Sunday, October 9, 2011

I Am Not a City Gal - My Trip to Baltimore

by Donna L. Watkins

Quite awhile back, our business registered for the Natural Products Expo East which was held in Baltimore this year. Not as an exhibitor, but as an attendee. We made the trip towards the end of September, booking a hotel room downtown. It had great reviews at which has always been reliable.

I guess I had adventure in mind when I decided to book a room in downtown Baltimore. It was a converted row home turned into a Rodeway Inn. I thought it would be nice to park the car for two days and use public transportation or walk since the convention center was only .8 mile away from the hotel. I grew up in Pennsylvania being very familiar with row homes, so I thought it would be quite nostalgic. Hmmm ....

With only 20 rooms, we thought we should check-in as soon as we arrived in the city, even though we wouldn't be able to get into the room till later. We didn't want to get the worst room in the building. I certainly hope we didn't end up with the best room in the building since it wasn't quite what I expected. The sheets were clean so we determined we would not complain. I'm much more fussy than Randal when it comes to bathrooms, but even he wouldn't use the shower. My consolation was that we were gone most of the time, but the nights were noisy with traffic outside and bright lights that shined through the curtain cracks.

I didn't sleep much the first night, but the second night my brain had adjusted some I guess. I kept thinking, "Where is the night music?" For Baltimore or any large city that would've meant boom boxes, nearby bars with music emptying into the street, and cars honking and people shouting. My idea of music was crickets, locusts and tree frogs.

The website said there was free parking across the street. When we arrived there was no parking lot across the street, only a block of row homes. Randal parked in a space with a fire hydrant and I remained in the car. He was informed that all the spaces along the other side of the street for the entire block was free parking. Okay, guess so. But with all those homes, you might imagine there were no empty spaces. He asked for directions to a parking garage and there was one only two blocks away. I think we took one of only three remaining spaces after working our way up to the top level.

We went immediately to the convention center excited to begin our business event. There was a free bus that headed down that way but not knowing what time it might come, we decided walking would be the fastest, since the first speaker we wanted to hear, Patch Adams, was scheduled only 40 minutes later. thing I had wanted to do at the expo was to hear Patch Adams speak and that was to begin in only 40 minutes. There were no uphill streets since we were headed down to the water at Harbor Place.

The day was full with lots of walking not only at the convention center, but back to the parking garage which was slightly uphill. We encountered lots of lonely people along the way. Some homeless folks, some folks that looked like gang members, some businessmen, and plain old regular people that had a look of misery in their eyes. I think it's hard to live in a city. You would have to carry around a lot of fear with all that goes on.

People mostly avoided eye contact, but now and then I could get somebody to look at me and receive a big smile. I sensed a lot of grief and sadness as we passed the many people on our way back to the garage. I would imagine a smile could really make a difference in their life. I pondered how long it had been since some of the people who lived on the street had seen a smile directed totally to them.

I was glad we packed light since we had to walk back to the hotel up a rather steep hill with our bags and computers. Randal hooked our water bottles on his belt, put a computer on each shoulder and his bag over one of them. My bag was a very light backpack so I carried it myself along with my purse. Just getting me up the hill was my greatest challenge, but it's quite amazing how much strength you can feel when you put the Word first in your mind and let Jesus just take over. I truly believe that "we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us" if we let Him who abides in us do it. I used to use my own willpower to make things happen and then pay for it later. I find this newer approach works much better.

The next day we repeated much the same routine except that it was raining when we left the hotel for the convention center. We decided we'd wait for The Circulator (free bus) since it was a direct route to where we were going. As we walked to the stop a little more than a block away without our umbrellas (they were both in the back seat of the car and neither of us thought to take them along. I looked over at Randal and said you don't look like you're a happy camper, so I guess you won't be singing me any romantic love songs.

You see, on one of our early dates, it was raining and when we walked to the car Randal sang me a little song that he's sung a number of times since. We hadn't walked in the rain for quite some time, but he knew exactly what I meant and began the song: "I'll walk in the rain by your side. I'll cling to the touch of your tiny hand. I'll do anything to make you understand, that I love you more than anybody can." By then we arrived at the bus stop with others waiting, so it tickled me silly. I think I turned 3 shades of red, but as always, my eyes teared up too.

By the end of our 8-hour day roaming the expo and hauling bags of samples as we did the first day, we saw that it was pouring outside. No sample umbrellas in our bags, so we decided to just enjoy the rain. After all it was a bit fun and romantic in the morning. Now with the bus stop more than 2 blocks away, my wet clothes were turning soggy and my makeup was running. When we got to the stop there was no cover. Plenty of folks with umbrellas, but you know life in the big city ... nobody talks to nobody, so there was little hope of anybody offering to share any dry space under their umbrella.

We moved under a building that was behind the bus stop being able to look up the street to see it coming. They run every 10-20 minutes we were told, but after 45 minutes, it still had not arrived. Feeling like I'd smoked a few cigarettes after standing beside those who sought cover with one, my joy factor was draining like water in a colander. I definitely felt like limp lettuce too. But eventually the bus arrived and we decided to go back to the parking garage to get our umbrellas.

The bus was late because the traffic was really bad so we stood up on a totally full bus and since I couldn't really hold on to the posts, I hung on to my honey, who had the two big bags full of samples on his shoulders all the time of our walking and waiting. Oh how I wanted to grumble a bit, but I couldn't keep myself from smiling. I was so glad that I worked at home and didn't need to have this kind of an adventure every day. Finally a bright spot in the dreary, cloudy day appeared ... a detour which took the bus right past the garage instead of two blocks away. The driver was more than willing to let us out right at the garage entrance. What a blessing!

We were excited to get to bed that night knowing we would be leaving early the next morning for a family visit in Pennsylvania to be followed by a 5-1/2 hour drive back home later that day with images of our cozy and wonderful mattress and our kitty, Squeek.

But before that we found the door to the parking garage wasn't open, so we went down to where you drive in and walked up towards the car noticing the sign that said they didn't open till 8 AM.  It was 6:50.  Were we going to have to sit there for over an hour and be later than we told our family we'd arrive?  Randal thought they may have an option to use your credit card.  Somehow I didn't think it was that fancy, but there was nobody in the booth to collect our money.

Fortunately when we came down and went towards the exit gate, which didn't have any credit card option, the gate lifted.  Randal was so concerned about where to pay, like a Boy Scout he couldn't seem to hit the gas pedal until we'd handed over the $20.  I told him to move it while the gate was up.  We could send a check when we got back home, which is what we did after calling to find out where to send it.

One piece of great news was that our best mileage for the trip was 39.4 miles per gallon in Randal's Ford Fusion. This is not the hybrid either. We are really excited that it's doing so well with gas mileage since that's been the main qualifying factor for us when we buy a car. We don't put enough miles on to buy an actual green car since we couldn't justify the expense with an average of 6000 miles per year. Working at home leaves our cars in the garage for weeks sometimes without use. It sure cuts the cost of insurance too. So, if anybody's looking at cars with good gas mileage, keep the Ford Fusion in mind.

I bet most of you are wondering where the photos are in this post. Where's the link to the album of Baltimore? Would you believe I didn't take one picture while we were there. I didn't even get the camera out of the car. I knew I wasn't going to take it to the convention center. I didn't even want to carry my purse there. Since it wasn't easy to get things from the car and put them back in, I simply decided I'd skip the photos on this trip. Besides, the hotel wasn't very photogenic and I'm sure city folks don't appreciate having their pictures being taken without consent. So ... that was a new adventure for me too. A trip without a photograph!

However, I do have photos from previous trips to Baltimore, so maybe you would enjoy these:
Baltimore, MD - City and Natural Areas
Baltimore Harbor, MD - New Year's Eve on USS Constellation

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