Did you ever wonder what it would be like to experience your teenaged life with your adult mind and body? No, me either. But seriously, that’s what happened to me this weekend in Baltimore. For some reason I got it into my head that it’d be fun to revisit my traumatic college years since I was already headed down that way to see some swell friends. If your college years were fun, carefree, and party-filled, then you probably didn’t attend my alma mater. I’m sure you’ve heard of it; your doctor probably graduated from there.
This school sucked the life out of me and convinced me I was stupid and had no writing skills. (Don’t bother commenting that you agree. I don’t control the comments on here for nothing.) I also experienced a couple of bad breakups (with the same person – Liz Taylor is my hero!) and a lack of money and social skills. The result was four sad, miserable, pathetic years.
As I waited (and waited) for the bus to take me up there, which I did countless times going to and from work when I was in college, I really did feel like I was back in the day. The awful, awful day. And then walking around campus and through the buildings, it all felt quite real. I half expected to see that drunken frat guy who is probably your doctor right now.
But it was kind of like Dateline NBC. I was the sad survivor of personal trauma being taken back to the scene of the crime for no ostensible purpose. I could imagine Ann Curry next to me. “So this is the place where Professor Carter-Smith [I made that up – is it pretentious enough?] told you that he had no idea how you even got into this university. How do you feel, Becca?” Or “Here is the spot where that guy told you that you had serious issues because you couldn’t get over your ex. Tissue?”
And yet, I bought a sweatshirt. You don’t see Vietnam vets going back to My Lai and buying souvenir t-shirts, do you? But, you see, it was really just like a prison tattoo. Bear with me, I have some back-up for this. I don’t think people are proud of going to prison. But some of them are terribly proud to have survived and made it out alive. And that is me, wearing my $45 prison tattoo. I lived through Johns Hopkins, bitch.
But a couple of other random notes on the trip. First off, who’d have thunk it, but there is actually a synagogue in the Inner Harbor and it’s been in continuous use since 1857. Someone there made the wise decision to leave it with its lovely period details in gold and cream and dark wood. Unfortunately, the pews were designed for the asses of yesteryear. But that’s a minor quibble.
Also, in case my love letter to Baltimore (aka, my last post) didn’t convince you, I can now confirm that the city is as charming and friendly as ever. I really forgot what it was like for people to make eye contact with you and say good morning. I even got into my old Baltimore friendliness and advised a couple at the bus stop who asked me that the bus ran every 25 minutes. I couldn’t help adding, “Of course, I haven’t lived here in 12 years.” (But I was right.)
And the rowhouses and downtown architecture still make me swoon. Alas, however, it is no longer the City That Reads. No, perhaps the city council felt like that was too hard for people to believe. So they went with a much more plausible catchphrase and the benches now read: Baltimore – The Greatest City in America. Oh yes, my thoughts exactly.
Speaking of cities and their grandiose advertising slogans, I can’t end this without commenting on the delight at seeing my very favorite sign from the Amtrak train: Trenton Makes, the World Takes. I always thought that vaguely accusatory, as though it should also say, in slightly smaller print, “If anyone would like to return what they have taken from Trenton, please drop it off at the Police Station, no questions asked.”