The Italian deli near my work doesn’t have air conditioning so the door always is open. The aroma of fresh baked pizza is constantly sabotaging my resolve to eat healthy food for lunch.
One day I found myself sitting in the second booth from the corner once again, trying to avoid touching the sticky Formica table with any part of my body.
I also was frantically avoiding eye contact with the delivery driver who obviously thinks that his animal magnetism must be what draws me in every day.
If I didn’t know already about how sweet the sauce or how crispy the crust was then, I might have walked out but, instead, I waited, patiently, for my little slice of heaven. (The pizza – not the delivery driver)
While I waited, I overheard an ancient woman in the booth behind me talking in an exaggerated accent to her nearly silent friend.
“It’s August in Bawlmer,” she said, “There’s no one here. They’ve all gone downey ocean.”
If her friend reacted I didn’t hear it but they didn’t hear my reaction, either, which was a mix of jealousy and irritation about the implication that I was no one.
I was here.
I was working and I was itching for a vacation of some kind but graduate school isn’t cheap and my new job requires at least a year of service before I can break away.
I’d been working hard, too, so I felt completely entitled to a week “downey ocean” and I was letting my frustration get the better of me.
Some might say that I was having a bona fide first world problem and I handled it the way any one in my position might have. I ate too much pizza and I whined on Facebook. When that didn’t satisfy me I called my friend and whined some more.
My friend is a gentle soul – a kind of peaceful warrior. He came and got me and took me away to a place so far removed from city life that I felt my soul begin to breathe again.
I was deep in the woods, enveloped by the musty aroma of the forest after a rain. Our hiking boots squished in the mud and mosquitos swarmed around the exposed flesh of our ankles as we walked.
Occasionally I felt the tiny thread of a spiders’ web across my face and I waved my arms wildly to be sure there wasn’t more than one thread or worse … the spider itself lying in wait.
The woods were under a blanket of English Ivy, which gave the impression of green rolling hills where there used to be trees and shrubbery. Long cord grasses lined the banks of the wetlands and leaned into the summer breeze as a heron pushed off from its perch and opened its considerable wingspan to soar away.
I’m sure the deer that eyed me suspiciously were wondering why I wouldn’t just get on with my business and stop staring at them and everything around them but I was enchanted.
We walked for a while longer before we came to natural staircase made of fallen tree logs that lead the way down to the waters edge. Crickets sang their ancient high pitched vibrato and bullfrogs lay down the base while a beaver slid into the silty water and across the lake to disappear into the brush.
A turtle poked his head up to say hello a few times before he, too, went on his way.
I could feel the woods restoring me as the sky turned pink and lavender and finally a deep, deep shade of gray. It was time to head back.
I took us a half hour to get back to our car, which was parked on Falls Road just North of Mount Vernon.
Robert E Lee Memorial Park has more than 450 acres of woodlands and wetlands surrounding Lake Roland. I drive past this oasis every day as I go to and from work but I rarely notice the one or two cars that pull over on to the gravel shoulder of Falls Road, allowing their drivers to escape rush hour traffic and the chaos of city life.
Whether you are listening to an outdoor music fest at Patterson Park, biking in Druid Hill Lake Park or strolling The Waterfront, my friend reminded me that it’s possible to go on vacation from our frustrations any time at all if we take a moment to veer off from our usual course and take advantage of the 6,000 acres of parks and public spaces around us in Baltimore City.