Eat, Drink and Be Maryland

It’s striking how close together many of these old east coast cities are. This is certainly the case with D.C. and Baltimore, to the point where I wasn’t really sure when we left D.C. and when we entered Baltimore. I could tell when we left Baltimore and entered Catonsville, however, as the dense apartments and row houses morphed into suburban two-stories with big front yards. It wasn’t quite going from The Wire to the The Wonder Years, but not too far off. We were heading to Catonsville because that is where our friends Drummer (real name reportedly Jeremy) and Kara live with their son Matthew. He was Matty last time I visited but now, as a mature nine year old, he’s dispensed with the truncating and appending a long e sound. Take note Australia, it can be outgrown.

I’ve known Drummer and Kara both since college. They are both awesome and awesome together so I was excited to see them both and excited for Slinky to meet Kara. She’d met Drummer earlier this Summer at Rabscuttlooza, a celebration of music, art and rabbit stories organized by our friend Dan Hawthorne. That was also, incidentally, the first time I’ve heard Drummer, whose primary instrument is oddly enough drums, perform a stellar acoustic blues set. I knew he could play but had no idea he could sing. It was good enough that I was a bit angry at him about it.

Our first night in town they prepared a feast of ribs and grilled goodness then followed it up with a campfire and s’mores. Kara and I debated how long it had been since we’d seen one another for a while. I’ve had that conversation a number of times on this trip. It’s a fun little trip down memory lane without ever having to utter, ‘Remember that one time . . .”  We landed on October of 2012 for those keeping score at home. Kara then spent some time being angry at me about the color of my hair, which is not to her estimation turning gray so much as ‘getting all weird and stuff.’ I assured her that I look exactly the same as I did when we met in college. It was probably a trick of the campfire light.

Drummer, Matthew and Kara eating ribs
Feasting in B-more

Eventually the guitars came out. Then their neighbour, who is also the sousaphone player in Drummer’s band, dropped by with cigars, whiskey and a deep catalogue of John Denver songs. There was much singing and playing and passing of guitars and bottles. Slinky and Kara peeled off as they saw where this was going. When Drummer and I eventually decided to call it a night, I was actually shocked to see it was 3:30 am. Damn you, John Denver! You get me every time.

I started the next day off fuzzy and a bit jealous that Slinky had gone to bed at a far more reasonable and less booze soaked hour. Drummer drove us into the city while Kara offered some helpful tips about speed and safe following distance. The plan was to lunch on the best pizza in town. We arrived early since we had a Baltimore Orioles game to catch and wanted to beat the crowds. We stood outside the pizza place with stomachs grumbling and waited for the doors to open. They never did. Half an hour after the purported opening time, we gave up and hangrily walked to another pub that apparently brings double of whatever you order. I ordered a coke and they brought me two. So I ordered a beer.

Soon enough we were on our way to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles take on the Detroit Tigers. Between walking through the gates and finding our seats our seats, the Orioles hit three homeruns. We saw none of them. It was bizarre. We got through security, the crowd erupted. We stopped into the bathroom, the place went nuts. We ordered some drinks, pandemonium. The final score was 13-4 in the Orioles’ favor, with half of Detroit’s runs scored in the hopeless 9th inning. It wasn’t a close game but if you like watching the home team hit some dingers, it was a good place to be. As we walked out of the stadium, huge lines of patient parents and eager children were forming. We were informed that kids could run the bases after the game. Thankfully, Matthew didn’t show any more interest in those lines than the rest of us, but I kind of held my breath until they were out of sight.

View of Camden Yards from behind third base
A rare homerun-free moment at Camden Yards

We didn’t do too much touristy stuff in Baltimore. We did take a rain soaked stroll around Fells Point but spent much of that time browsing old records in a cramped little shop. After loading up on history and culture in D.C., it was nice to just visit with friends, play music, and relax.

On our third and final night in town, Drummer and Kara took us to Ships Restaurant for Maryland crabs. They were difficult to eat, completely plastered in Old Bay seasoning and, well, delicious. The waitress dumped a giant pile of them on the table in front of us. She gave us paper grocery bags in which to hide the carnage. I warned Kara that sitting across from Slinky while she’s eating crustaceans carries a similar threat level to the front row at a Gallagher show. Kara barricaded herself with menus. I don’t know if it’s actually possible to hallucinate from a sodium overdose but I do know that, right before I passed out, one of the crabs told me he was my spirit animal.

Tuesday morning, Mathew went to camp and Drummer and Kara went to work, leaving us to pack up and go. In the process we discovered a chipmunk had found his way into their screened in porch. He made it under the ping pong table where I’d recently lost a game to a nine year old and hid under the shelving unit. When we couldn’t find him, we decided to leave the screen door open so he could get out. Not wanting other chipmunks to take advantage of the open door, I affixed a ‘No Chipmunks Allowed’ post-it note. We are nothing if not thoughtful guests.

Mr. Roo Goes to Washington

To be honest, my trepidation about visiting Washington D.C. started back in June when we visited Chicago. Walking around the corner and seeing the big dumb name of our current president on a big beautiful building just made me cringe. I knew that feeling would be magnified in D.C. but I have such fond memories attached to the city, including a 9th grade school trip where we got to roam around semi-unsupervised around the capital for 3 days. Besides, I was morbidly curious as to what it would be like now.

Fountain in front of the Capital Building
Beyond Fountaindome

In addition to loving the city itself, my good friends Carlton and Kellie live in Capital Hill and had invited us to stay with them. They are some of the nicest and most fun people I know, so I was very excited to catch up with them and for Sarah to get to know them. We had switched the order of Baltimore and Washington D.C to catch them before they left to attend a wedding in Canada. I’m so glad we did. It was really great to spend time with them. Carlton and Kellie’s location provided the perfect launching pad for our museum and monument bonanza. We could work in the mornings and plunge right out into the D.C. swelter in the afternoons.

Clouds over Union Station
Clouds over Union Station

We toured around Union Station and the Mall on our first day and spent a bit of time at the American History museum. That visit was cut shorter than anticipated because the entertainment wing was closed for renovations. I was bummed we didn’t see Fonzie’s jacket or Archie Bunker’s chair but we did get to wander through the gallery of First Lady’s inaugural gowns. That was like watching a timelapse video of the fashion trends of the last two centuries. They didn’t have Melania’s dress on display yet. I was heartened by their wait-and-see approach.

The next evening, our doting hosts took us to picnic at the capitol and watch ‘The President’s Own’ United States Marine Band perform. I guess they knew Sarah would be there because they dedicated part of their set to Australian composers. As the sun set behind us, the sky behind the Washington Monument turned bright pink. I forget how pretty a city our nation’s capital is when I haven’t been there for a while.

Though they had a brutally early flight to catch, Carlton and Kellie guided us around some of their favorite memorials, including MLK, FDR, Jefferson and Lincoln. We got back to the house exhausted, thankful and feeling a little guilty that they still had to pack. I guess they kept their eyes open long enough to fill their suitcases because by the time we woke up, they were on their way to Canada, leaving us with a hand drawn map of the area, some tips on things to check out, and their bikeshare keys.

Slinky looking at a painting
Slinky getting her art fix

We decided to give history a rest and to check out some art at the Smithsonian Gallery of American Art. I chose the least bicycle-friendly route so by the time we got there we’d be exhilarated and filled with the will to live, just as one should be when one views art. It worked. We both really enjoyed the museum. Also it was nice to view exhibits that didn’t involve Slinky asking me history questions that I really ought to know the answer to.

That evening we met more friends, Lindsey and Chris, for dinner at their place. We had a great time catching up on old times and learning about mythology from their daughters, who are far too bright for their single-digit ages. We had such a nice time that I forgot to take any pictures. So you’ll have to take my word for it, they are beautiful people inside and out.

On Friday, Slinky and I took an actual day off of work and biked over to the White House and Ford’s theatre . The Ford’s Theater tour contains two parts: the theater where Lincoln was shot and the rooming house across the street where he actually died. The museum itself was a bit all over the place, but the talk by the ranger was informative and interesting. Even so, I was having trouble keeping my eyes open so I decided to skip the second part and cycle back to the house. Slinky, ever the better traveller, toughed out the long line.

Slinky on a bike with the capital in the background
Two-wheelin’ with feelin’

When she went to retrieve a bike for the ride home, her key fob wouldn’t unlock one. She worked out that one of us hadn’t properly docked the bike on the last trip. Hot and stranded, she called me. Back in my air conditioned splendor, my mind flashed to the little sign on the bike that said failure to return it would result in purchasing said bike for $1000. So I quickly hung up on her. OK, that last bit didn’t happen. I called Kellie in Canada and she assured me that if it did cost them a grand that would count as both my birthday and Christmas present. She made some calls and straightened everything out while Slinky made the long walk home. I watched Crossroads with Ralph Machio on free to air television. We all made sacrifices.

Our last night in DC was spent at the sculpture garden listening to live jazz and dangling our feet in the fountain. The band’s 12 minute vamp on Donna Summers’ ‘I Will Survive’ eased the pain of leaving DC with so much left unseen and undone. I’m sure we’ll be back but it was still tough to go, to walk out the door, to turn around and not be welcome anymore.

Fountain at the sculpture garden with people listening to the jazz band play
Jazz in the Sculpty place

Thankfully we weren’t going too far and had more good friends to visit with in Baltimore.


Downtime with the Amish.

Our time in Pennsylvania Dutch Country was short and in some ways bittersweet.

We drove through the rolling hills of farms, overtaking families on their Sunday buggy drives whilst admiring the lush landscape. We tried some Amish food specialities (their version of Chicken Pot Pie, Shoofly Pie and Birch Beer) at a local restaurant, which were both filling and satisfying.

Amish Countryside
Dutch country!

To be perfectly honest, I was somewhat surprised at the welcoming nature of the Amish and Mennonite communities. I think I was expecting disdain for our technology and consumer driven lifestyles, but we received nothing but waves, smiles and general friendliness from the locals who we were essentially coming to ogle at.

Cabin and Eagleroo
Home sweet homes

We had originally planned to camp here but having previously experienced the whirlwind that is setting up and taking down camp in a 15 hour period we instead booked a cabin in an ‘over thirties’ RV ‘camp’ ground (we were the youngest there by a good 20 years). Our cabin was delightfully simple and homey and we drifted off to sleep listening to the gentle clip clop of horses driving past. Turns out the Amish are quite the night owls.

Our serenity was shattered the next morning as we attempted to meet work deadlines, do laundry and pack up our belongings before checking out of our cabin at midday and driving to Gettysburg for the afternoon. Being simultaneously pulled every which was at once was becoming a common and overwhelming emotion on this trip, but this was a tipping point for me.

Amish countryside
How can you stay stressed with this view?

In despair, I said ‘I didn’t know it would be this hard’. Erik responded with ‘I didn’t know it would be this kind of hard’. But as we sat, post meltdown, overlooking the beautiful Pennsylvania country side, eating our lunch, all the reasons we came on this trip came flooding back.

Being the generous soul that he is, Erik was kind enough to drive to Gettysburg as I met my work deadlines. We hadn’t really factored in enough time for Gettysburg, but it was almost on the way to Washington DC, so decided to at least swing past. We saw the video narrated by Morgan Freeman, the cyclorama and (to the disdain of the park ranger who we asked what to see if we only had an hour) did a quick auto tour of the battle field.

Gettysburg battlefield
Gettysburg battlefield

We were surprised by how well laid out and extensive it was, and have vowed to return one day to see more.

Join, or die

From Hyde Park, we took the ‘roo all the way down the Hudson, through New Jersey and into Pennsylvania.

Our first stop (and last, for now at least, on the Revolutionary trail) was Philadelphia. This was our first Airbnb experience where we stayed in a private room in someone else’s house. When we were planning our trip, we thought the ‘Private Room’ option would be a great way to tap into some local knowledge, meet some interesting people and save some money. We thought we were confident and social enough that this would be a breeze. But, like many things we thought prior to starting this trip, this wasn’t necessarily the case. It turns out that our ‘people pleaser’ personality types, coupled with a host that had many rules (including requesting we place used toilet paper in the shared rubbish bin rather than down the toilet… urgh) led to a less than relaxing stay. That being said, we were in the South part of Philadelphia which was walking distance to the major historic sites, but edgy enough to remind us of our beloved Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy.

The revolutionary history dots had started to join together for me by the time we got to Philly, and so it was enlightening to walk the streets and understand how each piece fit in the 1776 puzzle. On our first afternoon we got our historical bearings, skipped the long lines for the Liberty Bell and visited Independence Hall where the Declaration of Independence was signed. This was all very interesting until a pint-sized, pre-pubescent, pick-pocketer – possibly in cahoots with her ‘father’ – tried to get the better of me. Thankfully, she was neither skilled nor successful at her art.

Independence Hall
Independence Hall, site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and a lesser known attempted pickpocketing.

We also visited the brand-spanking new Museum of the American Revolution. This is an amazing exercise in high quality curation, managing to tell an incredibly multi-faceted story in an engaging and informative way. The absolute highlight was George Washington’s tent. Yes: his actual tent… the one that he lived in and which served as military headquarters during the revolutionary war. My slight fascination with Benjamin Franklin turned into a minor obsession after visiting this museum, so Erik was dragged along the next morning to the Benjamin Franklin museum to learn more about this enigmatic revolutionary character, printmaker and inventor.

Benjamin FranklinMuseum
The ‘ghost’ of Benjamin Franklin’s house outside his museum.

I was enthralled by his famous ‘Join, or die’ print and the way its meaning altered over time. This is often thought to be the first piece of American Revolutionary propaganda, but actually wasn’t created as a response to this cause at all. It originated during the seven year war (also known as the French and Indian war), encouraging the colonies to unite together for the first time in history, and, ironically, under the British banner to boot. It was only later that it became a symbol of resistance against the British. I thought it was cool, anyway.

Join, or Die cartoon
Benjamin Franklin getting his cartoon on

Philly was also a food-filled experience. We lined up and tried authentic philly cheese steak; ate our way through local delicacies at Reading Terminal Market (the most delicious pretzel of the trip, a pot-roast roll, and an Amish apple dumpling); and stuffed ourselves with China Town dim-sum that rivalled Melbourne’s offerings.

Reading Terminal Market
Reading Terminal Market

On our second night there, we were lucky enough to score $6 tickets to see Wilco, Offa Rex (Olivia Chaney & Decemberists) and Conor Obert at a festival in Camden, New Jersey. We’re still not entirely sure why the tickets were so cheap, but there were some rumblings about ominous weather forecasts which seemed to have sent the festival into disaster mode. We caught the ferry across the Delaware, sat on the lawn in an amphitheatre and saw some great music. As Conor Oberst came to a close, it started lightly raining so we made an early escape.

As we Ubered back, two interesting things happened:

One: We learnt that we had just waited for an Uber on a deserted road in the most dangerous city in America… or perhaps 2nd most dangerous, our Uber driver wasn’t sure. I have since looked this up, and according to Neighbourhood Scout, Camden was most dangerous in 2015, 2nd in 2016 but has now slipped to 4th. So I guess that’s why we’re okay.

Two: Erik was mistaken for an Australian. This has happened before, but we had put it down to people hearing my accent first, and then mistaking his mid-western drawl. But in this situation I had said nothing more than ‘hi’ so it was clearly Erik’s steady stream of chatter that did it.

We left Philly with full heads, hearts and stomachs, ready for some down time with the Amish.

Spending time with FDR and the CIA

I had this moment laying in a New York City hotel room where my mind floated back to our vacant campsite in Hyde Park. I played out one scene where vandals dismantled our defenceless van. Then another where rangers, upon finding the campsite unattended for so long, assumed we had drowned in the Hudson and called out whatever underwater search and rescue team would incur the maximum amount of expense and scorn. I’m not sure where the anxiety came from but it felt entirely plausible. As our uber glided into the campsite, I was happy to find the Eagleroo just as we had left it. We had affixed three sides to the pop-up shelter so that, with the fourth covered by the van, it really was hard to tell whether it was habited or not. It was an overcast day and we decided to spend the rest of it around camp. Our relaxing day would have segued nicely into a restful night but for the tireless work of one insect who spent the entire night reminding us of the Dalai Lama’s insight: “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”

The Hudson River
The Hudson with reassuring lack of search and rescue team

We were moderately excited about two things in Hyde Park: the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and FDR’s presidential library, both of which exceeded our expectations. The culinary institute operates several restaurants where students get a little work experience and patrons get a gourmet experience at sub-gourmet prices. We decided on the American Bounty restaurant which used regional produce to create American cuisine. Not only was the food delicious but we were seated right next to the window looking into the kitchen. We got to watch desserts being blowtorched and entrees plated while we tucked in to our own fare. With all of that goodness to absorb, my favorite part of the experience was still that the stick figures on the pedestrian crossing signs wore little chef hats. I’m pretty cultured.

Pedestrian crossing sign with chef's hat
Chef man walking

The other opportunity to fill our heads with good stuff in Hyde Park came from the FDR presidential library. I had assumed that presidential libraries went back as far as presidents. Not so. FDR created the first presidential library and did so while he was still president. He even used part of it as his office while in Hyde Park. I’ve always found the Roosevelts fascinating and this visit increased that fascination by quite a bit. We expected to spend about an hour there. We dragged ourselves away after four. Did you know that FDR made beer legal again during prohibition? It took an act of congress to get our whiskey back but FDR ended the cruel and unusual punishment of a beer-less depression. I mean I already liked him for the New Deal and putting Woodie Guthrie on the payroll and being portrayed by Bill Murray but the beer thing really clinched it.

Other highlights from Hyde Park included a scrumptious slice of pecan pie from the Eveready Diner, taking Eagleroo to see Planet of the Apes at the drive-in, and finally getting a decent phone holder that doesn’t drop the phone under the pedals every time we hit a bump. Thanks for all of that, Hyde Park.

Beantown to the Big Apple.

Well the Eagleroo continues to chug along the east coast and we are starting to get accustomed to the rhythm of life on the road, which isn’t really rhythmic at all. I guess that’s why it takes some getting accustomed to.

Red Sox versus Blue Jays at Fenway park
…more like funway!

After catching a game at Fenway we left Boston and headed to Cape Cod for a three night stint camping at Nickerson State Park. We were ready to get some of the city grit off of our skin and accomplished that shortly after arrival with a dip in the tranquil pond next to the campsite. Our three days on the Cape (or ‘The Cod’ as Slinky took to calling it) were the exact antidote to the noise of the city that we were after. Our main venture out of the campsite involved two beach drive-bys in which full parking lots kept us from stopping and a swing through Provincetown where hordes of people and expensive parking had the same effect. Honestly, I was a little relieved and happy to get back to our little corner of the woods. We spent most of our non-working hours on the cape reading, swimming, cooking, playing guitar–all of those things I thought there would be an endless supply of on the trip. It was pretty blissful. I even had time to scrub my Birkenstocks with borax in a semi-successful attempt to remove the increasing funk. And Slinky dyed her hair at 10pm one night.

Slinky walking on the water at Nickerson State Park
Slinky walking on the water at Nickerson State Park

From the Cape we worked our way to Hyde Park, New York, stopping off briefly in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. Stockbridge is famous (in my family, anyway) as the site of Alice’s Restaurant and the Arlo Guthrie’s arrest on charges of littering . . . and creating a nuisance. I was eager to eat at the restaurant and see the church from whence the litter came. I knew the restaurant was no longer called Alice’s Restaurant. What I didn’t know is that it isn’t open anymore. That seems to be recent and hopefully temporary. The church however is still there and is now the Guthrie Center. Arlo and a team of volunteers have kept it going as a ‘bring your own God’ church and music venue. They seemed happy to have us drop in and showed us around the place graciously. Sarah’s parents were here several years ago and Arlo happened to drop in while they were visiting. That didn’t happen to us, unfortunately. But I pulled away from the center slowly… just in case.

Eagleroo van at the Guthrie Center
The ‘roo goes to church

In Hyde Park we set up camp and immediately packed our bags to leave. Slinky had devised a cunning plan to set up camp just outside of town and then sneak off to Poughkeepsie and take the train to New York City. We figured the van would be more secure at a campsite looking occupied than in some parking lot in Jersey. So we caught an uber to the train station and a train to Grand Central then walked the remaining six blocks to our hotel.

New York was weird and wonderful as I think New York is supposed to be. Highlights included meeting an old friend for the first time and a chance dinner at a secret Mexican restaurant with friends from Dubai. Both of those could probably use a bit more explanation. So right before I moved to Australia for a job, my soon to be friend Alyssa moved to London for basically the same job. We met regularly via phone and Google hangouts. For three years, though we never met in person, she was one of the few people that understood both what I do for a living and how it feels to do that in another country. After many near misses, including being in LAX on different sides of the same day, we finally met up in New York. She recently moved back from London for a new job. It was cool to occupy the same physical space at last. And by physical space, I mostly mean bar.

Erik, Slinky, Alyssa on the roof
Friends in high places

The next day we spent the morning taking in some of the usual sites and indulging a growing bagel addiction. We’d just sat down in the shadow of the Flat Iron building when Slinky got a message from her friend James saying “Are you in New York? Fancy a drink?” Slinky and James go way back. They met as kids in the UK and they, along with both families, have remained close despite the distance ever since. I met James and most of his family at Slinky’s sister’s wedding a few months ago in Australia. James and his wife Fiona live in Dubai so we were a bit surprised they were in New York at the same time that we were. We met up for that drink, after which they invited us to join them for dinner. We arrived at an unassuming looking taco stand where Fiona told the well-dressed man standing by the unlabelled door who she was and after some secret knocking the door was opened, revealing a dark staircase. We were led down the stairs and through the kitchen Goodfellas-style to our seats. The decor was early hipster dungeon. The food was delicious and the shreds of conversation I picked up over the din were delightful. Our last night in New York couldn’t have been better spent.

James, Fiona, Slinky, Erik
Another day, more friends from the UK

On the train ride back up the Hudson the following day, I found myself wishing for just a bit more time in the big city. That has not been the case upon leaving other big cities. Generally we are ready to soak up some campfire smoke get our hermit on. But New York just has that charming magnetism. Though I know we are seeing some of these places for the last time, I’m pretty sure that’s not the case with the Big Apple. We shall meet again, New York.