Sitting in front of the fire in Baileys Harbor as fall settles in, watching the Packers embarrass the Vikings and remembering a detour on the last trip home, from Chicago out to the East Coast / Maryland / Virginia, where I squeezed the most out of a few days I didn’t really have.
Touched down in Chicago for an overnight, passing through immigration when a red light flashed as I swiped my automated ESTA visa and they hauled me by the collar into a little white room. Quizzed by an official with a flat top haircut, apparently I’d visited the land of the free too often and for too long in recent times. Twenty questions later that showed me at face value as a well-intentioned tourist, they let me loose and over that imaginary line for another three months.
America Welcomes You!
But don’t stay too long
Here’s the backdoor to leaving
But not too soon
I was hoping to shed the weight of the surfboards I’d brought north and was dragging around the airport like a corpse, I’d heard rumour of a UPS store SOMEWHERE in O’Hare. An hour later, found nestled in the basement of the Hilton. Monday. Labor Day. Closed. I’d try again on the way out to Baltimore tomorrow morning. Minutes later, after finding a taxi large enough for boards, I was sitting on the side of the freeway, door open, breeze on my face, with the cab driver telling me in broken English that we were in fact lost. After a marco polo phone call with Mohammed from reception, we found Motel 6.
Checked in, I left the cab driver who’d followed me in and my mate Mohammed to argue about use of the motel toilet and dumped bags in room one-twenty-two. Changed clothes and with Cold World in the ears, set out on a run in the surprisingly hot afternoon, pushing ninety degrees, the sound of cicadas and sweat. Running is still the only way to get my bearings and find somewhere to eat; at least if you end up in the wrong part of town you’re dressed for the occasion.
In these cheap hotel mornings, amongst stains of previous users, I always feel hungover. Awoke, naked and burping Chicago deep dish, a short trip back to O’Hare and successfully passed the burden of boards onto UPS and snuck into the Hilton foyer to use free computers and print tickets to the night’s Orioles game. Flew into Baltimore, circled a storm and hired a car – first stop > Oriole Park. As I passed through the gates to the game amongst a sea of orange, the skies opened and we stood around for an hour while everyone cast guesses as to what time we might get underway. As puddles and small rivers formed, the PA announcements warned of potential lighting strikes, it looked futile and I moved on. Frederick was the intended target, and so I headed out into the night.
Driving a foreign car to the rumble of thunder with lightning either side, that’s fun to me. Another pre-loved and bare hotel room, sufficient, simple, everything bolted down. Flicked on the television for background noise and of course the weather’s cleared in Baltimore and Orioles v Reds is well underway, somewhere near the bottom of the fourth.
Perfectly imperfect, a town not a city, with weeds growing through the concrete in places, old and new businesses built on brickwork and a heavy English influence – a stroll down Patrick Street and I fell in love with Frederick. Spent a few days pretending I lived there, breakfast at café Nola, squeeze a few thoughts out and the onto a page before the caffeine kicks in, the brain outruns the hand and all my L’s start to look like Z’s. Supersized stores filled with antiques and collectibles, without a home I avoided accumulating anything permanent; instead considered the ethics of small-scale theft, stole a postcard and filled the blank side with an attempted poetic scribble and sent it home the very same day.
On the Wednesday I stopped in for an afternoon and caught up with Mike Adams in his private studio. Alex Boyko was visiting for a few days, hung out and shared his favourite web pages making it hard to sit still from laughter; I was sure I was heading for that jail aesthetic down my left arm. Not to be, just the discomfort of a healing tattoo.
After a flirtatious relationship with fast food and cheap hotels, I left early one morning and leaving the key in the door headed towards the Shenandoah range for some fresh air and solitude.