Courtney grew up right down the street from me. We took the same bus to school . I sat somewhere in the middle with my friends Scott and she sat in the back, the pre agreed upon ‘cool’ part of the bus. It wasn’t until after high school when our interactions exceeded an awkward “hey”. Being out on the road for so long has had its positive impacts on my personality. Transforming from an introvert to an extrovert is certainly one of them. As a result I felt much more comfortable hanging out with Courtney. It didn’t take us very long to dismiss the awkward “hey”. The first night I showed up, we inevitably broke out our old high school yearbook and reminisced about memories that seem like decades ago. Even though we hung out with different crowds in high school, we knew there was something unique about growing up in that part of Roxbury.
Courtney works as a nurse in Johns Hopkins, and lives in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore. Much like Fishtown in Philadelphia, this neighborhood flourished with blue collar families who worked in the mills. The mills have since closed leaving the neighborhood with a high unemployment rate. However, now Hampden is beginning to gentrify with art and culture as a much younger crowd has moved in. Essentially, it has grown into a ‘hipster’ community if you will. The blue collar families who still have their roots in Hampden interacting with the newly acquainted young folks is certainly an interesting process to observe. But there’s a unifying factor: Natural Bohemian. The PBR of Baltimore has no social or economic ties. It’s the beer of the city, and if you’ve got one in your hand, chances are you’ll have a newfound friend by the end of the night. Yes the little one eyed, mustachio wielding, Pringles guy look alike can leave a Hampdenite embracing a squeamish hipster after on O’s win. Speaking of O’s, Courtney and I attended an Orioles game one night. I’ve been to Camden Yards before, but that was a few years ago, when the team accepted the fact that it could never contest the goliath-like Yankees, Red Sox, or Rays. There were probably 1,000 people at the game I attended last. Apparently a lot changed since my last time in Baltimore. The stadium was packed with orange and black bodies. I should preface by saying that I have grown out of touch with baseball over the years, but the raw electricity felt from the ball park that night was undeniable. My love for the game was revitalized, and just in time because the O’s have been on a tear. Climbing back to with the game from a six run deficit in the 7th capped off a perfect night of baseball.
I originally intended to only stay a night with Courtney, but here I am a week later saying goodbye. I attribute it to the fact that she had off of work the whole week, there was always something to do/see in town, and most importantly we enjoyed each other’s company. Whether it was playing softball, going to the arboretum, the Walters art Museum, swimming in the reservoir (where we almost got arrested), singing karaoke, or playing board games we had so much fun. The kind of fun that adults forget exists.
Our adventures were fueled by a lack of meat and sugar. Courtney is a vegetarian and I flirted with the idea some time ago. My flaw was substituting meat for refined sugar, which still left me feeling groggy and tired. During my week with her, we at no meat and almost no refined sugar. I felt like I had so much extra energy to run around and play with ‘little Courtney’ her appropriately named kitten. It was tough though. My body went through a sugar withdrawal but it was really just a mental roadblock. Having it out of sight definitely helped. Oh and The China Study. A book I was introduced to in Athens. Courtney had a copy and told me a little more about it. In a nutshell, it’s the largest study of the effects of nutrition on the body done on the entire population of China beginning in 1983 and lasting 20 years. The study examined mortality rates related to cancer and heart disease and its relationship to animal based diets. Basically, a diet high in animal protein helps harbor cancerous cells alarmingly higher than one without. I won’t delve into it further. Just growing older and understanding that diseases like heart disease and cancer are not genetic predispositions is causing me to take a little more responsibility about what foods I put into my body. Will I become a vegan? No. But will I begin to eat a little more consciously? Definitely. I think I am most fascinated by how much criticism follows a diet like that. Our societal norm is to eat meat and dairy. To oppose that is considered blasphemy to some. All I can say is that I felt like I had mountains of energy this week. Maybe it was the whole not eating an entire box of doughnuts and 3 Snickers bars in one sitting that did it.
Anyway, now I must yet again leave an amazingly inspiring person to continue onward. Leaving sucks. And what sucks more is how accustomed I’ve grown to the notion that I will have to leave something potentially, dare I say, real. I never anticipated getting on so well with Courtney. I realized that I have become so jaded and basically through with this trip because I am tired of saying goodbye. It’s exhausting. What was once an enchantingly bittersweet affair is now growing more bitter than sweet. I can try to convince myself to find the silver lining and appreciate the fact that I was able to spend a moment in time with a person, but I am a human. And humans are greedy. I want it all. I want my cake and I want to eat it too (but now it’s made with vegan cane sugar and soy based flour). Seriously though, I smiled as I hugged Courtney and said goodbye when really I wanted to mope. She suggested I stay longer. I want to, because I want to see what this is. Because there’s something there. But I know I have to go home. I have to see my family and my friends. Being so constantly torn and questionably wondering if I should say or if I should go coincidentally causes me to shut down entirely. I did that with Rachel. It’s unfair to drag a person through your own mud. I have a lot of mud. I think I’m like a used car. When you first buy one, you’re skeptical of how it runs. But it seems so fresh and new that you’re convinced it is. And as time passes, you begin to realize that this seemingly new car was in fact a used car and now it’s starting to show all its flaws. “I don’t remember hearing that rattling sound when I drove off the lot. Has that weird stain always been there? Where did all these rust spots come from?” Yeah, I’m like a used car, but we all are. We all have flaws. And you don’t necessarily see them during the course of week. So I’m afraid to stick around out of fear that they’re inevitability going to make a person not want me around. It’s a fear. An irrational one, I know, but ever present. I’m just tired of that fear controlling my decisions. I don’t think the urge to return home is going to solve it. Many time on this trip I wished I could transport home, see everyone, and then transport back to the place I was just to see if more time there would change my opinion. But that’s not how life works. Like I said I want my soy-based cake and I want to eat it too. Ok well this is plenty of fodder to contemplate on the ride from Baltimore to Philly. I will look back on this city with nothing but appreciation and enjoyment. But for now, I’ll just have to heed to the LSD fueled words of Robert Crumb, and “Keep on Truckin’”.
Total Ascent: 1294ft.