We’re not in California Anymore: Observations on Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

Like every place, Maryland has its ups and downs. What defines the DC Metro Area are a couple of key facts. One: it used to be (and still sort of is) a giant swamp, not too far away from a very large bay, the Chesapeake. Two: the fortunes of the area and its people ebb and flow with the current economic state of the federal government. There isn’t a sense of lasting prosperity in Maryland, near as I can tell. That’s not to say Maryland’s broke; it’s reliable in places, but it’s not brimming over with money and optimism. Much of Maryland is rural, and it’s also technically part of The South. Here are a few observations I dare to make about the area, and I hope they do not offend anyone too much.

  • People are neighborly and you’d better be too. Really, you’d better be.
  • Easterners speak bluntly. The southerners less so, but it’s not unexpected behavior. I find this a blessed relief.
  • It’s quiet and uneventful, unless you’re in the bad parts of Baltimore (where they filmed The Wire).
  • Few people use their directional signals in the car. I think at some point they won’t come with your car when you buy it in Maryland.
  • If you merge on the freeway, you are expected to hang back and wait, even if you were slightly ahead of the car in the main lane. Otherwise it’s rude.
  • There is a sort of calculated vehicular homicide going on in the District of Columbia on route 295, and very aggressive driving on 495 (aka The Beltway).
  • Lots of people reverse into their parking spaces. I still don’t get this.
  • People regularly refer to which county they inhabit, or work within.
  • There are many places in Maryland where people have lived all their lives and not gone more than 500 miles from home.
  • Boating is plentiful, as is water. For a Californian, the water richness is shocking.
  • The weather is miserable except occasionally it’s nice, but you don’t know when it’s going to be either one.
  • Old Bay is in half the restaurant food. This is fine in the crab, but come on folks, there are other seasonings.
  • Lots of people fish, crab and hunt, maybe even your fancy professional neighbors.
  • Shockingly scandalous local politics have been known to occur in the area (Marion Barry, anyone?).
  • Politics, especially federal politics, is the local sport. You will be hearing about it even if all you wanted was a traffic report on the radio.
  • Professional football is kind of a big deal here. And lots of people play lacrosse. Swim clubs are also popular.
  • They have great seafood and also very good peaches and corn. But finding a restaurant that doesn’t bring in frozen crab cakes from who-knows-where is a bit of a challenge. What gives? We’re on the Chesapeake!
  • Marylanders are very into CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and there are farmer’s markets all over the place. Hydroponics and greenhouses are popular too.
  • There are Amish markets here with wonderful, wonderful food. I have discovered a new cookie called the Lemon Snap and it is delicious.
  • If you want good Mexican food, you might have to learn to make it yourself.
  • Gardening here is a defensive game. The mowing alone is a full-time job, and there are all kinds of critters just waiting for a chance to eat your plants.
  • Trees here are thin and fast-growing affairs, mostly. With freezing rain, it’s hard being a tree in Maryland. The “rain” coats an entire limb in heavy ice, and then it falls right off from the weight. Sometimes it takes the whole tree with it. Any trunk bigger than two feet in diameter is impressive here.
  • When folks hear it’s going to snow, they make a run on the stores for toilet paper and bottled water. Gas stations are mobbed. Panic ensues. But snow happens every year at least a few times so shouldn’t they be used to it? Confusing…
  • People sometimes strike up a conversation with you for no other reason to be friendly or polite.
  • Delivery and service persons assume that you will be home during the week between nine and five, and will not give you an estimated time of arrival until the day of service. Nuts.
  • If you want proper French croissants, fancy bathtubs, designer fabrics or elegant fixtures, you will probably be ordering from a catalog or going to New York, Philadelphia or Toronto.
  • $400K buys you a 4,000 square foot house on an acre of land. Imagine…
  • Parts of the Capitol are like a ghost town. People live there, but at the same time, it feels abandoned at night in many districts. Perhaps because a lot of people aren’t there to stay, due to the nature of elected positions, they aren’t all making DC “home”. I don’t know.
  • The monuments and the museums of the Capitol are wonderful and the metro is great. DC is a special place to visit.
  • Annapolis has been around since 1649 and its brick streets are charming. There are a few old and lovely towns in Maryland and Virginia. I am pleased to live in one of them.

One big change is the weather. It varies a lot. Sometimes a lot in one day. When the season changes, you know it on that very day. Suddenly, it’s spring, or suddenly it’s summer or fall. You can go away for five days and when you come back, all the trees have turned magnificent colors in October. This spring it went from being 26 to 96 in a span of three weeks. This winter, it spat down tiny ice balls. It’s always something different. And there is A LOT of rain in Maryland. At first I was shocked at the number of public fountains but eventually I realized that there is more than enough water to go around. Too much, even. Starting in May, I kept waiting to wash the car, waiting for a day when it wasn’t raining. Months went by and in September I had to laugh at myself for waiting and just wash the car in the rain. This summer it rained so much that the farm crops suffered. For me, the worst thing is the summer humidity – it looks beautiful out the window but if you go out, you cannot even take a deep breath for the humidity and the smog. It’s heartbreaking. Maryland is petitioning the EPA about the states in the coal-burning Rust Belt, along with several other eastern states, for the terrible air quality that wafts our way.

With the humidity on top of smog, well, the summers are hard. Fall makes up for some of that, thankfully, but I do miss summers outdoors. I suppose I will get used to it, but it seems unimaginable. People here go on about having four seasons; I contend that they only have two. There is “Oh, it’s nice outside today” and “Please don’t make me go out there!”

The best thing about Maryland so far is how much people have tried to help me and tried to make me feel at home. Even though I am from the West, they are doing their best to put up with me and make sure I don’t die on the Beltway or fall on my ass in a December parking lot. They worry about me, they ask if I understand about sleet and not to drive in it, and they answer all my silly questions about why, exactly, I have to drain my hose bibs. They laugh at my rants about reversing into parking spaces and the horrors of the stink bug. They have even tried to help me find good Dim Sum restaurants and guava juice at the supermarket. And I am grateful to every last one of them.

Springtime in Maryland

Springtime in Maryland

Dandelions

Dandelions

Silver birch trees in the Patuxent Reserve, MD

Silver birch trees in the Patuxent Reserve, MD

Trees have it rough here.

Trees have it rough here.

Toys at the NASA gift shop

Toys at the NASA gift shop

Interesting stuff in my office

Interesting stuff in my office

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2 Responses to We’re not in California Anymore: Observations on Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

  1. Donna Ellery says:

    Great description of Maryland While I do not miss the humidity, stink bugs, ticks and sheets of ice I do miss Annapolis, the sparkling water ways and DC monuments. I agree about the people.

    Have you had a Dark and Stormy in Annapolis?

    I still find it ironic that move from Annapolis to CA and you move to Annapolis. We will meet again.

    • I have yet to try the Dark & Stormy. That’s my problem – I am not drinking enough! I’ll put that on my list when I get back from my break.

      The way things are going, we’ll cross paths in Texas. 😉

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