walking tour I signed us onto, I was mentally dope-slapped for my presumptions — that the low cost of the tour ($7) meant we’d stand outside the visitor’s center and the guide would point to things, drone a few facts, and we’d be finished in 30 minutes or less, and that she wasn’t spry enough to walk more than a few blocks. Wrong and wrong. Two hours and a goodly tramp later, guide Cheryl had proved herself a well of intriguing information (the American flag of Star Spangled Banner fame was so large its seamstress had to spread it on a brewery floor to sew it), patience (as I skittered here and there taking photos), insight (she didn’t miss anything I was thinking despite my bejeweled-skull sunglasses and Perfect Hat disguise), and a proud Baltimorean — neither Northern nor Southern — simply an excellent ambassador for a reinventing metropolis. Cheryl was old enough to reminisce about the smell of McCormick Spices before the company’s relocation from the harbor area, and knowledgeable enough to recommend where to eat crab cakes (which contain almost no breading and are as common at cookouts as hamburgs and at least the same size), that Vaccaro’s has the best cannoli (the first I’ve had, and pretty tasty), and that Nancy Pelosi is actually Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi, daughter of a Baltimore mayor (I thought she sprang from the womb a fully formed adult in California).
Our tour completed in Little Italy, which was exactly where I wanted to be for food. We took our hungry selves into Amicci’s, which declared itself “very casual,” and sits near the parking lot where Italian-themed movies are shown on a building’s outside wall on summer nights. After mussels in marinara and a side of tomatoes with mozzarella only the fact that we were on foot gave me hope of freeing up room for dessert at Vaccaro’s. Several blocks’ easy walk then took us back to the Magic Bus.
In preparation for my drive back to our Virginia house, Mike drew me a beautiful map. Here it is, isn’t it impressive?
I left my road warrior husband at his hotel prepping to battle bugs somewhere in the Baltimore area. Without the least sense of wifely disloyalty, I popped my man Robert Earl Keen into the music player, turned up the volume exponentially, rolled down the Magic Bus windows, and launched happily into the ride. How I have missed you, traffic and freeways! The excellence of the day was underlined by all slowdowns being in the opposite direction.
Then I came to the 495′s, south or west. I was GPS-less and the only paper map I had was Mike’s limited version. But beneath my Perfect Hat my pleasantly fried brain couldn’t recall — should I take 495 south or 495 west? (Mike regales me frequently about the delightfulness of Washington, D.C.’s traffic and the countless “95′s” — 495, 695, 195, 895, 395 and so on, ad nauseum). A quick decision was necessary with minimal familiarity on my part with the names on the highway signs. South was moving along smoothly, and Virginia was south, so I chose that.
Within a mile, I realized I should have gone west. But I also didn’t much care. I was now singing as loud as I could with Robert Earl, and along came those lyrics, “I’ve got these thoughts in my own head. . .I’ve got this moment that I’m livin’ in and nothin’ else at all. . .I am a runaway locomotive, out of my one track mind.” Why ruin a perfect day with insignificant details like the “right” direction? I’d get to the house eventually; I didn’t have to be at notwork till Monday at 9:00a.m. So I snugged my Perfect Hat on a little tighter and continued what seemed to be downhill all the way (just like on a paper map, north to south), dueting endlessly with Robert Earl Keen (where had my voice been during Virtual Choir?), seeing what was to be seen along this new way. And I took no offense at the semi that harrassed me for my place in the middle lane on I95, moving myself to one of the other two completely empty lanes and giving the truck driver a friendly single-finger wave and a “Hey, Dick, have a nice day!” beep from the Bus. Starry darkness accompanied the reality of my final westward swing near Richmond, Virginia, me and the Bus and my Who Do Man, Robert Earl.
I’m already planning another trip to Baltimore to see more of that eclectic city. And Robert Earl’s coming to town in June — I’ve got my ticket to sing more duets with him, live this time. And I’ll be wearing my Perfect Hat for both events.