Like many a field trip, this one started with the phrase, “well, there’s a coupon,” this one for something called TrawlerFest, to be held down at the Inner Harbor on a late September weekend. I’m pretty much game for anything with “fest” in the title, especially if said fest is half price, so I handed over my credit card number and did a Googleysearch to figure out what a trawler is and why it might need its own festival. It turns out a trawler is a boat built for commercial fishing and capable of long naval voyages, so when I hopped on my bike to head down to the harbor that Friday afternoon I fully expected to see stuff related to fishing. Yeah, no. Turns out this festival was celebrating the third Wikipedia definition of a trawler: “a pleasure boat built trawler style.” Yep, I was at a fancy yacht show, and I was totally wearing the wrong shoes for the thing.
I was there on a Friday afternoon, so I wasn’t surprised when I got down to the harbor and found I was practically alone. Normal people work during the day, so it was just me and some older folks and a few people with kids wandering amongst the sprawling display of tents that stretched from the other side of the aquarium all the way over past Rash Field, but not a yacht or even a pair of boat shoes in sight. Oh wait—this was the Baltimore Book Festival. Admission was free, and I was totally dressed for it—a bicycle, walking shoes, a practical skirt with pockets, my Baltimore Bike Party t-shirt, and glasses that make me look smart. The trawlers were all on the far side, parked in front of the Ritz-Carlton Residences—totally appropriate. Leave the riff raff to the tacky SeaDog boat pier and fatty custards, amirite?
Thing is, I’m more a book person than a yacht person, so I was happy to get to walk through this other festival on my way to the boats. I wandered past table after table of cheap books, rare books, new books, cookbooks, history books, Maryland books, kids’ books, library books, and then made that long walk through the Authors’ Tent, past the writers with their individual books, waiting for us to wander up and chat about what was certainly an intense labor, getting that book finished. And the bravery that must be needed to sit there and say, “Hey, of all the books out there, this is the one you should read, the one I wrote.” I read a lot, but I still only read a book every month or two (please write shorter books, people), and by my (very generous, I’m-going-to-live-forever) calculations, I’ve got time to read maybe 550 more books. That only sounds like a lot until you consider there were that many books in maybe 100 yards of Inner Harbor space. Maybe the book festival wasn’t for me.
The pressure building, I worked it off with a fast walk to TrawlerFest, eyes on the prize. I stopped by the Book Fest’s portable toilets so I could be among the first to use them—when does that chance come along? It was pristine and had that spicy scent that would be expected to cut a whole lot of odor I was happy to beat to the punch. I stepped out and said my how-you-doin’ to the bike cop milling around outside. He noticed my t-shirt, I noticed his bike, and 20 minutes later we had confirmed that bikes are awesome, riding while drunk feels fun but is unsafe, and that even if we don’t go to the Bike Party, we’re glad it’s there. I asked him where TrawlerFest was, and he pointed the way. A couple minutes later I was in new territory.
The promenade on this side of things always feels a little uncomfortable, public space that feels private. The Ritz-Carlton doesn’t own this stretch anymore than I own the sidewalk in my neighborhood of Waverly, but the looming buildings make it feel like if you don’t live there, you don’t belong. Part of it is the locked gates along Fort Avenue that make it hard to get onto the Promenade if you don’t live there and are on foot. Like the long curb without a break along the west side of Greenmount Avenue that physically separates Guilford from Waverly, the Ritz-Carlton Residences and their promenade separate this part of what should be our shared waterway from the rest of the city.
But I was there, and then I was trading my coupon for a wristband into TrawlerFest, walking out on a pier, past booths selling leather recliners for the boat captain and special kinds of rope that won’t weigh you down and financing for your next yacht, because as I was soon to discover, it turns out yachts are really expensive. Like, over-a-million-dollars expensive, especially if you want one of those at the end of the pier that you can also live in. This is Baltimore, and I can find a pretty nice place to live in for a tenth of that price, and I won’t have to live on a boat. I toured a couple of them—I didn’t know you have to take your shoes off before going inside, but I promptly learned that lesson—and decided that this was not the world for me, having so much extra cash that I could throw it away on something that, by the looks of things, is indeed mostly for the looks, not some vital transoceanic journey. That some could have so much that there’s an entire industry to give them another trash can to throw their money into while others have little, well, let’s just say it was time to head back to the book fair. As I skipped down the stairs by the Science Center and back toward the water, Kevin from Station North Arts Café jumped out of his Book Fest booth by the cooking stage and gave me that giant hug anyone who frequents his restaurants knows well. We chatted excitedly about all the books and the weather and how perfect Baltimore is in fall. Yes, this is better, I thought, the people on Baltimore’s dry land.