Saturday, August 22, 2009

Coincidences, Pear, and Pizza.

Baltimore is turning out to be quite the medium of convergence for my life. Baltimore is the place where I used to work for the Johns Hopkins Outdoor Pursuits program, a generally rocky experience that resulted in me returning to Santa Barbara, working for my brother, meeting and falling in love with Mary, starting Santa Barbara Forge and Iron with Dan, then, lo and behold, returning to Baltimore once again, this time under the guise of an apprentice-blacksmith. And if I wasn't musing about the synchronicity of life already, I got a call yesterday from Graham Ottley, my long-time Summit Adventure buddy, and climbing partner of no small repute. Graham, or Mr. Forearm-veins as he is affectionately known, has flourished in the Outdoor Education field, and now works full-time for Summit Adventure. Anyway, to my utter surprise, Graham was in Baltimore, working for my former employer, Johns Hopkins, filling in as a temporary outdoor instructor for some big student trip.

Once we got over the anxious excitement that coincidences of this magnitude engender, we fell back in to our old repartee: tongue-in-cheek joking, pointed questions, pithy observations on our surroundings. Hanging out with Graham—who lives in the western Sierra Nevada—I realized that I dearly miss California, even though I've only been gone for a week. I miss its sometimes shoddiness, glitz, dry riverbeds, silly superiority complex, mammoth highways, farmer's markets, Spanish street-names, and countless other endearing idiosyncrasies. I can't help it: I'm my State's son.

Still, since I found myself today in a decidedly unique and, for me, unprecedented position—meandering in Baltimore on a humid Saturday afternoon—I made the most of things. Graham and I ate at a funky little grill on "The Avenue" (36th Street) called the Grill's Art, or Grill Art. I can't remember. We had a passable prawn-filled quesadilla, which could have been awesome, but I've decided that Mexican-themed grill food has to be very, very fresh to be tasty. This was, well, not fresh tasting. We also ordered a grilled pizza with pear, candied walnuts, spinach, and gorgonzola cheese on top—a cadre of toppings common to salads, not pizzas. The combination worked, however, and we enjoyed what had to be one of Baltimore's most friendly waitresses.

I finished the afternoon perusing a used book store on The Avenue, squatting in aisles and reading dog-eared books till my knees hurt, and finally placated the surly store-owner by buying a book of poetry.

A typical alleyway in West Baltimore.

The haggard-but-trusty steed of Mandala Creations. I drive this guy to and from the shop when I'm not on the bicycle. Chris shares the same diehard love of old trucks that my brother Dan has for his old beater.

Evocative sculptural elements in Chris' showroom

Chris' showroom, which is attached to the actual working shop. I would love to have something like this someday.

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