My First Trip Alone

Sorry there wasn’t a post yesterday. I try to have something for the blog every Tuesday, but I took a trip to Maryland almost all day. Normally I’d have written something in advance, but I knew I was going to want to talk about the visit.

Earlier this year, I found out that my favorite author, Christopher Moore, would be traveling to a number of cities and speaking about his new book, The Serpent of Venice. Although there were a couple of locations closer to me, I decided that I wanted to go to the one hosted in Baltimore. I live in New Jersey, and am, quite frankly, sick of it (at least the central/northern part of it). Maryland is one of the places I wanted to visit to see if it would be better for me to live in, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity. Unsure of how long I would stay, I requested three days off from work just in case.

This trip almost didn’t happen, actually. The lease on my car was set to expire the day before the event. I wanted to buy the car, but I didn’t know if I was going to have enough money (I actually didn’t know until the very end). I’d always put away half my paycheck for the entirety of the lease, but during the past few months I spent as little as possible in a desperate move to come up with some more money. The buyout process… well, I’ll tell that story another day. Let’s just say it was unnecessarily convoluted. Long story short, I bought a car and had just enough money for my trip. But only for one day.

And it was a pretty important day, too. I’ve had a personal issue bothering me for a couple of weeks (in addition to the stress of my car’s lease) and really needed to get out of the state to help clear my head. I was going to meet Christopher Moore. He’s the man that made me want to be a writer, and at the risk of sounding like a fanboy, he’s the guy that got me reading books again (high school had seriously damaged almost all of my desire to read any sort of literature).

Most importantly, it was going to be my first trip somewhere by myself. I’m 25 and have never actually gone anywhere. I mean, I’ve been on family vacations across the east coast. I’ve gone to New York and Philadelphia on a few occasions with them, too. I even went on weekend trips when I was younger with friends and their families. But I’ve never actually gone somewhere. Alone. And I think by this point in my life I really should have. More than anything else, this trip was going to be something I needed to do for myself.

So I packed some snacks, Cokes, and bottles of 5-hour Energy into my messenger bag, along with one of his books for the signing, and headed out. The ride was about three hours, which went by surprisingly fast. When I was in college, it took me an hour to drive to campus, and even after getting used to the drive after all those years, it still felt like a long time. Maybe it was because I was driving through uncharted territory and everything felt new, but the three hours flew by much faster than I expected. Luckily, I also had no trouble staying awake. I’ve been known to start nodding off on my trips to school, and I’m truly thankful I didn’t have that problem this time. 🙂

When I arrived in Baltimore, however, I was pretty overwhelmed. I want to admit upfront that I am absolutely not a city person. Although I live in a fairly commercialized town, I’m fortunate enough to live in an area with a large amount of open back roads that almost never have more than a few cars traveling on them at once. I need open areas. It’s the kind of environment I identify most with.

So although I was expecting it, I still became pretty anxious upon my arrival into the city. Other drivers were quick to honk in an attempt to make this Jersey douche speed up. I never knew what lane to be in, and because I had to take a ton of different roads to get where I needed, I made many sudden lane shifts and turns. (So, so thankful I didn’t hit anyone; I was honestly expecting some damage to my car immediately after I just purchased it.)

I’m also really glad I looked up info for nearby parking garages before I left. After traveling through the city, I was certain that I would not only have a difficult time finding a place to park, but also remembering the location. Thankfully, there was a parking garage at the college close to where the book signing was. The plan was to park my car, then walk and explore the area for a few hours before the event began. After all, I came all the way down to Baltimore. I really wanted to check at least a little of it out during the short time I was there.

Unfortunately, the “road” that the garage was on wasn’t found in the GPS unit I borrowed from my dad. I typed in the street before it, thinking that it wouldn’t be an issue to find the garage from there.

Nope.

I’m glad I also brought a set of printed directions from Google Maps, because if I didn’t have a list of nearby streets I would have never found where I was supposed to be. It didn’t help that there was major road construction cutting off a significant part of my route, but I ended up circling several blocks for almost a half hour before I miraculously stumbled upon it (and I only recognized it because of the Google Street View I looked up before leaving home). I’m not sure what exactly gave me trouble, but I think it was the layout and crossover of several streets preceding it.

Anyway, with my car safely parked, I took out the directions for the trip from the garage to the Barnes and Noble where the event was being held. The first thing I wanted to do was know exactly where I needed to go and how to get there from the garage. I printed directions for walking on foot. Unfortunately, I hadn’t read them before printing, and was a little surprised to read a series of steps consisting of turning left and right. On the same street. A street, I might add, that wasn’t actually within sight.

Oops.

Luckily, I also had a set of driving directions from the garage to the bookstore. While they may have been less than helpful due to road construction blocking some of the streets, I was able to use the nearby street names to find my way. It wasn’t without difficulty, however. For one, some of the roads didn’t have any indication of what their names were, and some of them were a little hard to see. I went back and forth a number of times, completely looking like a lost tourist, before I buckled down and asked a couple of people to point me in the right direction. Once I knew where I was going, it was only a 20-minute walk from the garage to the bookstore, and it was a fairly straight path crossing several streets and only one turn, but before that I must have spent at least an hour walking around what was probably only a couple of blocks.

I almost let out a victory cry once I saw the Barnes and Noble. I headed inside and looked around for a little while. Surely a Barnes and Noble in a big city would be huge compared to what I’m used to. Hell, maybe they would have some of those books I’ve had my eye out for but didn’t feel like ordering online.

Surprisingly… no.

It was actually really underwhelming to discover how small it was. In fact, I think it was smaller than any of the three Barnes and Nobles I frequent back home. To be fair though, it was also doubling as the nearby college’s bookstore. For all I know, it may have been Barnes and Noble in name only. But even if it wasn’t, the employees were infinitely more friendly than any associate I’ve encountered at the stores by me, and it had a better cafe, too.

After looking around the store, buying Moore’s new book, and getting my wristband for the event, I found an empty seat in the cafe and took a few minutes to breathe. I bought a Gatorade and pizza-stuffed pretzel to regain some of my energy. I had a little over an hour to kill before the event started, so I started reading my new book.

Well, more like previewed it. The store was surprisingly a little noisy, and truth be told, the personal crap from back home had crept its way into my thoughts for the first time all day, so I just glanced over the first set of chapters while trying to keep my mind off things.

When it was time to start, though, my anxiety was put to rest. I went to the adjacent building and sat in a pretty big private room with a fairly small crowd. There were less than 100 people there, and even Moore said that he liked that he had a more intimate setting to work with.

Moore’s writing is almost always funny, but I was genuinely surprised to find out how entertaining he was in person. I know a lot of writers can come off as shy or soft spoken, so to see Moore act so outgoing, humorous, and be such a delight was very refreshing. It was almost like watching a stand-up comedian.

He also did a Q&A for 20 or 30 minutes. Most of the questions were basic, like what he’s currently working on or who his favorite characters are, but I was extremely satisfied when he went into some aspects of his craft. He brought up an interesting topic that I myself have wondered since my college days: what exactly is a draft nowadays? I don’t know how many professors or even writers have said you’ve got to go through draft after draft after draft before a piece of writing is ready. And while that’s something I can agree with, I always had a hard time answering how many drafts of a project I’d actually gone through. I’m always editing on my way through any piece; does each individual change count as a draft, or is it when I finish something, print it, make changes all over it with red pen, then go back and dramatically change everything? Moore said when he started writing, he used a typewriter, so it was easy to tell what a draft was because it wasn’t easy to go back and change something once it was typed. But with computers, you can change anything at any point, so what really is a draft? I’m so happy he touched on that subject.

Afterwards we lined up to have our books signed. I brought A Dirty Job; I thought it appropriate since it was the first book I’d read by him, as well as the first book that made me want to seriously consider writing (I can’t believe it’s been almost 10 years). He signed it, I tried thinking of something to say, failed, smiled, said I really appreciated his time, took his thanks, and headed back to my car as quickly as possible before it became completely dark. I headed out of the city, cursing the GPS unit for trying to send me down “do not enter” roads, and after about 20 minutes I was back on the interstate, breathing a sigh of relief.

So overall, how do I feel my first trip by myself went? Well, it was an experience I’m really glad I decided to take. Meeting Moore was great, I had such a blast and wished I could have listened to him longer. He was a super cool dude, and if I hadn’t been so tired from the drive, getting lost while walking around, and thinking about personal problems, I may have even been able to think of something clever to say or ask him.

Overall, though, Baltimore was more… congested, than I thought it would be. I mean, it’s a city, so I initially expected that. But other people told me it wasn’t as bad as somewhere like New York or Philadelphia, and Google Street View definitely made the area seem a lot more open, so I was still caught a little off guard. Like I said, I am not a city person. Being in a city really overwhelms me, and even though I kept my cool throughout most of my obstacles, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have some degree of anxiety throughout most of the day. Granted, I only got to explore a small section of the city; other parts of Baltimore (and the whole of Maryland) might be better suited for someone like me. But next time I go, I definitely want to go with a friend or two. I think I would have felt a lot better if someone was there with me.

But honestly, I’m glad I went. It was an experience I’m happy to have had. I’d never been that far away from home by myself before, and it was good to know I could hold my own. It may not have revitalized me the way I hoped it would, but I’m still satisfied with how it went. Next time I take a trip by myself, however, I think I’ll visit somewhere more open and less crowded. Maybe somewhere in the Midwest. Some people get a lot out of visiting the city, but honestly, wide open spaces are where I get the most satisfaction from.

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