Road Trips : US Tour 1997 : Maryland/West Virginia

Saturday 20 September 1997

On the morning of my departure, I got the whirlwind tour of downtown and a few more skyline views. It's a very compact but bustling downtown district in the "triangle" formed by the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela Rivers. A big centerpiece is the much-praised PPG Plaza, which is actually a sterile post-modern nightmare, David cited a reference describing it as as " a drag queen on acid's version of a disco in Oz". Amazingly fitting, I must say...



There was fog and drizzle all around as I left, and Pittsburgh started looking like a more and more viable alternative to SF. But I'll reserve judgment on that...


On the way in, I experienced that special joy which is the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the rain. I stopped at one of the oldest service plazas on the pike. There was even a historical marker; I was impressed, despite the fact that it was originally a Howard Johnsons Restaurant was not mentioned.


I didn't realize that it had been nigh onto ten years since Risa and I saw each other. Regular email contact has that effect. But it was good getting back together.

Baltimore is one of my favorite underrated cities in the US. Of course, I'm supposed to stress that I was staying In Westminster, not Baltimore. I awoke to fields and horse-related smells rather than urban blight and decay. But we did go to Baltimore, even though I could have stood to spend more time there.

Sunday 21 September 1997


Once in the city of George, Maria, and Cecilius Calvert (Lord Baltimore and family), we were treated to a Sunday afternoon high tea with Taylor, a fellow Greensboro native, who managed to entertain and amuse us by making his fall vacation collide with mine as he drove from Philadelphia to Norfolk. This was a most memorable lunch indeed.

Afterward, we drove around by some places I wanted to see again, including the Rotunda, where a very nice man once tried to befriend me in the men's room, and the increasingly trendy Fells Point area.


We headed down North Avenue (original Highway 40, the "National Road") to its intersection with U.S. 1. The neighborhoods were interesting and this was a side of Baltimore I'd never seen. And then the diner of my dreams appeared on the left. It was a wonderful thing, pretty faithfully restored, and was a most fitting coffee and pie stop.


Then it was back to Westminster, because I was not about to miss the season premieres of "The Simpsons" and "King of the Hill", tour or no, and neither was Risa.

We stopped at Roy Rogers on the way back so I could experience my first Double-R-Bar Burger of the trip; yer host loves this part of the country 'cuz it's the only place Roy's hasn't been completely bastardized by Hardee's. In fact, they even tried to change the names and formats here a few years back and business took such a nosedive they had to change back. OK...I'm overly enthusiastic about fast food here. I'll stop...

Afterward, I got to hang out with cute boys in the computer lab at Western Maryland College. Big bonus here. And I finally witnessed my first Jewish wedding, albeit on video rather than in person.

And the updates on old high school and college pals prepared me somewhat for the fact that I would be back in North Carolina in a day or so.

Monday 22 September 1997

The junction of Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland is full of history. Where else could your highway choices be Charles Town/Leesburg or Fredericksburg/Gettysburg? It's as if both the American Revolution and the Civil War selected this scenic area as ground zero just so tourism would be strong in the twentieth century.


This is a truly beautiful part of the country, one of the top two or three in my humble estimation. I spent a lot of time here as a child, so I know the layout pretty well. Twice a year or so, my family would come to Charles Town, WV for the horse races and balance the trip with side trips -- always to Harpers Ferry, and sometimes also to Washington, Baltimore, Richmond, or Williamsburg. The Shenendoah Valley was like a second home to me as I was growing up and I was looking forward to a return after fifteen years.

Jefferson County, WV is home to both Charles Town and Harper's Ferry. The tow are connected in history by abolitionist John Brown's 1859 raid, held in Harper's ferry, and his subsequent trial, held in Charles Town. I was happy to see that at least downtown Charles Town hadn't changed much, although the outskirts have been bludgeoned with the sledgehammer approach of Wal-Mart and related enterprises.



I saw all the sights: the courthouse, Charles Washington Hall (where we used to eat breakfast every morning), the 7-11 where I bought cigarettes when I was 15, the motel where I fell down the stairs at age 7, the hospital I was rushed to afterward, the old and deserted race track as well as the renovated new one...

I was, on the other hand, appalled to find that you now have to pay five bucks to park and take a bus into Harper's Ferry from a lot two miles away. Having no time for such nonsense, I drove into town and found a two-hour space and told to the National Park Service, in essence, to bite me.


I looked in the old shops. I stared at the absolutely beautiful point where the Shenendoah meets the Potomac. I climbed the mountain. I saw the ruins of the old church. I sat on Jefferson Rock. I made a nice lady from North Carolina take my picture and showed her party where the graveyard was.

And then I left. West Virginia gave way to Virginia and I realized I was damn close to home. It goes without saying that no maps were required from this point on.