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…
Sure, the American Visionary Art Museum had art like we’d never seen before from a variety of self-taught, non-professional, iconoclastic, inimitable artists from all walks of life working in every conceivable medium plus a few no one thought to conceive till they came along. Sure, it was three buildings and a garden full of whimsy and wonder and imagination and intimidating bewilderment. Sure, one-third of it was free and the rest was worth the admission price.
But my absolute favorite part? The gift shop.
Even as we approached the AVAM from the Inner Harbor and walked toward the wrong side, we could tell inside lay a smorgasbord of Something Different from their window dressings alone.
Welcome to Sideshow, the AVAM’s unique souvenir stand. Most museums let you buy geodes, stuffed zoo animals, dinosaur fossil kits, cheap chemistry sets, nature-sound CDs, and $75 coffee-table hardcovers. Sideshow isn’t them. Sideshow is loaded with endless samples of outsider art, and immersed in the wondrous worlds of camp, kitsch, pop culture, geek merch, and other kaleidoscopic esoterica beyond my skill set to enumerate.
The best way to describe it: if you remember the time Baltimore native John Waters guest-starred on The Simpsons as the owner of a a wacky shop called Cockamamie’s, filled with curios and collectibles, Sideshow is Cockamamie’s brought to life in vibrant, interactive 3-D.
John summed up his splendiferous small business like so for Homer:
HOMER: …look at what you’re selling! Fifty bucks for a toy? No kid is worth that!
JOHN: Ah, but this is the Rex Mars Atomic Discombobulator! Don’t you just love the graphics on this box?
HOMER: No. How can you love a box or a toy or graphics? You’re a grown man.
JOHN: It’s camp!
JOHN: The tragically ludicrous? The ludicrously tragic?
HOMER: Oh, yeah, like when a clown dies.
JOHN: Well, sort of, but I mean more like inflatable furniture or “Last Supper” TV trays. Or even this bowling shirt! Can you believe somebody gave this to Goodwill?
As he spoke it, thus has Sideshow embraced it.
I couldn’t possibly leave without spending money. I couldn’t go too crazy because we were barely halfway through our vacation and had more expenses to cover in the days ahead. Also, we knew we’d be spending the entire day on the run and would be stuck lugging around any shopping-spree takeaways. Self-control had to override fan glee to a certain extent, but I didn’t come away empty-handed. I bought a dainty, shiny mini-bust of a Doctor Who Cyberman for my cubicle knickknack shelf at work…
…and a thick hardcover book that Anne and I took turns carrying over the next several hours: a discount copy of Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir — the autobiography of Terry Gilliam, the visionary film director and Monty Python alum. It would prove a candid, fascinating read from the perspective of a renowned creator frequently at odds with the Hollywood entertainment system throughout much of his career. By late afternoon it felt like a 200-pound tell-all. I regretted only the mass, not the matter.
Anne, thinking differently, bought only a sticker. But it was the best, most forthright Baltimore sticker she could find in town.
Both were apropos of the American Visionary Art experience.
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!]