| Car-centric. What's wrong with this lovely sunshiny photo of downtown? |
Kinda hard to see the buildings for the cars, isn't it?
(Photo "Annapolis street" by Rdsmith4 - Own work.
Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons - link here)
While our boat was at the boatyard awaiting major work, we took advantage of our borrowed car to return to Annapolis for two weeks. I have to admit that I faced the trip with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. I had always claimed that Annapolis was "home," the place I want to come back to when our traveling days are done. But what makes a place, this place, feel like home? After a year away, would I come back to Annapolis, fit right in where I left off, and heave a giant sigh of relief, “ahhh, I’m back!” Or, after traveling and comparing it to other places I’d been, would I see the flaws and make a sound more like “eeeuw, I’m ba-ack!”
The official reason for the trip was practical. We call it our "medical monitoring marathon" -- the annual check-in with the doctor, the dermatologist, neurologist, eye doctor, etc. (Cause for celebration, BTW, there is no longer an annual check-in required with Dan's oncologist, because Dan is medically boring. After eight years with no sign of cancer recurrence, Dan now gets an MRI every year but the doctor said he has no need to spend an office visit on a perfectly healthy man like Dan, and wants instead to spend his time "on folks who actually need me.")
In between appointments, there was plenty of time for other things. We spent a fair amount of time and reflection just revisiting our remembered favorite spots in town. We had spent most of the last year carless, and now, having a car again, I was aware of the way the pedestrians and the vehicles coexisted. Our first drive through downtown was troubling. Had the city always catered more to cars than people, or was I hypersensitized? Streets, widened from their colonial proportions to accommodate more cars and parking, extended until they butted up abruptly within inches of the doors of historic buildings and homes. In other cities we’d seen in our travels, the downtown waterfronts were grassy parks and boardwalks and park benches, a few shops and restaurants, historic structures and educational plaques. There was no comparable grassy area at City Dock, though; boasting an excellent view of the beautiful Chesapeake was … a parking lot. Really?
The things I found comfortable about living in Annapolis were still there, though. It was handy knowing where things were without the need for a map. It was easy to pick up boat parts and services -- Dan scored a great half-price sale on a good quality foul weather jacket at Fawcetts, and the replacement canisters for our water filter were an off-the-shelf item instead of special order. Our favorite food items, both ordinary and quirky, were available at Trader Joes or Whole Foods or Giant or Fresh Market. Politically, we stand rather to the left of the current U.S. average; we fit in well here. I love the wonderful sailing and gunkholing possibilities. I love the museums and the cultural opportunities and the college influence. I liked our doctors and my awesome physical therapist. But. Boat parts and grocery stores and doctors do not alone make a place “home.” Comfort alone certainly does not make a place home. If you're flexible, you can find (or create) comfort anywhere. And doctors retire and boat parts are available by internet.
Even friends aren’t enough to make it home. Visiting friends was equally important, in our minds, as checking in with doctors. But we knew that the loose but large gang that we hung with at the marina had shifted and scattered in the time we'd been gone. A few friends moved to other cities for their jobs, three sold their boats and moved ashore, two others retired and sailed away. That’s the way it is with boat people, we’re inherently mobile. We could make new friends, of course. But, as Dan pointed out, the community of boating friends I remembered as such an integral part of my mental picture of what I loved and missed about Annapolis no longer existed. We couldn’t have had that any more, whether we had stayed or gone. So, with so many of our friends gone, would it still feel like home?
Several good friends remained in town though, and we were lucky enough to spend some time with each of them. I met my BFF Karen and her husband in college. Forty years ago, we speculated on our future careers in late-night dorm sessions; last weekend, we strolled through a great sculpture garden and speculated on retirement. It amused me to realize how much of our life cycle we've shared! We also spent a few days visiting fellow blogger s/v Octopussy. They live in one of the historic homes on the Naval Academy, so in between appointments we had a great opportunity to catch up on life news and swap stories over (several) glasses of wine, enjoy some military parades, and revisit the wonderful U.S. Naval Academy museum at Preble Hall. The few days we spent with them exposed me again to the very best of Annapolis, and restored my faith.
So, is Annapolis “the one?” My personal “best place?” I didn’t come to any answer, nor do I need to yet. We have many years of travel on the boat ahead of us. For now, our best life involves migrating north and south with the seasons, enjoying many cities, rather than settling down in just one.