April 02, 2007
The Baltimore Report
As promised, here is my full report on Baltimore. Having traveled quite a bit in my short life, I have decided that there are about four things to do when visiting somewhere new: shopping, eating, sightseeing, and nightlife. Since I'm married and I don't drink, nightlife was out, but I did participate in the other three activities.
Sightseeing: Since I can't afford to spend a whole lot on museums or other tourist attractions, my version of sightseeing is pretty much just wandering around a city. I like to think of it as urban hiking. The first place I went on Wednesday night was the Inner Harbor, which quickly disappointed me. It is highly commercialized, basically just a big mall. So I kept walking, and got to explore a bit of the East Harbor and Fells Point before I had to call it a night.
Thursday, after I got the exhibit booth set up, was my main sightseeing day. Starting from the Convention Center, I walked north on Charles Street to the Washington Memorial, which is in the Mount Vernon cultural district. There were a couple of museums here -- the Walker Art Museum and the Contemporary Art Museum -- but the Contemporary hadn't opened yet and the Walker didn't seem quite as interesting, so I just kept wandering. From there, I went west, and eventually came to Lexington Market. Lexington Market reminded me quite a bit of the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. It is a large market hall with stands selling just about every type of food you can imagine. And, since it was Baltimore, every other stand was a raw bar. Since I had already had breakfast and it was too early for lunch, I kept walking, this time heading east. A couple of hours of walking later, I found myself back in Fells Point, where I had been the night before. On Thursday, however, the sun was shining and I had more time, so I got to see more of this area. Fells Point was probably my favorite part of Baltimore, and it was the best shopping area (see below).
On Friday I did a bit more sightseeing early in the morning before the conference, heading back up to the Mount Vernon area and going a bit farther north than I had the day before. It looked like there was some good shopping up there, too, but it was 7:30am and nothing was open yet. After the conference, I headed south of the Inner Harbor to Federal Hill. My first stop was the American Visionary Art Museum, which I had heard about the day before. I feared they would already be closed when I got there, but I arrived an hour before closing and, because it was so late, they let me in for free. The museum was fantastic, though unfortunately I couldn't get up to the third floor because a wedding rehearsal was being held on the stairs. Not being able to go up to the third floor gave me some time to browse the gift shop, and I ended up buying an artwork: a piece of Shawn Theron's SOGH project. I had never bought real art before, and was super-excited to take it home and show David. After the museum, I explored Federal Hill, hoping to find some more shopping (again, see below), but all I really could find were bars and restaurants.
Shopping: Given that I'm not much of a shopper (I hadn't been shopping for clothes since September), this was about the last thing I expected to do in Baltimore but, as I said above, there is not much else to do while traveling. The best shopping was in Fells Point. I stumbled upon a consignment store and, before I knew it, had found about fifty garments I wanted to try on. Of the fifty, I ended up buying about ten, and was thrilled to have almost a whole new wardrobe (okay, I guess that is a bit of an exaggeration, since I mostly bought tops) for only $75. There were also some cute home furnishings stores in Fells Point, but after my clothing expedition I began to fear that my suitcase would be too full for anything else. I had hoped to find more shopping in Federal Hill because the Baltimore guide in my hotel room promised resale shops of all kinds, but the only one I found was a used book store.
Eating: Eating was probably the low point of the trip because the food in Baltimore was, surprisingly, just not that great. For the first time in my life, I sent back an entire restaurant meal! The food was also terribly uninspired, and very short on vegetables -- getting my daily 1.5 pounds was quite a challenge! There were, however, two highlights: 1) grits. I had forgotten I was in the South until I wandered into an espresso bar on Thursday morning and found they were serving grits. So I ended up having it every day for breakfast. 2) crab. I expected to eat quite a bit of crab while I was there because, after all, it was Baltimore, but I just couldn't find that much of it. So on Thursday night I went on a crab expedition and ended up at Phillips, where I got crab cocktail, which was quite good. Otherwise, the food in Baltimore was unremarkable. In addition to having trouble getting my vegetables, I also had quite a challenge getting my two daily glasses of milk. I expected to be able to just walk into a coffeehouse and get a cup of steamed milk, but there just weren't many coffeehouses, and the ones they do have close at five. I wandered all over Federal Hill on Friday night looking for a coffee house and couldn't find one. I finally ended up at the SoBo Cafe, thinking cafe=coffe, but I was wrong. It was just a regular restaurant and they didn't have coffee, but I was desperate for my milk, so I sat down at the bar. The bartender asked if I was there for dinner, and I replied, "no, just a glass of milk, if you have it." She looked at me like I had antennas and repeated, "a glass of milk?" But she poured it for me, and I drank it while eating some tangerines I had brought from Ann Arbor. Soon another bartender came out and asked how I liked the milk. I told him it was quite good and he responded that I should come back on Wednesday because Wednesday is their free all-you-can-drink milk night. I told him that I wouldn't miss it. When I finished my milk, I asked how much I owed him for it. Between the three bartenders, nobody knew how much to charge me because none of them had ever sold a glass of milk, so they just asked for a dollar. I gave them two and headed back out.
So that was Baltimore! Overall, I had a great time, though I would have loved to have shared the trip with David. Traveling alone is always really lonely.
April 01, 2007
Home Sweet Home
I am extra glad to be home today because I almost didn't make it back last night. I arrived at the Baltimore airport just after 4pm for my 6:02 flight, but when I scanned my frequent flier card at the self check-in kiosk, the screen said that my flight had already departed. What happened? Was I confused? Had my flight been at 6:02 AM instead of 6:02 PM? I asked a ticketing agent what was going on, and she informed me that I had been booked on a flight at 9:16 that morning, which I had obviously missed. Immediately, I knew what must have happened. I hadn't been able to book my own flight, because it had to be done with a University of Michigan Purchasing Card (P-Card), which I don't have. The administrative assistant in my department wouldn't let me use her P-Card, she insisted on booking my flight herself. So I found the flights I wanted and gave her the printout. A few hours later, she returned the same printout to me and told me I was all set. I assumed this meant she had gotten me the flight on my printout, because otherwise she would have printed the new flight information for me. I never checked because I thought she knew what she was doing.
So there I was, in the Baltimore airport, having missed my flight by about nine hours. All they could do was put me on standby for the 6:02 flight, but it didn't look promising because the flight was already oversold by six tickets. It was also the last flight of the day to Detroit, so if I didn't make it, I would just have to try standby again for the next day. So I went to my gate, spent about an hour crying on the phone to David, and then calmed down a bit. At 5:40, I was called to the gate desk, where they informed me that I was getting the last seat on the flight. Miracles do happen. So now I'm home, and I plan to stay here for a good long time!
August 31, 2006
On our last day in California, David and I went to Claremont with my mom and her boyfriend's daughter Nadine. My mom and I both went to college in Claremont -- she went to Pitzer and I went to Pomona -- and we wanted to show Nadine around our colleges since she is getting ready to start thinking about where she will apply. It was fun being there with my mom and hearing about what the colleges were like when my she was a student. She showed us the dorms she lived in and told us all kinds of stories that I won't repeat here for fear of getting her in trouble with her parents! It was also fun to show Nadine the dorms I lived in, and we ran into a classmate of mine who is now working as an admissions officer. Nadine must be just about the most popular sixteen-year-old in the world, because she ran into two friends of hers at Pitzer. We were there on Tuesday, which was the first day of classes, and there was a lot of excitement in the air. Classes don't start here at UM until next Tuesday, but I can't believe the summer is really just about over. I've got to do something fun with these last few days!
August 30, 2006
Home Again, Home Again
David and I are home, and I am totally exhausted. Our flight was at 7am, so we had to get up at three and leave my mom's house at 4. There was absolutely no traffic on the freeway (until we got to the 405, that is -- there is always traffic on the 405), so we got to the airport very quickly, which was a good thing. Apparently, 7am on a Wednesday is just about the most popular time to fly. We had to wait in line forever, first to check our luggage, then to get to the security area, and finally to get through security. And at LAX, there is a $2 charge (per back) to check in curbside, gratuity not included. So the whole thing cost us $8 (two bags and a 100% tip), and we didn't even get priority tags this time! But we had aisle seats and our flights were right on schedule, so we couldn't really ask for more. This time our layover was in Memphis, so David had barbecue for lunch. Somehow, even though I slept more on the plane than he did (I can sleep in an aisle seat, as long as I have a big strong man to lean on), he is out partying with his dad, while I am at home trying not to fall asleep until after dinner!
August 29, 2006
It amazes me that, wherever I go in the world, I find people wearing University of Michigan paraphernalia. Even in Ghana! Yesterday we were in the parking lot of a golf course in Glendale (we don't golf -- we just parked there to explore the L.A. River), and the guy getting out of the car next to ours had a hat with a block M on it. It was so out of context that I had to ask David if it was indeed a Michigan hat. He confirmed my suspicion, so I yelled "Go Blue" to the guy, who it turns out, didn't go to UM himself but is the son and grandson of Michigan alumni. He said that he grew up in L.A. but with the Michigan jersey on. Again, it is a very small world.
August 26, 2006
Visiting the World
Our world travels within Los Angeles continued yesterday when David and I went to Boyle Heights in search of the best beef jerkey in L.A. David is a beef jerkey connoiseur, and had read in Los Angeles Magazine's Best of L.A. issue that the A-Z Nut Wagon in Boyle Heights sold the best jerkey in the city. There was only one kind, and the guy made it right there on site. While we were in Boyle Heights we also got freshly fried chicharrones (pork rinds) at the supermercado and tacos at King Taco. Even though I grew up in Los Angeles, I had never eaten a real taco until I moved to Michigan. I decided that the Mexican food in Michigan was more authentic than in California, because the people who ran the restaurants had immigrated more recently. But the tacos at King were every bit as good as Detroit tacos!
August 25, 2006
L.A. African Fashions
The other day, my mom showed me a piece of cloth from Tanzania that her boyfriend's mother gave her. She wasn't sure what to do with it, and asked me if I wanted it. It was a huge piece, definitely enough for several articles of clothing, so I suggested that we find a tailor and get matching skirts made. Furthermore, since we are in Los Angeles, I thought we might even be able to find an African tailor. So we consulted the Yellow Pages and, sure enough, found L.A. African Fashions, located on Crenshaw in South Central. We brought the cloth over yesterday and got measured for our skirts. The tailor wasn't terribly personal, but seemed very competent. He looked at the skirt I brought in as a model, drew some sketches, measured us, and said the skirts would be ready in a week. The shop looked a lot like the dressmakers I have seen in Africa, except for the fact that it was in a building rather than a shipping container! The tailor actually shared a building with another store, Taj Mahal Imports, which seemed to mostly sell incense and Islamic books and paraphernalia. While we were in there, David got solicited by the Black Panthers and donated money to help them overthrow the government. L.A. is a pretty diverse place -- one day we were in Elat, the next day in Accra/Agra!
August 24, 2006
David and I spent yesterday visiting people on the Westside: first my grandmother in West Hollywood, then my friend Claire in the Pico/Robertson area, and then my friend Annie and her husband Adam in Westwood. Claire had just moved into her apartment this month, so we went out for a walk with her to explore her new neighborhood. It is a very heavily Jewish area; we passed kosher markets and butchers, about a million synagogues, and stores selling everything you might need to set up a Jewish household. There was even one store that specialized in mezuzot, boasting that they offered "the full line." Claire needed some groceries, so we went with her to the Elat Market. Entering that market was like stepping into another world, like being in, well, Elat. It was full of people pushing and shoving each other out of their way to get their shopping done. The strangest thing was that the shoppers didn't push their shopping carts around the market like they do in American grocery stores. Instead, everyone parked their cart in an aisle, so the aisles were just full of one cart after another, parallel parked in a line. Then they would go around the store getting what they needed and bringing the groceries back to their carts. But the carts were blocking the bottom shelves of each aisle, which made me wonder if anyone even buys anything that is located below cart level. When we went to check out, it was hard to tell where the lines were, and people kept cutting in front of us. As we left the market, we saw a pair of Mormons proselytizing to a woman with a shopping cart outside, and wondered what terrible thing those two boys could have done to have been given what is probably the toughest mission assignment in the world!
August 23, 2006
Okay, I'll admit it, the beach was actually a lot of fun. David, my mom, and I went down to Santa Monica Beach yesterday, to lifeguard station #26 (think Baywatch), which is where we used to go on field trips in elementary school. My school was about four blocks from the ocean, so we went all the time. Even though it was close to 100 degrees here in Eagle Rock, it was actually a bit chilly on the beach. Well, I thought it was chilly, but David assured me the weather was just fine. We sunbathed a while (with 45 SPF sunscreen on -- no cancer for me, thank you), then David coaxed me into the water. I had forgotten how much fun it can be to jump the waves. It was cold at first, but once we were thoroughly soaked, it was just fine. Eventually, however, I got pulled under and slammed to the ground by a big wave. It felt as though water had been forced into my head through my ears! But it was still a lot of fun.
After we finished swimming, we visited my old Hot Dog on a Stick location at Muscle Beach. This was the original Hot Dog store, which opened in 1946. Supposedly, Dave Barham, the founder of HDOS, actually invented the corndog. I worked there during the summer that they celebrated their fiftieth anniversary; this summer they are celebrating their sixtieth, which makes me feel rather old. When I worked there, hot dogs were $1.75. Now they are $2.50. This probably makes the math easier -- we had to add up the prices mentally; no cash register for us -- but just seems way too much for a turkey hot dog fried in cornbread.
August 22, 2006
We have arrived safely in Los Angeles (or "La," as David calls it), and the internet here at my mom's is fast. Very fast. I'm not sure I can keep up with it! The flight went very smoothly, despite not being able to bring water, hommus, or mustard. David and I got our tickets with frequent flyer miles, so we got routed through Indianapolis. When we got off the plane there, I turned around and realized that we were going to be getting right back on the same plane to go to LA! And most of the people on the Detroit to Indianapolis leg continued on to LA with us, which made the whole thing seem rather pointless -- why not just send the plane straight to LA?
But in any case, we landed early, and our bags were some of the first to hit the baggage claim in LA because we had bribed the skycap in Detroit. We hadn't meant to bribe her -- we simply didn't have two one dollar bills to tip her with, so David gave her a five. But apparently nobody tips skycaps anymore because, when he gave her the money, she said she would put priority tags on our suitcases. And sure enough, there they were with special yellow tags on them. Unfortunately, however, some of my food exploded in my suitcase. I had double-bagged my yogurt, so that was contained, but my oatmeal and dry milk got all over my clothes. It was easy enough to vacuum it up, but David suggested that it might not have been a good idea to pack a powdery white substance in my suitcase, especially since I also had a large "Impeach Bush" sign in it!
The first stop we made after picking up the rental car was at In-N-Out, so we have already been to the best fast food restaurant in the world. Today we will probably go to the beach, since temperatures out here in Eagle Rock are supposed to be in the triple digits. The beach was David's idea -- after working at Hot Dog on a Stick on Santa Monica Beach during high school, I would just as soon never set foot on sand again. But David has never been there, and was starting to complain that he has probably set a record for the number of times he has been to Los Angeles without going to the beach. I pointed out that he has only been twice before, but he claims it is still probably a record. So the beach it is!