Sunday, January 23, 2011

College Park, Md

College Park is the home of the University of Maryland, which means it is also the home of the Maryland Terrapins. As I type this I am sitting in a room painted red, white and yellow - the colors of the terrapins. There is a Maryland Terrapins clock on the wall, a Terrapins throw blanket on the sofa I'm sitting on, and the room decor includes among other things a stuffed version of the Terps' mascot and a gnome with a Terrapin logo holding a football. My dear partner is, um, a little fond of the Terps.

But she never reads my blog, so this post will be about the historic College Park Airport. So there! It was established in 1909 so that Wilbur Wright could teach two Army officers to fly the government's very first military airplane. There is an aviation museum, but the airport is still in use, making it the oldest continuously operated airport in the world. It occupies 40 acres, and has a single runway. Its firsts include the first night flights and landings, the first women passengers, first aerial photographs, and the first mile-high flight.

Oh, fine, and the Terps play in College Park too.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Utopia in the DC Suburbs - Greenbelt, Md

This city was created in 1937, in the midst of the Depression, as a federal project to provide housing for low income families. Two other greenbelt cities were built in the 30s - Greendale, WI and Greenhills, OH. The plan was ambitious - a complete city where people would have affordable homes, work together for the community good, and have ready access to green spaces. The two main streets formed a crescent, with stores, the school, and community buildings nestled between them. Around them were homes, grouped so that residents could walk into the center of town without crossing a major street. There were lots of pedestrian pathways, with tunnels or overpasses to safely get pedestrians across major roads. Surrounding it all was forested land, the green belt for which the town was named. Nearly 6000 families applied for the original 885 homes.

So, what did Utopia look like in 1937? Well, it had art deco buildings, simple Scandinavian style furniture, and lots of inspirational sculptures showing people working together to make a better community. The houses were designed very small to minimize costs - just under 700 square feet for a two story, 3 bedroom house. Ordinary furniture would not have fit, and so special furniture was designed for these homes. Pieces were designed to be small, simply designed, and multipurpose, and then production was contracted to a family owned Danish furniture factory. Although it was affordable furniture designed for low income homeowners, it became sought after for its sleek, modern style. The company went on to become SCAN furniture, a chain which still sells Scandinavian style furniture in the DC area.

Greenbelt residents were very big on community life. Local groups formed to provide babysitting, publish a newspaper, and start a hospital, fire department, and rescue squad. A co-op was formed to operate stores in the community, and in the 1950s when the federal government wanted to get out of the housing business in Greenbelt, another co-op formed to buy the homes. Nowadays a typical suburban community has grown up around the historic original city, with high rises, McMansions sitting on cul de sacs, and an Ikea. Today, in this city founded for low income families, the median household income is $46,000.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A hiking interlude

Today we interrupt our virtual walking to bring you pictures from a real walk. I went for my first outing with an awesome group called Hiking Dogs of Central Maryland, along with Chowder's baby brother Eli. We hiked for nearly 4 hours around Liberty Reservoir in Northwest Baltimore County. The scenery was pretty, the dogs and people were friendly, and I logged 7.6 more miles for my walk across America. Also I may not be able to move tomorrow. The dogs got to run around off leash, except for Eli who had to go back on his leash after about an hour and a half because he met the love of his life, a yellow lab named Elinor, and would. not. stop. humping. her. That's him and her above.

Coming up next: Greenbelt Maryland!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Beltsville, Md

Ok, so I'm a bad blogger. A very, very bad blogger. And a bad walker. And here I go, trying to get back on track! So, at mile 131, we find ourselves in Beltsville, Md. Home to the largest agricultural research complex in the world: The Henry A. Wallace Beltsville Agricultural Research Center.

It's been around for 100 years, and in that time it has been the site of some major breakthroughs, including:
-proving that dairy cows and beef cows are the same animal. I have no idea how this was ever in question, but there you go.
-proving that refrigerating pork reduces the chance of catching a parasite from it. Again, this seems kind of obvious, albeit a little less so than the discovery that cows are cows.
-major changes in the process of making butter that increased its shelf life.
-developing a smaller turkey with more breast meat. You probably ate one of its descendants last month for Thanksgiving.
-inventing the Beltsville Aerated Pile Method for composting sewage sludge. Apparently it's very well regarded in the sewage treatment world.
-introducing New Guinea Impatiens to the 99.997% of the world that doesn't live in New Guinea. Possibly less important to humanity than the sewage treatment thing, but definitely more attractive.

miles walked: 131

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The journey of a thousand miles and all that jazz

Chinese philospher Lao Tzu said the famous quote above about the journey of a thousand miles. Since then it's been immortalized on a bunch of sappy motivational posters and greeting cards (see above). Those posters in turn were satirized hilariously on the one above titled "Ambition." It sounds pretty profound until you think about it and realize it basically amounts to "You gotta start somewhere."

Anyway, how about a journey of 5000 miles? The other night, I couldn't sleep, and I did a very stupid thing. I looked up the whole American Discovery Trail and estimated how long it will take me, if I keep up about 2 miles a day, to get all the way to the end of this walk across America. Are you ready for this? Seven years. By the time my virtual self stands on the beach at Limantour, California, my daughter will be 22. I will be pushing 50. Damn. Gives a whole new meaning to "it's the journey, not the destination."

So, I thought, let's see how long it will take to get me out of freaking Maryland. (I will be passing through part of DC soon but then back into Maryland, so that doesn't really count.) It will be a real milestone to finally walk far enough to get out of my home state. Turns out that will happen sometime in August. Then I thought, let's see where I'll be by Christmas! The answer: just reaching Ohio. Getting a little discouraged, I decided to see where I'll be this time next year. And the answer to that is.......still somewhere in Ohio.

So my goal is to reach the end of this walk before I turn 50. That sounded miserably long but then I thought about the fact that around this time in 2001, I decided to change careers, get out of social work and become a doctor. This involved completing a program to do my med school prerequisites, getting into and through medical school, then getting into and through residency. When you add up all the time that stuff all takes - 11 years. And one month from now I will start year 10 of that 11 year plan. So, it may take a while, but Limantour, California here I come!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

Today we find ourselves in Bowie, Maryland, to enjoy a Saturday ballgame. That would be the Bowie Baysox, the minor league AA affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles. The team was started in 1993 and the name was chosen by a contest - other finalists included the "Baybirds" and the "Nationals." They made it to the playoffs in 1993, 1994, 1997 and 2008. Notable alumni of the Baysox include Armando Benitez, closer for the SF Giants, Eric Bedard, pitcher for the Seattle Mariners, Nick Markakis, outfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, and Sidney Ponson, starting pitcher for the Kansas City Royals. I say they are notable because I've actually heard of them, which given my tepid level of interest in pro baseball can only mean one of two things: they are or were an Oriole, or they're actually famous. Actually, reviewing the list, I think those were all Orioles at some point. But hey, Sidney Ponson was knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, so that clearly proves he's notable.

The mascot of the Baysox is "Louie," a large green furry thing with pink hair. His species is unknown but he looks pretty friendly. General admission tickets are only $9 and parking is free! Chowder was happy to see that the stadium is apparently dog friendly. Unfortunately, the Baysox lost 6-2 to the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. Their record for the season stands at 20-22.

miles walked: 119

Monday, May 10, 2010

Parole, Maryland

Our next stop is on the way out of Annapolis, in the little town/area of Parole. When I was a child, its main claim to fame was that it was the posh area to shop near Annapolis. In 1961, ground was broken for the Parole Plaza, an open air mall anchored by a Sears store. It's hard to believe from the pictures above, taken after the shopping center was abandoned and before it was torn down to be redeveloped as yet another mall, but it was a shopping destination. Before it was built, people had to go to Baltimore or Washington DC for large department stores. This was just before enclosed shopping malls were developed, so Parole Plaza was built around a grassy center courtyard, and you walked from store to store outside. Parole Plaza was blamed for killing the shopping district in downtown Annapolis, and in a bit of poetic justice, the Annapolis Mall that was built in later years did the same thing to Parole Plaza. By the 1990s it had fallen on hard times, and now it's gone.

The area is named for Camp Parole, where prisoners of war were held during the Civil War. Union soldiers who had been captured in the South were held there while corresponding Confederate prisoners were exchanged for them. Once the exchanging was done, they were sent back to their homes or their former regiments. Below is a letter which one of the prisoners sent to his hometown newspaper in Indianapolis:

Parole Camp, Annapolis, MD.,
February 8, 1863.

Editor Journal: After wandering over the bounds of this camp to the Bay Shore and back again this beautiful Sabbath day, to retire to my tent with my fellow comrades, I feel a degree of languor that almost subsides into a stupidity and carelessness which is not common but wrong for a soldier. How can we be composed , how can we divest ourselves of the great melancholy that pervades us.—The last day of the year 1862 hundreds of us were compelled to surrender as prisoners of war before Murfreesboro, Tenn. As fast as possible we were paroled, placed in cars upon the railroad for Chattanooga and informed by the Confederate officers having us in charge that our final destination was Vicksburg, Miss. The railroad communication was so damaged that our transportation was not only very expensive, but quite circuitous. Some of the points we made were Atlanta, Georgia, through North Carolina, Montgomery Alabama, to the State of Florida, to a city wearing the name of Pollard. Here an officer in charge received a dispatch from the authorities to return to Richmond, Va., which was done, and in an almost starving and naked condition we were introduced to our lodgings in Richmond, to-wit: Castle Thunder, on the 18th of January. After two weeks of a stay and short rations of bread and soup we were stripped of the remnant of our little extras, placed on cars, taken to City Point on board the steamers New York and Express and, by way of Fortress Monroe, we arrived at this old city.

The weather has been very unfavorable for remaining without shelter. But so many of us have been thrown here at one time that we have been compelled to remain out of doors, exposed to snow storms, pelting rains, and piercing winds, without clothes to keep us warm; but it was a military necessity and was complied with. But fortune and the government have at last favored us. It is not only amusing but interesting to see the boys this warm, pleasant day passing about completely enveloped in new suits who, three days since, were passing around or shivering about the poor camp fires in tatters and rags dodging snow and rain.

Various are the private letters and petitions that have been directed to Governor Morton for his aid, assistance and influence for our removal to Camp Morton. We are all soldiers in the Army of the Cumberland. We have long undergone the privations incident to the army almost without a murmur. Unfortunately for a while we are compelled to lay down our arms, and why not let us be in our own State during the interval. We are ready and willing at any time for an exchange that will return us again to our regiments, but as with the voice of one man we cry for home (several hundred of us); if we fail in this, as we all now fully contemplate we will not, I fear it may result in a dissatisfaction among and with us. None doubt but that we will all soon seen Indianapolis; all are loud in the praise of our noble Governor, who has already won our favor by his kindness manifested towards Indiana soldiers, and for his patriotism in the cause in which we are engaged and have left our homes and risked our lives to sustain.

There are thousands of troops here from every loyal or half loyal State in the Union; some very hard boys and some very good.—There is plenty of everything to sell to satisfy the cravings of appetite and clothing to decorate the bodies of us soldiers, and very cheap; but very unfortunately the boys are out of money, and we are enjoying ourselves entirely at Uncle Sam’s expense. It is quite cheap living. We have some sickness among us, and rumors of smallpox among us brought from Richmond.
Yours truly,
Masten Dashiel

miles walked to date: 101