Baltimore is a great city. It’s decided. Despite this, we experienced some difficult moments there and I think that sadly the bad memories will keep me away for a while.
Actually, these moments started before we even got there (though I will take full responsibility for this…). We went to the airport, having a fun time, discussing the merits of Memphis with the bus driver who took us from downtown to Memphis International Airport. He was hilarious, turning round to say, “ahh, yeah, but when Elvis first bought that mansion there was nothing around here… I mean that house today is big, sure, but it ain’t nothing so special nowadays… back then it was really something!” and every time he turned around the bus would swerve all over the road and he’d turn back to the wheel just in time to steer out of the way of oncoming traffic. Scary, but I knew he had it covered.
Get in the airport, I say to the check-in girl, “hi, we’re headed for Baltimore”. She replies, “no, sir. Your flight is to Washington DC”. Damn. The stupid thing was that Nick had specifically asked me to check the destination: I’d just got confused because our orginal idea was to travel to DC instead. It pays to check. To make matters worse we’d booked a hotel in Baltimore. On the airplane we checked the (bad) map in our guidebook, we wanted to figure out the best and quickest way to the hotel from Washington Dulles Airport. It looked like Baltimore was only a 10 mile drive. It was actually 40.
We got into DC, got a car and started driving, but thanks once again to our maps and the Americans’ habit of not putting up signposts that mean anything, it took us 3 hours through country lanes to get there. We arrived about 11pm.
But the city (the largest in the state of Maryland) looks great as you approach. All high-rises and colored lights; snaking highways creeping over the cityscape as the neon blinks below and you can just make out the sea, awash with the reflection of the moon. Beautiful. During the day it was great too. We went visiting, saw the harbor and visited some old ships — an old WWII submarine and the USS Constellation, the last Civil War-era working sailship afloat. It was a special place to be.
The Constellation was active during the Civil War and after serving around the Pacific was sent to the Mediterranean to stop Confederate slaving vessels. Many a poor soul was rescued by this boat and her crew and returned to the shores of Africa. She bore the Union flag very proudly.
But, let me return to the troubles.
Since we have been in the states we have been under the constant threat of Hurricanes. We were supposed to go to New Orleans, but luckily avoided it. When we were in Memphis, all the surrounding towns were on “Tornado Watch”. We got to Baltimore and we were innundated with rain all day — the tail-end effects of Hurricane Hanna. We go to New Jersey next and they are experiencing flooding (caused by the hurricanes). I feel like somebody knows something we don’t. It’s very worrying…. But this is not the fault of Baltimore, naturally.
Baltimore is very pretty in certain parts and it certainly creates a feel-good vibe when you enter. The locals pronounce the word “Bawlamore”, betraying slightly their English West Country origins. But… while the tourist books universally nominate this place “Charm City”, other people call it “bodymore”; testament to the fact that this town has a murder rate six times greater than New York. However, we stayed fairly central and were fine.
Then, I had my first real scare. I’d left Nick to take care of the washing while I went out to look for a bottle of Coca-Cola (and some beers). I discovered that contrary to the previous state we’d been in, Maryland does not permit its gas stations to sell beer. Fine. I drove off. Then the rain came down with renewed vigour. It was dark, it was pouring with rain, I got lost someplace out in the country back roads surrounding Baltimore. It was horrible. I had no direction out there in the mysterious American night, sourrounded by monstrous shadowy trees like a haunted forest; it was lonely and actually pretty scary. I put the radio on for company. Then I chanced upon a place to buy beer and coke. Lucky. I got some awful directions, was coming home, and in the wet and mud of those mystery-shrouded country roads what happened? My brakes stopped working.
They didn’t completely stop, but I guess there was a problem with the ABS or something. I had to put a heavy foot on the pedal to even slow the car down, and it was slipping and sliding all over. I couldn’t even call anyone for help because I had no idea where I was and nobody else was on the roads. A cold fear swept through me.
Luckily, happily, I found the Interstate to Baltimore (somehow I’d managed to travel 40 miles away in only 50 minutes on country roads) and it took me over an hour to get back driving like a snail in the emergency lane.
All said and done, Baltimore is a lovely place — it has innovative architecture, great scenery and a good feel on the streets; it has historic sites of high interest and good food: I even enjoyed the Baltimore speciality: crab — but I don’t think I’ll be going back there soon. This isn’t fair of course, but memories lie heavy on a man’s soul.