Sunday, August 14
We left Durham early on the morning of Sunday, August 14 as there were many stops to make en route to Philadelphia. Our first stop was Richmond, it was directly on our path, the capital of the state, and neither my companion or myself had been there, but yet again we encountered a ghost town. The vacancy of Richmond was probably exacerbated by temperatures in the high nineties, but also by the day being a Sunday, something I didn’t consider in advance even after the influx of religious billboards. We drove about, taking in the hot, dusty tan and taupe city, everything looking a bit run down and tired. Signage and fonts from decades past, lots of boarded up windows, very little noise and a hot breeze. I found a wide open intersection with large sidewalks for a performance and yet again performed to those who drove by and those who had to be out in the heat - a handful of homeless men.
To be completely candid, the rest of the Virginia experience was infuriating. I’m sure the state has some beautiful places and redeeming qualities, but my travel through didn’t encounter additional reasons to stop before it was necessary. After the failed stop in Richmond and finding ourselves almost out of gas we found an exit with a gas station and a myriad of fast food restaurants which were the apparent only option for sustenance on a Sunday. We decided a Subway was the best choice of the limited options, though I did conjure up a memory of a dance friend foraging on a performance trip, and as we entered the store we walked right into an intense fight over a dog trapped in a hot car, the dog’s family thinking nothing of their decision. The ignorance demonstrated in the back and forth argument was shocking. Mad for the poor dog (sadly there’s no law in Virginia protecting dogs locked in hot cars or I would've gone vigilante), mad about the ridiculous amount of propaganda splashed on anti-abortion billboards and hateful bumper stickers escorting us up the highway, it took me the entirety of a couple of hours of bumper to bumper traffic to cool down. Then we hit Baltimore.
Baltimore was the first location that made me realize how we were not just traveling through deserted Southeastern cities, but also across a sort of road map of the country’s major recent civil rights events. Thinking about the recent drop of charges in the Freddie Gray trial and trying to put that in the context of the city we were driving and walking through, my brain couldn’t really process much else of what I saw. At surface value I noticed a good amount of brick, taller buildings than previous cities, and lots of praise for the military. I still have some trivial curiosity regarding the popularity of crabs and wonder if anyone in the impoverished neighborhood that also houses Johns Hopkins Hospital could afford to go there. We spotted City Hall, a most ornate building, with green space and a series of fountains in front, two hidden parking spots, mostly abandoned on a Sunday afternoon besides a dozen or so homeless men sleeping on benches. I performed amidst the gardens and fountains, vacant city hall, many sleeping men. I’m not sure if anyone opened their eyes to take it in. I’m not sure if there would be any benefit to viewing what I did. It was just important to do, entering and leaving very quietly. We found a battered dead butterfly stuck in the windshield wiper of the car, adding to the somber feel of the afternoon.
It took getting to northern Maryland to sense the familiarity of the North just around the corner (down the highway), as the trees, highway structures and signage started feeling somewhat familiar. The Mason-Dixon line was palpable; I had several friends try to humorously suggest the shift would be obvious and I didn’t realize this would be somewhat true. When you travel around with an educator, she can tell you who even the obscure figures being commemorated through names of highways and historical sites are, leading to the realization that there are major differences in picking southern and northern important figures for such commemoration.
I can’t help but feel I should go back and find more positive experiences and beautiful sites, it feels like irresponsible reporting of the Southern East coast, but for now I think I need some time.