Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Four Things We Saw On Our Road Trip

On Friday the weather was nice, so my wife and I aimed our car north from the DC area, with no particular destination in mind. We wanted to avoid the interstate highways, and we had a vague intention of hiking somewhere. After a while, a series of impulsive turns on state and county roads led us to the cool little town of Westminster, Maryland. We drove slowly down Main Street, looking at the shops and restaurants on each side. Up ahead, we saw a crowd gathered on a corner, with some people holding signs. It looked like maybe it was a protest in front of a bank. But as we got closer, we saw...

1. Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley standing on the sidewalk, talking to people, while four or five women demonstrated with anti-tax, anti-spending signs. The signs ("Tax cuts, Not Handouts!" etc.) looked like they were left over from a recent tea party. In general, I'm a fan of street protests. So after passing the group, we turned around and drove by again. I also wanted to see what else was going on. It looked like O'Malley was being greeted by city leaders. There were state police up and down Main Street and local cops on bikes. I couldn't tell if the protesters were with any group in particular. Just four or five women who want the state of Maryland to provide fewer services. Four or five women who apparently think the "free market" hasn't done quite enough damage yet. Four or five women who want less democratic control of the economic recovery.

I didn't want to keep driving by looking like we were casing the governor, so we drove on, west-ish, through Taneytown, Maryland. 

2. In Taneytown we saw some major road work going on downtown, the result of the recent stimulus bill. I just found a CNN video from February talking about Taneytown, "a conservative stronghold" where unemployment is the highest its been in years, making a big push for stimulus funds. Remember a couple of months ago when everybody kept repeating the phrase "shovel-ready" over and over? Well, some of Taneytown's shovel-ready projects, drawn up by Democratic Mayor Jim Mcarran, included repairing the town's old water and sewage systems. 

It felt good driving through an old-fashioned small town, seeing people at work and money being spent to plan for the town's future. Taneytown is the kind of place that you hope has a future--one other than slow decay or absorption into DC's suburban sprawl. But that future won't materialize without a deliberate effort and without democratic influence over the economy. Free-market fundamentalism, left to its own devices, swallows Taneytowns and spits them out.

People need work, and there's work that needs to be done. It was good to see it happening. 

We drove on, winding our way through Emmitsburg, until we finally found our hiking:

3. We found the beautiful Cunningham Falls State Park, which was created in 1936 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and the Works Progress Administration (WPA). We got to climb up beside the highest waterfall in Maryland thanks to our great-grandparents' generation deciding to put people to work by preserving natural wonders and creating outdoor public recreation areas. In the 1930s, the federal government acquired the land around the 78-foot cascading waterfall from the McAfee family, who had originally settled the land in 1807. (The falls are still known locally as "McAfee Falls.") I hope the McAfees enjoyed the waterfall while they owned it. And I'm very glad that nobody owns it now.  

There were educational signs along the hiking paths which are now maintained by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. We learned among other things that the Catoctin Mountains--and the greater Appalachians--are among the oldest mountains on Earth.

We left Cunningham Falls and drove a long way back east during the early evening. We ended up in Annapolis, where we met some friends for dinner at a seafood place. We decided to stay the night in Annapolis instead of driving home, and on Saturday my wife and I took a meandering walk through downtown. It's a neat downtown, but it seemed like there were a hundred places to buy expensive hats. I was just starting to complain of Annapolis' "upper-crustiness," when...

4. We stumbled upon the Banneker-Douglass Museum, as in Benjamin Banneker and Frederick Douglass

Now we're talking, I thought. Everything I've ever read about Frederick Douglass has impressed me, and I didn't know much about Benjamin Banneker, so we jumped on it. Admission was free, thanks to the Maryland Governor's Office of Community Initiatives. The museum focuses not so much on Douglass and Banneker in particular as on Maryland's African-American history in general. We read about the underground railroad in Maryland and then looked at pictures from local civil rights protests in the 60s. We didn't have a lot of time, so we skipped over lots of good exhibits. There was one exhibit about recent archaeological digs in Annapolis that have turned up lots of little artifacts from the early 18th century. Next time you're in Annapolis, this is worth a visit. Interesting, educational, free, and air-conditioned. It's at 84 Franklin Street, just off Church Circle in the historic district.

That was pretty much the end of our weekend roaming. We love these short trips. There are endless things to see in this part of the country. Every trip we take, for me, is sort of a trip through history.


Amy said...

What a great post! And I am more than a little jealous of your weekend. :)

I think I liked this post so much cause a lot of us (well, me at least) usually think of "government" or "government aid" in the abstract, and I love how you showed us some simple ways that it's seen in a concrete way. If that makes any sense. ;)

delaine said...

I'm with you guys. I LOVE wandering and finding interesting things and quaint little towns. We drove up Collins Creek valley the other day. It was a green gorgeous valley climbing steadily up the ridge. Farmland,long vistas,cows,nice houses. Then it started climbing through the forests with new lime green leaves on the trees and wildflowers along the roadsides. At the top we took a half mile walk to the Cowee Lookout. We were treated to a 360 degree panorama of the mountains. By the way, the road was maintained by the USForest Service. Money well spent!

Camp Papa said...

Love the post. It is a pernicious lie that public spending is most often poorly executed.

Kate said...

Hundreds of expensive hat stores? You are so funny.

You must be referring to when I pointed out that one hat store and you nearly had a conniption fit over the idea of walking into it :)

Becky said...

Happy International Workers' Day, you rabble rouser. Settle down!