The Best People Are Bonkers: Remembering Baltimore Jack
Many times along the trail, I feel like Alice in Wonderland.
I follow my own version of the White Rabbit, have a vague sense of purpose and run into some interesting characters. My tie dye town dress isn’t suited for a traditional tea party but it makes the Mad Hatter’s Un-birthday Party feel like a real possibility. Meeting Baltimore Jack fit right into this side of the looking glass.
Shuttling away in a van with a blue velvet interior, Ron Havens opened up the town of Franklin, North Carolina for me. This was his town, his business and his love. “I like to help y’all because the simple fact is, I’m a hiker too.” He drawled amicably.
We got a room where there was availability, Hiker’s Den. The man behind the counter sold us a room and loaded us up with soap and towels. This was the manager, Baltimore Jack. I knew of Jack from the planning stages of this adventure. I used one of his mail drop guides as the foundation for ours. I wasn’t just in awe of this trailebrity, I was grateful.
Baltimore Jack wasn’t a tall man or a young man. He didn’t reek of ex-military bravado nor did he have the overwhelming gentility of an ivy league college professor. He was not a disconnected flower child or rebellious environmentalist. Like the Cheshire Cat’s smile, he was a mystery you could engage with.
Stone faced at a computer, I began to fill out my Smokies permit. Mamie was getting her knee looked at and I was anxious over the potential results. This was my attempt to be productive. Jack sat at a nearby desk offering support and advice, perhaps trying to shake my gloom in between checking new guests in. I asked him about his life before the trail, his family, politics. Eventually, he asked me about school. Everyone does because I’m “around that age” and a lot of folks on the AT are taking a gap year or have just graduated. I push my tongue against the back of my teeth defensively, habitually. “Theatre” I say evenly. “I’m a director and a writer.”
Before even leaving college, I learned to brace myself for the negative reactions regarding my degree, my dreams, my life.
I understand that most people are not trying to make me feel that I’m irresponsible and destined for unhappiness and starvation. Their comments about the economy, stability, and back up plans come from a place of care, concern and ultimately, fear for my well being. But bracing myself for the unwarranted criticism is all I can do at this point. I can’t say I don’t care, not yet.
Jack doesn’t mention the the economy or stability or a back up plan. Instead he asks me about my three favorite plays (Long Days Journey Into Night, How I Learned to Drive, and Much Ado About Nothing). We talk about how fascinating Iago is and make a few jokes at Othello’s expense. He starts telling me about Robert Bolt, the screenwriter for classics like A Man For All Seasons, Dr. Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, The Bounty and The Mission. The Smokies permit abandoned, we watch the opening scene of The Mission together. As a crucified missionary priest plummets over a waterfall, I realize that I’ve found one of my people in this upside down, well-marked world. Baltimore Jack didn’t look at me like a dirty, irresponsible child in a tie dye dress with no goals and no future. He looked at me like I could be the next Robert Bolt, a writer of big, important work.
Well, he was wearing sunglasses, so I can’t be sure. But it felt like that was how he was looking at me.
He scrawled some reading and viewing suggestions on white lined paper and ripped it from a notebook, much like Alice’s notes that told her what to eat and what to drink. Notes that would offer direction on how to make herself smaller or bigger depending on which world she found herself in.
“We’ll see you in Maine.” Jack tells me on my way out. “You don’t b*tch and you’re doing good miles.”
When things get tough, I find myself thinking of Jack. At first it was more of a “Oh my god. Jack was so wrong about me. He couldn’t have know X was going to happen. Or that I’d feel Y.” Until it hit me. He did. He hiked the AT 9 times. Of course he knew I was going to get rained on, doubt myself, get blisters etc. And this simple realization has helped. A lot.
Though it breaks my heart to know he’s passed, I am appreciative of our time together and the things he did to encourage me to stay the course.
Happy Trails, Friend.
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Theatre people matter! Hang in there! I look forward to reading your posts….
“They are a different people, a multi-talented people,
a people…who need people and who are, in many ways, the luckiest people in the world!” Thanks commenting and reading Steve!
Loved it! Very touching and inspiring!!