I am currently in Richmond, Virginia but am working on stories from previous destinations while here. Thanks for reading! Cheers!
That’s Who I Met in Baltimore
City of John Waters, Divine, and the films/musical “Hairspray”, Billie Holiday, Philip Glass, Frank Zappa, Babe Ruth, Edgar Allan Poe(b.Boston).
The day started with a very friendly barista at Caribou Coffee on Charles offering her suggestions as to how I should spend my day. A fun, cheerful young lady probably in her early twenties she reminded me of someone I thought I knew but had been very wrong about.
“Take the Circulator,” she had cheered, “it goes all over where you want to go and it’s free!” I hadn’t found a jump-on-off tour bus, having a free system would explain that. “You can look at the routes online using our wifi, there’s a purple stop right there,” she says, pointing. Charm City Circulator.
Well caffeinated with an espresso-strengthened weak drip coffee, I board a busy bus heading north. Not only is this free, I also get to mingle with locals on this not-specifically-for-tourists service. Because it is mostly just a people-mover, only a few seats are facing forward and I find myself facing inward and my view mostly obscured by other passengers and the large semi-transparent decals that adorn the windows from the outside.
“Take this bus often?” I ask an elderly black woman laden with reused plastic shopping bags. “Mmmm hmmm,” she says dismissively, as if thwarting an unwanted pick-up line. I laugh to myself, or probably out loud, by my interpretation. She’s probably one of those old woman who worries about possibly getting raped, as if some young man would look at her eighty-year-old figure, her underbite, her oversized-glasses trying to cover the drooping bags under her eyes and with her tits dangling to her waist and not be able to control himself. Perhaps living in the past. Just a tad. I would gage her safety in that regard to be quite high myself. And if she is a potential mugging-target for being rich, in that she is very well disguised.
I see an interesting obelisk through the front window so I jump off at what turns out to be a Washington Monument. I learn that George Washington spent the end of his life here, in this neighbourhood known as Mount Vernon. So did Edgar Allan Poe. Coincidence? I think, not a doubt, that was a complete coincidence. Poe died in another part of town and in a very sad state. I take some photos before boarding the next circulator going North.
At the next stop a middle-aged woman boards with a suitcase and very full open purse and asks the driver if this bus will take her to the Sheraton. “Where’s it at?” he asks. She starts digging into her purse but I answer before she pulls anything out, “It does,” I call over, “I can show you on my map where it is.” I pull out my map and show it to her, it is nearest the stop where I originally boarded. “No, it’s not there,” she asserts impatiently, “it’s up here,” pointing at the Northern end of the map. “But that’s where we are now.” “I would know,” she declares with some attitude, “I used to live in this city.” “I’m at the Radisson which is next door to the Sheraton, so I guess there must be two Sheratons here. I’m sure you’ll find it.” I look away wanting to disengage with someone who is clearly argumentative.
She pulls out her phone gps to see that she was looking at Lafayette, which is a block from the stop where she boarded, and not Fayette, where the hotels actually are. “Oh. It’s on Fayette,” she declares, unapologetically. “Yes, that’s where I showed you.” Now she sits down beside me in a nearly empty bus. I pretend to be friendly but I’m not pleased to be crowded-in by this woman who knows better; I don’t want to continue our conversation. “How long have you been here?” she asks. “I arrived yesterday.” “Oh, you should see blah, blah, blah, blah . . . ” As she is overwhelming me with must-sees I will never remember anyway, she dumps her handbag, which is really just an unclosable tote, onto the floor. A random mess of personal effects sprawls out onto the winter-dirty bus floor. All those within reach help with retrieving her things, depositing them back into her bag. I take the opportunity of helping to get out of my seat which frees me to jump out at the next random stop. “This area looks interesting (no it doesn’t), enjoy your visit (no, don’t),” I chirp as I disembark happy to be free of this overbearing person who knows too much (she doesn’t).
I find myself wandering in the direction of downtown again in historic Mount Vernon; I am now on St.Paul street which runs parallel to Charles. A young man approaches me from behind and walks alongside. He’s wearing a winter coat with it’s fur-lined hood blocking most of his face. Tall and lanky, I can’t tell if he’s around fourteen or around twenty-four years old. He starts in with a story.
“I came here with my Mom and Step Dad from San Diego,” he begins, “because my Mom has cancer and she had treatments before we came. We used all our money to stay at that hotel last night,” he points behind us to a bare-bones nearby hotel, “because it’s so cold here, we needed to get off the street. Now we don’t have any money for food, could you buy me lunch?”
“Why did you come to Baltimore from San Diego? At least it’s warmer in San Diego.”
“Because my Mom, she wanted to die here.”
I’m trying to make an instant judgement of what I should do and the novelty of his story has effect. Although I have to say, it’s very strange to drag your partner and kid across the country to a cold city when you have no money because you want to die somewhere in particular.
I pull out my wallet and hand him twenty dollars. “Good luck,” I offer as I hand it to him. “Thanks a lot!” he exclaims and turns back, running. That could be four large 7-eleven pizzas. Yes, they have five dollar large pizzas, I never saw them before here. No, I didn’t try one.
Did I just buy his next fix? Very possibly. What do most people do? I tell myself I won’t give to people on the street, only through charities, but then I still find myself considering every time I am approached what the morally-ethical thing is to do.
I walk in the direction of Little Italy passing the very handsome city hall. Baltimore has a plethora of handsome architecture from it’s heyday as a thriving hub and manufacturing city. Raw materials arrived to Baltimore’s ports, where they were redistributed or manufactured into finished goods and then sent out again. In 1789, George Washington called Baltimore the “risingist” town in America. (fastest growing) There was also a considerable trade in African slaves. The redeveloped harbour front is no longer a centre of trade but it does draw large crowds of tourists, although not in January. Within the city, however, exist a lot of boarded-up relics, impressive historic industrial buildings no longer needed. I noticed these on my first evening when I walked along Howard Street to attend an event at Baltimore’s Ethical Society. At night, the area was like a ghost town. I felt safe, but the lack of people about had me wonder if perhaps my feeling of security was false.
Little Italy was recommended to me as a neighbourhood to visit, and like much of Baltimore it is charming. It’s an artsy, run-down, quietish area just off the city centre mostly consisting of two and three storey row homes many with ground-floor businesses.
I continue on to Historic Fell’s Point, which was founded by William Fell from England and made famous from it’s Clipper Shipbuilding yards. I take some photos of the weathered buildings and colourful graffiti art. It feels edgy and bohemian although I read that it is, “an upscale business and residential neighbourhood”. I guess I couldn’t find that section. Next time.
Circling back to Harbor Point I am considering my food options when a large black woman near to sixty exits the Cheesecake Factory and approaches me as I consider a menue of one of the other tourist restaurants. She is dressed well but has only a handful of teeth. She pulls up her sleeve. “Excuse me. I went to my doctor today for injections,” she shows me the injection sight, with one of those taped-on vein connectors in place. “I have diabetes. I just want a burger and fries and coke.” She tells me this as if asking for a cure. I look at her for a moment. This woman who probably has advanced diabetes, is asking me to buy her a meal, no – she’s telling me that all she wants is a meal, in an overpriced tourist zone no less, that would possibly contain more calories and definitely more sugar than someone should probably consume in a day. The amount of sugar in the oversized or bottomless cokes one gets here, if a regular part of your diet would nearly guarantee the outcome of having diabetes. “You shouldn’t drink coke,” I suggest.
“I can drink coke,” she replies, her head heightened at the back, “doctor gave me ice cream this morning.” Your doctor doesn’t care if you die, I think. The entitled way she has approached this stranger in an area of expensive tourist restaurants, I tell her no. Why should I feel obligated to buy this stranger a meal that will probably do her worse than if she had nothing. It’s sad, because she probably thinks a burger, fries, and coke is a balanced meal, why else would she ask so specifically after declaring that she has diabetes?
I start walking away and she follows along causing me not to pause at the next restaurants because now I feel awkward considering my dining options with her at my heels. I leave the district having not eaten.
At what looks to be a bus stop for the Charm City Circulator Orange line I pause. I can see the next bus coming along, I had wanted to do this circuit too. “Don’t take the green line, ” a local tells me, “of if you do, don’t stray off the main roads. Not safe for you to be up there.” The orange bus pulls up and the driver opens his door. “This isn’t a stop,” he tells me. “I can’t get on then?” His bus is empty, but the electronic display doesn’t say he’s not in service. “Where you trying to go?” “Nowhere, I’m sight seeing.” “I can’t help you if you don’t know where you want to go,” he says, closing his door. “I just wanted to take your route!” I yell through the closed door as he pulls away. I wasn’t expecting the driver to ask me where I was going, on the purple line I just got on and off. He might have let me get on if I’d given him the right answer. Maybe he doesn’t like to have one passenger aboard. I hardly look dangerous though.
I had been told there was some interesting architecture around the Johns Hopkins Campus that I could see on the Green Line. Now I don’t really want to see it anymore. I continue my wander back to my downtown hotel. I still need to find some food anyway.
A nice blend of the old and the new in downtown Baltimore.
Washington Monument in the central Mount Vernon neighbourhood of Baltimore.
This view looking South near to the Washington Monument.
Some random views around the area.
Lots of handsome architecture in downtown Baltimore.
Baltimore City Hall.
Wandering around Baltimore’s Little Italy.
I have to admit, I didn’t exactly feel like I was in Italy or anything. But it’s a cute area.
Okay, so now I’m in the “upscale” business and residential neighbourhood of Fells Point. There really must be an entire section that I entirely could not find to warrant that description. I like the vibe here, it’s just that “upscale” is not a description that would have ever come to mind.
Yes, I am still wandering around Fells Point.
And back to the harbour, now a tourist area.
With a number of bars in the area, I wonder if anyone ever falls over the railings into the water. Or rather, since there are no railings, if anyone ever just walks right over the edge? Do not text and walk here! (Not that one should anyway, but I think we all have on occasion.)
One more step and down we go! There are no barriers all around the water’s edge.
The last ship still afloat that experienced the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
And we’re back downtown.
I should mention I did meet a few other friendly locals at a little event held at Baltimore’s Ethical society. That is not specifically a story, but was the kind of experience that will find it’s way into other stories. Thanks for visiting http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com!