Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Last Cruise of the Autumn, Part II

We expected urban Baltimore to be the opposite end of the spectrum from the small-town atmosphere of Rock Hall. Because we were prepared, we got only major, instead of devastating, culture shock when we arrived. After we passed under Key Bridge we motored up the Patapsco River for an hour, staying just outside of the buoys that marked the shipping channel. The further we went, the more densely developed the banks became, until we came to the very end, the Inner Harbor marina.
I've never been in a marina surrounded by skyscrapers before! This was unique. When the ad said "in the heart of downtown Baltimore," they weren't exaggerating. The location made the entertainment possibilities within walking distance incredible, with many museums, restaurtants, and shopping. The marina itself was recently rebuilt, they had all the latest conveniences, including docks that float up and down with the tides so its always easy to step off your boat and cable TV and Wifi at every slip.

We spent the next day exploring some of those possibilities within walking distance. So many choices! We strolled the red brick walk around the harbor, stopping to watch the students practicing acrobatic skills at the trapeze school (I have to admit I never really thought about a school for trapeze artists before), and past the science museum. We decided to soak up a bit of history an visit the old Constellation. The first thing that impressed me was the scale of the ship, not dwarfed against the skyscrapers as our little boat is. I was noted the contrast between the spaciousness and elegance and privacy provided to the officers, and the rows and rows of hammocks that sketched life for the ordinary seamen. We saw demonstrations of how the sails were hoisted that made us appreciate the modern winches and smaller scale of our boat. We learned the reason for the odd setup with two wheels back-to-back for the helm station. In very rough weather, it took the strength of more than one man to hold a ship of this size on course. We watched (with hands over ears) as they fired the cannon. After the tour came pizza and beer for lunch, then the big decision - what to do next? Visit the aquarium? Do some shopping at Harbor Place? Tour the historic submarine, lightship, Coast Guard cutter?

I found myself wondering, what my life would be like if this marina were home? Would this be a cool place to live year round? Would it be better than Annapolis? Would the advantages of the big city, with everything within walking distance, outweigh the to-us-major disadvantage of having to motor for an hour or more down the river to get to the Bay to go sailing?

I realized that when visiting a new place, I often mentally try out living there. There's always a sense that life would be just a little bit better if I could just find the right location. And, since the right location could be just one town over or across the country, then it's my own fault if I don't do enough homework/research to find that spot to settle. Sometimes I think this restless sense comes from living on a boat. Unlike the land-based, for us moving doesn't involve a house to sell and new house to be found, in order to experience a new place. We simply up anchor or untie dock lines, and go. No packing, no unpacking. Having a home that can so easily be moved to a new place in that sense eliminates one more possible excuse for not seeking the optimum place to live happily ever after. Another possibility is that this desire to find the perfect place is in our national character. After all, the U.S. was the place that people came when they were seeking more opportunities to make a good life than they were able to find in Europe. On the other hand, maybe my search for the perfect place comes from my personal history, having relocated so many times "in service to Uncle Sam." Dan and I count between us 23 moves since college, climates from the snowy pines of Michigan to sun-baked Arizona, and we still haven't experienced all the variety this country has to offer.

In the end, though, the fantasies of an alternate location remained just that, as we slipped the docklines and turned the bow towards Annapolis and the cars we'd left in the parking lot. We might spend some future winter in Baltimore. Winter - when we don't sail and the long trip downriver to get to the Bay would be a moot point.

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