I’m traveling a lot less. First July ride on an airplane was on the penultimate day of the month, a day trip to DFW for a monthly board meeting of the American Airlines Credit Union (I’ve been proud to serve this wonderful financial co-op for 11 years now). Not much to write about: up at zero-dark, out to Dulles, fly to DFW, meet, fly back, drive home. I did see some old friends in Texas, including a brief chat with pal Ken Gilbert (my buddy on the trip to Asturias in March).
But I did move around metropolitan Washington a bit, on some long bike rides, and sorties on the Metro. And finally got to my first Nationals baseball game with long friend Carl Nelson. He lives a couple of miles from the ballpark, so we rode bikes there, and watched a terrific game on a gorgeous summer afternoon.
The following week, on Friday, August 2, I woke up with itchy feet, so I rode with Robin into the city, took a very slow bus across downtown, and onto the MARC suburban train to Baltimore, about 40 miles northeast. Arrived Penn Station at 11:30, and fell into a memorable Talking to Strangers moment. An African-American fellow about my age and I went in search of temporary rest rooms, which were glorified porta-potties just outside the station’s west doors. We bantered as we walked, peed, and headed separate ways. Ten minutes later, while waiting for the bus, he reappeared with a taller young man. He introduced his son, who lived in Baltimore. We shook hands. The dialogue:
Son: My dad doesn’t like my new glasses.
Dad: He looks good, but don’t you think his glasses are ghetto?
Me: Hey, what do I know? But I do kinda agree with your pa.
We parted again. They were 20 feet down the sidewalk when I yelled, and walked briskly toward them. Asked to take their picture, and they obliged (though dad recommended that his son remove his glasses!). Told ‘em I needed to remember the moment. Shook hands again, and walked back to the bus stop.
I hopped on a very crowded #3 bus a couple miles north, to the main campus of Johns Hopkins University. It was lunch time, so I tucked into a Subway and root beer, then crossed Charles Street and into a bucolic campus. The contrast with the stressed neighborhoods between the train station and the campus was marked. Here were red-brick buildings framing a series of quadrangles. I headed into Gilman Hall, named (as I later learned) for the first president of the school. Wandered south, past the engineering school and a new building for robotics, then past the sculpture garden of the Baltimore Museum of Art, adjacent to the campus. I was reminded of what I had read (and posted here, December 2012) about Johns Hopkins, a righteous businessman with a strong social conscience, likely from his Quaker upbringing and beliefs; when he died in 1873, his bequests were the largest in the U.S. to date.
Walking the pleasant grounds, I was reminded of a friend of ours from Minnesota, John Rauenhorst, who in the early 1960s boarded a train and headed east to Hopkins. He had barely been out of the state – this was long before pre-application campus visits became the norm. I smiled at the image of John arriving there, and reckoned – as I’m sure he did 50 years ago – that he chose well, was exceedingly lucky, or both.
Took a bus downtown to the Inner Harbor, which has been completely revamped into a tourism destination. The process actually began in the late 1970s, and has totally transformed the core. Ambled into the Hopkins business school, called Carey, which occupied part of a brand-new building right on the water. A friendly security guard, Mr. Jackson, told me the history of the school; he had been with Hopkins for 25 years, and knew the details. (A week earlier, I had applied for an adjunct faculty position there, but that’s another story.) It was an impressive facility.
I misread the Google Maps transit directions, and hopped on the wrong bus, #23, and headed west. It was totally packed. I was the only white guy aboard, no matter. Re-vectored myself (smartphones are so handy) to board the return train to D.C. at the West Baltimore station. The ride west was bleak. At least to this visitor on that sunny summer day, Baltimore illustrated the rising inequality that is, or should be, on the minds of every thinking citizen of our republic. The extremes were stunning: reinvestment in gleaming hotels and condos on the water, and boarded up row houses on Franklin Street.
I was glad to see the MARC train squeak to a halt at 3:51. By six I was home. An interesting day.