This is my last Field Tripping column for City Paper. It has been a good run, a gift to be allowed to write every other week about another adventure in or around the Greatest City In America, for over three years. For this last turn, I'm going to take a field trip around Field Tripping, even though this column was just a hiccup in City Paper's much longer history.
The column spun off from a cover story I wrote for the paper about BronyCon in August 2013. I have long been interested in the obsessions of other people, something I inherited from my dad. "Different strokes," he'd always say, and I share his curiosity for what makes other people love things intensely. Some of my favorite times with him were spent watching other people be really into whatever they were really in to: cat shows, Airstream trailer conventions, RV shows, whatever. As an adult I have sneaked my way into conventions for people who are into so many things—Jazzercise, natural foods, libraries, yachts, antiques, comic books, and yes, "My Little Pony."
I spent a couple days at that BronyCon, attending panels, talking to attendees, and just watching. I love watching. And I also love writing. I wrote a couple thousand words about what I'd seen and heard, and then-editor Evan Serpick asked if I'd like to cover conventions on a more permanent basis. Total dream job.
Are there enough conventions to fill two columns a month, though? Maybe not, so we decided to loosen it up a bit to include Baltimore adventures a bit more broadly—and I've interpreted the idea of "adventure" quite broadly indeed. There was the column about taking a bus to the end of the line just to see where it would go—another budget-conscious good time I learned from my dad. He didn't have a lot of cash when I was a kid, and divorce didn't exactly line his pockets or my mom's, so we spent a decent number of afternoons just going outside to see what would happen. Sometimes we'd happen into a bus ride on a new line or a walk to a park in another neighborhood, but something would always happen.
That was true when I was a kid, and it is true now. One of my favorite things about living in Baltimore is that just heading outside without an agenda gets you good stories. Last weekend, for example, I left the house with a plan to walk the two miles or so to pick up our farm share. I stopped on the way at R. House to use their bathrooms, where I ran into a friend I rarely see off the internet. I had a good chat with the staff at Mill Valley General Store about the quality of eggplants this year and walked for a half mile or so with a guy I'd just met chatting about the weather and how lucky we both were to be alive on that particular sunny early fall Sunday. Nothing "happened," but a lot of the things I love about living in Baltimore did.
And they do every day for me, mostly because I don't own a car and get around the city on foot, by bike, or by bus. I get to chat with my neighbors, say how-you-doin's all over town, and share the special bond of mutual anger at a bus system that just doesn't work for a lot of us. Earlier this week I met a woman in the bike lane as we both waited for the light to turn green, and by the time we made it to our respective bike racks downtown I'd shown her how to ride safely in the streets outside of the bike lane, and she showed me what the bike lane means to her and reminded me, again, of the power of infrastructure to enable new ways of being in the world. Not bad for a morning commute.
Field Tripping has given me an excuse to explore tourist traps in the city (y'all should take that speedboat ride on the harbor if you haven't already), take short trips around the region, pretend to be "press" at industry-only conventions, and just pay attention in a slightly different way to the travels of the everyday.
And then my dad was killed by a driver and the column took a different turn for the next six months or so as I tried to find my bearings. I had a column due the week he died, and ever the A student, I turned it in—a little early even, if I remember correctly. It was the afternoon after we gathered as a family to shut down the breathing machines, hold hands, and softly waited for him to take his last breaths. We spent the day staring blankly at the TV as "The Great British Baking Show" played continuously. (This is a really kind show—highly recommended as sudden-and-unexpected-grief background noise.) I tapped away at my computer, 1,000 words about the worst field trip ever, tears streaming down my face as I peeked over the edge of the black hole of grief.
It felt strange to write so personally and even stranger that people read it. Vulnerability is hard in person, and to be vulnerable in the free newspaper people read while waiting for the bus or drinking alone (that's when I read it, anyway)—well, that's kind of weird. But writing about and through that grief has been an amazing experience, and I will forever be grateful to City Paper for giving me that space. Writing has been a major part of my grief process, and sharing it with readers has been remarkably and unexpectedly healing. That wasn't a field trip I was planning to take, but there you go.
I write—and think and feel—about a lot of things other than grief now, almost two years away from that first my-dad-died-unexpectedly column, but life is tinged differently since that happened, and I think that's a permanent state of things. Writing for City Paper has shaped my writing, my voice, and my views of Baltimore permanently too. Both of these things are good, in very different ways. Gratitude, and you will be missed.