As we turned off of the turnpike into the city of Breezewood, Pennsylvania and headed southeast I got a familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's a mixture of thrill and little bit of anxiety. It's entering Terra Incognito, a place that I haven't been before. I was beginning to explore.
For more than five years, plans for a trip to Baltimore, the city of Edgar Allen Poe, has been discussed by my friends and I for sometime. This year for my "Birthday trip," I decided that we were heading there. Caed had been planning to come along with us, but she backed out a couple of weeks before. I think that she actually had been to the city before. So with no plans other than a road atlas of the 50 States and some cash in my wallet for the toll roads, I packed up Peryton, a Herculean task in and of itself, and drove out on Friday morning towards the great east of our nation.
We hit the city around 3:30pm and spent the next couple of hours alternating between navigating the expressway loop around the city and heading towards the harbor area. And using nearly illegible maps and Yahoo travel reviews, we made many friends with our Out-of-State license plates and seriously bad, as in dangerous, tourist driving and by 6pm we had found all but one points of interest on this trip, as well visited some very interesting neighborhoods. So then we found a gas mart, or whatever they are called, refueled the vehicle, and bought a serious road map of the city. Then came the task of finding a place to stay.
We headed back to the expressway and discovered that everyone on the eastern seaboard did not live in the city that they work in. Three miles later we were back in an inner city neighborhood moving from east to west, and just going with the flow. Peryton had some grand scheme, which I kind of foiled with a turn here and there, mostly avoiding too many other cars. When we passed the church and churchyard so well lit that it had to be where Poe had been buried, I decided it was time to stop driving and get serious about a hotel. We did a 180 turn, headed five blocks back, we found the Radison, I handed the keys to the valet guy, slipped him a fiver and asked him not to drive to Boston over the next couple of days. The rest of the night was spent getting comfortable and hanging in the lobby bar grabbing dinner, where Tabitha and Chad reminded me of Samuel Adams in their golden vests, but were hip and funny.
Saturday came and did not sneak up on me at all. Always awake too early when traveling, I spent the morning exploring the hotel, having breakfast, and of course waiting for Peryton to decide that she could venture forth into the bigger world beyond the bathroom mirror. Sometime after 11am, she decided we could leave the hotel room. But a hotel desk clerk had to hold us up a bit, by informing me, while I tried to get a not working "room key" fixed, that we were in another room than where we had slept and had our bags. I pointed out that that was not the case, and the clerk, being a bit insecure, I suppose, had to get security involved. The house detective showed up when called and helped get my room key fixed, adding the words, "What a silly situation. Some people need to find a new job."
So finally into my adventure! A sunny, cool day and I had a couple landmarks to get to Poe's grave. And sure enough, Peryton and I found it. Left a penny each and posed with our best morbid expressions and got the obligatory pictures at the grave. Okay, that was done. I suddenly felt I should've been wearing my Mickey Mouse hat and Hawaiian shirt. I am sure everyone reading this has done this. Okay now was time to get serious "traveler" not just tourist. So checking my Baltimore map, it was time for some hiking to Peryton's discovery the Annabel Lee Pub.
Heading west to east, Baltimore struck me as a town similar to Cleveland in a lot of ways, yet, to put it into expressionistic terms, "more so." The harbor of Baltimore has the USS Constitution, the smell of brine, and big ass gulls that would just eat our poser gulls hanging out by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Lake Erie. I was able to see Federal Hill with Fort Henry as well as the Domino Sugars sign, so idolized by the Wire on HBO. The people we ran into, once away from the tourist areas, just past Little Italy, were serious urban joggers and working guys and gals awakening from the partying of the night before with hang overs but clean clothes. And while Cleveland has hills, Baltimore hills last for about a mile and half making the walk worth one's while, so to speak.
We walked past an area called where Patterson Park is the prominent landmark. And just our feet were beginning to hurt, we came to the Annabel Lee Pub. But guess what. It was 1:30pm and the place didn't open until 4pm. So with our dogs howling we headed north to Eastern street and found the High Grounds book store and coffee shop. Where we passed the time having a cup of coffee and buying a "book bag," a plastic bag that can be filled to the rim for $2. Great, I came to Baltimore to buy more used books. Maybe this time I will finish James Clavell's Noble House. But I did find a collection of undiscovered, by me, three plays by Clive Barker, who happens to an absurdists in the tradition of Samuel Beckett, Bertolt Brecht, or Edward Albee, which I happen to be found of. Finally, half way through Barker's Crazyface, it was 4:15 and time to head to "lunch."
What an evening this lunch was going to be. The kitchen wouldn't open until 5pm, but Jocelyn and Kurt, the barkeeps maybe an owner thrown in, enticed us with Raven ale and the E.A. Poe action figures. In the background, for some reason, the 40's station from XM satellite radio played in the background, and the Redskins played muted on the TV. I actually chatted up the cook when he came, because I thought he liked soccer, wearing an England sweat suit and all. Apparently only his wife was the England fan. So next came the blackened shrimp, misnamed as they were huge, and beet stroganof(sp?), the best damned vegetarian dish I have had in at least in a year. Then we sampled the E.A. Poe pate, milk and dark chocolate, and, lest I forget, Resurrection Ale. Well, topped off at sometime after 8pm, we grabbed a taxi cab from the Raven cab company, and headed back to the hotel. Where I couldn't help but grab a couple more drinks, Chad was serving after all. There was some sort of discussion of who Hanna Montana and Dora Explorer was, and if one or other were real or not, but it's kind of hazy. Luckily Peryton got me back to the room before fisticuffs came about. Seriously though, we talked more about the Federal Hill neighborhood.
Sunday, I, of course, woke up too early. But I had breakfast with the staff of the downstairs restaurant, and was able to get packed real early. But amazingly, Peryton scrambled out of bed at 9am and we actually left the room by 1145 am. The drive home was so "been there, done that" now that it was Nostra Terra. I sampled my first Quiznos sub ever. And we surprised the house sitter as his phone was on vibrate that evening.