Saturday, September 26, 2009

Whistling Dixie in German and Polish

Top: Tom, Amy, Kimi, Travis and me in Aberdeen, MD on Friday
Middle: Udo, Jehad, Janice and me in Elkton, MD on Thursday
Bottom: Udo and Jehad in the conductor chairs on Thursday

My triumphant march across the Mason-Dixon line into the South was a little atypical. First, I wasn't traveling south when I crossed it. Along most of the Maryland/Delaware border the Mason-Dixon line divides east from west. Second, the first people I met were a German man and his wife, a native Pennsylvanian. As I walked deeper into Maryland the next day, my hosts were a Polish man and his wife, also a native Pennsylvanian. If I meet a woman from Europe in the next day and get married to her, this is going to get spooky.

I get good comic mileage out of the whole Mason-Dixon line, but it really is a relic of history. According to Wikipedia the first official use of the term was in the 1820 Missouri Compromise and the term went on to connote the cultural border between North and South. Ask most kids these days, however, and they would probably tell you Maryland is a northern state.

Apparently the South is now home to more trans-Atlantic couples than men named after Stonewall Jackson or Nathan Bedford Forest. As a Yankee, that suited me just fine. On Thursday I had the chance to get to know the first of those trans-Atlantic couples, Udo and Janice Sommerhoff. Udo and Janice first met as volunteers at a L'Arche community in Ireland. L'Arche commnities were founded by Jean Vanier and provide homes for adults with developmental and physical disabilities. Udo later moved to the US and the two got married.

They are currently taking care of a four year old foster child named Jehad. As with most four year olds, Jehad's energy was abundant. He has a radiant spirit that wants to be in constant motion. It was beautiful to see how Udo and Janice did their best to try and support his energy and yet bring him peace when that energy would quickly veer toward discontent. They truly do live out the passage from Psalms that they have displayed in their house: "Turn from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it".

Speaking of scriptural references, I am going to give my award for favorite bumper sticker so far to the one on the back of Udo's truck. It says, "When Jesus said love your enemies, I'm pretty sure he meant don't kill them." I have nothing to add to that. It's just perfect.

Udo and Janice set me up in their furnished basement, giving me amazing solitude for what became a monumental night of sleep. I fell asleep even before Jehad, but not before he had a chance to serenade me with a wonderful rendition of Happy Birthday. That boy's got some pipes. I said my good nights and then the world didn't hear from me for another ten and a half hours. My body must have needed the rest because the next day it was like a whole new world dawned. I felt more awake and alive than I've been since I left West Hebron. With that vigor, I marched on through Queen Mary's land to Aberdeen.

A roadblock stood in my way in the form of Thomas Hatem Memorial Bridge. It crosses the Susquehanna River between Perryville and Havre de Grace but is not accessible to pedestrians. If I wanted to walk every step of my journey, come hell or high water, I could have waited until the cover of darkness and then run across, thumbing my nose at "the man." Instead I walked into Perryville, had a wonderful chicken breast sandwich at a local bistro, sauntered over to the local train station and rode the rails across the river. I chose to give the "man" more of a "howdy do" than an "F you". He can have his non-pedestrian friendly bridge. The only point I was trying to prove was that I could get to South Aberdeen by sun down.

Tom and Amy Hribar earn a couple entries in the Poorman Walking Book of Firsts. Number one, they are the first hosts I have stayed with outside of NYC who are both younger than me. Second, they are the first hosts I have been connected with by complete serendipity. Kimi Will is the daughter of "The Ging" and "Big Pete" who I stayed with on the second night of my journey in Schaghticoke, NY. Kimi happened to be home that night and she later noticed I was looking for a place to stay in Aberdeen.

She put me in touch with Amy and Tom who, like her, are civil engineers. Tom is originally from Poland and Amy is from the Pittsburgh area and their two dogs are from a planet called "Always Hungry". They invited Kimi and her fiance Travis over and together the five of us feasted on steak, potatoes, pasta salad, fresh tomatoes & mozzarella and all the while their older dog, a Golden Retreiver, looked on longingly with sad eyes that failed to score him a piece of meat.

After dinner we retired to the basement for dessert and to engage in my favorite activity that doesn't involve putting raspberry pie in my mouth - watching The Office. The highlight of the episode was Andy Bernard (former Daily Show alum Ed Helms) wheeling Michael secretly into a meeting hidden under a hastily constructed cheese platter.

Tom and Amy are avid runners, so they were up even earlier than I was on Saturday morning. I had a full pancake breakfast, packed my freshly laundered clothes and hit the road once again.

Saturday night brings to a close my first four weeks on the road and I decided to give myself the gift of a hotel room. I had previously made a reservation at the La Quinta, but Travis had told me about a newly constructed hotel in the same area. Apparently the La Quinta hasn't had the best year. Murder and prosititution busts will do that to a hotel. But the Country Inn & Suites, they have a clean bill of health from the authorities. Time for a little R & R ...


  1. I have wondered what people think the current line is for the north and south divide, so it's interesting to hear you crossing that line. I wonder if some people from Maryland see themselves as a mix or northerners and southerners.

    Glad to hear your journey is continuing to go well!