Thursday, July 6

Roll Bus Roll | Baltimore, MD (ii)

Back at base in Baltimore. 
Bags of laundry, and a morning in the coffee place downstairs, putting rough thought to 2017. Thinking about cities, and studying, and flights. 
A long, long, twelve mile run in early wafts of snow, so long it is nearly dark again when it comes to stretching and showering. Ice cream from a local creamery. All the John Cusack movies, Molly Ringwald too, but mostly Cusack: making friends pause for Springsteen’s High Fidelity cameo, and watching Say Anything’s boombox/car scene for the first time. 
The brunch of all brunches at Papermoon Diner, another recommendation from my history professor (‘I spent many an early, early morning there’), where the walls and beams are colourful, the ceiling stuffed with old toys and suspended ephemera, the pancakes vast, and the coffee bottomless. 
And then I am California-bound, again.

I am sensible enough to journey back to the airport in daylight this time, but the snow, which began to fall that morning, flakes so fluffy they seem to fall upwards, lines sidewalks quickly and thickly. Everybody on the Charm City Circulator wears an adequately-hooded coat; I do not. It is very cold. Judging by my insufficient attire, awkward bags, and incompetent traversal of snow, it would appear Llewyn Davis has switched Greenwich Village/Chicago for Baltimore (though I lack the guitar and the ginger tom). It is even colder at the light rail station, which sits in between roads, gathering the city’s snow in drifts. Here I meet Mike, who wears a veteran cap and round glasses, talks fast, lisps. He was in Vietnam, but what he wants to tell me about, when he twigs my accent, is his Navy SEALs service in Northampton, England. 

The unwieldy light rail comes clumbering out of the blizzard air and I sit in the second carriage. On every corner the train takes, the empty drivers seat spins wildly. Mike sits nearby, and rings somebody called Sarah - his wife, presumably - to check she’ll be there with the car at the station. I watch the veering landscape through wet windows: telephone lines, flat flaked rows of prefabs, plumes of factory smoke mingling with snow clouds, patches of grass beige and khaki and muted.

There’s another passenger opposite me, a man with a bicycle and a tupperware of cold leftover stew. His hair and beard are thick and flecked with grey, his eyes dark, and he’s wearing a hi-vis jacket, waterproof trousers, a balaclava, tailored bin bags over his shoes. He peels off his layers of makeshift snow-proofing and thermals carefully, methodically. He peels everything off to eat. After eating, he gives himself a head massage, his tan hands splayed around the back of his crown. Then he sits very still with the backs of his hands resting on his knees, as if meditating, except his eyes are open. Underneath all his weatherproofing, everything he wears - t shirt, jumper - is purple. His battered backpack is purple. Two stops before he gets off he begins to layer up again, and clips his helmet back on. It's still snowing outside.

In the airport I drink a McDonalds coffee - surprisingly good - and watch snow whiten the runways and pile up along the edges of buildings and aeroplane wings. Somehow my plane isn’t delayed. A man plays Duolingo on his phone and eats an apple, the volume - of both activities - turned right up. The entire gate is aware each time he progresses a level.

It's about -18 degrees in the tunnel between plane and gate and we all turn a little blue. On the runway before take-off the plane gets painted with bright multi-coloured de-icer fluid, from small funny vehicles with extended hoses. They look like mechanical giraffes, but I’m more interested in when the plane will actually take off and the seatbelt sign switch off, because I’m desperate for the bathroom. It’s like the final scene of Say Anything, in fact: just a lot less romantic. 

* * *

And then inside some tiny dream
And inside that some kind of me
And outside us rolls the bus and the time will go by
Till inside me I am asleep

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