Arts & Culture
Summer's a great time for baseball, the beach, backyard barbecues, and—here's where the alliteration ends—art and culture. That's because, as the weather warms, the number of outlets for music, film, theater, and even visual art increases as doors open and blankets are spread across the ground. Suddenly, Pimlico hosts concertgoers, as well as race fans; Federal Hill becomes more than a scenic overlook—it's an outdoor theater; a nature trail transforms into a sculpture garden; and much, much more. The more traditional venues continue programming, as well, and we have a flurry of art-related activity. And there's something for everyone, no matter the budget.
The combination of sand and local architects translates into some of the most elaborate sand castles you'll ever see. See what these teams of sand castle builders come up with at City Sand 2007, June 23 at Harborplace from noon to 4 pm.
Coming across art in unexpected places, especially natural settings, can be both startling and astonishing. This summer, artists will place sculptures and installations along the Gwynns Falls Trail as part of the 6th Annual Art on the Trail. It's a rare opportunity to experience contemporary art in an urban wilderness. Visit gwynnsfallstrail.org for info about weekend activities and family programming.
On the first Saturday of each month, the Station North Flea Market, across from the Charles Theater, is a good place to mingle and hunt for great deals on artwork, books, vintage clothing, and other interesting items. While there, it's also worth visiting the galleries and studios in the area, including the Station North Arts Café Gallery at 1816 N. Charles Street and Sherwin Mark's Load of Fun Studios around the corner at 120 W. North Avenue. Load of Fun definitely lives up to its name. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Watching movies under the stars has become a Baltimore tradition. Little Italy's Friday night film series gets underway in July at the intersection of High and Stiles streets, while AVAM's Flicks from the Hill begins on June 21 on Federal Hill. The combination of classic films and neighbor–hood ambiance is hard to beat, even in the digital age.
The first annual Paetec Jazz Festival, brought to you by the producers of the Rochester and Stockholm jazz festivals, includes a bevy of free concerts, in addition to the ticketed events. From August 9-11, though not confirmed at press time, look for free shows at the Power Plant Live! plaza, and on the 9 and 10, concerts at Bond Street Wharf. Also unconfirmed at press time is a day-long show slated for Harbor Point, 900 S. Caroline Street, on the 11. The concerts figure to be a diverse mix of local and national talent, a collective exploration of jazz's past, present, and future. Check paetecjazz.com for schedules and updates.
An entertaining and educational mix of music, dance, literary readings, and history exhibits, the African-American Heritage Festival runs from July 6-8 at Camden Yards. AfrAm remains a highlight of the city's long-running, summer festivals. Visit waahf.netfor a schedule of events. Chaka Khan and local neo-soulsters Fertile Ground were among last year's performers.
A highlight of Baltimore summers for 26 years, Artscape has matured into the sort of festival that has something for everyone—including excellent programming for kids and families—though art and music lovers are particularly well served. The announcement of the winner of
the $25,000 Janet and Walter Sondheim Prize (which goes to a local artist), Friday night's Los Lonely Boys performance, and Saturday's Art Car parade are among this year's highlights. July 20-22, Mount Royal Avenue between Charles Street and North Avenue.
Load songs onto your iPod by musicians and bands with ties to the city and take a jog or stroll around town. For starters, we'd suggest Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher," Billie Holiday's "I Cover the Waterfront," Frank Zappa's "You Are What You Is," Philip Glass's "Glassworks," Animal Collective's "Grass," Bossman's "Oh!," Lungfish's "Fearfully and Wonderfully," John Doe's "The Losing Kind," and Ultra Nate's "It's Over Now."
Live music and duckpin bowling? Over the past few years, Seidel's Bowling Center (4443 Belair Road) and Roots Café have teamed up to present some of the best roots music shows in Baltimore—including Johnny Dowd, the Silos, the Deb Callahan Band, and Last Train Home. Music starts at 9 p.m., and the $10 cover includes bowling. Shoe rental is $1. Check rootscafe.com for upcoming shows.
Fells Point's Teavolve (1705 Eastern Avenue) is a great place to grab a light meal and a pot of tea—though the iced chai comes highly recommended this time of year—and check out artwork by the likes of Don Griffin, Larry Scott, and MICA's Warren Linn. Each month, the café also hosts Spoken Serenity: Be Free Fridays, featuring some of the area's finest spoken word poets. Cover is $5 before 8 p.m. and $10 after.
You've probably seen them on U.S. postage stamps, and now the legendary Gee's Bend quilts are coming to The Walters Art Museum this summer. On June 15, at 7 p.m., eight of the Alabama quilters will be featured in a panel discussion and book signing at the museum. Tickets are $10 and pre-registration is suggested.
Both compelling and enlightening, At Freedom's Door examines the role Maryland played in the history of slavery. Largely curated by students from MICA and Morgan State, the multi-faceted, groundbreaking exhibition continues through the summer at the Maryland Historical Society and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History and Culture.
An expanded version of the Virgin Fest returns to Pimlico Racetrack on August 4 and 5. Over the course of two days, dozens of music legends and up-and-comers will take the stage—including The Police, The Beastie Boys, Smashing Pumpkins, Modest Mouse, TV on the Radio, LCD Soundsystem, Ben Harper, Cheap Trick, Amy Winehouse, Wu Tang Clan, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Velvet Revolver, Bad Brains, Spoon, and M.I.A. General admission tickets are $175 (for both days), VIP tickets are $450.
Bands in the Sand benefits the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and features a pair of reggae bands, the Ragamuffins and On Wa. Held on the beach at CBF's Philip Merrill Environmental Center in Annapolis on June 16, the event also includes a live auction of Bay-themed artwork. Tickets are $100.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company-in-the-Ruins refers to the venue, not the state of the company. Between June 1 and July 8, the company performs the bard's As You Like It and Henry V at the ruins of the Patapsco Female Institute Historic Park in Ellicott City—a gorgeous and unusual setting for theater. The venue alone is practically worth the price of admission. Tickets ($25) and dinners can be ordered online at chesapeakeshakespeare.com. Children under 18 are free with a paying adult.
Featuring the work of painter/sculptor Les Harris, The Amaranthine Museum is one of the finest visionary art environments in our region. The museum recently relocated to 2010 Clipper Park Road and began selling memberships (family $100, individual $25) that include unlimited entry to the museum, invites to special events, and artist-guided tours of the labyrinthine gallery. Visiting with Harris—who is a spirited and opinionated raconteur of the first order—is a special treat, indeed. And the gallery is just a short walk from the Woodberry Light Rail station. Call 410-523-2574 for more info.
The world can always use another artist. With that in mind, get in touch with your inner Vermeer and enroll in a class at Zoll Studio of Fine Art in Lutherville (1500 Riderwood/Lutherville Drive Suite D). Zoll emphasizes the classical approach to painting and drawing. Classes—which generally cost $130 for four weekly sessions—are offered to students at all levels. Call 410-296-0233 or visit zollstudio.com.
For years, reports from music festivals in far away locales have generated pangs of jealousy in the hearts of local music fans. It always seemed like the best events were happening elsewhere. But this summer, not one, but two, major music festivals are coming to town: the second annual Virgin Festival and the inaugural Paetec Jazz Festival. The Virgin fest, at first glance, trumps the jazz event. A bit like California's Coachella fest, it mixes A-list superstars with more edgy fare. This year's event, a two-day affair at Pimlico Racecourse on August 4 and 5, features The Police, The Beastie Boys, and Smashing Pumpkins as headliners with a supporting cast—including Modest Mouse, Wu Tang Clan, and Amy Winehouse—that's a hipster's dream come true. It may not be Coachella, but it's pretty darn impressive and fairly pricey (a two-day pass will set you back almost $200).
The Paetec Festival, at this point, doesn't have Virgin's hipster cache, but it does have intriguing long-term potential as an annual event. Put together by the producers of the Rochester and Stockholm jazz festivals, it's slated for August 9-11. The festival will be a mix of free and ticketed events. (As of press time, festival organizers had announced the ticketed shows at Pier Six—B.B. King, Al Green, and Etta James on August 11, Earth, Wind & Fire on the 10, and Boney James and Jonathan Butler on the 9).
John Nugent, Paetec's co-producer and artistic director, sees the Rochester event as a precursor of things to come in Baltimore. "It took us a few years to establish the festival as a brand name in Rochester," says Nugent, "but it has become a signature event, generating upwards of $10 million in economic development."
Nugent says the festival's main draws are its diverse lineup and multiple venues within walking distance. This year's Rochester festival features more than 200 concerts—including shows by Dr. John, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Jerry Lee Lewis, Mamadou Diabate, Bettye LaVette, and Bill Frisell—at 18 venues, over nine days.
Nugent hopes to eventually replicate that formula here.
"We basically throw a big party everywhere we go," he says, "one that generates excitement and makes you feel good about where you live or where you're visiting."
When asked why he chose Baltimore for a major jazz festival, Nugent mentions the venues clustered around the harbor. "It's a fantastic location for the sort of festival we put on," he says.
Besides the Pier Six concerts, Paetec will present free shows at Bond Street Wharf on Thursday and Friday nights and at the Power Plant Live! plaza on all three nights of the festival. There will also be a daylong concert at Harbor Point on Saturday.
"Hopefully, the city will see the value in this event and take ownership of it," says Nugent. "Then, it can really become something special that people will plan to attend every year."
And rather than booking flights to California or New Orleans to attend first-rate music festivals, Baltimoreans can, instead, use Light Rail.
Food & Wine
With our reputation for the working-class good life, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Baltimore is home to a multitude of dining bargains. But people might be surprised to discover how luxurious our city can be, as well. Sure, we have our diners and our dollar-crab nights, but we also have our historic mansions serving fine French food, and our high-end steakhouses. We've put together a platter of tantalizing options that run the gamut of prices—and even thrown in a few free treats, too. Enjoy!
We love the free weekend wine tastings at The Wine Source (3601 Elm Ave., 410-467-7777), which offer a half-dozen examples of a chosen theme—one week it's Spanish whites, the next it's sparkling rosés. And it's not just wine—once, we snagged ourselves a nice dram of $250-a-bottle Scotch, plus the store always has samples of some of its artisanal cheeses out, as well.
Ladies' nights are a boon to the cash-strapped vixen. The best we've heard of lately is at the Italian restaurant Via Mia's (8 N. Crain Hwy., Glen Burnie, 410-760-9333), where on Tuesday and Thursday nights, unescorted women sitting at the bar get a free entrée with their drink. Go soon, though, because the place is already on its second chef and this deal may not last too long.
Wegmans (122 Shawan Rd., Hunt Valley, 410-773-3900) offers free cooking demonstrations every day in its meat, seafood, and produce departments, generally between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Not only do you get to learn new cooking techniques and recipes, but afterward you can taste a free sample of the featured dish.
Attention, birthday boys and girls: You can get a free dessert at Vaccaro's (222 Albemarle St., 410-685-4905), as long as you've brought proof of your date of birth and a friend willing to buy their own dessert to keep you company. Might we recommend their near-legendary cannoli, a slice of tiramisu, or a plate of their delectable cookies?
Any major barbecue plans should include a preliminary trip to the H&S Outlet Store (1616 Fleet St., 410-522-9323), where you can stock up on the essentials for practically pocket change. Eighteen Kaiser rolls for $3! A Berger's cake for $7! And a quarter gets you
a doughnut for the road.
True, Trinacria (406 N. Paca St., 410-685-7285) has spruced itself up a bit; employees at this tiny Italian grocery now wear uniforms, and the price-per-pound for olives has gone up from $2.99 to $4.99. But that's still a darn sight less expensive than your fancy supermarket's olive selection, and you can't beat the deals on bulk pasta, excellent frozen pizza dough, and delicious Italian cookies.
Many restaurants use midweek specials to lure diners. Two favorites: "Tuesdays with Gertie" at Gertrude's (10 Art Museum Dr., 410-889-3399), when you sample John Shields's upscale Delmarva cooking for $10 an entrée ($12 for some seafood items), as well as $18 bottles of wines; and Wednesday nights at Helen's Garden Cafe (2908 O'Donnell St., 410-276-2233), when entrées on this globally influenced New American menu are $12 each. But be warned, these nights fill up fast, so make reservations (at Gertrude's) or come early (at Helen's, which doesn't take reservations on Wednesday nights).
As crabs get scarcer, so too do dollar-crab nights. But they're still available in some places: CJ's Crabhouse and Grill (10117 Reisterstown Rd., Owings Mills, 410-363-6694) sometimes still offers the deal on Monday nights in the summer—though this summer, they may have to bump up the price to $2 a crab (call ahead to check). Obviously, these won't be the biggest crabs ever, but it's a way to get a taste of the bay without getting soaked.
The only thing better than a happy hour is a happy night. All night on Sundays and Mondays, brewpub extraordinaire The Brewer's Art (1106 N. Charles St., 410-547-6925) sells its delicious Belgian-style house beers for just $2.75 a glass. Not a beer fan? Sunday through Tuesday nights, a select number of wines go for $15 a bottle.
For $102, you can create your own six-course tasting menu from the seasonal selection of small plates of chef Cindy Wolf's sumptuous Southern-meets-French cuisine at Charleston (1000 Lancaster St., 410-332-7373). Pair your plates with selections from Tony Foreman's
impressively deep wine cellar for $40 to $80 more per person.
The only drawback to a decadent six-course meal served at a historic inn in bucolic Carroll County? The drive back home. Why not curl up right there instead—Antrim 1844 (30 Trevanion Rd., Taneytown, 410-756-6812) offers nightly packages that include afternoon tea, passed hors d'oeuvres, dinner, accommodations, and breakfast the next day. Summer pricing hadn't been finalized as of press time, but during the less popular spring season, this package ran between $140 and $190 a person.
Omakase is a Japanese word, roughly meaning "put your trust in me," but it's a common enough concept: You let the chef prepare whatever he pleases, giving up control of the meal in return for the chef's unbridled creativity. Chef Edward Kim used to host omakase nights at his old Federal Hill restaurant, Soigné. Now, rumor had it that Kim, who'd joined Saffron in 2006, was doing omakase again. Not regularly. You had to make special arrangements. And it wasn't cheap. But it could be done. I picked up the phone.
There are things you should know about arranging an omakase. (This is based on my experience, but most will hold true when ordering a "blind menu" at another restaurant.) The chef needs a couple weeks' notice. They should be scheduled for a weeknight, since the chef needs to be free of the weekend crush to make these special meals. Other than food allergies, no restrictions can be set. You need at least four people in your party. You and a manager come up with a set price, and the chef tells you how many courses that will translate into. (I opted for the bottom end of the spectrum: Just $75 per person, plus an extra $25 each for wine pairings, for four to five courses.) A deposit is required.
When I sat down at Saffron with some intrepid friends, we were jittery with excitement. We nervously sipped our glasses of champagne, waiting for the first course. We oohed and aahed when it arrived: American caviar on a paper-thin blanket of ahi tuna carpaccio. A sweet, buttery morsel of uni (sea urchin) provided the necessary richness to lace these tastes of the sea together. My friends' eyes widened. "I've never had anything like this!" marveled one. After that, we were ready for anything. The tower of sweet duck confit with earthy morel mushrooms, soft polenta cake, and tender seared duck breast; the grilled baby octopi, spread like pinwheels over arugula, thinly sliced apples, and orange sections, a warm lemon emulsion providing a bridge between the mollusks' smoky exterior and the fruit's tart sweetness.
With each course, a new glass was set before us. When our server next set down a sweet Australian dessert wine, it could only mean one thing: foie gras, on top of a fat seared diver scallop, in turn perched on a ragoût of maitake mushrooms in a foie gras reduction, dotted with caramelized apples. Generous shavings of truffle gave the dish a dusky note of mystery—and also made it truly a showcase of the most luxurious ingredients possible. Thank heavens for that dessert wine, which cut through all that richness without dominating it. And thank heavens we only had dessert left to eat.
Only then were we cut loose to pick things off a menu.
At that point, we hardly wanted to—our chef had given us so many wonderful surprises, so many unexpected combinations of flavors and textures, that we assumed he would know better than we could how we wanted to end the meal. We did, indeed, trust him. Omakase.
For $425, you can spend the day with chef Michel Tersiguel of Tersiguel's (8293 Main St., Ellicott City, 410-465-4004). But this is no day at the spa—you'll meet him at 5:30 a.m. to shop the fish and produce wholesale markets in Jessup. By 7 a.m., you'll be working in the kitchen, learning how to make your own French Country cuisine from the pros. After all that labor, you'll be ready for your last lesson: a chef's tasting menu for two, prepared by your teachers. Bon appetit!
Oh, sure, there are plenty of bars serving fancy martinis—but only The Capital Grille (500 E. Pratt St., 443-703-4064) has one that costs a cool grand. The reason for its hefty price tag? It comes with its own diamond bracelet. The profits from the sale of each "Harbor Martini" (which is available through June 30) go to Share Our Strength, a national nonprofit dedicated to fighting world hunger. And the martini istelf? It's made of Ciroc vodka, crème de mure, and fresh berries. Delicious!
It's not listed on the menu, but if you feel like seriously splashing out at The Prime Rib (1101 N. Calvert St., 410-539-1804), you can get a Chesapeake version of surf-and-turf: tender, dry-aged filet mignon with one of the swanky steakhouse's superlative crab cakes. Sure, this baby will run you $48 a la carte, but you only live once!
What could be more decadent than caviar? Mackenzie Ltd. (mackenzieltd.com) offers the full spectrum of fish-egg fantasia, from California Estate Osetra that sells for a mere $70 an ounce to the highly prized Russian Sevruga, which will set you back $104 per ounce. They also sell the finest in crystal and silver Fabergé serving dishes. And while this online business does not have a bricks-and-mortar store in which to shop, they're happy to pack your goodies and let you pick them up at their Rossville headquarters, so that you can, uh, save on shipping (or, y'know, you could just send the butler to pick it up).
Fun & Sun
Here's what we love about The Great Outdoors. It's 100 percent free—no one's charging you for a nice hike in the woods or a lazy afternoon with Iggy at the dog park. Okay, sometimes you have to pay a little bit more to enjoy some of Mother Nature's finest (camping, mini golf, berry picking) and sometimes you just may want to commune with nature like a Trump (yachting, anyone?). Think the whole outside thing is overrated? Not all summer fun has to be in the sun—we've got Free, Cheap, and Fancy tips for indoor tennis and hitting the spa, too.
Yep, you're reading that right: Ravens Training Camp (McDaniel College, Westminster, baltimoreravens.com) is free, making it just about the best pro sports experience around. Grab a spot on the covered bleachers to watch practice, or take the kids to the Ravenstown area for games and more. And after practice, most of the players linger on the field to sign autographs and joke around.
Sure, you can go all fancy at a club. But there ain't nothin' wrong with hitting the hard courts at Patterson Park and Druid Hill Park. Patterson has 10 of them, which means one is almost always open, and while they're not all pristine, most come pretty darn close. Druid's newly resurfaced courts are even better—and they have 15! There is simply no excuse not to dust off that old racquet, people!
Dogs spotted walking down Clinton Street always seem to have an extra giddy-up in their step. Why? Because they know they're approaching the Canton Dog Park (corner of S. Clinton and Toone streets.). After all, what dog wouldn't love a place where it's required to be off leash? The park is split into two sides: one for small and elderly dogs; the other for larger, more feisty dogs. But, since we've never met a pug who didn't think he was a Rottweiler, there's lots of room for interpretation.
Hikes for all ages aren't always easy to find. Which is why Cromwell Valley Park (2002 Cromwell Bridge Rd., 410-887-2503) is perfect for what kids might call "hikes" and what adults might consider "nature walks." The Limekiln and Minebank trails are especially good, with a stop at the toad pond mandatory for the youngsters. Or make your way to the Willow Grove Trail and even into Loch Raven Reservoir, which butts up against the park.
"Cheap" is a relative term in golf. Renditions Golf Course's (1380 W. Central Avenue, Davidsonville, 410-798-9798, renditionsgolf.com) $79 in-season rates might look steep, but they're still far cheaper than the famous courses—like Augusta—whose best holes have been recreated here.
"It's not even about the berries," explains Lynn Moore, co-owner of Larriland Farms (2415 Woodbine Rd., Woodbine, 410-442-2605). "It's about peace and quiet and expansive feelings." And also, well, berries. Strawberries and black raspberries and blueberries, to be specific (in late May and June). All on the farm's lush 285 acres (look out for llama crossings!). And you can't beat last year's price of $1.79 for a pound of strawberries.
The Maryland Zoo (2570 Druid Hill Ave., 410-366-5466) is another one of the city's great bargains ($15 adults; $10 children). For a little extra, you can do something really special— Breakfast with the Giraffes II! (June 23 and June 24; 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.) Forty bucks gets you a full breakfast, plus a few hours up close and personal with the zoo's long-lashed, long-necked lovelies.
You'll have a hard time trying to beat miniature golf for family fun on hot summer evenings. And whether the kids are the next Jack and Arnie or just goofing off, the three different courses at Mitchell's Golf Complex (301 Mitchell Drive, Reisterstown, 410-833-7721, mitchellsgolf.com) can make things by turns fun and challenging. Other good bets for putting through windmills are Rocky Gorge (U.S. Route 29 and Old Columbia Rd., Laurel, 301-725-0888, rockygorgegolf.com) and Night Hawk Golf Center (814 MD Rte 3 South, Gambrills, 410-721-9349, nighthawkgolfcenter.com).
You can pay an arm and a leg for the latest trendy massage at a fancy spa. But if you just need to rub out the soreness after a long workout, there are no better inexpensive options than the Holistic Massage Training Institute (1 E. University Pkwy., 410-243-4688) and the Baltimore School of Massage (6401 Dogwood Rd., Gwynn Oak, 410-944-8855). How cheap are they? A one-hour massage from one of their advanced students runs about $30-35.
Think you won't be taking the controls your first time airborne at Phoenix Aviation (Martin State Airport, 410-574-3897)? Wrong. "There are dual controls," explains Carol Schaefer, who co-owns the flight school and aircraft rental operation with her husband, Charlie. "A lot of times the instructor is holding on but the student doesn't know it." Usually, students go solo after 10 to 20 hours in the cockpit—at the instructor's discretion. Lessons run from $136 to $155 an hour.
While Charm City may not be Florida when it comes to golf courses, we do boast a few highly rated facilities, if you haven't already drained your wallet on expensive equipment, lessons, and apparel. Your $145 greens fees at Bulle Rock (320 Blenheim Ln., Havre de Grace, 410-939-8887, bullerockgolf.com) mean you'll play the same course that hosts the LPGA Championship for the third year in a row in early June.
Charter a big, fast, sleek sailboat (like a Hunter 37) from South River Boat Rentals (Sunset Dr., Edgewater, 410-956-9729) and impress your friends from Annapolis to Chestertown. It's $800 a day ($2,300 a week) for the larger yachts like the Hunter, and if you have absolutely no business driving one of these wind demons, you can hire an instructor for a day (add $200) or more until you learn (that is, until he's convinced you've learned). The skipper's cap and yacht club blazer are extra.
Earlier we extolled the joys of freebie, outdoor tennis. But let us not discount the potentially greater joys of indoor tennis, including such amenities as pro shops, exercise rooms, locker rooms, and—bless their hearts during our humid summers—climate control! Cross Keys Tennis (4 Hamill Rd., 410-433-1800) ($175 single membership, plus $24-35 court rental) and Forty West Racquet and Tennis (6421 Baltimore National Pike, Catonsville, 410-747-5683) ($165 single membership, plus $24-31 court rental) are both smashing options.
Sure, anyone can get a facial or a mani/pedi, but it takes a real kind of indulgence to buy a Spa package. Many of the spas in town do great massage/facial/nailcare combos. Check out the tempting Day of Bliss ($352) at the Renaissance Hair Studio and Day Spa (11121 York Rd., Hunt Valley, 410-527-1175), which includes a hot stone massage, a customized facial, a mani/pedi, a hair styling, a makeup application, a gourmet lunch, and a special take home gift.
If you've ever seen the water around the Inner Harbor, you'll think we're crazy for mentioning scuba diving. But the folks at Columbia Scuba (6695-C Dobbin Rd., Columbia, 410-381-1994, columbiascuba.com) will be happy to change your mind. Their splash parties are a good introduction for folks who want to get their feet wet in the sport. From there, move on to classes of varying levels held at nearby pools before signing up for one of their trips to Bonaire, the Galapagos Islands, Cozumel, and others.
Ryan McAvoy, first-time skydiver: "I'd never been skydiving before, but had always wanted to try. As a scuba instructor, I've been diving in Grand Cayman, the Bahamas, Cozumel, and the Florida Keys. I'm also an avid rock climber. So skydiving seemed like a logical next step in my adventure sports.
The place I'd heard the most about was Skydive Delmarva (32524 Aero Drive, Route 24 West, Laurel, DE, 888-875-3540, skydivedelmarva.com). Nine of their instructors have at least 2,000 skydives under their belts—a few of them with more than 6,000. And the University of Maryland Skydiving Club jumps there. The first thing I noticed about the place was how friendly everyone was. And they all took their turns with good-natured bantering. 'It's not dangerous at all,' one of the instructors joked. 'Deadly, but not dangerous.' But I'd seen the safety numbers and knew that, while it's a sport with obvious risks involved, you're probably safer in mid-air than you are on the 2-hour drive from Baltimore. (I mean, have you seen the way people drive these days?)
A tandem first jump meant that I'd be securely harnessed to an instructor with a parachute pack. All I'd have to do would be to smile for the camera and enjoy the view. My instructor, Joe Manlove, ran down the basics and got me into the harness and before I knew it, I was standing around waiting next to the grass landing strip. On the way up, Joe pointed out various sites, including the rows of high-rise condos visible in Ocean City, 35 miles away. When the pilot rang the first buzzer, goggles went on and high fives began. As the pilot sounded the second buzzer, people ahead of me started leaping from the open door. And then it sank in.
People were leaping from the open door of a plane.
When my turn came, I was surprised at how much trepidation I felt. This is it, I thought. As the photographer tumbled out in front of us, we followed, and there I was, two and a half miles above the ground with nothing but a guy named Manlove strapped to my back.
At first, it felt like rock climbing from an extreme height on an invisible rope with no way to control your belay. It didn't feel like falling, as I'd imagined. It felt like the scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory where Charlie and his grandpa are burping and floating. But the wind was incredible—for the record, my cheeks don't always look like they do in that photo.
The landing itself felt like jumping off a step stool, which is exactly what they'd promised it'd feel like. I was home in Columbia by one that afternoon. Certainly not a bad way to start the day. And yes, I would definitely jump—pun intended—at the chance to do it again."