Blight, Bottlenecks, and Beauty

Baltimore needs to do so much better.

I’ve seen some depressed areas on this trip — the dead towns, crumbling three-story homes, rusted out farm equipment in upstate New York and northern Maine; the suddenly terrible roads of Massachusetts after smooth rolling in New Hampshire; Boston’s inner rough spots; parts of the Bronx — but nothing crushes the soul like the endless rolling blight of the housing along Route 1 in Baltimore. Block after block of burnt-out, boarded-up, broken-windowed, brick row-housing, half of which should be torn down, if not for the people living in the other half.

Drunk or drug-addled people, white and black, young and old, stumble diagonally across the four-lane highway. Some sleep in doorways. Some push strollers and steer kids into the one townhouse on the block that doesn’t look like its been shelled. Drive two or three minutes closer to downtown and you’re surrounded by precious, pricey brunch places and boutiques in renovated 18th-century brick gorgeousness.


Baltimore sits about an hour north of our house in Silver Spring, which in turn is only a few miles off Route 1, so I stopped in last night to pet the dogs, wave at the cat, hug my wife, and pack for the southern leg of this trip. This morning I stopped by Vigilante Coffee in Hyattsville, Maryland, took a quick peek at the Bladensburg Dueling Grounds, then sat in rush hour traffic for 75 minutes from the upper boundary of Washington, D.C. to the 14th Street Bridge into Northern Virginia. Forgot that Route 1 passes right by the office I don’t have to go into (virtually or otherwise) for several more weeks! Good to have the reminder.

Men are stupid

I did notice that the city of Alexandria has finally changed “Jefferson Davis Highway” to “Richmond Highway” in Crystal City and Old Town, but whoever is in charge of that sort of thing hasn’t gotten around to the signage below Fort Belvoir. It stays like that throughout most of the rest of Virginia, except for actual Richmond, which probably picked “Richmond Highway” some time ago.

The road runs through a series of ex-businesses, from print shops to paper companies to this fabulous, bygone tobacco company:

I would totally start smoking again if this product went back on the market.

After Cheryl joins me in Miami for the rest of the U.S. 1 portion of the trip, we will be spending a little time in Richmond –a city we love lots and lots — on our way home. But more on that next week.

Meanwhile, the drive from southeastern Virginia into North Carolina winds past several battlefields, and, like most locations of Civil War engagements, feels untouched by time and township — positively bucolic.

I expected to see more identity politics sloganeering out here, but there were far more Trump signs in the north country and I’ve only seen a couple Confederate battle flags on people’s personal property thus far. Virginia does allow patrons to get a Gadsden Flag vanity plate, however, and there have been plenty of those. Still. I am grateful for the open, quiet country peppered here and there with trailer parks, dead gas stations, antique shops, and one-room post offices.

In Wake Forest tonight, heading to Augusta, Georgia, tomorrow.

Pretty, Pretty Things
Ambient References

Horwitz, T. (2013). Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. (Arthur Addison, Narr.) [Audiobook]. Random House Audio.

Crytzer, B. J. (Host). (2017, August 19). EMERGENCY EPISODE:So, About Those Statues… (No. 31) Wartime: A History Series. [Audio podcast episode].

Hitt, J. & Kumanyika, C. (Hosts). (2017-2018). Episodes 1 -12 Uncivil. [Audio podcast episode]. Gimlet Media.