Borrowing trouble could become a habit. I have just returned from a visit home with my mind teeming--joy, intrigue, and of course, trouble.
Perhaps it would have been more sensible to take the first week after school ended for the year and hibernate at the beach. My mother often chides me that the first week of summer vacation with me is none at all because I am still traveling at 70 miles per hour and ticking items off my internal checklist. This year more than previous, the seasonal influx of tourists took the blush off the revered boardwalk and beach. At Assateague, the charm of ponies tossing coolers waned after a day of jumping out of their way during the Air Show weekend. The clogged streets of Ocean City worked my last nerve, so I scurried back to Baltimore for a week to visit the people I love.
After the riots of spring were spurred by the death of Freddie Gray, Baltimore has been sporting a black eye. Even the toughest of my Salisbury students quailed if I mentioned a trip home for the weekend. I've sought to calm their fears by insisting that the Baltimore looping through the same scenes of destruction on TV is not my Baltimore. The city I look back on fondly with ten years and the veil of fiction-writing to muddy the lenses is one of small neighborhoods, corner bars and restaurants, patchworks of parks, historic landmarks like the Walters or the BMA, the touristy Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Little Italy. My grandparents lived in Highlandtown and we shopped the avenue or walked to Patterson Park and climbed the pagoda. As recently as April, I drove through the neighborhood that hosted crowds who gutted the pharmacies and liquor stores, terrorized residents and threw rocks at the police.
A week at home and I find that Baltimore has changed. The Inner Harbor at five p.m. is quiet despite a plethora of restaurants and shops waiting for customers. Events have been cancelled or have been moved out to surrounding counties, and city businesses are reporting drastic losses. The tax base that was struggling to support a population skimming along on the poverty line is looking to leave. Someone suggested that razing blocks down and rebuilding from subterranean rot gave me pause. How do you save an entity that is rotting from within?
So I have returned from ridiculous traffic on the Baltimore Beltway, a tour of the exterior of the Hampton Mansion (the gardens are under a glorious reconstruction--another blog there), and quiet evenings on Normans Creek after noisy meals with family. Walking through an alley in Towson on Wednesday, I realized that my version of vacation isn't place-related at all. I visited with all of my Baltimore friends and every branch of my immediate family. As each person told the stories of their recent troubles and joys, I borrowed a few. My mother leaned over during a particularly intense discussion of a work-related conundrum and said, "This would make a good book!"
So if traveling is for education, and vacations are for rest, then people-cations are for rejuvenation of the store of ideas, expressions and impressions.
J D Cooper
Author of the Lilac Hill series, The Portia Journal, other novels and countless short stories