Mount Vernon’s Stories

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Outside the South corner of the Washington Monument

By Lia Harris

Finding a place that is interesting to you or just enough to write about seems so easy on the surface, until you realize how you have to write the article. Desperate to find a story, I decide to write about the first journey I take. Being that I’m from Baltimore this journey happened to take place right in my backyard – this place is Mount Vernon.  The journey began with a little fun, then a little food and ended with a workout.

The Journey to Mount Vernon

The original plan is to go to my twin cousins’ 21st hotel birthday party to celebrate with them. It had been a while since we’d seen each other.

On this chilly September night, my best-friend, Tasia, and I are headed towards downtown, Baltimore. Nothing seems to be going as planned on this day. It began with three of us and ended with just us two.

We were in the mirror preparing for a lady’s night out – make-up in hand, on the counter, on our faces. Our friend Zana comes in – too drunk to function – dressed up in a black leather shirt and skirt, but her face is bare. I can’t tell if she’s ready or not.

As intoxicated as she is, she goes from a confession of loving us to tears. We change her clothes, leave her in bed, and finally head out.

You would think we are heading towards fun, but the night only gets weirder. The wind decides to join the “Slow Lia and Tasia down” club, blowing through us like a ghostly invasion. Luckily, the car is close to the building.

When we finally reach the hotel, the night is dark, the streets only lit by the orange glowing street lights along the side walk. We are barely clothed, jacket in car, white thin crop top, and blue MC hammer pants. The wind rips through me as my pants blow out like two air balloons catching the attention of a woman passing by.

We finally reach the hotel entrance which is guarded by some interesting fellows hanging out between a car and the building. There are three brown-skinned men, one closer to the hotel door, and two beside the car on our right.

They attempt to talk to us but we aren’t interested. I play nice hoping they’ll remain friendly.

“What’s your name?”

“Lia.”

Tasia pushes me in the entrance door, shaking her head.

We walk pass the front desk pretending to know where we are going. Beside the elevator door is a white man and a woman in their early to mid-40s, and a third person farther down the hall. They all appear to be drunk, each at different levels. The man slowly walking at the end of hall seems to be the most intoxicated. The woman calls to the man down the hall, “Are you coming?” My finger pushes the “up” button.

Again. “Are you coming?” He’s too drunk to comprehend the question he’s being asked.

“No. Forget him,” the man beside her says very irritated by her persistence. The door opens. We step in.

“Ok!” in a naïve child-like voice she agrees. He looks at me, rolling his eyes. It is obvious he is trying to get her alone. After one stop they get off. Tasia looks at me giggling and says, “They could have walked up the stairs for all that!” It’s funny, we laugh.

The elevator doors slides apart, and there stands Staci, while two other girls stand over each shoulder. Their eyes are blood red, and they point us to the right, showing us where the party is. They get on the elevator. Now I know what kind of party this is. The smell of cannabis seeps through the door before we even open it. As we open the door the fumes capture us and hold us in a daze.

Tasia and I look at each other. I flash a crazy look at her. She flashes one back.

This isn’t what we expected…

In front of us about nine people from my high school. Great one little high school reunion!

I whisper to Tasia, “I’m going to say Happy Birthday, and then we’re leaving” – embarrassed that I brought her here.

“Ok. I’m ready when you are!” sensing my emotions she replied indifferently to ease my embarrassment.

Stephanie, the other twin is too out of it to even realize I’m speaking to her. After one Jello shot we’re out.

Back into the cold, off to find a new adventure! An escape from all the weird phenomena happening. Our escape is Mount Vernon’s Grand Central, originally known as Central Station Pub.

Night Life: Clubs in Mount Vernon

This scene seems to have more lighting, in addition to the orange street lights leading us to this club on the corner are yellow lights beaming from the building itself. Mount Vernon, home of the Baltimore’s Pride Parades since 1975, became a place for the LGBT community in the 1970s. I’m not surprised when Tasia tells me it is a gay bar – although I’ve never been to one, and I don’t know what to expect.

Would there be all gay males or all gay females, transgender or a mixture?

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Tasia and I in Grand Central Night Club

I love checking off new experiences, just to say “I’ve done that!” The only experience I’ve had with a gay bar was an episode of “Law and Order: SVU.” This was bound to be an exciting night, at this point! The windy September night. Half-naked women…maybe men, maybe transvestites. The club is a lair of the unknown roaming with the known. I feel like Columbus about to discover what many have already discovered.

To my surprise there is mixture of everyone. Some people look like straight couples, maybe with a gay friend alongside them. Mount Vernon has created a place where homosexual and heterosexual were irrelevant terms. People are just people here. There are people everywhere.

The club opened as Central Station in 1991, and then renovated and reopened as Grand Central in February of 2003. The central theme here is that they’re right in the center of things. When they remodeled they created a double bar disco, a dance floor, and the upstairs lounge, where we are heading.

We stop at the bar on the first floor and get a drink. Tasia orders for me – I’m not really a spirits kind of gal. We head up the stairs dancing at each step making our way to the dance floor. This dark dance floor is mainly lit by the lights surrounding the bar and the colored LED lights from the ceiling.

I observe my surroundings as we’re dancing, curious to see the kind of people I’d meet or simply see. In the corner, near the bar I see three girls, one guy. One of the girl’s eyes are open so wide, she seems completely out of it or completely into it.

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Grand Central Night Club: The Distinguished Alternative

It is Tasia’s suggestion to write about Mount Vernon, and when she realizes what I’m typing in the notes section of my phone, we look at each other and simultaneously make a silly face. We both start looking for a story in the groups of people around us. There’s a group of shirtless guys in a circle by the bar. A group just talking. A group texting. A group dancing. And a group whose fun is dying down. The excitement of the possible story I might find runs through my veins!

We walk over and sit at the middle of the bar. To my right I see a guy grinding the air in front of him and really enjoying the invisible booty he’s rubbing. Tasia taps me, waking me from the trance to show me the cherry stem she tied.

Looking for the guy and his invisible date, I find a story that reminds me of a “Law and Order SVU” episode, when the married men sneak out to gay bars to have their way with private fantasies. There’s an old, heavy-set guy, about 50, wearing a brown shirt, nerdy square glasses, and sitting at the other side of bar. He looks like someone’s dad, or someone’s husband… I wonder if his wife knows he’s here? There’s a young guy, about 25-30 lying with his back pressed against the older gentleman’s gut. The tight pants and tight tank top give away the young man’s sexual orientation… if the body-to-body action didn’t.

For a second I look down at my phone. When I look up there are two guys in front of the older gentleman now. This new fellow (Guy 2) appears to be a friend of the first fellow (Guy 1). Words are exchanged between the old guy and Guy 2, they’re too far from me to hear, but actions speak louder than words. The old guy grabs the bottom of Guy 2’s shirt as he lifts his hands above his head, rolling the shirt up.

To think that everyone is in their own element, unaware of their surroundings, their comfort with the unknown baffles me. My fear of losing control wouldn’t allow me to ignore my surroundings. No one else appears to see this or even care. Should they care, or is that what’s wrong with our society? Everyone is so eager to control what someone else is doing. Has Mount Vernon just created a place where there is no need to be concerned or judgmental?

The old guy lifts the shirt right above his nipples and then…nothing. They laugh and he pulls his shirt back down. A trending song comes on, Tasia and I get up to dance, and they disappear into the crowd…

Food and Eats in Mount Vernon

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Inside the Mount Vernon Market Place

Mount Vernon’s Night Life is fun, but what’s it like in the day time? During the week I find time to venture about the day life. The question is where to go? Who to talk to? As a first time travel writer, I not comfortable with going completely out of my comfort zone, so I ask a friend, who decides to give me some ideas on where to go.

Kelsey seems more excited about it than I expect. She starts showing me picture of the Peabody Library and listing lots of places for me to visit, including Dooby’s, the Walter’s Art Museum, and the Bun Shop.

“You should have taken this class!” I tell her.

She laughs. “I just really love Mount Vernon!… Oh! Oh Lia! They have the bike share…”

She continues. I make plans to see the Mount Vernon she’s in love with. First stop, the Market place!

The wind rips through my clothes, the smell of rotten eggs fill my nostrils, the sound of construction breaks my focus. It’s such a simple building on the outside and so beautiful on the inside. The windows are decorated with the silhouette of bread, plates, utensils and wine bottles. Inside is unexpected. There is such a vintage yet moderate feel to it; it is nothing like I’ve seen before in Baltimore. So clean… Different food venders are sporadically placed. The Local Oyster, Cultured, Pinch, Taps and FUL are just a few names of places I see.

I stop at FUL.

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FUL’s Egyptian Tea

“Talk to me,” pointing at the seat in front of him, Ted, a young business owner says to me. He is from Eritrea, raised in Ohio but moved to Baltimore to open up his Mediterranean restaurant. I tell him that I am writing about Mount Vernon and that I am looking for people to interview. He offers me some herbal tea that looks like liquid caramel, smells of cinnamon, and taste like ginger—he tells me it’s Egyptian.

While Ted is a very kind gentlemen, he is more focused on promotion of the restaurant than telling me about Mount Vernon.

“I have to find an angle…like a topic, a theme, a story to follow… What should be the theme?” I asked him.

“Well it’s more of like light, healthy, cultural… that’s pretty much our theme. So everything here is pretty authentic.” I snicker at the fact that he’s talking about his restaurant and not Mount Vernon. He does tell me that the Market Place has been open for a little over a year and that he moved here to start the restaurant when it opened.

“What do you like most about being here? No! what do you like least…least?”

“I guess being extremely competitive. There ain’t no unity vibe in here… Everybody just… instead of saying ‘Hey I see you got pastries over there maybe you’d like our Ethiopian coffee to go with your stuff. And you just make me a unique pastry and I sell your stuff here.’” Referring to the Pastry booth across from his restaurant booth, Ted wants to create a joint venture to increase business. However, none of the other restaurant owners even want talk to him.

I find this interesting, thinking back to Kelsey’s impression of this place. Many customers saw Mount Vernon as a very cultural and diverse place. At the same time this cultural and diverse place was segregated amongst the cultures.

Mount Vernon’s Monument

One… Nine… 24… 107… 113… Half way there, pacing myself as I climb the 227 steps of the Washington Monument. Talking to myself as I go up the stairs, wondering what I got myself into. Two days before I’d gone online and purchased a ticket for what I thought would be a tour around Mount Vernon. The tab I clicked on said “Visit,” so I assumed it was a visit of the town. Silly me. This was one of those thing you must research beforehand because my legs were numb before I knew it.

When I arrived the gentleman already knew my name. Not many customers, I assume.

“You’re going nine times around the center column, every time you make a spiral there’s a wider step… Most people say it’s easier coming down than going up, so that what you have to look forward to.” One of the worker tells me in a very melancholy voice.

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The Marked Step in the Mount Vernon Monument

“Awesome!” I say as I walk through the door and find myself in this spooky narrow stairwell. By the 18th step I’m out of breathe. By the 21st step I see a carving, “E.T.” – someone decided to carve their initials into the stairs. We all must leave our mark somewhere in this world. Once I reach the half way sign, I realize it is too late to turn back as my anxiety level starts rising.

This monument, in honor of George Washington, had been designed by Robert Mills in 1814, started in 1815 and finished by 1829. The original location was supposed to be on Calvert Street, however, the residence were afraid the monument would fall onto their homes during a natural disaster. The monument it now located on Washington Place, two miles away. By 1829, Charles Howard, John Eager Howard’s son, build the first house on the northeast square around the monument. Now there is a complete town around the monument – there are some brave people in this world.

In June of 2010 the monument had been close due to safety Hazards, however in October of 2010 someone drove their car through the southeast corner. I guess they really want to get in. Their impatience caused the renovation to go from three months to two years. It reopened in 2012.

Near the top there’s a sign “Twenty-five to go — Almost there!” At this time I can see light! And even hear voices! People! Now for the dreadful part, going down… I couldn’t get out of there fast enough. Coming down I feel like I’m going to fall. Nearing the half way mark I hear elderly voices. Lord, I hope I don’t fall on them and we all tumble down these stairs.

Turning side-ways with my back pressed against a wall, I let the elderly couple pass me. Finally reaching the end of this tight-space-spiral, seemingly never-ending cave, I quicken my pace… and my breathing as well, terrified that I won’t get out. As I see the end I jump over the last three steps and begin breathing normally.

Well check that off the list. I can say I’ve done that… and I’m never doing it again.

I wonder what other Mount Vernon Stories I can find next…

 

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