11.06.2009 - 13.06.2009 25 °C
When catching buses, I have become quite accustomed to just turning up and jumping on. Its what people do, right? Not when you’re taking the Greyhound. They make quite a performance out of catching a bus, at least out of Philadelphia. Even when you buy a ticket online, you have to be in the station a full hour before scheduled departure. There is nothing as simple as printing the ticket off the internet or giving the driver a booking reference. Instead, you have to tussle with the machine dispensing tickets, which tells you that it can’t read your credit card, then that there is no ticket associated with that card or any other that you might care to present. So you queue for the one person working the counter, watching in bemusement as three other staff come out, not to help her but to help people figure out how to get their tickets out of the machine. It takes 40 minutes of your hour to get to the head of the queue. Only then does a second person come to provide counter service.
Ticket finally in hand, you queue again, this time for the bus. It is a long queue, and people are counting the number ahead of them and asking “how many does that bus carry?” Because Greyhound just keeps selling tickets without regard to the number of seats on the bus: if it is full, you catch the next one. SIX HOURS later. So, the back of the queue becomes somewhat indeterminate, as those who are simultaneously late, nervous and pushy manage to find themselves in front of people waiting ten minutes.
One last flourish attends this performance: the man with the wand. It looks like a fat black spatula, with green and red lights. It is waved over everyone’s luggage, the lights flashing as if they are on a Christmas tree, not a machine to ensure we can safely travel Greyhound without being maced, knifed or drugged (these were the three things the man with the wand seemed worried about). It beeps frantically, like an alarm clock on speed. The man with the wand is evidently a better man than I, as I could detect no pattern to the sound and light show, and went away suspecting that that was all it was, a show.
Once on the bus, everything is fine. The driver, a self-sacrificing sort of gentleman warns us not to go near the luggage compartment as the cables holding the doors up tend to snap, and they’re heavy doors. “If anyone is going to die today, it is better that it be me, rather than one of you. So don’t mess with the luggage compartment”.
As you come into Baltimore, its industrial heritage is evident: no shops, motels etc, just some factories, piles of materials, and lots of cranes. Even the Greyhound station is out in an industrial area, next to a factory with a big chimney.
Again, I didn't have much of a plan, other than to wander around and see what can be seen. One reason for choosing Baltimore was The Wire, but I don't think I'd want to go to the places you see there. There are warnings not to go into certain areas of this city.
Walking out from the hostel, I had this feeling I was in a good place, a bit of a wreck of a city but I was glad to be there and, unlike Philly, there are two good coffee shops within a block of the hostel. What I didn't find were the big brand shops I've come to expect in American cities. I was impressed by the city library and Walter art gallery, not because they were particularly special but because they were both started with private money. Mr Walter had to have this building
to house his private collection. Inside, things are a little eccentric:
The Inner Harbour is where its at in Baltimore if you're a tourist, so I went and inspected the marine life:
Yep, that's a submarine. I've never even seen one let alone had the chance to go inside. You start in the aft torpedo room
which has been set up as an extremely cramped backpackers!
There are four of these, each producing 1600 horsepower.
Backpacker operators could learn something from submarines - this space has 36 beds:
The dining area is cosy
They call this a stateroom! I grew up reading about Captain's staterooms but never imagined they'd be like this:
The Officers' rooms are identical, except there are three bunks. And then it is the forward torpedo room,
and its all over.
I did have a vague idea of seeing the Baltimore and Ohio Railway Museum, biggest in the country apparently, but the submarine distracted me so long I didn't see any point trying to see the Museum.
I went back to the hostel to much love. In the morning, I'd been hanging about, eating pancakes and doing a bit of work, when the hostel manager brought in a damsel in distress. She'd flown in from Turkey the day before, had very little English, and had some work lined up in a McDonalds out in the boonies. The manager was looking for someone to put her on the train to the inner boonies, where someone would collect her. Since it was time to go anyway, I thought what the hell. Somehow this was a big deal to the manager, so when I got back, she was all "I love you so much...". Speaking of the hostel, it had a touch of elegance I don't normally get in hostels
For my last eveing, I walked up what was the main drag, and is now called historic Charles Street - it seems largely residential, but with a few grand hotels, cafes, bars, clothing shops, a University, a train station etc strung out along its length. It made for a pleasant walk, and about halfway along, there is Brewer's Art - a brew pub I'd been told about. Just as well, as I'd probably never have ventured underneath, where there's a cool bar, a proper underground place with limited light, hordes of people, loud music and good beer.
Distance travelled: 200 miles. To go: roughly 1900.