Spring Break Memories or How I Learned to Sleep in My Car

April 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Bing, Bing, Bing.  Bing, Bing, Bing.  “What is that”?   Bing, Bing, Bing.  Bing, Bing, Bing. “Do you hear that”?  Bing, Bing, Bing.  “It’s the left turn signal.  You left it on again”!  Apparently the good people at Fox Rent-a-Car have had some experience with the inclinations of older drivers using their vehicles.  This Bing-ing sound I kept hearing was there as a reminder that it had been some thirty-three years since I went on spring break in Florida.  Thirty-three long years.

My parents, when they had reached their seventies, had purchased a refrigerator that had an annoying habit of ringing if the door had been left open beyond its liking.  This was a not too subtle message to keep the cold inside where it belongs and not “air condition the entire neighborhood”, as my father would say.  Of course, this would be followed with my mother asking where I was born, as if she had no remembrance of the location or circumstances of my birth.  A barn, really?

I was well aware of why the refrigerator had a bell.  It was to tell the “old folks” not to leave the door open.  I, on the other hand, had it open to see what was inside and sometimes that takes a bit longer when you are younger and have an imagination as to what combinations of foods would taste best at that very moment.  But what was going on with the rental car?

The wife told me to turn the “damn signal off” at least twenty times in ten days of driving.  Have I become a comedian’s stereotype or is there something about Florida that makes you a tad less aware of your existence?   I seriously had no idea that the bell was ringing or how long the turn indicator had been on.  None of the other drivers on the road seemed to mind.  There were no honks, no offensive gestures; in fact the drivers were quite courteous.  I think they just must be used to seeing some confused elderly gentleman driving without a care as his wife screams at him.

The first time I went to Florida was during spring break of my junior year in college at The Catholic University of America.  I had originally intended to go see my girlfriend back home in Indiana.  The week before my journey to see my sweetheart I called to set up my vacation plans with said girlfriend and the phone was answered by her mother.

She explained to me that it would be best to let her daughter continue her existence without me and that my future endeavors would best be taking place in a very warm climate.  So, rather then going to hell I chose to go to Ft. Lauderdale with some drama classmates of mine.  Yes, a merry troop of thespians heading down south.

There was Jack my roommate, Lisa Walters now a comedienne and actress, and John Slattery of Mad Men on AMC, (I bring this up so I can drop some names on Y’all)  driving in my Datsun B-210 with a speed pedal that was stuck in the “go” position.  Each one of them assured me there would be a place for me to stay once we had reached our destination.  They Lied.

When everyone was dropped off at their designated residences, I found the nearest watering hole, infamously named “The Button”.  I learned a new drinking game called “Drink so much that you keep calling your girlfriend’s house using a payphone only to make things worse or can I have another Boiler-maker with a Pina Colada on the side”. I saw wet tee-shirt contests, the men’s wet willie contests, and the ever popular “Erotic Banana Eating Contest”.  (Parents must have been so proud).

I spent one night on the beach until it rained; two nights in a sauna with used towels as blankets at a resort until the cops came and threw me out; and the rest of the nights I slept in my car, moving it when sober, so the cops wouldn’t hassle me.  I broke my car window because I locked my keys in the car.  I asked for wire transfers three times from home.  I decided to try and talk to a girl to see if this might somehow lead to relief in the loneliness, she spoke neither English nor the “Language of Love”.  And I had the good fortune meeting up with a different former girlfriend who pointed out what I had in common with fecal material.  I guess you could say I didn’t have that good a time.

I have been back to Florida since those days, but always on business not during spring break.  The communities I have visited over the years have been more family oriented and not filled with debauchery of that golden first visit to the Sunshine State.

The reason my latest visit to Florida was to play a game I like to call, “Time Share Roulette”.  Over the years we have been asked to go on visits by companies who would like to offer us a great weekend experience if we would just take time to listen to a presentation.  I must say that if you have the fortitude to listen to a sales pitch and say, “no thank you”, this may be a game for you.  Nice accommodations with just that bit of bitter disappointment in the sales person’s eyes as you collect your free passes to Disney World.

This was also the first time I had been back to the state of Florida since finding out that alcohol and I are not as good of friends as I thought we were.  St. Pete Beach at happy hour without a “friend of Bill” in sight can be a bit intimidating.  Not only am I facing the passage of my youth with a car reminding me how old I am with each left turn, I can see the lacrosse players on Spring Break getting drunk throughout the Post Card Inn. What to do?

 

The next day the wife and I go to our presentation at the resort and the property is quite lovely.  We can do this.  We like what we hear.  But how am I going to feel every time I come to town and it’s party central?  So I shared my concerns with the sales rep before us and he says the magic words, “I’m a friend of Bill, I’ve been sober for ten years”.  It was nice to know I wasn’t alone.

From that point on the vacation was relaxing.  We went to see the Orioles play two spring training games in Sarasota. We went to Disney.  We went to Daytona and St. Augustine.  All the while the car kept Bing, Bing, Bing-ing along.

When we got home our son picked us up at the airport very late on a Saturday night or really early Sunday morning. I told my son about the trip and the awkward feelings I had.  It was a good talk.  The kind of talk I wish we had had when he was younger and without me being drunk.

So maybe this time my son is right, “you’re not that funny”. Image

The Pig of 1812

March 31, 2014 § Leave a comment

Well Christmas time has passed by us and throughout Ridgley’s Delight there was some real holiday spirit brought forth.  I’m not saying things are getting competitive but there does seem to be an upping of the game thing going on.  There was a blow up Santa on the Cajun’s (a secret agent from the bayou) roof.  Across the street blow up Frosty waving in the wind and over on what I call the north side, The Corner Wine Bar was all lit up from row house to row house as it crossed the street making a beautiful light canopy. These were all new manifestations of 2013.

If you happened to read previous columns you would know the Christmas season is the reason we bought our house in Baltimore.  The tree this year wasn’t as grand as past years but thirteen foot trees are both expensive and hard to hall.  There was some extra effort to decorate the exterior of the house with a little more flair then in the past couple of years.   The wife and I found some new “sugar plum” LED lights to add to our arsenal of mirth.  They gave a level of sophistication to the garland adoring the front door along with our classy Christmas Pig.  That’s right, a Santa Swine, a Cochin Noel.  Our piggy stood proudly greeting those who passed by. Oh, you don’t know about “The Christmas Pig” well Rudolph’s not the only one of God’s creatures that helped to convey the holiday spirit.

There is the Christmas cat, a story about a cat that was in the manger when Jesus was born, the donkey that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. And in Baltimore it was the Christmas Pig that helped usher in “The Star Spangled Banner” and here in Ridgely’s Delight we, or our livestock, had a hand in the continuance of this nation’s existence.

I assure you most of the following has been sourced from the learned people at Wikipedia, released by Edward Snowden and facts checked by a crack team at Fox News given the task of reporting the “War on Christmas”.  Be sure to write to my editor, if you can find him, with any queries or concerns.

Ridgely’s Delight was named after the plantation of Colonel Charles Ridgely, who occupied the open land southwest of the city’s original boundaries. Ridgely acquired the estate as dowry in 1667 through his marriage to Rachael Howard. In 1732, was combined with another property known as Brotherly Love, resurveyed and named Ridgely’s Delight.  The earliest houses within today’s boundaries of “Ridgely’s Delight” date from about 1804.

That year of 1804 was an auspicious for Ridgely’s Delight with the birth of Alexander Piggly, a Gloucester Spot Pig of great character.  He was known well on the estates that circled Baltimore, having been raised to sire many of the swine in this area.  One of his offspring was Robert Tamworth Piggly, known simply as “Bob” was born on a spring morning in 1809 by his mother, Felicity Saddleback of Essex at Mount Clare in what is known today as Carroll Park.  He had nine siblings who all grew to be rather fat and lazy and therefore need no further mention aside from their succulence and overall flavor profile.  Tasty pigs in deed, but not made of the stuff within Robert Tamworth Piggly; he was destined for greatness.

Tensions were running high in the burgeoning nation of the United States.  We had grown to 17 states and the District of Columbia.  The British had blockaded our vessels on the Atlantic Ocean and restricted our trade.  We were in a conflict that would have immense impact on our young country’s future and our hero Bob Piggly was right in the middle of all the action.

You see, with so much gunpowder located at Fort McHenry, horses couldn’t be relied upon to help in the movement of ammunitions safely.  Their metal shod hooves could spark on the cobble stones and therefore cause an explosion.  Intelligent, well trained pigs were cast in the duty of helping the fighting men barracked at Fort McHenry.  Their nimble little feet were the perfect thing to do this important task of supplying our troops if battle should breakout.

The turmoil increased and in 1812, the United States declared war on Great Britain. In June 1813, Major George Armistead arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, to take command of Fort McHenry, built to guard the water entrance to the city.   Armistead commissioned what he called “The Squeal Regiment”, a group highly trained swine to help in the preparedness of Fort McHenry.  Bob was finally in the mix showing he could follow the orders of his superiors and was considered a true asset to the garrison.  Major Armistead also requested that Mary Pickersgill, a Baltimore flag maker, to sew two flags for the fort. This too would be significant to our history.

In August of 1814, the British forces overwhelmed the American militiamen at the Battle of Bladensburg and marched on to Washington, D.C. where the White House and the half completed Capital Building were set ablaze.  Bob, his crew, and the men knew what was to come next, a naval incursion of the harbor in Baltimore.

On September 12, the British warships moved up the Patapsco River toward Fort McHenry. The ships opened a 25- hour bombardment of the fort, but failed to force “the Squeal Regiment” and the other defenders to surrender. As the British fleet withdrew down the Patapsco, Bob led the pigs oinking out a catchy tune that an imprisoned passenger named Francis Scott Key could hear across the water and he added words to fit the music as Pickersgill’s huge flag was raised over Fort McHenry.  We now know this as conception of the Star- Spangled Banner,

Due to his bravery and leadership, Robert Tamworth Piggly was asked to be present in, Belgium, on Christmas Eve December 24, 1814, when the Treaty of Ghent was signed,  thus ending the War of 1812.  This is why all of Ridgely’s Delight celebrates “The Christmas Pig”

Sadly, Bob could not make it to Belgium for the signing of the treaty, he was being served as dinner to the mayor of a newly formed faction of the city known as Pigtown, wherein lies the rift between Ridgley’s Delight and Pigtown to this day.  I understand he was delicious.

That’s how I heard it but, as my son always says, “you’re not that funny”.

How I Got Married Again or The Tiger Woods Story

March 15, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you didn’t see my last post, I’ll try and bring you up to speed.  I was captured by a man known as “the Saint” and he forces me to write 900 words a bi-weekly about the things that cross my mind and the events that happen in Ridgley’s Delight.   It’s less of a job and more of a punishment for being so gullible.  “Do it for the peeps in Ridgley’s Delight” he said, “They’re going love it”.  Well, we’ll see about that.  I just hope the insurance plan will cover carpal tunnel for the three fingers I use to type.

I had mentioned, the wife (no permission to use names yet) and I have lived here twenty plus years.  But when we first moved to Ridgley’s Delight we were living in sin.  I didn’t put a ring on it.  Our lease was coming to an end and we were looking for a way to stay in Baltimore now after a year under belt at the S. Paca Street slanted rat shack.  It was that fact and the free milk from a cow aspect of our relationship that had led me to the decision to pop the proverbial question but how, when and where?

This next part is all true.

I like to play golf and though the skies were threatening, my better half drove me to Carroll Park with the understanding that she would pick me up if the weather turned.  I had finished hole #1 in good shape and hit a decent drive on #2 as the first raindrops started to fall.  The next shot was up a steep hill and I was just on the green.  As I walked up the hill the thunder cracked and the sky opened up.  I looked back toward the clubhouse and saw what can only be described as the worst looking rain poncho that 1970’s fashion could produce.

Sloshing along came my gal and that was when I made a bargain a real golfer would make, “God, if I make this putt I’ll ask her to marry me”.   I lined up the long putt looking through the puddles, took a couple practice strokes and let the putter drive though ball.  It went in.  I waited for my drenched darling to arrive and told her of my wager.  She asked, “Did it go in?” “Yep”, I said, she picked up my bag of clubs and said, “well come on”.  She has been leading me through the hazards of life ever since.

So with the wedding plans in motion it was time to find a place to move into, but what to do about our living conditions?  We could have stayed on Paca Street but there were a few things a little off-putting about our domicile.  There was the indoor pool in the basement with every rain.  The upside-down shower door which led to fun when bath time rolled around, an “Alice in Wonderland” room that got shorter and thinner as you somehow walked uphill to the closet on the back wall; extra touch – checker board floor for the LSD feeling.  Of course, the topper was the signed indemnity agreement from our landlord regarding the door to the roof deck.  The door was undersized, therefore not to code, all from a lawyer who sues doctors for medical malpractice. Beware of bargain rentals without phone jacks and poor rehabbing.  Why not stay?

There were for rent signs in the windows of homes that looked like they would be an upgrade from our humble abode. Most of the available properties were owned or managed by a “Mr. French”, a man known to be more than willing to rent homes for the right price.  (Let’s not recall the “Hooker House” incident of 2005, something my eleven year old son at the time still recalls with wonderment).

We had our hearts set on a place on S. Paca Street again, but it was already taken.  Mr. French who owns our desired home says he has a place on Washington Boulevard that may be to our liking.  We were off in a flash to take a look.  As we walk up the wooden steps we don’t know what to think.  It’s so much bigger and the house has a yard.  It also has a separate back apartment.  There is a lot of change, a bigger expense and less privacy, Hmm?

We opened the door and look down the long front hallway and one word simultaneously came to mind, Christmas.  We imagined the garland down the turn staircase with the beautiful molding and tall ceilings.  The front portion of the house has four bedrooms and two bathrooms.  The back apartment has one bedroom, a small living room and a den.  There are two kitchens, two washer and dryers, two of everything.  The back is already occupied with a tenant.

This was where the wife-to-be puts on her thinking cap.  We don’t need to rent, we can buy this house. The built-in tenant makes this house affordable.  Just think, we too could become slumlords, I mean landlords.  That’s exactly what we did.

I suppose that is the point of this week’s tale.  If you are new to Ridgley’s Delight you can find many people with the same story.  This is a neighborhood that constantly amazes people with it’s location to downtown, convenience to transportation hubs and reasonable home prices.  My family and I made a rather bold choice years ago, a choice we know was right.

Next week, look for this space to contain the story of “The Christmas Pig”, not the one by Kinky Friedman, but a story of a swell swine who squealed his way to infamy.  I know my son loves this story, but as my son always says, “you’re not that funny”.

The First Rumble

December 18, 2013 § 2 Comments

When the conversation started about writing a bi-monthly article to fill the pages of the revamped Ridgely Delights new Reader, I believe my cohorts and I were talking about naked Roman- Greco wrestling and buying the wrong pay-per-view at a hotel. The conclusion of this adventure would not be suitable for print but there was a definite winner in the wrestling match. Somehow the conversation turned to writing a commentary or observation column and an agreed upon working title for this said writing piece would be “Letters to Kanye”. While this idea was floated around for a brief time it really didn’t give the broad appeal we were looking for… Interestingly enough the fact that I’m a middle age white male with little to no exposure to the styling’s of Mr. West didn’t seem to be a deterrent to the first draft title.

So there I was drafted to the position of writing 900 words worth of anecdotes about and for my neighborhood in the hopes that I can exercise my mind and the few fingers I type with to bring forward the thoughts and observations that come up in the world that I wish to share with you my erstwhile readers. In other words, I’ve got questions on my mind and I’m going to ask them. I’ve got things I’d like to say and I’m just dumb enough to say them in a public forum that could land me in a lot of hot water with my neighbors.

So with brain trust decision making of the tome out of the way, allow me to introduce some of my Ridgely Delight credentials. For the past twenty plus years my family and I have tried to maintain a modicum of proud Ridgely Delight-fullness and reserved anonymity that generally helps the human condition. Shine, but not too brightly; the latter is something my son says comes quite easily for me.

We’ve seen many changes over the years in our little conclave, made lasting friendships and had to say goodbye to those in the neighborhood that have passed through as school, employment or family circumstance has changed. There has been a momentum of growth and stability with a continued enthusiasm for Ridgely’s Delight. This area really is a secret to many who live or visit Baltimore.

If you tell people where we live like I do, you start with “I live in Ridgely’s Delight” They say, “Where?” We respond, “Ridgely’s Delight, right across the street from Camden Yards”. “Otterbein?” “No, Ridgely’s Delight, it’s an historic neighborhood near Pickles Pub” “Oh, yea. That’s right downtown. You really live that close to the stadium? Do you go to many games?”

Boom. There it is. Recognition that you may, possibly be cool. But then there is the kicker, “isn’t that Pigtown?” If you’re like me you straighten that thought right out of your misinformed inquisitor before they can somehow make this mistake again. “No. It’s Ridgely’s Delight”. There you go, you’ve ended confusion that property owners know can cost you a few bucks. i.e., it’s not Gaithersburg, it is North Potomac. Just go to Zillow and look at the property estimates.

Of course the questions about our neighborhood continue ranging from parking problems, crime, and noise from the stadium. I try to address these queries with head-on, straight forward answers. Our parking, while challenging, is better then Federal Hill, Fells Point, and most of Canton. The crime is far less prevalent than in years past as long as you don’t leave things in your cars, where temptation seems to play havoc with moral decision making. As far as I am aware, we generally all have windows in our homes and haven’t seen an Oriole or Ravens game go so deeply into the middle of the night that it concerns us. I would be more concerned about the large number of bars in the before mentioned neighborhoods where drink can cause greater traffic, loosened cognitive reasoning, and people not using their indoor voices or indoor plumbing.

Now we do have our own watering holes and this occasionally has led me to answer the burning question of why he doesn’t “call you anymore” or smiling in agreement, as I lie in bed, to the phrase, “Yankees Suck”. All in all I would say the vast majority of our revelers are burning off a little steam at a decent hour with little death and dismemberment.

While I am on the topic, I am certainly aware that I have in my years here contributed to the delinquency of some our fair citizenry. We have thrown a party or two at our house and we always try to invite those we thought could somehow be offended by all the shenanigans. That is just part of the families plan to make what could be an awkward situation turn into that of complicity. A win-win if you will. With our Christmas and other parties coming up, I would like to say in advance that I am sorry for anything I may do in the future that could be construed as a slight. A kind of promise to say my Hail Mary’s for my confession. I hope the nuns would approve.

I think you can see by our longevity here that we are very happy with our decision to take a look at this neighborhood years back. But it really wasn’t a blind shot. My wife and I were then living in sin in the Washington, D.C. suburbs but really wanted to live downtown. The reality of spending the kind of money it would take was just a little hard to swallow. Buying a house in D.C., come on. The missus had gone to law school at Maryland and had lived on Portland Street in the eighties. We came to Baltimore with some regularity to go to John Stevens Ltd. or the occasional O’s game on 33rd Street.

My job was at Union Station in Washington and the woman, who hasn’t given me the green light to use our names in this piece, worked for the federal government. Familiarity with the Baltimore experience check, MARC Train schedule check, reasonable prices for a rental home check. Paca Street here we come and into a house renovated by the Marx Bros. and plumbing provided by The Three Stooges. All wrapped together by a famous TV personality ambulance chasing lawyer as a landlord (that’s another article). Even with our year in the funhouse we had found the place we believed to be home.

Over the years here, there have been challenges. We have had things stolen, tires slashed, car windows smashed and a newly painted home “tagged” by someone who believes their name should be known to the masses but will most likely fade with what I hope will be respect for others and higher level of maturity. There have been nights of circling to find a parking spot and rats so big you could put a saddle on them. But I love my home. I love this neighborhood. I most certainly hope you do to.

So there we are. I live here. I have been asked to write whatever this thing is on a bi-monthly and timely basis. I figure I’ll give it a shot until they tell me to stop or if it just doesn’t seem to be fun anymore. Besides, the thought of putting together a column every two weeks is both questionable and somewhat egomaniacal. Again, traits my son and my wife would not have much hesitation in using to describe me. It seems to me with the right amount of opinion, a fine catholic school education, and an Irish gift of malarkey, there may be some amusing observations that can be shared.

There will be no prescribed attempts to right any ships in the endeavor or ill will to anyone who should take the time to glance at this space but I will try to entertain, amuse, and god forbid, occasionally make people think about what is on my mind and I feel I should write to be read. I’ll even try to be funny, but as my son constantly tells me, “you’re not that funny”.

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