Shiny Metal Tiger

Experiences in Baltimore, MD

Archive for March 2010

Fuel My Fire

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Finally, after three entire days spent at the Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, I’ve managed to procure a Maryland license and get my car registered. The trouble comes from the amount of paperwork required to get anything done, the arbitrary way in which the validity of said paperwork is evaluated and of course the amount of people needing to get something done there. To get a license, you need:

  1. Source documents proving your age and identity
  2. Documentation of a valid, verifiable social security number
  3. Source documents for lawful status in the US
  4. Two source documents proving Maryland residency

The first time I went, I’d called in advance to ask whether I could have my bank print out a statement to use for item #4, which was fine they said. Only when I got there, it wasn’t fine. So I tried to get my vehicle registered at least, but alas, I was missing another document, the release from lien obtainable from Toyota Financial Services. So I had to wait to get a bank statement in the mail (and the letter from Toyota), since I didn’t have access to any of the other documents for residency (credit card bill, tax returns, voter registration card etc.). Back to the MVA to go through the famously rigorous US driver’s tests, which I promptly proceeded to fail. My written test was flawless, as was the parallel park etc., but leaving the training course I screamed past a stop sign at a ludicrous speed of approximately 2 inches per hour, which was an instant fail condition.

Note the stolen hubcap: Baltimore style.

So I got to drive home, in the same car I’d failed the test in (perfectly legal, since my Danish license was still valid), and think about the error of my ways. Went back the next day, better prepared this time, and got the license. Which in my mind marks my official status change to a rolling stone on the American highway, and thus prompts me to post a picture of my pimp ride.

It’s a far cry from the 1969 Corvette Stingray I’d imagined myself in during my stay here, but on the bright side I can do two normal work weeks on a 25$ tank of gas (which of course gets even better for roadtrips). And more importantly, given the way people (myself included) park here, I’d be living in constant fear of scratches if I had the ‘vette. So for now, this is a great solution.

So I’ve got a ride now, how about driving? Ok, waay too obscure… I’m referring to the song by Incubus, which is basically about remaining true to yourself, choosing your own path in life and following it with integrity. Great song. In fact, I’m going to listen to it right now…

Written by Martin

2010/03/31 at 17:17

Posted in New toys

Can it

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I was shopping for a salad this Monday, and as usual started wandering around, browsing pretty much any food-related item in the supermarket. Walking past the immense amount of pre-spiced beans and cans of Manwich, I stopped at a section I’d usually dismissed subconsciously as something for other people: the canned soups.

There’s tonnes of them here, Campbell’s alone makes 81 varieties by my count: tomatoes, lentils, creamy, chicken, chunky or condensed, low-fat, with pasta, oriental-style… I’ve never eaten a can of soup in my life, though.

I’m not sure how the idea came to me, I can only assume that it tore through the vacuum of space at the speed of thought, and struck my able brain as a thunderbolt of inspiration: I can get dirt-cheap lunches, while having both a new and distinctly American experience, by eating these canned soups at work. Additionally, carefully picked cans could provide a good amount of protein after going to the gym here, and it would save a lot of time preparing or going to buy lunch.  Plus, I can store some here without them going bad, so that I’ll never be lunchless.

My enthusiasm dropped somewhat after looking at the contents of a typical can, however. Even avoiding the fatty ones, there’s an immense amount of sodium in these things, and often other additives as well. There are reduced sodium versions of some of the Campbell’s soups, but they’re still pretty bad, plus it really limits selection.

So I’m calling upon you all: can anyone suggest a healthier choice of canned soups? I realize that making my own soup is the best option for nutrition and taste, but that’s not the point of this experience. So keep it canned. And while I’ll gladly pay more for something healthier, $5+ gourmet cans would also be contrary to the intent.

Written by Martin

2010/03/26 at 17:46

Posted in Food

Westside

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This weekend my dad came to visit, since he had business in New York. Friday night was a standard evening full of good times: First, dinner at Bertha’s Mussels (Eat Bertha’s Mussels!). They have fantastic mussels with a variety of sauces, and probably the best crabcakes I’ve tried. Then on to Birds of a Feather, a lovely local scotch whiskey bar. Come closing time proceed to Carducci’s, a new bar just down the street from us, featuring 1$ Natty Bohs (hm, you don’t know what Natty Bohs are. Stay tuned for future blog post). Made lots of new friends, including the bartender Chris who claims to make the best Long Islands in town, and to be a great kisser… naturally, as the evening progresses we invite our new friends back to the rooftop deck for more drinks, singalong blues guitar and other escapades.

All of this is really just a prelude for the point of the post, which is imminent. On Saturday, we had a nice brunch down by the harbor, and checked out some of the quirky stores in Fell’s Point. But after all these nice things, I felt obligated to show some of the less appealing but far more common parts of Baltimore. So we took a ride to the West side, with doors locked. Here’s some of what we saw:

You don't really want to stop the car to take pictures

Not what it used to be

Once you get out to what I imagine used to be nice suburban neighborhoods, you see some really great buildings, fallen completely into disrepair. It’s pretty odd. And of course there’s little incentive for any investors to improve the area, so the decline continue. You see lots of rubble where a building has collapsed and nobody has bothered to reconstruct, and countless boarded up houses.

Nobody home...

There area 637,455 people in Baltimore City, and 239 homicides per year.  That’s six times as many murders per capita as New York City, or three times more than LA. 0.0375% of the population murdered yearly; at first it sounds like a really small number, and compared to say Mexico, it probably is. But when you think about it, that’s roughly one in 3000 people living in the city, murdered. Every year. So live there for 30 years, and you have a 1% chance of getting shot.

Well, obviously not, because the crime isn’t spread evenly. But it’s something to keep in mind; while the areas of Bmore I frequent are honestly fantastic, most of the city is pretty much a slum. Don’t go west, young man, and grow up with the country!

Written by Martin

2010/03/23 at 19:26

Posted in Places, Uncategorized

The Mystery Mansion

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Last night saw the official unveiling and christening of our place, the Mystery Mansion.

Ok, so the name hasn’t quite caught on yet, but I’m working on it. I mean, where else would the Mystery Men reside? It’s only a matter of time. Meanwhile, the housewarming was an absolute blast. I’d spent most of the day preparing snacks, which supplemented the chili con carne, onion soup and Trinidadian shrimp wontons. Honestly we went a bit overboard, but at least we have food for the next week.

Prepping snacks for the housewarming

Liberal application of white russians (and Slovakians), dry martinis, champagne, etc. led to a splendid evening of fun and games, music and enjoyment. By the time we started slowing down dawn was approaching, so we concluded the festivities by watching the sunrise from the rooftop deck. Or we would have, but for the cloud cover. In reality we mostly watched the sky become gradually lighter, which does have its own understated kind of charm.

Written by Martin

2010/03/14 at 20:55

Posted in Uncategorized

Silver Lining

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Even with all the crack-heads and potholes, Baltimore occasionally shines.

Written by Martin

2010/03/11 at 23:35

Posted in Uncategorized

O America

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Here is the first of what will probably be a long series of posts celebrating the marvels of American culture. Enjoy.

The Raven, signature sub at Chaps Pit Beef. Featuring turkey, corned beef, pit beef, swiss cheese and whatever condiments you put on it. At least 300g of meat in this thing. Tasty.

Double whammy parking fail outside of Walmart

"You're no idiot. Some of the foods you've read about in the Bible sound pretty tempting. But when it comes to preparing them yourself, well, you may as well try to turn water into wine. Take a leap of faith! This handy guide is the answer to your prayers - with more than 70 recipes based on the Laws of Moses."

Written by Martin

2010/03/09 at 22:29

Posted in Uncategorized

IKEA

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Had a slow Saturday, following a birthday party that went to the edge and beyond. One thing Pete & I did manage to do, though, was go to IKEA to try and remedy the rampant lack of furniture in our rooms. At first I was a bit skeptical; approaching IKEA, the familiar blue and yellow box was oddly adorned with flags of colors that were neither blue nor yellow! There was white and red, didn’t feel right at all. There was even an “Entrance” sign with red letters!

Once we got inside, however, it was good old Swedish IKEA, with little areas guiding everyone through the showrooms like bleating sheep, forcing them to look at everything in the store even if they just want to get a new pillow. And of course all the furniture was exactly the same, at more or less the same prices. In fact, after being in there for 10 minutes, I’d forgotten that I was in Baltimore, and found myself wondering what the hell all the Americans were doing there.

In the end I just got some hangers and a shoe horn, will come back next weekend or so after making a more detailed plan for the room and checking craigslist for more colorful alternatives. We did however have a fabulous plate of meatballs in the restaurant, for the ridiculous price of 1$ (or so they advertised. With tax it was annoyingly one dollar and six cents…).

And you thought the Swedish IKEA was cheap

Written by Martin

2010/03/07 at 01:08

Posted in Uncategorized