Saturday, July 08, 2006

Made it to Baltimore

Well, I made it. After three 12-14 hour days of driving, a broken muffler, and a busted water pump Shirley (my 1982 Volvo, dubbed “slowly but Shirley” by Sarah) and I limped into Cumberland, Maryland on Friday, June 30th. I found a place to fix my muffler (which I had already paid $200.00 in Bozeman to have replaced, but the guy who did it—someone I had never used before, and if I could remember his name or the name of his shop I’d tell you to never go there—welded the new assembly to a rusty flange, so of course it broke off after 2500 miles and had to be reattached). The same guy that fixed my muffler problem in Cumberland also informed me that my slow coolant leak was due to the fact that my water pump was on it’s way to the bone yard. Cumberland is in the Allegany mountains, which is part of the Appalachian chain, and is home to untold numbers of mechanics who either won’t or don’t know how to work on foreign cars (because, I suppose, only Pinkos and Commies would do that—it’s un-American, I guess). I had to put about 4 gallons of antifreeze in my trunk to stay ahead of my leak, cross my fingers, and hope that it would be easier to find some Pinko Commie Volvo mechanics in Baltimore who could fix my car.

Guess What? There are TWO, count ‘em, TWO Volvo repair places in the entire Baltimore metropolitan area. There is ONE, exactly ONE Volvo dealership in the Baltimore metropolitan area. HA! I guess those Cumberland mechanics told ME a thing or two! Crimony! Well, lucky for me one of the Volvo repair places could actually get me in on Monday. So, I rented a car, dropped it off there this morning, and will HOPE that they can actually get it fixed on Monday and I can have my car back so that I can get to work next week in my own vehicle. I’ll let you know in my next dispatch if the repair place I took it to is any good. If not, I’ll let you know what kind of all-American car I’m driving at that time, because I’ll have to get something different if the Volvo thing doesn’t work out.

Regardless of the challenges finding a Volvo mechanic, I’ve had a reasonably pleasant introduction to my new home. Everything has gone pretty well with the new teaching thing. I’ve been officially accepted into the Master of Science in Educational Studies in Art Education program at Johns Hopkins, so I’m working on my second masters now (and my last—if I have to do more school I’ll just do a doctorate next time). I’m on a track to graduate in May 2008.

Also, my experience with the Baltimore City Teaching Residency people and the Baltimore City Public Schools people has been extremely positive. They have demonstrated a high level of commitment to making sure that all of us are settling in, getting our bearings, and get a placement in the Fall. They gave us some final statistics on this year’s teaching cohort that was hired through the BCTR program: out of 2000 applicants only 280 people received offers and only 244 of us accepted—a highly selective process, despite the fact that they are still about 500 teachers short this year in this district; they are desperate enough to hire any warm bodies that show up, but they didn’t do that—comforting. My only complaint so far is that we (the summer cohort) don’t know when we will get paid for this summer training institute. That is separate from our regular teaching salary (which begins on August 21) and is provided through a special funding source, so the plan for dispersal of the funds was still being discussed up through the day before we all arrived. This, of course, makes all of us nervous since we were all broke upon arrival, after having moved across the country to get here. And believe it or not I do NOT win the award for having moved the farthest to get here—there are a couple of people from Oregon, two from Colorado, some from Florida (of course the Oregonians are the only ones who beat me out of the booby prize for greatest distance).

Today I got up at 6:30am after getting my first full eight hours of sleep in about a month and a half. I made some coffee and sat down with the Baltimore phone book (which is about 3 inches thick, and not one of those ¾ size things we had in Bozeman) and let my fingers do the walking through the “Automobile—Repair and Service” section for about an hour, looking for my new Volvo mechanic. Having found one, checked it out on the internet (, had the dumb luck of actually talking to the owner on a Saturday morning (when they are actually closed), arranged for the Enterprise rental car people to pick me up at the Volvo mechanic’s place and fix me up with a car, I headed down there. This place is in the corridor between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., which is about 30 or so miles south of where I live (at about 10:00 0’Clock on the Baltimore dial, just outside the beltway). The only other thing I absolutely had to do today was to go to Occupational Medical Services and have my TB test area looked at (all of us in this BCTR training cohort had to have physicals, pee in a cup, and get tested for TB on Thursday). I had to be there between 2:00-3:00pm other test would be invalid. By the time I had dropped off my car and picked up the rental it was only 12:30pm, which meant I had about 2 hours to kill before having to show up at the TB test place.

Now for semi-fun stuff (there hasn’t been any outright fun stuff yet—too much stress between the move and the car problems)….

The Baltimore Inner Harbor is on the southern edge of the city, and close to where I had to go for this TB test thing. So I decided to have lunch in the Inner Harbor to kill time. It was beautiful day to be outside, and my humble little seafood lunch was delicious! It was overcast, but not raining; warm, but not hot; breezy and pleasant. The temperature was in the high seventies and the humidity was pretty low for here. Aaaaaahhhhh. I sat on a second floor balcony terrace in the La Tasca restaurant, right in front of the U.S.S. Constellation (a Civil War era Frigate) looking out over the harbor at the National Aquarium and Fort McHenry. There were lots and lots of people out enjoying the day. Go to to see the pictures I took from where I was sitting. It was a nice reprieve from the chaos of car trouble.

Then, after my visit to the clinic where I found out (of course) that I do not have TB, I decided to check out a park that is just a few miles from where I am staying this summer. On my way back home I stopped at Soldier’s Delight Natural Environment Area: It is a state park which has about seven miles of hiking trails. Beautiful! And a nice reprieve from the city. You can see pictures of the area from my hike on the same web page where you found my pictures of the Inner Harbor: If you look really close, you’ll see a deer in the last picture of the woods. I kept hearing animals crashing through the woods and assumed that they were deer (although they could have been black bears—there are lots of them out here, and I saw two little piles of bear scat that were probably left on the trail this morning). Sure enough, on my last leg of the hike I looked up and there was a deer standing there looking at me; so I took a picture. The deer was still standing there looking at me when I walked around the bend.

So far so good, really, although I’m completely saturated with new everything and I’m maxed out. Everything is new, nothing is familiar, and I miss my husband and daughter and dogs and friends and church. But I’m doing OK and I’ve already made a lot of new friends through the program that I’m in. Baltimore is a really friendly city—surprisingly enough it is the kind of place where strangers strike up conversations on the street; something that has happened to me several times already. I think this is going to be the most challenging job I’ve ever had, and the hardest good year I’ve ever been through. But I’m sure I’ll be fine, and I’m looking forward to it and I like it here so far. Please think happy thoughts for me, keep me (and Shirley) in your prayers, and send all the positive energy you can in my direction—I’ll need it more as the school year progresses!

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