June 18, 2007

The Baltimore Travel Plaza

Posted in Past, The Funny, The WTF at 7:49 am by Dagny Taggart

…is the scariest place I’ve ever been.  And I grew up in Jersey, yo.  I’ve been to Camden, and walked half a mile from a bar there in the wee hours.  I’ve been in the dressing room at Loehmann’s annual sale, and to the Fast Eddie’s in Jacksonville, NC.  I do not scare easily.

Granted, my arrival at said Travel Plaza (July, 2002) was preceded by the failure of my vehicle’s master cylinder on I-95 (northbound), while in the Fort McHenry tunnel.  For those of you unfamiliar, the master cylinder is essential to brake operation.  So I had to keep my car under 10 mph through the tunnel, through the toll both, to the exit, shift into neutral, and emergency brake my way into a parking spot, where I called AAA*.  I was, perhaps, not in the most calm or collected frame of mind.  Overwrought, even.

I called my sister, who volunteered to drive down and pick me up.  Returning to DC wasn’t an option, as I had a basketful of bridal shower paraphenalia (you know that stupid poem with the cereal and the Joy dish detergent?  that stuff) and was hosting said shower the next day, so I had to get to my parents’ house.

While I waited, with my suitcase and wicker basket o’ girliness and LSAT teacher’s manual encumbering me to the point where I couldn’t really move… anywhere, lest something get stolen, I was greeted by a man. 

He was thin, and though probably in his late twenties or early thirties, had turned fifty as a result of hard living in that way some people do.  He asked to sit across from me while he waited for his ex-wife to bring him his stuff.  He sat before I could think of what to say, and tried to make small talk.

Except, he kept falling asleep.  And then waking up, and excusing himself, only to return five or ten minutes later.  And falling asleep/passing out again.  At first, my naive self was too concerned for his well being to worry much about my own.   Was he ill?  Did he need food?  Water?

And then, it dawned on me.  Maybe he wasn’t… himself.  Maybe he had ingested something that might make him not only a danger to himself, but also to others.  Maybe he’d want more of that in the near future.  And maybe I looked like someone who might have the means to help him get it, if his ex didn’t show up with his “stuff”.

When one grows up in a relatively affluent neighborhood, recreational drugs are there.  Expensive ones.  But I didn’t go to those parties, and didn’t know what I was looking at, not for sure.  I made eye contact with every state trooper and local officer who stopped in the place – with startling regularity, about 6-8 in the three and a half hours I waited. 

My sister arrived in the middle of a torrential downpour, and took one look at me – still seated across from a semi-articulate, semi-conscious semi-ghost whose barely audible mumbling dwindled to nothing from time to time.  She grabbed my things, including the bag still strapped across my shoulder, and hauled me into the storm.  I can only guess she thought I’d be safer there.

Looking back, I wonder if I was ever in any real danger.  I kind of like to think that I wasn’t.  But I probably wouldn’t go back there unless another vehicular mishap steers me that way.  Frankly, if I need to sit across from a semi-comatose man for several hours, I’ll just have someone set me up with a guy studying for a bar exam.

*Yeah, I’m still proud of that.  IN the parking space, well within the lines.  Also, I’m proud of the fact that my cell (trusty StarTac, I miss thee) was charged AND the AAA membership was paid up.  AND of the fact that when the tow guy got there, and didn’t believe that there was anything wrong with the car, I made him stay there until the cylinder lost pressure again.  I know from broken cars, okay?


  1. vvk said,

    Hmm… I think being male, large, and generally oblivious has lead me to never quite have the feeling of being personally unsafe… at least not that I can remember.

    On the other hand, I tend to be paranoid about those who I consider part of ‘my group.’ However that ends up being defined at a given moment. I’m especially paranoid about the women. Which is probably a result of my having two sisters.

  2. gn said,

    Wow that’s impressive — I definitely would have lost it. My proudest car moment was changing a flat tire.

    HAHA the Loehmann’s dressing room.

  3. Beach Bum said,

    Sucks having car trouble! I had water leaking from my car before (the crappy car I had before), and it wasn’t just dripping, it was pouring out. Had to drive from NJ back to VA, stop every 30 miles or so, fill it up, then keep on driving. Knowing that the whole thing could go to hell at any minute and I’d be stuck in the middle of I-95…

    By the way, a guy falling asleep like that is definitely high… My first job was at a $10.99 watch store in a hotel in 8th Av in NYC, a couple of blocks from MSG, and there was a rehab facility a couple of blocks away. So we had people coming in trying to steal (I yelled at them and kicked them out, which in retrospect, was a stupid thing to do), people falling asleep in the middle of the store (thank god for the hotel’s security guards!) and worse, they’d fall asleep trying to cross the street. Then the light would open, and there they were, jaywalking, but asleep in the middle of 8th Av. Eventually someone would get out of their car, help them cross the street before getting hit, then go back out — and the guy sleeping would never even realize what had happened…

    You were probably in no real danger — the guy would pass out before actually doing anything to you. But it would freak me out too — glad you’re safe!!

  4. You don’t need to be embarassed. I live in Elizabeth, and the Baltimore “travel plaza” is the one rest stop I try very hard to avoid. It’s big and dirty and it’s the place where “bus people” congregate. There used to be a big gas station as part of it, but they closed that down for some reason, and now the place is completely worthless except for providing a place to pee, and even that it doesn’t do a very good job of providing.

    Anyhow, I was stuck in Central Park at Summerstage when the storm came on Saturday. I was with this girl who liked me way more than I liked her. So we all had our battles to fight that day I guess. I waited til I was away from her on Sunday night before telling her I was more interested in someone else. She did NOT take it well.

    I’ve replaced the master cylinder on my car before. Impressed?

  5. vvk: So you’re paranoid on behalf of those of your group? Or you’re paranoid because you fear the women in your group? 😉

    gn: Yeah, I went through a lot with that car. Almost as much fun as a leaky master cylinder is having your distributor go – three times – all of them on highways. And changing a tire is not easy!

    Beach Bum: Someone smarter than me suggested it may have been heroin – but I almost prefer to remain ignorant. At least this guy had the sense to stay out of the road!

    HYSL: Ah, but the 3% sales tax is a nice Elizebethan characteristic! 😉 As for your Saturday, I’m sorry to hear it. That’s a tough conversation to gauge/have. But I don’t understand why anyone would let someone know how upset they are, if it’s definitely over. I prefer my dignity only slightly shredded, as opposed to completely obliterated, thanks. 😀

    And yes, I am impressed. I have only the vaguest notion where it’s located, let alone how it’s attached.

  6. vvk said,

    Ahh… yeah… umh… hmmm… I’m paranoid… uh… I plead the fifth… yeah. The fifth… er wait.

    I guess I depends on the women in my group. Some of them are worth being paranoid about.I swear, some of my female relatives/friends must have retractable talons instead of finger nails.

    But in general, I’m paranoid about the safety of my group… especially the women.

    It’s odd. I’ve been in a lot of places where people question my safety after the fact… but I’ve never really felt afraid for my safety there. Things like white supremacists rallies and what not. *shrug*

  7. Lisa said,

    Ugh. I’m sorry – that’s awful. I hate being in situations like that. Stuck and scared and not knowing if you should be scared or are just being paranoid and should chill out.

  8. vvk: I forgot to remind you – it’s not paranoia if it turns out that it could happen.

    I think I’d fear more for the safety of my soul at such an event, but I’d be afraid nonetheless. Brave man!

    Lisa: I’m just astonished at myself. Clearly, I’ve been on too many really bad dates, if some guy is falling asleep while talking to me and I’m worried about hurting HIS feelings. I need a new perspective! 😀

  9. Hammer said,

    The Baltimore Travel Plaza was a regular stop on my old southbound drives from Boston to Richmond. Assuming I started with a full tank of gas, I generally needed to make one of my refueling stops right about there. And while I never felt particularly concerned for my own safety, I always doublechecked the truck locks because that place is Grand Central Sketchville. No question about it. Of all the bad places to break down not located in West Virginia, that’s definitely one of the worst. Looks like you handled a deteriorating situation with admirable aplomb though.

  10. Hammer: Grand Central Sketchville – I like it! Of course, I haven’t had too much occasion to drive through W. Va. (though I have done it more than once), but am now quite terrified of doing so. 😀

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