Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…
After lunch we took a water taxi back to the Inner Harbor’s Pier 1 and dedicated the rest of our Monday to touring their most visible collection of attractions, the Historic Ships of Baltimore. Docked along separate piers are four different American ships of military significance that you can tour for one combined package price. Their purposes and legacies date back decades, and each has its own exhibits, artifacts, and varying degrees of air conditioning. We started with the ship that was oldest and parked farthest west, the USS Constellation.
The Constellation isn’t the first ship to bear that name, but this version was officially built in 1854. Originally assigned to policing and thwarting the African slave trade where possible, the Union later tasked her with various duties during the Civil War. She missed out on all the major naval battles and remained intact enough to continue handling important trips and odd jobs alike for decades after — including a reserve function through WWII — until final decommissioning in 1955 to serve out the rest of its existence for the sake of historical education. Numerous restorations have been required, as recently as 2012, but she’s worthy enough today to allow guests aboard her upper levels.
Visitors begin on the upper deck…
As luck would have it, we’d arrived just as a tour guide in Civil War uniform prepared to launch into a live demonstration of life during 19th-century aquatic wartime. He talked us through the process with occasional bits of sarcasm. He tried to organize several volunteers, old and young, into a line of playacting soldiers in hopes of running them through a pretend drill. Differing opinions in “left” and “right” yielded mixed results and a bit of flustering for our would-be commander.
Lovers of guns, explosions, or loud noises were excited when he offered to demonstrate actual rifle fire, using an old-school model that still worked but was much slower to load than today’s semiautomatics or Gatling guns. He was determined to show us how many times he could load and fire it in a minute, just to replicate the laborious process and tedium that a real Civil War soldier would have faced on the battlefield, assuming they could concentrate between slowly loaded potshots flying around them from their opponents’ equally handicapped artillery. Because we were in the heart of Baltimore, before he began he turned his personal volume up to 11 for a courtesy bellow to anyone and everyone who could hear him around the shoreline — something to the effect of, “ATTENTION, EVERYONE ON THE HARBOR! WE ARE ABOUT TO FIRE A GUN! WE ARE NOT SHOOTING AT YOU!”
For kicks I took video of his one-minute demo. Longtime MCC readers may be aware I never, ever remember to do this for any reasons ever. It’s not the most scintillating activity, but gun aficionados may appreciate the historicity, and the Harbor scenery in the background is nice.
Thankfully everyone down below was cool about it and nobody called the cops on him.
Once we were dismissed, our self-guided tour continued on the next deck below, a bit more cramped but packed with details of past nautical lives.
To be continued!
[Link enclosed here to handy checklist for other chapters and for our complete road trip history to date. Follow us on Facebook or via email signup for new-entry alerts, or over on Twitter if you want to track my TV live-tweeting and other signs of life between entries. Thanks for reading!]