“Can I have an iced tea? It’s cold, right?” – A genius in the same café as us who wasn’t quite sure of the intricacies of iced beverages.
We’ve just returned from a weekend that was fun, terrifying and heartbreaking all at once. Don’t get me wrong, it was a great weekend, just not quite what we expected and, to top things off, there is a crazy guy sitting down, screaming, out the front of our apartment. I can hear him with all of the windows closed.
The reason this was going to be an interesting weekend was because Baltimore was one of our options when we were planning our move to the US, meaning we could’ve ended up living here for 12 months instead of New York:
Baltimore is the largest city in the U.S. state of Maryland, and the 26th-most populous city in the country. It is the largest independent city in the United States. Baltimore has more public monuments than any other city per capita in the country and is home to some of the earliest National Register historic districts in the nation, including Fell’s Point (1969), Federal Hill (1970) and Mount Vernon Place (1971). More than 65,000 properties, or roughly one in three buildings in the city, are listed on the National Register, more than any other city in the nation.
That sounds nice . Until you read this, that is:
The city of Baltimore, Maryland, United States is infamous for its very high crime rate, including a violent crime rate that ranks high above the national average.
Crime in Baltimore, generally concentrated in areas high in poverty and drug activity, has been above the national average for many years. Baltimore has had 327 homicides so far in 2015, as of December 14, continuing a higher per capita homicide rate (52.5 per 100,000 people) than the record set in 1993.
On August 8, 2014, Baltimore’s new youth curfew law went into effect. It prohibits unaccompanied children under age 14 from being on the streets after 9 p.m. and those aged 14–16 from being out after 10 p.m. during the week and 11 p.m. on weekends and during the summer. The goal is to keep children out of dangerous places and reduce crime.
That seems a bit scary and something we weren’t quite aware of. In fact, us moving to Baltimore was still a legitimate possibility until this happened last April:
On April 12, 2015, Baltimore Police Department officers arrested Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African American resident of Baltimore, Maryland. Gray sustained injuries to his neck and spine while in transport in a police vehicle. On April 18, 2015, after Gray’s subsequent coma, the residents of Baltimore protested in front of the Western district police station. Gray died the following day, April 19, 2015, a week after the arrest.
Further protests were organized after Gray’s death became public knowledge, amid the police department’s continuing inability to adequately or consistently explain the events following the arrest and the injuries. Spontaneous protests started after the funeral service, although several included violent elements. Civil unrest continued with at least twenty police officers injured, at least 250 people arrested, 285 to 350 businesses damaged, 150 vehicle fires, 60 structure fires, 27 drugstores looted, thousands of police and Maryland Army National Guard troops deployed, and with a state of emergency declared in the city limits of Baltimore.
That’s when we crossed it off the list, but Anna still wanted to check out the hospital. Plus, it would be fun to see if we made the correct choice. We would find out immediately.
Friday, April 1
One of my all-time favourite novels and films is Brett Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, so when we saw that the stage production, American Psycho: The Musical, was coming, we just had to get tickets. The show doesn’t begin for another few weeks, but somehow Anna managed to score tickets to a preview screening and this would be the night we were going. The show started at 8:00pm, so the plan was for me to walk down to meet her for drinks at a rooftop bar near her work.
I left work at about five o’clock and walked to the bar. On the way I remember seeing what appeared to be an old cigar on the ground, but also thinking it looked bit like a turd with a ribbon tied around it. It was kind of amusing to think that both were legitimate possibilities, there aren’t a lot places in the world where that is the case.
I made it to the bar on the 30th floor of a building on W 57th St. and stuck around for a few drinks with Anna’s colleagues. The view was great, the beers were even better, but we would need to leave soon and, as you can see in the photo, above right, it looked like it was coming over kind of wet.
We walked down to the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater, but once there, as I was walking down the steps to my seat, I felt something pop in the side of my right knee. The seats were tiny and I was in agony the entire time because of my knee, but the show was hilariously brilliant. I posted the video plugging the show In my last post, but here is the cast performing the opening number, Selling Out, on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert:
Obviously I didn’t take any photos during the performance, but here are some I managed to get of the sets:
If you get a chance, definitely go see it. After American Psycho: The Musical we came home and watched Anna’s favourite basketball team, the Golden State Warriors, lose their first regular season home game since January 27th last year!
Saturday, April 2
We were up reasonably early on Saturday morning to make the three and a half-hour train ride to Washington DC. Anna was going to visit the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins on Monday, but we decided to spend Saturday night in Washington and have a look around.
We were to depart from Penn Station at 11:00am and, as we have found out before, their archaic way of announcing the platforms only minutes, this time three minutes, before the train departs, can cause a little bit of a chaotic rush, but we made our train fine.
Anna falls asleep on any mode of transport, but she woke up just as our train passed West Baltimore. Carmelo Anthony has always made it sound a little bleak there, in fact Kenny Minor, one of Anthony’s childhood friends, said,
“From drugs, to killings, to anything you can name that goes on in the roughest parts of town, we’ve seen and witnessed hands on. Those are the things that teach you toughness and keep you mentally focused on your goals.”
Hearing that is one thing, but seeing it is another. There are buildings collapsing and ones that have burnt down, it looked how I imagined Detroit to look. Hopefully the rest of Baltimore is nicer.
We eventually arrived in Washington, checked into our hotel and then went and did a bit of sight-seeing. It was a nice day for it, but my knee was still extremely painful. Still, here is what we saw while strolling around the city:
While we were in front of the White House we saw Marisa Tomei walk past us. I don’t think she was in the area to protest circumcisions or to convince people the earth is flat, she was just passing by.
It was the last week of the NCAA Tournament, the Final Four was Saturday night. Anna and myself went to watch Villanova get beaten by Seton Hall in the Big East championship game a few weeks ago, meaning that Villanova didn’t automatically qualify for the tournament, but received an at-large bid by the selection committee. Fast-forward a few weeks and they were playing Buddy Hield and the Oklahoma Sooners, one of the favourites in the Final Four. “No chance,” I thought. The other game was my favourite team, North Carolina, against Syracuse. The winners of these two games would meet in the NCAA Championship game on Monday.
We went to a bar and caught the tail-end of Villanova destroying Oklahoma by 44 points, the largest margin of victory in NCAA Tournament history. Next, we sat with a few people from North Carolina and had a ton of beers and buffalo wings as we watched the Tar Heels beat the Orangemen, securing their spot in the big dance. Monday night would be North Carolina vs. Villanova for the championship with North Carolina overwhelming favourites. That was Monday night planned for us and I mentioned to the couple how North Carolina coach Roy Williams would be crying on Monday, a habit he has whether they win or lose, to which they both laughed and agreed. I just didn’t realise how prophetic my words would be…
Sunday, April 3
We had seen most of the sights of Washington DC, so we thought it would be a good day to check out some museums, on this occasion it would be Smithsonian Institute. This could be interesting:
The Smithsonian Institution, established in 1846 “for the increase and diffusion of knowledge,” is a group of museums and research centers administered by the Government of the United States. Originally organized as the “United States National Museum,” that name ceased to exist as an administrative entity in 1967. Termed “the nation’s attic” for its eclectic holdings of 138 million items, the Institution’s nineteen museums, nine research centers, and zoo include historical and architectural landmarks, mostly located in the District of Columbia.
Clearly, we would’t get to see all 138 million items, but the Washington DC campus had an interesting collection. Here are some of the highlights:
After our stroll around the museum we were up to the part of the day that we weren’t particularly looking forward to; We had to go to the car rental joint and pick up our ride so we could make our way down to Baltimore, but there was a problem – We were oblivious to it overnight, but there had been a huge storm. We noticed a lot of wood and branches on the ground, but we didn’t really think anything of it, but when we went to pick up our car, there were not one, but two people whose rental cars had been damaged by falling branches, meaning quite a bit of waiting around for us.
We eventually got our car and made the one hour drive to Baltimore, hoping the entire time that we wouldn’t get carjacked or no bridges had been stolen or anything. When we arrived we both laughed, thinking this could be interesting. Baltimore is a beautiful city, but it is an absolute shithole!
We checked into our hotel and were asked if we would like a low or high-numbered floor. When we responded that we didn’t particularly mind, our response was met with, “I suggest you take a high one. I’ll put you on the top floor.” In fact, we ended up getting the only suite in the building with a Jacuzzi!
We decided to go down to the harbour area to grab some dinner, mainly because it was supposed to be one of the safer areas of town. There were a few people around, mainly for the Light City festival and the first thing that struck us was how many cops there were around. There were just big packs of cops, standing in groups of 6-8, one hand always close to the holster.
We had a look at the shops, the first being It’s Sugar and it dawned on me that I had just seen the highest concentration of people with facial tattoos in my life in a candy store. A little more of what we saw:
We grabbed a decent seafood dinner, marvelled at how terrifying this city was, bought some booze and went home and had a jacuzzi before watching ‘Last Week Tonight with John Oliver’ and then heading to bed. We would need our energy, tomorrow would be a stressful day.
Monday, April 3
Anna headed into the hospital early, leaving me free to do my bidding. I knew there was a big market just a couple of blocks away, so I decided to go down and take a look. I got about two streets from there and instantly started to feel a little uneasy, I found me asking myself if it was a good idea to continue down that street. I figured if I need to question it then it probably wasn’t a wise thing to do, so I turned around, walked past the strung out junky on the corner with the needle still in his arm and headed toward a record store nearby, only to find myself asking the same questions again. Screw that.
It was the first day of the Major League Baseball season and the Baltimore Orioles were playing at home. Almost half the population of the city was wearing some form of orange Orioles attire and I came to the conclusion that I might feel a little safer if I was wearing something, too, kind of like a safety vest. Same colour, as well. Yup, all I’d need is an Orioles t-shirt and stick to the harbour and people might go easy on me because they’d be under the illusion that we go for the same baseball team, I’d just need to hope that I didn’t get roped into a baseball conversation. Orange is my favourite colour (as well as brown) and the logo is cool, so I picked up a vintage t-shirt and then planted my ass in a bar for the afternoon until Anna was finished. Not a bad idea, because now my left knee was hurting from favouring my right one so much. A few sights from the afternoon:
I kicked back in the bar and had a few beers and a pound of shrimp as I watched the single-engine aeroplanes advertising either prostitutes or strippers pass overhead until Anna called. During that time, an old colleague of mine from Geos Language Centre, Bridget, messaged me to see how long I was in town. I completely forgot she lived in Baltimore and we wouldn’t have time to meet up, but she had this advice for me, “Be careful where you walk, one block in the wrong direction will put you in a bad part of town.” I guess my instincts were right. By this stage I was just exhausted from constantly being on guard, getting looked up and down by everyone we passed in the street, threatening looks that made it feel like we’d get jumped if it weren’t for my size, especially when I’m in a big jacket. Little did they know that I’m of no threat to anyone.
Anna enjoyed her trip to the Wilmer Eye Hospital, it was an amazing institution and very inspirational, she was made to feel welcome by all of the staff, it was just a shame about the location. In fact, wikipedia states that:
The Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine are the founding institutions of modern American medicine and are the birthplace of numerous traditions including rounds, residents and housestaff.
It was ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the best overall hospital in America for 21 consecutive years (1991–2011), and has since remained in the top three.
Here are some pictures she took:
By the time Anna returned it was raining and we needed to return our car. That was a little bit of a headache, but we got it done and next we had to make our way uptown to meet one of Anna’s colleagues in a bar for some dinner before we jumped on a train and got the hell out of this place! This would involve a bit of a dodgy taxi ride. When we got in the cab, it smelt like the driver had been deep-frying something. He had no ID, didn’t use the metre, the locks were missing from the doors and the interior light of the cab was a regular ceiling light for a house. Okay, a little sketchy, but he got us there, despite having his high-beams on during the day and talking on his phone the entire trip by sticking it under his seatbelt, ignoring all other jobs that showed up on his ‘Vacant’ metre. He said it was $20, which we gladly gave him.
We made it to the bar, caught up with Anna’s colleague and then jumped on a 7:00pm train back to New York, hoping to catch the second half of the NCAA championship game. I was able to stream some of the first half of the game while on the train and my guys, North Carolina had the lead at the half. As we passed through Philadelphia a lot of buildings and houses were lit up in the Villanova colours. “Not likely,” I thought.
When we got home, North Carolina were trailing with about 10 minutes left and were down three with 10 seconds left. Anna told me it was all over, but I explained that if we hit a three it could go into overtime and we had momentum. She decided to watch the rest of the game, a decision she wouldn’t regret. For those that haven’t seen it, here’s how the last 90 seconds went down:
Now, I have watched some big basketball moments live in my life:
- I watched live as Michael Jordan hit his last ever shot in a Bulls uniform to beat the Utah Jazz for the 1998 NBA championship, the Bulls’ sixth title in eight years.
- I saw Klay Thompson score 37 points in the third quarter on perfect shooting, including 9-9 from three-point range, against the Sacramento Kings in January last year. When I posted the shot-chart, below, on Facebook after the quarter, most of my friends thought I’d been playing video games.
- But I don’t think I have ever witnessed anything like Kris Jenkins hitting that shot to beat the Tar Heels, especially after their last second shot. Villanova weren’t even supposed to be there and North Carolina were one of the favourites to win it all when the tournament began.
This is a kid whose Mum was his shooting coach and wouldn’t let him step out of the key until he was in the eighth grade! I guess that method worked.
All in all we had a great weekend away; We saw a brilliant musical, spent a nice time in Washington DC, an awful time in Baltimore and capped it off by seeing what is possibly the greatest basketball game I will ever see in my life. Kris Jenkins’ shot will always be synonymous with March Madness and will be replayed again and again for eternity.