Cruising out of New York in a rented mustang convertible was pretty sick. Just a few hours down the road was Baltimore, and my friends Russ and Sarah who I hadn’t seen in ages. The drive was fun and easy with only the minimal fussing about with New Jersey tollways, inbound audio jacks, and car lighter to USB adapters (that rented Mustang was super stock. No USB port. What is this, the fifties?) Not to worry, fifteen minutes at a truck stop was enough to set us rolling south guided by the wisdom and calm robotic lady voice of Google’s maps app.
The lady voice directed me seamlessly to Russ and Sarah’s townhouse. It’s in that one part of Baltimore, the gentrified part. It’s right by that place and that park and it has nice views. That’s as much as I know, really. I knocked on the door and was greeted by the nanny. Sarah was out and about, running errands. Russ was walking their new puppy.
I introduced myself to the nanny and saw Ajax, Russ’s little boy. He was happily eating some form of toddler-feed. I believe it involved crackers or soft bread. Not sure what goes into toddler-feed, but it resembled that. While I was marveling at the existence of small humans (Manhattan is mostly devoid of children, save for those being wheeled around by West Indian au pairs), I heard the front door opening.
A woof and a snarl and Henry charged. Ah yeah. He’s developed some aggression toward young male puppies and now he was greeting one with snarls as it entered its own house. Charming. I walked over and picked up my harmless snarling bundle of muscle and teeth, trying to assure everybody involved that he was really harmless, and that they’d be fine once they knew each other.
And they were.
I was staying over that night. As evening approached, Russ and I walked the dogs around the block, then went to a locals bar. It was one of those joints where the old neighborhood guys go. We sat at the end of the bar and ordered some whiskeys. The bartender was a short, curvy woman. Late thirties or maybe forty. A hard forty.
“Whatcha guys doin’?” She asked in a powerful Baltimore accent.
The accent was one that I had never really run across. Quick, google it. Yeah. It’s where Pennsylvania bleeds into the south. Utterly fascinating.
We told her that we were old friends. That I was in town from New York—a place that might as well have been Mars—and that we were catching up before I continued along the road.
Behind the bar was a bottle of blueberry pancake liquor. It was next to the 99 Bananas. I pointed it out to Russ.
We left with the slick taste of chemicals and artificial vanilla in our mouth.
“That felt like a mistake.”
“The best kind. At least this time you’re not bleeding out of your face.”
He had a point. The last time I visited Russ, it was a couple years ago. Just as I was being emotionally shattered by a breakup. See, Russ is one of those friends. The kind that will literally give you the shirt off his back—as I was leaving town, he gave me his coat because mine had been covered in so much blood that I couldn’t wear it on the Amtrak.
So yeah, he and Sarah put in for a train ticket up to Boston to hang out with them and get away from the city.
I visited. Russ took me out to one of the most amazing dinners I’ve ever had—Craigie on Main if you happen to be in Beantown—afterward we walked to a bar for some post dinner drinks. I bumped into someone (or maybe I didn’t). He shoved me. Then one of his friends socked me from the side, just out of my view. Next thing I knew, I was covering my head, avoiding the boots coming from roughly six different people.
Wrong place. Wrong time.
The cops asked me what I did. I told them that my skirt was too fucking short. Then the cop got gruff and told me to stop spitting blood on him. I told him that he’d better back the fuck up then.
They walked off.
The next day I caught the train back, wearing Russ’s jacket.
I still have that jacket.