It was bound to happen eventually. No one, not even Kerouac himself, can spend two straight months on the road without occasionally wishing for a stable place to call home. Exhaustion finally caught up with me in Baltimore, Maryland and, in all honesty, it was the perfect city to fall apart in. It was raining for most of my visit and I had very little clue where in American I actually was. (Best-illustrated by this FaceTime conversation with my brother in Belfast- Alan, “where are you tonight?” Me, scanning environs quickly for any geographical clue, “in the bedroom.”)
After weeks and weeks of being constantly social and mostly eloquent and also capable of repacking a suitcase at the drop of a hat, (never fold, always roll), I was feeling a little weary, a little burnt out on being so persistently in the company of other people. Baltimore was the only stop on the trip where I didn’t have a reading planned and didn’t really know anyone in town so it seemed like the perfect place to book myself into a nice faded-glitz hotel, (the sort of hotel Agatha Christie might have had Poirot holiday in), and simply rest for a few days. A layover in Baltimore was the best decision I’ve made in weeks.
I walked miles around the beautiful inner harbour, avoiding the Octoberfest merrymakers and the many, many folks in orange sweatshirts who were not as I first imagined, Malcolm’s welcoming committee, but rather locals, off to support some ill-defined sports team. I drank nice wine in the hotel lobby, writing beside the open fire and ate good food and watched trashy American TV shows in bed whilst eating crisps. I went to one of the strangest museums I’ve ever visited outside of Northern Ireland and was charmed and, somewhat confused, by the positioning of Egyptian mummies, oil paintings, butterflies, stuffed animals and armour all within a stone’s throw of each other. (I should not have been confused for the Ulster Museum seems to operate a very similar policy in regards to its collection).
I went to the cinema in the middle of the afternoon and I purposefully picked a movie that would make me cry because I wanted to cry. I brunched with the lovely Joan Weber, (my good friend Nathaniel’s surrogate American mother), read The Year of Magical Thinking cover to cover in one sitting and slept ten hours in a bed made of cotton wrapped marshmallows. I did not feel even the smallest ounce of guilt for any of this. I only wish I’d had the energy to do Baltimore justice.