Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 29: Looks at Books in a Tower of Power

Barnes & Noble!

This photo looks stolen from a tourism brochure, but I promise it’s ours.

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…

Tourists love shopping in faraway places and bringing home exotic clothing, jewelry, souvenirs, and more. That’s what I hear, I mean. Our shopping habits are narrower in scope and are rarely a primary factor in planning our vacation to-do lists. But if a store that caters to our interests just so happens to have a convenient location by other prominent attractions, we’re amenable to dropping in for some light browsing. If said store has its own unusual architectural features, so much the better.

Hence our short stop at the largest Barnes & Noble we’ve ever seen.

Pier 4!

An all-star lineup of Baltimore Inner Harbor attractions, left to right: the World Trade Center, the Barnes & Noble, the Lightship Chesapeake, and the National Aquarium. Photo taken from Pier 1 next to the USS Constellation.

Anyone who’s been following the series has probably noticed the B&N as an Easter egg in a few pics. Those smokestacks are impossible to overlook and kept drawing our attention ever since our arrival in Baltimore on Day 2.

B&N from WTC!

Elevated view from the World Trade Center observation deck.

Once upon a time this structure was the Pratt Street Power Plant, a working utility concern from 1909 to 1973, when it was turned over to the City of Baltimore. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1987, and at one point was turned into an indoor Six Flags, which sounds unwise. Various users came and went, but for now its primary occupants are the Hard Rock Cafe, the upscale Phillips Seafood eatery, a Dick’s Last Resort, and the Barnes & Noble. With an exterior so ostentatious, I was certain the design elements would extend inward as well. I wasn’t disappointed, except for the part where customers were only allowed to peruse the first two floors. Obviously this place has more, but we weren’t worthy to venture any higher.


The smokestacks are largely intact except for added tunnels. A few patrons sat on the floor in the tunnels, enjoying some quality reading time and claustrophilia.

stacks upward!

The twin towers looming ever upward.

stack from above!

Book stacks and former smokestacks coexisting in harmony.


Even the escalator is designed to add to the steampunk ambiance.


I’m sure the gentleman lurking above us was merely an innocent loiterer we caught by coincidence and not a creepy stalker who’s been secretly appearing in all our photos without us catching him till now.

The building’s architecture likewise extends to the other tenants, including the Asian-fusion place where we later had dinner.

Asian Stack!

The less said about the meal, the better. You can also tell my camera battery was dying because that’s how long and busy a day we’d had.

As for the contents: standard B&N stock, but in fixtures tailored to the curious surroundings. I understand their Local Interest section is above-average for its kind. Admittedly I didn’t buy any books, but instead took advantage of B&N’s semi-annual Criterion Collection half-off sale, which often coincides with our road trips. I picked up discounted copies of the 1940 anti-Nazi spy drama Night Train to Munich and the original Norwegian version of Insomnia, in which Thor: The Mighty Avenger costar Stellan Skarsgård was Our Hero, later played by Al Pacino in Christopher Nolan’s remake. While you’re away on your treks to other countries indulging in sensational fashions and five-star cuisine, this is what splurging looks like to me. If only everyplace I shopped looked like a bizarre movie set, I’d be such a happy consumer.

Barnes & Noble!

For the sake of completeness, the back of the B&N, facing the USCGC Taney. Slowly all our previous chapters interlock and form a larger mental map.

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!]

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