The Capital

Baltimore & Washington Journal

The following is the journal that I created during my visit to the Baltimore and Washington D.C. area in the summer of 1998 relayed live over the internet.

August 1st, 1998

Just thought this might be of interest to you guys…AS IT HAPPENS. Isn't the Internet great?

Here I am in a hotel just outside of Washington, sitting cross-legged in my hotel room, a room, I might add, that is a trifle on the cool-side with the air-conditioning on full. They seem to like air conditioning around here…

It was an early start for me today, getting up at about 7:00, throwing a few final things into my bag and catching a taxi at 7:30. I am off to the World Science Fiction Convention for the, let's see, fifth consecutive time. This time, it is in Baltimore. I know next to nothing about the area, even suprised to hear that Washington was only about an hour out of Baltimore. I have never really had any desire to go there but while I am there, I will make the most out of it.

The cab dropped me off at the train station, well ahead of the time the train arrived. I had purchased my ticket last weekend. I try to avoid chances as much as possible, I even ordered my taxi last night, just in case. Did I mention that the travel agent also got me a rental car for when I arrive? It was VERY expensive (both the flight and the car). I was quite disappointed, but I realize that it is the height of the season - July 31st. The train was very pleasant, I find any of the trains that visit the airports in England are very nice, much nicer than the ones ordinary people catch (that is, people like me – a perception I am always working on changing). The train took me along a familiar route – one that I take every day to work, but in a round-about way, going through areas you cannot access by car. I enjoyed it immensely.

Getting off the train at Gatwick, it was simply a matter of climbing the stairs to the terminal and waiting in line to check-in. The other day I had signed up for the frequent flyer program for the airline – I now belong to about four of them – I figure that, since they are free, why not? I hate to see the airline mileage wasted. I had to go directly through security and into the lounge to catch my plane. Why is it that they always insist on you being at least two hours early so you are forced to sit around the INCREDIBLY boring lounge for about an hour and a half of it? I spent most of my time trying to get ahold of a fellow co-worker – I had stayed at work until about 8:00 last night to fix a problem for him. The pay phones were acting up…

I did try to read a bit during the flight but my mind wandered frequently, trying to figure out what I would be doing on this trip. Lots of choices. During the flight I realized that Newark, where we were landing before I caught the connecting flight to Baltimore, was in New York! If I had known that I would have told the travel agent to just get me there and I would drive to Baltimore/Washington. I did not realize they were all so close together.

Arriving in Newark I was pleased to be able to pick out the World Trade Center (pretty obvious, really). I did not, however, seem to be able to find the Statue of Liberty – would think that it is something that would be hard to miss…I blame it on the angle – could not really see that far (the Trade Center is a trifle taller than “Our Lady Liberty”).

The Newark airport was very nice – except where I had to catch my connecting flight. It was quite something, after the gleaming chrome and vast spaces of the main international terminal to the dingy, extremely overcrowded, disorganized and frankly unsophisticated area that handled the small connector flights. If I had known that the flight from Newark to Baltimore would only be about 45 minutes in the air I would not have bothered, but just drove. Anyway. It turns out that the plane arrived late so we had to wait around for about 20 minutes after we were supposed to have left before we could board the bus outside the gate (yes, a bus) that took us about 20 meters to the plane (we laughed that we could have walked the distance MUCH quicker and without so much fuss). It was a VERY small prop-aircraft. It can't have seated much more than 40 people. It was VERY stuffy inside – no air conditioning or, it seems, ventilation. Due to some problems we had to sit in the plane waiting to take off for about an hour or so. So, eventually, arriving in Baltimore we were about an hour and a half late (remember: the flight only took 45 minutes). The business gentleman that sat beside me was not impressed – I joked with him that we could have driven the same distance in the same – or less – time.

Anyway, I sorted out the arrangements at the airport for the rental car and dragged my luggage out to the parking lot to find it…a small red Neon. It was interesting just getting use to the change in driving on the right side of the road and the left side of the car. The biggest trouble I had as I drove down from Baltimore to Washington was trying to figure out where the car was in the lane, I kept hugging the far right of the lane. That's what you get when you have driven in the UK for six months…every day and all that.

Arrived in Washington thoroughly confused, missing the turn off to the area I knew a fairly good hotel was located. I had my mother, when she visited me in Guildford, a bunch of information about the area provided by the automobile club (AAA). It had highly recommended a hotel and by this point I was not going to go looking around for a cheaper place to stay – I was just tired and wanted somewhere clean to sleep. Nice is good too, why not, it is my holiday?

Found the hotel, found my room, found the phone plug, found my computer, typed this letter? Somewhere in there I managed to visit a local Mexican restaurant for dinner (REALLY missed them in England). Yes, it was a good dinner.

August 2nd, 1998

The first full day in Washington, well, not really Washington, I am staying in College Park which is about a half hour drive out of Washington, which is probably all for the better.

The day started early, at about 8:00. I tend to get up early when on holiday anyway, and stay up late. After a shower…before I continue, I must say that the shower was very refreshing. After the, I can only describe it as “wimpy”, shower in my flat in England, the shower in my hotel room was incredibly refreshing (“bracing” also comes to mind). I headed off to the complimentary “Continental” breakfast, certainly a change from the English Breakfasts I am used to, but I have experienced Continental breakfasts before. Yes, the donuts were very fresh.

Afterwards, I drove into Washington. It was a bit confusing. I ended up getting lost after I parked. I figured I was close to the mall, but would not be able to park anywhere near it. I knew that I was a bit north (where I parked) so I headed south. I walked for about ten blocks, walking down Pennsylvania Avenue (looking, ostensibly, for the White House) before I was stumped as to where I was so I asked someone for directions. I had been walking in the wrong direction, as it turns out, towards the river to the extreme east of the Mall (past the Mall, actually). I came out into the Mall right at the Capital building and walked down the Mall to the Air and Space Museum - my destination for the day.

The Mall

It is quite a contrast. On the way into the city I had been passing through some rather desperate looking areas – pawn shops, people sleeping in corners, etc. Walking towards the mall things grew incredibly more austere – pawn shops were replaced by bistros which were replaced by formal government (and other) buildings. They are quite impressive too – incredibly large and imposing (part – I would imagine – of the purpose).

I spent the entire day at the Air and Space museum (as you may be aware, this is part of the Smithsonian). The first thing I did was to stand in line (which reached all the way out of the building, so I was in the line before the building) for the Star Wars (The Myth and Magic) exhibit. I was aware of the exhibit after looking at the web site and was aware of having to stand in line very early in order to get tickets. Of course, the tickets are free, but they are taken very quickly.

After the tickets, I proceeded to get tickets for the IMAX theatre also there so I could attend screenings later in the day. After that I only had a few minutes before the tour so I took the opportunity to look around two of the main display areas. They are quite impressive. The building is composed of five enclosed block-like structures with three glass-enclosed areas between the five blocks. Each of the glass areas contains actual spacecraft and air vehicles. The first hall contains the REAL Spirit of St. Louis, the X-1 (first plane to exceed the speed of light), the Wright Brothers plane and a number of other extremely important machines (did I mention Freedom 7 and Friendship 7?). It was incredible to actually see the real article. Very impressive.

I then watched the video before the Star Wars exhibit which discussed a bit about the inspiration for the films and the general philosophy. We proceeded upstairs to the exhibit itself. I picked up an audio tour which we were assured would enhance the experience (it did, I might add). I was actually quite disappointed, I am sorry to say. They chose to describe the story as opposed to how each of the props were made or used. There were many props there, all original. I was also very interested to see the large number of space crafts and the original storyboards. I have seen some of the storyboards before but it was interesting to see the originals – can't imagine how much they are worth. I did enjoy the props, it was just the commentary and information provided which lacked somewhat…They did provide SOME technical information but not a lot. The shop was pretty good but I did not see anything there that I have not yet seen before.

After this, I had time to catch a tour that was offered from the main atrium. We had an eccentric college professor who gave us a good overview of the museum though there was not a lot of information that he provided that I was not already aware of. It turns out that he had been involved with some of the early aviators. He was a pilot himself.

After the tour, I found very interesting the various probes that were used before they landed on the moon for acquiring various landing information. After that I visited an exhibit on the spacesuit, propellants, computers (I had never seen a Cray supercomputer before then), and the Apollo space program. The exhibits were very well presented but the information was either too thin or too advanced. I did learn a fair amount about flight. I have always been interested in aviation, had always imagined that I would get my flying license…Sigh.

After that time I basically just had time to catch the first IMAX film about a Mission to Mir which I found interesting (though I have seen the film before – I realised about two minutes in). The information about Mir, which is sparse in general usage, was provided in quite detail in the film. I always like the films actually put together by the astronauts.

I attended the second film that I had a ticket for which was very disappointing, about the “Cosmic Voyage” which had, little, if any educational content. It was all show but no content. It was intended to give a scale to the universe but anyone would really have to concentrate to get that out of the film.

Anyway, the museum was closed after that. So, I headed up the Mall back to the Capital, it was after 6 already. The Capital Building is quite impressive sitting on top of the hill, with the oval pool in front of it and the Ulysses S. Grant statue also. I walked the stairs to the base of the building, looking back along the Mall towards the Washington Memorial. I slowly walked around the building and the back and noticed that on the east side there was a line leading into the building. Curious, I went to the end of the line, realizing it was for entrance into the building. I was quite surprised to realize it was still open at this time of night. The line took forever to get through but eventually I made it through the metal detectors and entered into the central foyer that I must say took me back. A lot like some of the cathedral spaces I have seen in England. It was surrounded by a number of large paintings depicting various events of American history and above the large dome of the building itself, ringed with a panorama. All marble everywhere.

The Capital

I was quite amazed at the amount of access we were allowed. We walked almost everywhere on the main floor and in the basement. There were a number of exhibits set up around there. It was quite interesting, lots of interesting paintings and memorials (as opposed to cathedral memorials these were statues of famous individuals in American history).

The highlight I must say of the building was the ability to sit in the visitors area of the House and the Senate, to actually see where the debates occur and many famous people have worked in the past. To see where the president delivers his “State of the Union” address was incredibly fascinating. I had to sit in the front row (the visitors area is surrounding the floor area, and above) and lean over to look all around the area beneath us. Very well appointed also.

After the tour, it was getting late, about 8 by the time I left. I found my way back to the car passing by the Library of Congress buildings.

I stopped at a fast-food place for dinner and ate at the hotel.

August 3rd, 1998

A very busy day, indeed.

Today I was a bit smarter and actually parked right on the Mall itself. It was quite amusing because I was driving along a street and noticed that I was forced to turn left because the road was closed – the road was Pennsylvania Avenue, the reason was, it was the White House. Very amusing I thought. Anyway, parked right beside the Washington Memorial.

The first thing I did was to get a ticket for the Memorial itself. There was a line and I was beginning to realize that although everything is free in Washington it is good to get the ticket well in advance so I arranged for a 6 o'clock visit to the memorial. That left me with the whole day to fill.

Well, I figured I would bit the bullet and buy a ticket on the tourmobile. This is an outfit that will take you around all day, stopping at various attractions along the way, allowing you to get on and off as often as you wish. The first thing I did was to take the tour all the way around it's loop to familiarize myself with the layout of the area and where all the various museums were. At the same time it allowed me to pick out the various places I would want to see and visit (the commentary also helped out with this). The first place I decided to stop was the Jefferson Memorial, as you may recall, he is one of the people that helped in creating the Declaration of Independence (Ben Franklin was another). The memorial is right on a tidal basin and looking straight across is the White House. I was interested to learn that the whole city was planned right from the very beginning. I must admit that the location is a bit unusual and, it would seem, remote for a capital. The layout of the Mall and all associated streets makes this very obvious.

The White House and the Jefferson Memorial are directly in line with one another and form a cross with the Mall itself. The Washington Monument is just a bit off from the intersecting point (about 300 feet) to the east. To the west is the Lincoln Memorial and to the extreme east is the Capital building. Everything else is all around the area.

The Jefferson Memorial

The Jefferson Memorial is currently being refurbished but was interesting nonetheless very simple and very impressive at the same time. Just a statue of him in the middle of a large dome, surrounded by columns. Very simple. Before we continue I will comment a bit about the style of the city, that is, the style of the architecture. Before I visited I argued with my friend Michael that Washington was the one true American city but after being here I can honestly say that the architecture truly contradicts that statement. Every building it seems is of the pseudo-greek genre. Colonnades are everywhere, massive domes and steps are the norm. A more NON-American type of architecture I cannot say. Walking into the Capital, the door is bronze, designed by an Italian, cast in Germany. This is just the tip of the iceberg though…the city was NOT designed by an American and many of buildings have also not been designed by any US citizen. HOWEVER, the spirit in which they were built, the inspiration they give, their contents are truly American. So, who am I to say?

I took the short walk around the basin to the Roosevelt memorial which I found refreshing after the formal arrangement of so many of the other memorials. I would consider this one the most American of the lot. It is comprised of a number of waterfalls, all not very tall, perhaps 16 or 17 feet, in a series of walls, in a random formation, but along a meandering path. On the walls are various statements that he made in life which made for interesting viewing. The tour guide had indicated that FDR had been influenced so much by water and it had played so much influence in his life that the memorial was chosen to take this form. It was quite beautiful.

After FDR I made my way through the park to visit the Korean War Memorial, and the Lincoln Memorial. That was quite impressive, the imposing figure looking down from his lofty seat. There were two speeches on the walls, interesting reading.

Lincoln Memorial

I made my way down to the Vietnam memorial, stopping briefly to take in the view back along the full length of the Mall, pass the Washington Memorial (in case you are curious, that is the needle you may have seen in pictures, just a great tall needle) and in the distance seeing the Capital itself. The Vietnam memorial was interesting but I only walked past. Many of the gits and what-not left there are kept in the Museum of American History (says the guide).

After this, I decided I should take advantage of the ticket I had purchased for the tour and visit the Arlington National Cemetery. It was quite interesting. The rows and rows of government-issue headstones which are mandated in the newer areas of the cemetery. The famous people are also interesting. I did not get off at any of the points on the tour, I am not a bit cemetery fan, I find the atmosphere a bit “dead” (sorry about that…). We passed by the Kennedy grave site where everyone left the bus (except me). There is an eternal flame there and a number of his close family are also buried there. Next we stopped at the tomb of the Unknowns (I keep wanting to say the Unknown Soldier but it is a number of soldiers and the Unknown Soldier is actually in Westminster Abbey) where there is a changing of the honour guard every half hour. I was quite interested to hear that Fort Myer is directly adjacent to the cemetery and provides the guard for the grave.

We next stopped at the Arlington House, which has been restored and people walk around in costume to talk to visitors. Again, I did not get out.

We saw a bit of the segregation of the times when the cemetery was first in use – grave sites marked with “USCT” – United States Coloured Troops. Sad, really. Many of the graves were also marked unknown.

After the cemetery, we were making our way back past the White House when the road was blocked. Normally, the tour takes you right past the gates to the White House but the road was blocked – something was up. We had to make a detour through the business area and back onto the Mall. As we were passing the White House (a way away now) we saw that a helicopter was landing, I wonder who that could be? I jumped out to get a closer look, grabbing a few pictures. I think it was the president since I knew that he would be in town today. Besides, it was the presidential helicopter.

After the excitement I managed to catch a tour back to Union Station, the rather impressive train station. I wanted to get a look at the Postal Museum. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was only there about half an hour and could only see a small portion. It is not a large museum, but it needs more time than that. It is housed in the Post Office building, another very impressive – large open atrium buildings. The museum is in the basement and has a number of small exhibits that you can walk through out of a central core. Interesting to note that the museum is also part of the Smithsonian. As a stamp collector I did find it interesting. Perhaps I will get back, who knows?

Taking the bus back, I was a few minutes late for my Washington Monument tour but it turns out that it was not such a big deal. After waiting around for about half an hour, we passed into the monument and rode the elevator to the top. Here I was thinking that it would be like in England where you walked up! It is ONLY 500 feet to the observation area…Can't remember how many stairs there are (after restoration these are no longer in use). It was quite a view from above and it really becomes apparent at that height about the plan for the city. Everything seems to be pretty much laid out in a consistent manner.

Was surprised to see that the Pentagon is just across the river. So many things here that I did not realize, the Holocaust Museum also…

Anyway. After my trip to the top I was happy to hear that there was a free concert being provided on the lawn to the south side of the monument so I grabbed something to eat and sat down, listening to the U.S. Marine Band (“The President's Own”). It was a good concert, one of the featured soloists actually lived in Regina, Saskatchewan for a year or so, surprising since I lived there for a year myself. Very irritating that the MC said Regina was in Ontario (I think it was something like “Regina in Saskatchewan, Ontario” – very odd). A cynic would say this was a sign of the ignorance of the American people towards their neighbours to the north. But I would say… The concert was about an hour long and a great way to end the evening. As I walked back to the car I looked around at the city at night, all lit up. Very beautiful, much different than the day.

August 4th, 1998

Well, I tried to take it a bit easier today but I faced a lot of disappointments. I took advantage of the hotel's offer to drive guests to the local “Metro” (subway/train system for Washington) station and pick them up to return them to the hotel. I met a couple from the hotel and took the train with them. They had taken the train yesterday so were a bit familiar with how it worked. My luck and I did not have any change required for the ticket machine so I had to borrow a smaller bill from them (instead of my $20), so I felt a bit obligated to get change for them.

I took the train all the way to the Smithsonian stop right on the Mall, having to change trains about three times. I must say that the train was incredibly fast, efficient and VERY clean. After experiencing the Underground so many times I could not believe the general lack of garbage, graffiti and rats…The stations are all very similar to one another, large caverns of formed concrete with subtle lighting shining up the walls. Very nice.

After leaving the station, I showed them were to catch the tram tour that I did yesterday and generally oriented them to the city. Kind of funny that I was doing that, after only two previous days there…

After leaving them at the Holocaust museum, I tried my luck at getting a ticket for the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which I was surprised to be able to do, asking for a ticket a few hours ahead of time, hearing that it was only for an hour later. I needed cash so I made a quick trip down the street to a brand new building which had a bank machine in the basement. Oh, the building by the way is the Ronald Reagan building (convention center I believe), very big glass structure, not much in it though.

I quickly made my way back to wait for entry into the Bureau but I was much upset to see that I had misread my ticket and I had another hour to wait – If I had got it right I would have been able to visit a museum or something for the time it offered me. Upset, I just went to the Mall and had a sit under a tree to wait out the time (I was a bit exhausted already – it has been quite hot, NO clouds and VERY dry here – evidently non-standard for this time of year, it is supposed to be humid and hot).

While I was waiting I noticed a number of motorcycle policemen waiting beside a few intersections around the Washington monument. Then, low and behold, they drove into the street and blocked off the area. Guess who drove by? He is looking a bit grey on the head but he can afford to look a bit old…My luck again showing through I took a picture not of his car but the first car in the series of three vehicles…Lots of police. The funny thing is that the tourists were the only ones that really took any notice of what was going on, the locals seemed to just look with only a passing interest. He IS the president after all. Yes, I did wave at him, he could not miss me, I was right beside the road.

I eventually made it to the tour at the Bureau. It was INCREDIBLY disappointing and not worth the effort I put into it. We eventually were let in to this inside corridor and waited a total of about 45 minutes. Standing there looking at a view video monitors showing various quiz questions and some small displays. When they finally showed us into the tour itself we were only shown the printing and cutting areas. Not a lot to see for such a long wait. To me, I was technically interested but it was only about 10 minutes of actually seeing the operations and I wasted about 2 or 3 hours for those 10 minutes. Sigh. Anyway, I was quite happy to pick up a few things at the shop, namely, some uncut sheets of $1 and $2 bills. I spent a LOT of money there, but as a collector, there are some things I just CANNOT resist.

Once again, submitting my body to the heat, I made my way back across the Mall to the Museum of American History (the second most popular museum in DC), dragging my somewhat large bag behind me. I had given in and bought a few t-shirts from a street vendor because they were a) cheap and b) I can give them to my sister and friends (yes, I will keep one or two for myself).

The museum was very interesting but, as normal, I did not have a lot of time. There is SO much material it is difficult to determine what to see, you are ALWAYS going to miss something. They have the flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner” on the wall right inside the main entrance, it is VERY large and a lot different than the current flag (a lot less stripes and stars…), not in very good shape, they are working on a restoration over the next few years. I did also see a few pieces of American culture, namely, Oscar the grouch's trash can, Archie Bunker's chair, Howdy Doody, a few pieces of props from M*A*S*H…and other neat things.

The most interesting exhibit I found was the Information Age exhibit as they had a few classic computers actually physically in the museum along with information on how they were used and how they worked. I was quite interested to learn some things about it.

They had a number of other areas that were of interest including the one about the industrial revolution (which included a locomotive and a number of vehicles, both cars and agricultural).

After the museum, I just had enough time…to head off to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I learned the other day that they offer free concerts every day at 6:00 PM. Unfortunately, it was a children's entertainer tonight but it was still enjoyable. The center is VERY impressive, such expansive and elegant spaces. I wonder what the inside of the theatres look like (the performance was in one of the hallways – yes VERY large).

Took advantage of the service of the center to get a free shuttle back to the train station. It was pleasant enough to get back to the train station but it did take quite a while for them to come from the hotel to pick us up – about 45 minutes wait (the drive is about 10 minutes). There was another family waiting and they really had a few words with the driver…I was just content to be back and just wanted to relax a bit in my room before going to bed (well, eating too).

A fairly disappointing day but it was good that I did get a few things accomplished that I wanted to.

August 5th, 1998

Another day…a BIG headache.

A nice breakfast though…I have been getting up every morning at about 8 am, even though I was up until about 1:30 this morning. Very strange, I guess when I don't have so much stress, I need less sleep. Mind you, work does not seem to have a great deal of pressure for me, but the drive is not that easy. I can take it though. Not much to do at home anyway…(do you hear violins playing?).

Headed out and visited a local department store, something I have been wanting to do since I got here. There are SO many better prices on things here. Less than half the price than in England for most things. Besides, there are certain things that I just cannot get in England that I picked up. Spent a fair amount of money but I expected that. Have enough clothes for quite some time now (well, off-work clothes). Nice shoes too.

After the department store I was surprised to find that right opposite was the NASA Goddard Center. I noticed this on my first day's drive from Baltimore to Washington and I had to visit. NASA still, and always has, fascinated me.

The center was not all that exciting, they had a few smaller spacecraft on display but the center is really for space communication and data processing, so mostly computers, no astronauts and no spacecraft. I found it interesting though, the computers are fascinating (horrifying too, in that they are SO old and antiquated also). I was always peering through the glass to see what machines were in use in the various control rooms (one for the space communications and the other for Hubble).

After that, I had to get to Baltimore for the convention which starts tomorrow so I took a scenic route, passing through Annapolis on the way. I ended up stopping at another department store (the first did not have everything I was looking for – I had prepared a list before leaving England).

Once I got to Baltimore, the aggravation began. I first went directly to the convention center (by car, of course) and noticed that a number of people were walking around with badges so I figured that they had begun registrations for the convention, so I parked the car ($3 an hour!) and picked up my registration information. I will say that the convention center is VERY nice, very large…there is another convention on at the same time that we are there…

After that, the fun began. It turns out that there are NO hotel rooms in Baltimore today and tomorrow since there are the two conventions AND the Baltimore Orioles are back in town for two home games. I found this out at the first hotel I stopped at to get a room. I did not phone ahead for reservations because I could not see that it would be a problem finding a room, never had any trouble in the past at other conventions…

I drove around for about an hour and a half after that, looking for places to stay. Eventually, while looking around the airport I stopped at a very nice hotel that someone had suggested would have rooms and a VERY nice lady at the front desk indicated that she would find me a room – so she did. She called around to a few other hotels and about 45 minutes later she heard back from a hotel down the street that there was a room for me. She was VERY helpful, I have thought about sending her flowers…or something. Really, she saved me a LOT of trouble.

I have a VERY nice room at the local Marriott. I am on the top floor (restricted access) in a suite, with it's own board-room, bar, couch, chairs, coffee table, TV, various antiques, VERY nice…and VERY reasonable for the area (less than $100!). I think I will stay here, depending on how easy it is to get to the convention center tomorrow (I am about 10-20 minutes from there, I will have to catch the train, no WAY can I park there!).

Anyway, I am thinking I will head off in a few minutes for a swim in the pool…after the day I have had, it will be VERY refreshing. Though, I still have to figure out what I am going to do at the convention tomorrow (I always go through the program at LEAST a day in advance to see what I am going to do for the following day – lots of good movies this time at a REAL movie theatre!).

August 6th, 1998

Well, first day of the big adventure of the convention (and the saga of the non-existent hotel rooms).

Started the day fairly early, waking up to the cleaners…I am a fair distance from the convention center but I think things will work out quite well. I first catch a free hotel shuttle bus to the airport then I catch a light rail train (MRT - Mass Rail Transit) down directly to the convention center. It takes a bit of time but it is cheap – cheaper for a two way ticket than when I was there yesterday for less than an hour (parking). The trains are not all that frequent but it gets me where I want to go.

Baltimore Convention Center

At the convention, I first wandered around a bit then attended a couple of science-based discussions. There are a series of different “tracks” or series of related discussions, for example, folk singing, science, writing, movies, etc. The discussions were quite interesting, I am always learning something new at these every year. I did try to mix things up a bit by taking a few more science fiction related items, about movies and literature. I also had a chance to get to the “Dealer's Room” where books and other science-fiction related items can be purchased. Eventually, I ended up spending a LOT of money on two particular books that I have always wanted – signed editions of books whose authors have passed away (hence the difficulty of getting a book signed by them). They are two of my most favourite authors of “classical” Science Fiction: Asimov and Herbert (Frank; author of the Dune series). Anyway, I am a bit numb by the amount of money they cost me though…

During the day I also had a chance to get something for lunch. I picked up a list of restaurants from the information center for the convention and made my way out from the convention center…unfortunately the place I read that sounded good did not have an address on the paper so I had to wander a bit…Baltimore is very depressing. There are a number of exceedingly nice places but other areas are so depressed and in bad shape. Yes, I do feel a bit uncomfortable in a few of them. Eventually, I found myself at the Kensington Market which is a VERY local indoor market, evidently more than 100 years old. I wandered through some interesting booths to finally try crab cakes…not too bad, a few bits of shell but very tasty. The first time I have had them. Hopefully I will be able to get back there before I leave, perhaps to bring something back with me to England…

For supper, I managed to find the place listed on the paper which was just outside the hotel that is hosting the late evening discussions (after 8 that is). It was also very good, specializing in sandwiches. Very cheap. Very good. Steak, by the way. That is the sandwich I tried…

Over the course of the day I managed to fill my backpack with many books and a good quantity of papers (information about various things). I don't think I will be buying much more. I do want to take advantage of the cheaper prices here as opposed to in England, never mind the variety. Many of the books I have purchased are simply not available in England (especially since I am interested in hardcover first editions). Over the next few days I hope to get a few more autographed…

August 7th, 1998

I suppose today was the first full day of the convention. And quite a full day it was. Of course, it had to start with a bit of the mundane. I had to first transfer to another hotel. I really enjoyed staying at the Mariott but they had me in such a FANTASTIC room at such a FANTASTIC rate (did I mention before about the lady that found it for me) that I could not keep it until Sunday, the last day I am here. Just to let you know what I mean, as I may have already mentioned, the room was on the Concierge Floor (exclusive, card access only – complimentary breakfast/snacks/drinks) and it was a wonderful room – double size, with it's own bar, conference table, couch, and more chairs than I ever had a chance to sit in. Anyway, I had to check out and get to the new hotel, which was luckily only about half a block away. I was just able to pick up the new hotel shuttle to the light rain train.

I started the day with a discussion on Antarctica. Now, you might think it is a an odd topic for a Science Fiction convention but there are a number of reasons it is interesting (in terms of SF). 1) Conditions there are VERY similar to conditions we would experience on other planets (a point made many times today) 2) a well known SF author has just written a book on it (very good too – he spent a few weeks actually at the pole to research the book) 3) other authors are picking up on it 4) it IS a different world (similarly to the way that the bottom of the ocean is) and is a good place for SF stories. It was interesting hearing about what is going on scientifically down there (many people from NASA and other private corporations discussing what they are doing).

Another discussion I attended discussed the extinction of the dinosaurs and new information. Evidently it is now accepted that the dinosaurs definitely became extinct because of a meteorite impact though the issue about whether or not before that event they were already in decline. Evidently, this is not the only extinction-level event, or even the only meteorite impact that caused mass extinction. Quite interesting.

I did take a few panels about Science Fiction though, just for something different. It is interesting to hear what people have to say about some of the authors/titles I am reading and what they say about what is to come.

Another discussion I found interesting was one about the future of on-line communities (Internet vs. older-style services that you dialled with your computer, like Compuserve and Genie). This is interesting to me because I was involved with an on-line community. They had a fascinating definition of a community that being something along the lines of: A community is a group of individuals centered around a specific person or persons. Thinking about this, I suppose it is true. Even relating this to governments and other organizations (clubs, bands, churches, etc). Perhaps this is why the organization that I belonged to failed: There was no center driving the organization. As they discussed in this panel, these people at the center go around and make sure people are happy, fill their glasses, etc (for example).

I did get out of the convention center though, making it to the convention courtesy suite, saving myself a bit of money on dinner (eating junk food and pop – not much different than if I had bought it anyway). Always have a chance to talk to people at places like this. In this case I was talking to someone dressed up like a particular character from a TV show (Babylon 5), he was quite interesting (though he commented about being hot in his costume – it has been still quite warm here).

After a last panel, I was able to get to a few more courtesy suites, including one for Toronto – which I am a supporter of. That is, I have paid them money (last year, I believe) to become a supporter of their “bid” for a convention in 2003. Every year, at the convention, we vote for where the convention will be held in two years (I believe). So, every year the various “bids” try to “buy” your vote for the site by having these suites with unlimited food and drink. Not bad if you ask me. It is also, of course, a good experience for a party. The first suite I went to was serving some WONDERFUL cheesecake (homemade), fresh fruit with chocolate sauce, “hoggies” (submarine), root beer (homemade – very strange, has a bit of “bite”), and various other snack foods. Filled up, basically, there. By the way, as you may have been able to tell about the cheesecake, this bid was for the convention in 2001 at Philadelphia.

Anyway, after that, I headed up to the upper stories of the hotel the suites were located and dropped in on Toronto and a “joke” bid (one that is ridiculous, this one is “Z'ha'dum in 2260”, based on the afore-mentioned Babylon 5). It was great fun, lots of food, though I am paying for it now (as he clutches his chest with heartburn…).

Taking the train back to the airport was very interesting. There were a few afro-Americans on the train that were talking VERY loud in my car on the train, it was very amusing (a bunch of ladies talking about various parts of their love lives). I must say that there are a lot of afro-Americans around, much more than I have been used to in other areas of the country – this is not a bad thing, just an observation, though I will say that I was thinking on the train that the reason they sometimes act so differently and always seem to hang out together is because of the previous oppression that they suffered in areas like Baltimore.

So, checked into my room, in a motel (that is, rooms with outdoor corridors) on the third floor. Not as nice as the Mariott, but it is clean and it is a good size room (place to use my computer, etc). I hope to get to bed soon though, another long day tomorrow. I have already planned what I want to do…many corrections they have announced to the programs have already been included.

Oh, did not mention that I had one of the books I purchased yesterday (the expensive ones) I had signed by the artist that did the “plates” in the book (the full colour photo-illustrations), I had him sign the plates also. The only thing was that I spent an hour and a half waiting for him to sign it (the line was VERY long). The funny thing is that as I was waiting, at one point, we were standing beside a booth that sells his artwork and I noticed that he had painted many of the covers for books I own for MANY different authors. Evidently his work is used EVERYWHERE. I don't know if I am willing to spend the kind of money he wanted though…mind you, since I am taking the train I don't think that a 2' x 4' painting would be easy to transport…

August 8th, 1998

Yet another convention day. No doubt I will need a vacation from this vacation. I think I will be dead by the end of Sunday. Should be interesting TRYING to get to work on Monday. Doubt I will make it.

I have, as you may have noticed, been attending a lot of Science-oriented discussions, and today was no exception though I did get to a few actual Science Fiction events (funny, considering that is what the convention is supposed to be about). Started the day learning a bit about Nanotechnology which was interesting since it tied into another discussion I saw later in the day regarding Bucky balls which are special type of chemical structures that are, essentially, man made. Using the same types of processes, they have been creating specific types of molecules using carbon that could be used to create nano-technology devices. Very fascinating stuff, a bit strange though to think of machines so small. An idea that one speaker suggested was to be able to make some of these devices, simply create a machine that re-creates itself on a 1/2 scale and keep running the machines until you have a lot of REALLY small machines.

I also attended, as I mentioned, a bit of Science Fiction, learning a bit about Japanese animation (fascinating because it is NOT cartoons as many people here think, but rather ADULT animation stories, many of them are like our Sitcoms).

The dinosaur information was also fascinating considering we were listening to a person from the Smithsonian and the world's leading expert on the Tyranosaurus Rex. Very interesting things they had to say about the latest developments, including the finding of feathers on some species of dinosaur.

I also got a book signed by one of my favourite authors, I was also able to talk to her a bit about her work and that was also fairly interesting. She is very knowledgeable and yet a nice person in general. She really takes what she is doing seriously yet has fun at the same time, an easy person to approach and talk to. I guess that is why the convention has awarded her so many accolades (read: awards) over the past few years.

I also attended a bit of a preview about a science fiction show seen in Canada (and made there). It was very good – the show is completely created on computers. The quality is not as good as movies but the stories are fun and good. They are doing amazing things with computers…

I did manage to get out during the day to wander around downtown Baltimore a bit, namely, the “Inner Harbour”, it was quite nice, they have really developed the area, there is a boardwalk extending for quite a distance with many tourist things such as museums, aquarium, restaurants (Hard Rock Café, Planet Hollywood, etc), malls, etc.

Baltimore Harbour

It was a nice walk, I ended up grabbing a bite to eat at the food court in a mall there. It was quite good. I kicked myself though there was a better looking place serving Louisiana-Style seafood. Oh well.

I ended up going to the Con-Suite to get a bit to eat (again, mostly junk food though they did have chicken wings tonight). I then headed off to another hotel that is hosting the convention to watch a movie. They have set up a whole theatre in one of the rooms there, REAL movie projectors and 35mm film, the whole bit. Even the SurroundSound system. Very nice. It was a fun movie, lots of people there.

I also did manage to make it to a couple of parties tonight also BUT they were not as good as last night so I actually left for home fairly early, about 10pm. It turns out that the vote for the convention location for 2001 was tonight, I did not feel I should vote since I did not attend one of the potential site's party yesterday. It turns out that the party I did attend won – they DID, after all, have the best cheesecake I have ever tasted! But really, they were much more prepared. Oh, for your information, it is Philadelphia.

They also had the Hugos tonight – the award ceremony where members (of the convention) vote on their favourites in a number of different areas. It turns out that a book I just purchased won as the best SCI FI book of the year (yeah!). I have not read it yet but I am looking forward to it. This gentleman has been writing for QUITE some time. Hope to get to bed now…hard to get up this morning…

August 9th, 1998

Well, the last full day here in Baltimore. In a way I guess I will miss it. Not really looking forward to getting back to my life in England. I do have to pay off my bills though. It would be nice to be able to do something purposeful like those Scientists and Authors I have been listening to.

A few disappointments today, but I did get to take a few pictures of the area, including the harbour.

There were some more interesting science discussions today, including one on the Clinton space policy, the new initiatives for Nasa over the next few years, the ocean, the Space Station, and Quantum Teleportation (yes, teleportation HAS occurred already, albeit at the quantum, that is, very small, level).

I was disappointed when I was waiting around in the Dealer's room for an author to show up to get his autograph but it turns out that it was cancelled. I did get over to the ConSuite a few times to get some “nourishment” (one can hardly call chocolate and Coke food).

A couple more disappointments occurred when I attended the last discussion of the day which was on the search for extraterrestrial intelligence because it was with this person from SETI but it seems to me they were EXTREMELY unprofessional and I could not for the life of me take it seriously. ESPECIALLY when he started singing about various aspects. It was, frankly, embarrassing. It seemed like he was talking to 5 year-olds or something. I was only too happy to get out of there.

I was looking forward to getting home a bit early but there was a lot of things going on in Baltimore tonight. The local NFL team started it's season at a new stadium downtown, there was also a concert going on and another convention or something also. I waited about 45 minutes for the train to get back to the hotel. The train was PACKED with people. It was a big headache getting back to the hotel.

Anyway, here I am, packing for tomorrow. Kind of a sad way to end the convention.

I did attend a discussion today about the convention next year in Melbourne, Australia. It was quite interesting. I did not know that Melbourne was so cold this time of year. It is pretty far south I guess. It should be interesting to visit. My mother has expressed an interest in the past about coming to one of these conventions, which I think she would really enjoy, so I was thinking about buying her a membership just to encourage her to attend. It would be fun, I think. Hum…

August 11th, 1998

Finally back home here in England. Yesterday (/day before) was a VERY long day. I was barely coherent yesterday, choosing to take the day completely off of work despite arriving home around 10:30 in the morning.

The day started on Sunday by my driving into Baltimore. Since it was Sunday, I was under the impression that it would be fairly easy to find a place to park at little, if any cost. I ended up parking for free on the side of a road about 10 blocks from the convention center but after I had made it walking to within one block of the convention center I had talked myself into believing that where I had parked the car was not exactly safe, considering it was my last day, time was critical to catch the plane in the afternoon, and that I had all of my luggage (and computer) in the trunk. So, I walked back to where the car was (an area, in retrospect was NOT save, not exactly somewhere to walk 100% comfortably) and ended up parking in the lot right beside the convention center (hang the price!).

I attended a few more interesting science discussions one of which was on the expansion of the Internet into outer space, namely, near planets, satellites, and probes. This was extremely interesting, the discussion was actually given by one of the fathers of the Internet itself. Very fascinating.

Anyway, after the discussions I made my way to the basement of the convention center and the dealer's room to get a couple of final books autographed. Some of the authors had been postponing the autograph sessions until the very last day. So, I cornered them and had them scribble in my books.

I was lucky enough to determine I still had time to go to a final session before I had to leave for the airport. So, taking the time to relax during the talk, I immediately headed out to pay the parking fee (not bad at $5 for about 5 hours). I also decided at this point that I still had a fair amount of time so I drove north (the airport is southwest) and drove around the “ring road” before returning to the airport. Dumping the car, I ended up checking in about 45 minutes before my flight. I was a bit concerned about time at that point but it turns out that the flight was about 45 minutes late leaving anyway, making my connection to the London flight in Newark planned at 2 hours, all that much shorter. I did take advantage of the time and had something to eat.

It was the same type of plane I had caught from Newark to Baltimore before, a small, prop-driven plane, having to get on a bus to get from the plane to the terminal once we arrived in Newark. I was so happy to be able to see the Statue of Liberty while landing in Newark. I had missed it on the previous trip. Not that big in comparison to all the other buildings. Of course, once I arrived, I ended up hurrying to catch my flight to London, stopping only briefly to pick up a New York Times and a magazine that looked interesting…After I had taken the monorail to another terminal, leaving the security area, checking in at the check-in area (since I had not had a seat assigned in Baltimore) and re-entering the security area…eventually I made it to the gate to see that I had to immediately get in line since they were already boarding. Too close for my comfort.

The flight was relatively un-eventful, I took the opportunity to watch a bit of the garbage they were showing on the television monitors and reading the magazine I had purchased. I only slept for about an hour, maybe less. I was very tired by the time I got to Gatwick.

I did find my way to the rather crowded platform for the train, having to lug my luggage along with me. It was significantly heavier with all the books I had purchased. I started my trip with one piece of luggage (with a small piece tucked inside) and ended up with two. Full. The bigger, of course, was the heaviest. On the train, there was so little space that I had to have the luggage on the train in the seat beside me. Not leaving a lot of room for me…

Anyway, eventually stumbled (huffing and puffing) through the train station at Guildford to the taxi stand and staggering into my flat (apartment). Very tired. Realized only after I had gone to the grocery store that I had lost my bank card somewhere in Baltimore…Thank goodness I took the day off, gave me enough time to head into Guildford to the bank. Eventually passed out early in the afternoon…not an easy sleep though…it is as hot here as it was in Baltimore (about 25-30 Celsius)…

And today…it was back to work…until next time…in Australia!