Travels

This past week I missed what was probably my last chance this year for a week of bike commuting, because I spent much of it traveling instead — and, as I found out from the bike shop when I got home on Saturday, my rear wheel was cracked anyway, and it will take most of this week to order the replacement wheel and swap it in. (Oh well, good thing I’m going on another trip.)

Ostensibly the purpose of my travel was to see baseball games — back when I bought the tickets, late-season visits to Baltimore and Tampa seemed like an exciting prospect. I scheduled my Baltimore trip with enough time on the following day to still see the game if it got rained out — no need for that in Tampa since it’s a dome — with the theory that I could do some sightseeing if the weather cooperated. The Tampa trip, by contrast, was little more than fly in, pick up rental car, drive to hotel, drive to ballpark, drive back to hotel, return rental car, and fly home — all told I spent less than 20 hours in Tampa. (I did at least contemplate driving up the Gandy Causeway and going wading in the 88°F waters of Tampa Bay, but chose to read in my hotel room instead.)

The result of this is that I have now seen the Red Sox play at every AL East ballpark save one — and that will be remedied Wednesday night in the Bronx. But it reminded me, also, how little I care for traveling alone. On trips like this, I have an agenda, very little time or energy for doing anything spontaneous, and it costs rather more than I would prefer — but given the lack of anyone I might travel with there’s no alternative. This was really brought home to me on Thursday morning, the day after the game in Baltimore. I had a 5 PM flight out of Washington National, which left plenty of time to do other things, and so I figured I would drive back up to Baltimore (from my budget hotel in the Columbia area) and make my way to the Homewood Campus of Johns Hopkins University, and see just how much had changed in the 26½ years since I had last set foot there.

I found a parking garage (that’s a new thing for sure) and got out of the car to walk around. Much of the campus hasn’t changed all that much — a bit of construction on the building I still remember as Rowland Hall (renamed at the end of my year there), and a few new buildings, mostly in the southwest part of campus by the art museum. I was struck by the addition of security barriers in front of the freshman dorms — and of course I couldn’t get close enough to the entrance to my old dorm to even get a good picture (it was hidden behind a tree). I saw the dining hall where I ate all my meals, though, although it has certainly been transformed like food service on most campuses in the past decades. I saw a hot Asian dude clearly walking back to his dorm from some sort of athletic endeavor, and mused a bit on how, back in the day, I doubt I could have conceived of “hot dude” — that didn’t come until a few years later (I’ve told that story elsewhere). Ironically, I was wearing my Bi Pride t-shirt that day (it was quite warm in Baltimore, and anyway, it was Bi Visibility Week so I figured I had some obligation to be visible — but nobody noticed that I could tell). The language lab where I had worked (although not officially on “work-study”, which was a form of financial aid some students got) was of course completely gone, having been overtaken by technological changes in the past decade, but the whole building where it was located looked to have been gutted and had its insides replaced.

I was only at Hopkins for one year: after my freshman year, I was denied financial aid, and my parents weren’t rich enough even to get a loan (I was 17 and couldn’t borrow money in my own name, which I gather is now the done thing) so I had to withdraw, and half a year later transferred to UVM where I could get in-state tuition: although their computer science program was rather lacking, at least it was affordable for my parents. It’s sobering to contemplate how differently my life might have turned out, if I had been able to stay at Hopkins. Probably I would have at least tried to go on to grad school, although I’m not sure I would have been any good at it; perhaps I might have ended up on the faculty of some third-tier university somewhere. Maybe, in a residential setting far from home, I might have met someone to spend my life with. Who knows? (That was at least the year I became a baseball fan — the Orioles were, rather unexpectedly, good in 1989, and there was a lot of buzz about the pennant race. I would stick with the O’s for a while before latching on to the Expos — our “local” team in northern Vermont, and parent club of the local minor-league team — and then eventually moving to Boston and following the Red Sox.)

After my visit to Hopkins, it was an hour-plus drive down to my next stop, a return visit to the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia, the branch of the Air and Space Museum where all the really big exhibits are — including the space shuttle Discovery, brought there in exchange for the Enterprise when the shuttle program ended five years ago. A bit unfortunate that I ended up next to Dulles airport when my flight out was at National, and the traffic in Northern Virginia between the two is unremittingly awful at its best. So I had plenty of time to contemplate my experience earlier in the day, and how nice it would have been to be taking someone else — someone close — on my walk around campus, and indeed around Baltimore in general. (And that’s not even getting into the cost of the rental car and hotel!) But there is no such person, and at this rate may never be, which is a continuing source of sadness for me.

When I got back from Tampa, I heard from my parents that they would not be able to join me in Helsinki next March, where I hoped to see the World Figure Skating Championships. Now I’m not sure if I will go, given both the painful memories that I still have of Finland and the prospect of doing it all alone; I’ll have to make a decision one way or the other fairly soon. It’s leaving me feeling more than a bit melancholy, hence this post. Meanwhile, I do have a trip planned to New York this coming week, and to Ottawa for a hockey game in October, but that really just reinforces the isolation. (I will at least be joined by a friend for the ball game in New York, although I don’t yet know if he has anything else planned for the following day when I’ll be at loose ends.)

Applications accepted, if you’re smart, cute, fit, and looking for someone to travel with. Bonus points if you’d care to visit Helsinki when it’s just barely spring and probably still snowy.

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