I found this as I’ve been working on my essay about my car accident in 2000. This was written while I was living at Hampden house in the late 2000s. It’s unedited here in this form, but will be pulled into what I’m currently writing. But I wanted to pay homage to it in this early form and introduce it to the world before it goes through a metamorphosis. It’s a snapshot of back then – like a photograph of words. Enjoy.
I am a speed bump in the road. The road holds me. It hugs me. It gives me placement, a base. Once in a while, headlights reflect off of me and into the distance and for a fleeting moment I have a shudder of hope that runs down my spine, makes my gut tingle.
It’s much like I feel when I start writing in my head, staring out at TV hill from the back porch smoking a cigarette or sitting under the front porch watching cars rushing down too fast on the hill that looks more like it belongs in San Francisco than Baltimore.
I’m not impervious. I don’t hurt the cars the ride over me half as much as they injure me and leave their mark. There are tire squeals and drip-dried tar, there’s a few chips in my yellow caution paint from people coming and going too soon. I drop off on the sides like I can’t fill my own space, and it’s a bit notchy. I’m annoying to myself and others.
I stand in my own way and can go nowhere. And once I become too much of an intrusion in everyone’s lives, I’m scraped and replaced… sometimes by a new pseudo-modern stretched speed hump that’s more courteous… sometimes by slow-down strips that are less of an eye sore.
It’s not the life I wanted to live. But I only last for a while. I’m not permanent. But sometimes speed bumps wish to be something more, to grow. Sometimes they do get up and walk away.
Sometimes they find a place that’s more forgiving, a place that lets any good speed bump carry their burden in peace.
And sometimes it rains all night and washes away those marks, like the oceans lap the shore on a beach and I wake up renewed and ready for another round of pummeling.
I’m in Baltimore County, roughly between White Marsh and Nottingham. What a terrible time to go on a cleanse and not be able to drink! I took a good nap and my laptop and Kindle are charged. I’m such my father’s daughter. I have my camping stove and propane ready to go, as the worst of it hasn’t struck yet (getting winds picking up and steady heavy rain) but I’m glad it’s not as bad as forecasted. Hoping the electricity doesn’t go out; if it does I’m ready.
Walking through the damp streets, the ragged back bottoms of my pants soggy in brown-blue rainbow gradation. Down St. Paul St, down Light Street, onto Route 2, all southward. A journey of bumping and bouncing, I climb the dirt-pebble walkway in the sky, over to the fountain, down and across to Harbor Center, along the water and back up again. Rainy Sludge is the best day for a walk: quiet now and roomy and comfortable. Except for this awkwardness I hold above me.
Out on the horizon are hundreds of them: maroon and dark blue and black. Golf and pocket-sized. Rainbows. Some handles shaped like canes, some with the head of a duck. Soaked, broken or already rolled back together. Open-faced in puddles, abandoned.
One looks like a carcass, the metal poles exposed like the boney residue of a turkey after Thanksgiving Dinner, its skin tattered and torn and mutilated by wind and rage and disuse. Overuse. The skin tampered and forgotten, the body left on the side of the road, crushed by a lone tire, stolen by a homeless man.
In the dark lonely rush hour traffic, full of honks and horns, of people running to grab buses, Baltimore is a symphony of dance: I envision ballet shoes, and tights, bun-wrapped hair and leotards. In this tattered city on the brink of drought-like conditions, there is something warming and secure and protective.
It is the march of the umbrellas.
I’m in the middle of a fairly large writing project due for my second week of the MFA program, but I felt compelled to post two items.
The first is an existentialist quote from Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat,” which I studied and deconstructed for my undergraduate thesis, using it as the basis of an argument that the close friendship between Stephen Crane and Joseph Conrad caused Conrad, either consciously or subconsciously, to almost completely crib whole passages and ideas from The Open Boat for his book Lord Jim. Regardless, this quote has been in the back of my brain all week:
“If I am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned — if I am going to be drowned, why, in the name of the seven mad gods who rule the sea, was I allowed to come thus far and contemplate sand and trees? Was I brought here merely to have my nose dragged away as I was about to nibble the sacred cheese of life? It is preposterous. If this old ninny-woman, Fate, cannot do better than this, she should be deprived of the management of men’s fortunes. She is an old hen who knows not her intention. If she has decided to drown me, why did she not do it in the beginning and save me all this trouble. The whole affair is absurd. . . . But, no, she cannot mean to drown me. She dare not drown me. She cannot drown me. Not after all this work.” – “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane
Secondly, I’ve decided to post a poem, from my archives, unedited. I consider this Found Poetry these days. Enjoy.
It’s nice to throw away this feeling once in a while:
That nothing I’ve done could ever amount to the
wide and deep of Wednesday nights,
when I am hungry and so tired I could bleed uselessly
The puddles in Baltimore today
were as wide and deep as the space between
our bodies, settling lightly in the dark.
And for once they could swallow me whole
if I didn’t keep moving.
Next: A rumination project on a useful object…
7:00 p.m. didn’t seem, on a Friday night in Baltimore, to be too late to arrive at any event. Except, as I quickly realized, when food is involved.
Originally expecting a few hundred attendees when first advertising the inaugural Food Truck Rally, named The Gathering, the Baltimore Food Truck Alliance probably thought it’d be an even worse turnout than expected once the late afternoon rains started pouring and the flash flood warnings started landing in everyone’s backyard. Definitely not the case.
While the advertisement for The Gathering pegged this area Harbor East, a better estimation would be Little Italy: a small, tight, graveled parking lot at the corners of Bank and Central Avenues that the Silver Platter food truck has been calling its home. In hopes of expanding the legality of and support for local food trucks, as most have been (at least in the eyes of the city) illegally parking on main drags like Boston Street and even well-traveled side streets to sell their selections, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake signed a temporary law legalizing their business, and even attended The Gathering last night, albeit to little fanfare. Even Jayne Miller, a well-known local reporter from WBAL, managed to sneak by the crowds hardly noticed. The food trucks, after all, were the stars of the show. And people brought their hungry faces!
When the three Js (Jay, Jer and Jo) and I showed up, a line was already winding out of the gravel lot and into the street. With about ten food trucks haphazardly parked in the tiny square, sharing space with a beer and wine minibar, we soon realized after a quick walkthrough that the only thing to do was to do it: get in one of the serpentine lines crossing over into each other and order whatever was left.
We were already two hours late to the event – which started at 5 p.m. and was expected to wrap up around 10 p.m. – that by the time we reached the window of Miss Shirley’s, the shortest line at the time, we noticed that the other trucks were putting sharpie marks, even sticky pads over menu items, having already run out of some of the foods they advertised. (Sadly, the mac and cheese cone with bacon strewn over the top of it that we were really excited to try wasn’t even on any of the menus, as far as we could see.)
At Miss Shirley’s we sampled some fried green tomatoes, a pulled pork sandwich and some gumbo. A three-legged dog happily hopped along with his owner, as I took a cigarette break, and Jer and Jo wandered off to find the next line. I noticed how many of the containers were compostable and the disposable silverware were made out of potato plastics.
We stood at GrrChe, shifting our slow forward momentum over random potholes full of rainwater. After half an hour, the truck seemed only to have a basic grilled cheese sandwich. I started thinking that maybe we should have had more cheese and crackers at Jay and Jer’s before leaving. I had been terrified of ruining my appetite. Now my appetite was taking over.
Just Hanging Out
After a while, you had to get used to moving out of the way for someone to pass through your line on the way to a group of their friends, or to grab another beer. For anyone who has spent time at Baltimore events like this, it didn’t take much effort to let down your defenses and just enjoy the night, which had cooled down as an effect of the rain. We talked in and out with others in line, as a young bald man, behind the microphone where Rawlings-Blake had welcomed everyone to the inaugural event, sang and played on his acoustic guitar simple renditions of popular songs by the Black Eyed Peas or U2 – while a doe-eyed woman made eyes over him at her glass of wine. I overheard someone saying, probably around 8 p.m., that a twitter account had already tweeted that the trucks should have been better organized and stocked for this kind of reception.
Mulling this over in my head, I took time just to look around. How do you prepare for an event like this? You really couldn’t. As with any event, there’s always someone ready to spout a sour word.
The Gathering represented the stratification the defines Baltimore’s Charm City moniker: You could stretch your arms out and spin and touch a lady who stopped by after a day at the office, still wearing her work clothes and heels; a group of young girls in dresses and flip flops, munching on food that would most likely sop up any alcohol they’d drink that night at a friend’s party; middle-aged couples in T-Shirts and seersucker shorts patiently awaiting the lines, not in a hurry to return to the boat they had tied up in the Inner Harbor; young hipster guys with business hawks, tight pants, and flip flops; and almost every color of skin mixed within.
Divide and Conquer
What makes people come to these events, I thought.
Well, food, obviously. Support for new events in Baltimore. Some came for the beer. Maybe because they lived close, or it was a good place to pre-game on a Friday. Whatever the reason, I think there’s an undertone to these kinds of events for everyone: The “I was there” boast. Everyone wants to be part of something new. When I was younger, my group of friends and I attended some of the first nights at Sonar. We were also the regular crew at Shorty’s, before the small Canton martini bar went defunct. Ask anyone on the street, I guarantee they have a story about how they were the “first” to attend some event, drinking something, listen to something. It gives you status and it gives you swagger.
The theme of the night was divide and conquer. Jo and I stood in a short line at Kooper’s Chowhound Burger Wagon for some of the region’s best burgers. (I stayed simple with an Elvis Got the Blues Burger with blue cheese and apple smoked bacon, adding just a little ketchup and mustard, and Jo and I picked up burgers for herself and Jay. ) Jer and Jay almost missed the cutoff of the line for the Gypsy Queen Café. While they didn’t get the soft shell crab sandwich they were salivating for, they did add to our feast two servings of chocolate-covered bacon.
I also switched over to the Dangerously Delicious Pies truck and grabbed a piece of Baltimore White Trash Crème Brulee pie and the Baltimore Bomb vanilla custard and Berger Cookie pie. Sadly, we didn’t make it to some of the other trucks, most notably the Silver Platter, Souper Freak, and Iced Gems. Pulling our food together like a coop, we walked the few stairs back up to the roof of the parking garage across the street, and sat on the pavement in the soft streetlight glow and chomped down on our food, pushing samples into each other’s faces, and sharing some of the chocolate-covered bacon. We laughed for a few minutes watching an obviously suburbanite man try to parallel park between two cars, before finally tapping one with the back of his vehicle, turning around, and driving off. Jay leaned over the top of the parking garage to see trucks still selling to lines of people, close to the 10 p.m. deadline
We went home stuffed and happy, not even complaining about the few hours we spent line hopping in the small parking lot. It all went by so fast, and the people watching and dog watching was enough to pleasantly pass the time.
This is what Baltimore does best: combine new events with an unpretentious everyone-is-welcome tone. Most of the people who braved the possibility of more impending rain were happily sedated with a beer in hand and a new friend in front of them in line, chitchatting about what they did for work, how impressed the turnout for the event was, even pulling out their iPhones and Droids to record some video, or stretch their arms high to point-and-click an aerial photo of the crowd.
If you made it last night, I’m sure there are still some food trucks you didn’t’ get to. That just gives you something else to do four Fridays from now when the next Gathering occurs again. And there’s following them on their Twitter account and finding them in their now licensed spots around the city.
As for Jo, Jer, Jay and I: we were happy to be a part of the inaugural events and very happy that the food trucks did so well that they sold out. That’s something to be said for the future of Baltimore food truck culture.
“Any floating object displaces its own weight of fluid.” – Archimedes
The Harbor tunnel enclosed me, stuffy and thick, viscous with the warming of the waking sun that slowly grazed its feelers over the mouth of the morning commute. Twenty minutes sauntered by, condensed in less consciousness than tasks, as I finally found myself maniacally turning on and off the air conditioner, checking my gas gauge, fiddling with my iPhone by checking my email, logging into my Facebook, and emailing my boss that Yes, I was going to be late. Again.
We were going nowhere.
On a morning of nothing-out-of-the-ordinary, the pattern of morning coffee; showering and drying off; ironing and packing my lunch; taking the dog out - it all felt as snuggly as an expectation. I was still who I was the night before: a young almost-thirty something compelled to do great things, but still feeling like I hadn’t moved the length of a city block in years.
But sedentary in a tunnel, with cars turning off around me, while I put my own in park, just in eyesight of the visible light of a new day, my panic turned into agitation, turned into uncomfortable shifting. I never knew what to do with myself in tight spaces. If I was this walled in, I’d rather ball up.
This had been my greatest fear in relation to my newest commute: Becoming immobilized in a glorified tube in a vat of harbor water, surrounded by other ton-heavy vehicles that no doubt blocked my path to freedom.
I remembered back to my trip through the Alps in a Kia Sidekick, visiting a friends’ grandparents in the country, outside of Zurich. If the twists and turns of the mountainous roads, illustrative of the monumental and dizzying circles I imagine skateboards speeding down in skate videos, hadn’t scared the shit out of me, it was the 20 mile tunnels through the cavernous rock. Half an hour stuck in a car with no air conditioning, stale
air and sweat surrounding my skin, eventually the story came from our host that months before a tractor trailer had exploded “in a tunnel like this” and killed and hurt a lot of people because they were trapped.
I am trapped and there’s nowhere to go.
When I’m stuck in my head, I can’t seem to find a way out. I come up with great ideas, and I think about execution, but this escape was right in front of me. And I couldn’t reach it. It was like a dream where you know what to do, but you can’t move.
After 45 minutes, we started rolling forward. Slowly to the left. Slowly forward. Slowly together. A symphony of people continuing their day, more concerned with getting out than what made them stay put.
Crunching my Toyota Corolla’s gears forward, I suddenly hear disembodied yelling. Not sure where it is coming from, I think, but I hope it’s not someone who’s hurt. I hear, “Come on!” and I see a cop in the middle of the two-lane highway, standing under the awning of the tunnel, waving
violently to all of us to, “Keep moving… keep moving!”
Keep swimming, keep swimming.
Suddenly, I find myself going 70 past a cop, and even faster, even faster still, hit by heat, hit by hot, and then cool again, and stunned.
This was the second day in weeks I had driven past a car fire. The first was on a quick interstate change, where the secondary tunnel road races past I95, and loops back around to it. At the juncture of both roads, at about the same time in the morning, the front of a work van was painted metallic orange and smoky gray in fire, the entire hood and front seat enthralled by the life given to it, waking up and reaching to the sky.
I hurried past that day, my heart booming in my heart, whispering erratically to myself until I was clear of it, “Please don’t blow up… please
don’t blow up.”
These are the freak accidents people die from, plastered over the Baltimore Sun breaking news section, followed by interviews with persons who knew the innocent driver, of people claiming that it was a really big shame, she sure had a bright future ahead of her.
Young Woman Fatally Injured, Struck Guardrail After Vehicle Impaired by Flaming Work Truck.
This second truck fire was violent. The heat caught my body, bounced in my veins. Black radiation, the story of gods, danced on my skin like lightning, penetrating my car window, jump starting my day. It was a better high than coffee.
This excess energy caught me in my thin zone. Having survived for months on been-there done-that, on same-old same-old, I found oxygen, I
found visibility, I found excess energy.
I fed off of the energy of the cars behind me, the tar of the road, the lines leading me to fire, alive.
I remembered the argument and the stillness that it brought upon us. On the silence that settled on our heads and tired us to sleep. On the
constant repetition of themes like attention and depression and reliability. I hungered and angered on toward work. I sipped my now-cold coffee, holding it under my tongue, warming it with my nothing-new mentality and making it float to the top of my lip. And I sipped. And I sipped.
Pushing through my skin, the cold shook and settled again. I felt the word independence slip from my tongue to my windshield, but I held on to it, and recovered, opposing its weight. Struggling with it above the waves.
I hold it in the smoke, not deep enough to catch fire, but enough to see its face. To identify its worth. To float with it in silence, until life springs before me, until I notice it for its worth.