February 9, 2013, Water Street
After 16 games on a half-dozen different pinball machines—including a wooden-rail, Art Deco beauty from 1958—the National Pinball Museum’s “old” pinball machine tournament comes down to the final ball of the last game. Greg Giblin, a 56-year-old Baltimore plumber, jostling the machine for good caroms, and Mike McGann, 37, a Zen-like, software engineer, both lead 48-year-old software analyst Jack Hendricks by a wide margin.
Crouching, with his left foot forward, Hendricks catches the silver ball with his right flipper, holds it a second, and then sends it ripping through a spinner up the right side—racking 100 points for each rotation. He tries again and misses once, but then spins it twice in a row with deft shots from his left flipper. Next, in almost perfect succession, he cuts down three “drop targets” on the machine’s top left side with pops from his right flipper.
Eventually, the machine gives in, discharging a single, loud “knock”—indicating bonus points, a free game, and victory for Hendricks.
“Good ball,” says McGann.
“That’s it,” says Giblin. “You got it.”
Like many of the 40 registered players, Hendricks also competes in a Free State Pinball Association league, which reports tournament results to an international governing body. “I’m ranked 1,844 in the world,” he laughs, putting his career pinball earnings at $78.
“I grew up playing at the Greyhound terminal in Sunbury, PA, biking from my grandparents’ house, while my mother worked. I’ve got some of the same model machines I played there in my own basement now—set up in the same order that they were at the bus terminal.”
Editor’s note: The National Pinball Museum subsequently closed its doors March 3 after a leasing dispute.
February 14, 2013, Druid Hill Park
Inside the Maryland Zoo’s chandeliered Mansion House, schmoozing among 90 couples in suits and cocktail dresses, Jane Scheffsky shares several chuckles with a laughing kookaburra, sitting on a volunteer’s arm. With a spot-on imitation of the bird’s crazy, Woody Woodpecker laugh, Scheffsky keeps prompting the fowl into faster, louder chortling. “I lived in Australia [the kookaburra’s native country],” smiles Scheffsky, the zoo’s assistant director of group sales, explaining the rapport with her new friend.
Nearby, a woman misunderstands, momentarily, that a girlfriend was not referring to her husband when she was overheard commenting on another guest’s body odor. “Oh, I wasn’t talking about Todd,” the friend apologizes. “I was talking about the porcupine.”
The couples are here, however, not just to meet a few animals over hors d’ oeuvres and Chardonnay, but for a Valentine’s Day lecture, the Sounds of Sex.
Lindsay Jacks, a zoo animal keeper, delivers her presentation, with accompanying videos of mallards, macaques, and whooping cranes—who mate for life—and other species, in the caterwauling throes of copulation. She highlights a male mouse, standing on his hind legs, singing “like Barry White” to woo a female partner. She notes kinkier behavior as well, such as a penguin stopping to gawk at two other penguins having sex in public, so to speak. She shows a clip of “panda porn” used to encourage the seemingly cuddly bears, who have only a small window of fertility.
Later, she notes female primates will, at times, consciously increase their volume of noise to “help” male partners ejaculate sooner rather than later.
“I think, we have all been there ladies,” says Jacks, originally from Alabama, with a Southern drawl. “For me, it’s usually so I can watch The Walking Dead, and it’s coming on in 10 minutes.”
February 17, 2013, Jarrettsville Pike, Monkton
On a blustery Sunday, Sheryl Pedrick leads a maple sugaring tour—mostly parents and their little kids—at Ladew Topiary Gardens, noting that 50 years ago, the gardens’ founder, Harvey S. Ladew, placed several sugar maples up the hill, purely for aesthetic reasons. But blowing seeds from those trees produced other maples in the woods away from the gardens—now, decades later, old enough to be tapped.
Jocelyn Weinbaum and sister Courtney Nurre, who grew up in Vermont, have brought their husbands and children. Each mom fills a gallon jug of sap to turn into syrup at home. “My mother made syrup in our kitchen,” Nurre says. “We used to pour it into the snow and eat it like candy.”
Traipsing through the mud, Pedrick shows the kids how to use a hand drill to make a hole in a tree and insert a tap, known as a spile. Another volunteer demonstrates how the watery sap is boiled over an open fire, down to a sweet-smelling consistency. But it’s also cold. Finally, Pedrick asks if everyone’s ready to go inside to eat pancakes with 100-percent Ladew maple syrup. The group, except for Nurre’s young son, enthusiastically nods their heads.
“I’m still chewing my gum,” he says.