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When I chose the Spencer Inn for my stay in Cooperstown, I had two criteria: a hotel with a vacancy and a room for a rate that someone like me who isn’t among the rich and famous could afford.

The Spencer Inn was my first stay at a bed and breakfast and I fear that it will make any future B&Bs pale in comparison. The Inn is run by the owner Karl and his wife Christina. It is situated at the top of a long unkempt grassy hill that emerges into a neatly manicured lawn that eventually culminates with the Inn standing tall above the road. The red walkway to the house greets visitors like a welcoming red-carpet, bordered by trim landscaped trees and flowers. Mature rhododendrons line the perimeter of the wrap-around deck that provides ample seating for guests wishing to drink in the peaceful view. The best part is the hosts who operate their Inn with love and care. Friendly and accommodating, they are dedicated to ensuring their guests are comfortable and enjoy their stay.

The Inn itself is decorated with antiques and has the charm of your best friend’s guest room. Our small bathroom was shared by the guests of an adjacent room, with a small shared hallway between us. The bedroom was decorated with a small antique vanity very much like one I used to own, a small television, two night stands and a double bed. In the morning, the skylight allowed the sun to illuminate the room, waking us to sunshine instead of an alarm. One night, during a fierce thunderstorm, the skylight delivered flashes of light that danced into the room as the rain pounded the glass above, reminding us of mother nature’s awesome power. It was a delicious way to be in nature while still remaining dry, snuggly, and protected.

The charm of the Inn and it’s owner would have been enough for me to love it, but with the breakfasts, I considered squatting, never leaving, requiring law enforcement to forcibly evict me. From the Czech Republic, Karl delights his guests with a delicious European, old world talent for homemade, fresh food. The first day we were greeted with a delicious moist homemade cake, a quiche, sausage, a side of fruit salad, coffee, and our choice of orange or grapefruit juice. The second morning was even better: including the juice and coffee option, we had a choice of omelet or banana pancakes, a homemade strudel, and a side of fruit salad. I opted for the banana pancakes and they were delicious, moist in the right places and just a little crunchy around the outside. Yum-yum-yummy. (You’re beginning to see why I didn’t want to leave now?) By the third morning, when it seemed impossible that there could be an improvement, it got even better! We had a choice of banana pancakes again or one of three kinds of omelet. I can’t tell you what two of the choices were because everything left my mind after I heard the word “crab.” This Baltimore-raised girl’s mouth started salivating immediately, as is programmed in my DNA from the several generations of native Baltimoron ancestors who preceded me. And I praise heaven that they bestowed on me the great gift of growing up in that fine crab and Orioles oriented city. My crab omelet was filled with chunks of crab meat (but no Old Bay – you can’t have everything), and was accompanied by a fruit-filled crepe.

Do you see how much willpower it took to vacate? I returned home to breakfasts of jam-covered English muffins, something that I found to be a perfect upgrade to toast until my stay at the Spencer Inn revealed just how sad and inadequate my weekday breakfasts are.

Another one of my favorite things about staying at the Spencer Inn is that, because of it’s proximity to Cooperstown, all the other guests during our stay were also there for Induction weekend. The intimate atmosphere of the dining room affords the chance to become acquainted with the other guests. When we were done talking about baseball, which we all had in common, we discussed our other interests, a smooth and easy transition after bonding immediately over America’s greatest past time. The leisurely conversation over breakfasts reminded one of how we used to live our lives before we allowed someone to convince us to go at such a hurried pace day after day. By our departure on Monday we had made some new friends and were sad that we didn’t have more time to get to know each other.

While I believe my husband enjoyed the vacation, it will take a lot of bribing with a reward of which I cannot at the moment conceive to convince him to return to Cooperstown again. When and if we do return, I hope to stay at the Spencer Inn again, and I hope that our new friends from San Bernandino and the other Orioles fans from Baltimore are all there together. I hope we have time to enjoy some of the delicious Ommegang brews while chatting lazily on the deck, taking in the scenery, and just enjoying life the way it was meant to be lived, with time to catch a breath.

Pictures of the Spencer Inn here.

Saturday, July 26, 2008, Cooperstown, NY. Induction Weekend.

Visiting Cooperstown this year wasn’t just a different experience than for Cal and Gwynn’s induction, it was a different city. This year, at 10:00 a.m., a handful of people milled about and cars traveled Main street. Last year, at 7:30 a.m., there was already a twenty minute wait for a table at breakfast and Main street, closed to traffic, was crowded with swarms of fans wearing orange (and some wearing brown and gold). Last year, 75,000 fans descended onto little Cooperstown, far more than the previous 50,000 record. This year, there were only 6,000 fans. On this visit to the Hall of Fame, there was room to stand with arms akimbo, to stand leisurely looking inside the display cases, to move more than a few shuffling steps at a time. This year there was no rushing, no waking at obscene hours to hurry into town in order to find a parking space, no worrying (much anyway) about missing anything. As we wandered lazily into stores we enjoyed the copious space in the aisles, had the luxury of browsing unhurriedly through stacks of baseball cards, took our time finding souvenir t-shirts. For lunch, we were seated without a wait, and ate leisurely on Lake Otsego, no pressure to rush to free up our table, no long lines outside the restaurant. There was no navigating through crowds, no pulling arms and packages tight to the body to not bump into others. Saturday night, Cooley’s Bar was unrecognizable from the party venue of last year. Instead of elbow to elbow Orioles, and a smattering of Ys fans, there were a handful of patrons and empty seats.

My husband worried about me sporting my orange and black on an induction weekend honoring a Y. “Are you sure that’s okay?” I assured him that there was nothing that would persuade me to wear anything else, though I expected to be one of the few in Orioles attire. Surprisingly, I was just one among many. We greeted each other with cheery smiles and simple nods of appreciation. We stopped each other in the street and discussed how long we had been following the team, how we became fans, and who made the deepest impression on us. We asked each other, “Were you here last year?” and we all were. Couldn’t miss it, of course. “Bit different, isn’t it!” we agreed.

My favorite Orioles fans were the ones I met at Doubleday Field. Father Bob and son Bob. Father Bob has followed the Orioles since they became the Orioles. He’s elderly now and a bit hard of hearing. I wish he lived down the street so I could visit with lemonade and listen to his memories. Son Bob reminisced about Memorial Stadium and an ice cream shop on 34th Street. (I don’t remember an ice cream shop, but I remember the bar at the corner. (It’s not what you think, a friend had an apartment near there while a student at Hopkins.))

One thing about Cooperstown was the same, the freedom to be me. I can be a rabid baseball fan openly. It’s the one place where I can meet other people who understand, who don’t say, “Um…yeah..I don’t really like baseball.” In Cooperstown, there’s no guilt about being a fan, no need to put a lid on it, to remember one’s manners that most people find a conversation about the state of the Orioles bullpen boring beyond belief. In Cooperstown, I am reminded that some people find being a fan an asset. In Cooperstown, I can just be myself. In a crowd of people outside the Hall of Fame, I can theoretically jump up and down when a trolley carrying Cal Ripken appears. No one inches away, looks worried, or thinks I’m a mental-institution escapee. They’re just as excited as I. In fact, they’re worse. They know every Hall of Famer coming off the trolley and shout their names enthusiastically. They are serious about baseball.

Being in Cooperstown is like being in a town full of soul mates, especially to someone who has spent two decades withering away in a tragically baseball-less town.

Another thing was the same this year, of course, the Hall of Famers. At the commencement of the annual Hall of Fame dinner, somehow, despite a smaller overall crowd, there were just as many people waiting for the attendees to arrive. Once again I was edged out and had no hope of getting anywhere near Cal Ripken. I suppose I have no right to complain too vehemently about this considering how often I saw him before he was nationally famous. I suppose I also have no right to complain when earlier in the day, arm’s length from me inside the Hall of Fame was Hank Aaron. His family (grandchildren, I think) were receiving a private tour, accompanied by two guards. I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know him by sight (these guys age), but once I learned who he was, I had to wipe away tears, I was so blown away at being so lucky.

There are more details to report, but for this post, I have one final observation about what I love about Cooperstown. Let’s face it. Men who love baseball are sexy. They are real men. Nothing is a greater turn-off than a man who thinks that by touting his football fandom, by being “tough,” by liking a contact sport, he is somehow more masculine. Men who love baseball don’t have anything to prove. They are secure with themselves and their masculinity. They do not need to define themselves to themselves or to anyone else in a way that mistakes aggressiveness for maleness. They appreciate the athleticism and endurance that baseball requires. Cooperstown is full of these men, who can spend hours discussing the Orioles bullpen. It’s just another reason to love the place.

Pictures of this excursion:
The city of Cooperstown
Hall of Fame

The last time I visited New York City, it was for my ex-brother-in-law’s winter wedding. The bride was from White Plains and had a master’s degree from Columbia. Her childhood bedroom was bigger than the first floor of my home and was largely covered by a collection of pricey porcelain dolls. In short, her parents were loaded and the wedding was an elegant and expensive affair. Most notably, it was an occasion that required, in true New York fashion, a dress that risked as much skin as possible to the frigid temperatures. You know the saying, “It’s not a wedding in the North until someone loses digits to frost-bite.”

The following day, the visiting family, free from wedding-related activities and formal and climate-inappropriate attire, bundled up and eagerly headed into the city to sight-see. My only memory of sight-seeing from the day is donning my heaviest, knee-length winter coat, standing atop the Empire State Building and wishing I were anywhere else. My back to a gusty winter wind, I held onto the border rails for stability, sure I would be blown off the top if I let go. As cold pierced through my ineffectual coat, mittens and scarf-wrapped ears, I wondered how anyone tolerated such bitter winters voluntarily. After returning immediately to the car and blasting the heat at the highest fan setting for the next two hours, I spent the entire ride back to Baltimore scraping the frost-bite off the dead, blackened tip of my nose, and encouraging circulation in my extremities. At that point I made an observation that I henceforth adopted as a personal rule…”New York is a summer destination, or it’s not a destination at all.”

This visit was considerably different from all my previous visits. For starters, it a lovely, hot summer day and it wasn’t raining. (Abide by intelligent rules.) Secondly, instead of exhausting myself by spending fully half my tourist time retracing steps after heading off in the wrong direction, as on every one of my previous visits to New York, I enjoyed the benefits of touring with a reincarnated homing pigeon.

My husband has a combination of skills that make me wonder about his somewhat murky history before moving to Charlotte. The fact is, no one could have such refined orientation abilities without military training or an illicit past. Vacation after vacation we’ll emerge from a subway station onto an unknown street and my husband will point, “This way” as if a needle in his brain always leads him to Magnetic North. There’s more though and his ability runs deeper than just having an internal compass. He is able to memorize entire city maps, remembering the order of streets and whether they run north/south, east/west or in some crooked fashion snaking around monuments or natural features. Sometimes he looks up to the sky, perhaps to a Mother Ship, and says something odd like, “The car is 10 degrees that way at a positive elevation of 10 feet.” He can tell where the sun is even when it’s obscured behind a layer of clouds. I shouldn’t be surprised anymore, but I am. Each time he mutters words about degrees and elevation and uses stars to navigate, I am amazed. I bet he would know where to find the underground utilities if the need arose (and somehow I suspect that at some point, it has).

Without a doubt, I am convinced that he spent some significant portion of his past eluding authorities and/or snipers and the reason he enjoys watching “Bourne Identity” so much is because he identifies with it personally.

So, there we were in New York with no need for maps or GPS devices. I walked where my husband lead, to each of the tourist sites on our mental list. We walked along Fifth Avenue, did a quick pass through FAO Schwarz and the Apple store, peeked briefly inside St. Paul’s Cathedral, strolled through Times Square, trekked up the steps inside the New York Library, then down (and had our backpacks checked no less than thirty-six times), and enjoyed the lovely scenery in a jaunt through Central Park. Lunch was a sandwich of prehistoric proportions after a long, sweaty walk to Carnegie Deli. (The blocks running east/west are much longer than those running north/south.) We finished our day at the Rockefeller Center. Just south of Central Park, it sits centrally between the lower Manhattan business district and the upper (Northern) residential district. Thus situated, three levels at the top of “The Rock” afford visitors a magnificent view of the island in all directions, abetted for us, by a day of clear, blue skies that extended the normal range of visibility.

Even the residents are different than I remember from many visits as a young adult. No one attempted to steal my camera, injure, or urinate on me. In Central Park, a woman set aside her bicycle, offering to take our picture. Then she chatted amiably with us, suggesting tourist spots and answering my many questions about her life as a New Yorker. Later in the day, weary with aching, blistered feet, my face betrayed confusion as I pondered the answer to my husband’s question, “Should we hoof it or take the subway back to the car?” (My husband, of course, had previously memorized each line of the subway and all their access points, in order.) A passing New Yorker stopped to ask if we needed help or directions and then insisted on leading us directly to our subway stop.

I asked both of these warm people if they were native New Yorkers, assuming from my previous experiences in New York and with Ys fans all over that all New Yorkers were forced by court order to be impolite, gruff, crude, and yell loudly and unpredictably over insignificant things. In fact, my mother was partly right about assumptions, the part that “they make an ass out of me.” Both of these kind people were New Yorkers from birth and easily mistakable as residents from a city with a friendlier reputation. Turns out New Yorkers are the new Southerners, except with an appreciation for good public transportation.

I don’t envy the cost of living or housing in New York, or small condo closets, but I do envy the transportation system (which all American cities should model) and I would love to have their choices of events and arts. Mostly, I’d like the figure and health benefits gained from living in a pedestrian-friendly city.

The pigeon returned us to the car and we started our journey to Cooperstown…

Pictures
Pictures of the excursion can be found here.

See the pictures of Cooperstown here.

Cal Ripken Hall of Fame Induction 2007!

When we exited the Hall of Fame, it was from the library exit on the side of the building. There were several vans and an ESPN booth. I was most interested in the Baltimore news vans: WMAR and WJZY. I felt a little nostalgic. I wanted to tell them I was the hometown girl, come home to see Cal, but resisted, knowing that they wouldn’t be the least bit interested in my story and love for Cal and the Orioles.

Believe it or not, there’s more to Cooperstown than baseball. The town sits at the south end of Lake Otsego and, in addition to being a town of the baseball lovers dreams, it’s also very scenic. The main street is still quaint and has that small town feeling. One can wander down to the lake for a beautiful view of the mountains surrounding the lake. There was a restaurant there with a view, but it was too crowded and we were hungry and parched already, it being nearly 3:30.

We sat in the park for a few minutes to rest our feet and soak in the view. An older man asked if I would trade my Cal t-shirt for his hat. I didn’t even bother looking at his hat, because my answer was immediate and required no thought or consideration, “No way, Honey!” I suppose I might have negotiated if he had an authentic Cal Ripken hat or something, but it turned out to be something uninteresting, like the Cardinals.

There was no shortage of souvenirs in Cooperstown, though, there could have a better selection. There were many Cal t-shirts. Many Gwynn shirts too, but I wasn’t interested in them and didn’t bother looking through the selection.

I survived Hall of Fame weekend, Thanks Cal Cooperstown, in orange, HoF in black with Ripken 8 on the back, blue and white Cooperstown t-shirts. Bats. Baseballs. Baseball cards. Photos. Newspapers, mostly the Baltimore Sun. And of course, stuff for other teams. Whatever.

My pursuit for a souvenir was a bit disappointing. I got three t-shirts, one for my husband, who was sadly lacking anything Cal Ripken, and two for me. I wanted something for my brother, but alas, there wasn’t much to choose from. I really wanted something embroidered and permanent. Something that would never fade or rip, that would last forever. A mug wouldn’t survive the trip home. T-shirts are good though. They’re light-weight and I can proudly sport my love for Cal.

Honestly, what souvenir could satisfactorily capture that *I* was there for Cal’s big day???

A photograph standing beside him perhaps. Otherwise, the t-shirts will have to do.

Instead of going back to the car, we decided to go to the Hall of Fame before the crowds got too wild. Too wild is relative. By now it was about 11ish, and it seemed much later in the day considering how the crowds were swelling in the streets.

We waited in line not an unreasonable amount of time considering the number of people in line. But once inside the building, there was more waiting as the VIPs and members filed in, one after another in a seemingly endless stream, and went ahead of us. Even so, the wait wasn’t bad.

Inside the museum though, I was convinced that fire codes were violated. There were so many people in such a small space. We moved slowly and sluggishly through the rooms, squeezed tightly together. While we usually prefer to read plagues, we became focused on a single goal, seeing as much as possible and escaping the suffocating crowd as quickly as possible. While I would love to have seen more, going leisurely was an impossibility and all I wanted to do was get out.

Still though, I believe I saw most of what I really wanted to see, the All American Girls League (AA…), World Series rings, Orioles cases with the Hall of Famer’s jerseys showcased, Babe Ruth room (albeit very briefly), Cal Ripken’s career corner, and the Hall of Fame plagues. Cal’s corner on the first floor had three walls of career pictures, and a display case with a game scorecard, and other artifacts, that with the mobs of people, shoulder to shoulder, I stopped caring about. Taking a picture required waiting a while so there was enough elbow room to raise the camera to your eye or even a few inches in front of you, and then waiting for whoever else was having their picture taken or lingering too long enjoying the displays to finally get out of the way.

Perhaps my favorite place was the Hall of Plaques. Roomy, breathable, space to walk. And plagues of all the greats. Awesome! Also, at the end of the hall were bathrooms, that were mostly unoccupied and seemingly unknown by the rest of the crowd.

Saturday started early. There was no way I wanted to miss any of the Cooperstown experience. I was so excited to be there and could barely contain my enthusiasm. Since parking in town was hard to come by with record setting crowds, the plan was to arrive early, see what there was to see, and then perhaps squeeze in a brewery tour. I wanted my husband to have a good time too, and as a Brit, baseball is just not his thing.

Here’s how it actually went.

We left the campground around 6:30 am. As I climbed into the tent Friday night, I made sure I had my clothes for Saturday with me. Apart from the moisture from the humidity, my clothes stayed dry despite hours of pouring rain throughout the night. Saturday morning I emerged from the tent dressed and ready to go. I was able to apply eyeshadow, mascara and lipstick quickly from the passenger’s seat.

We arrived in Cooperstown hoping for, but not expecting any parking anywhere within the town center, even though it was only 7 am. Unbelievably, we did find a spot right in town, about four blocks from the Hall of Fame. The streets were already buzzing with activity, with hundreds of people milling about, vendors set up with tables on the streets, selling mostly Cal paraphernalia, but also Tony Gwynn souvenirs and Cooperstown memorabilia. Starving for breakfast, we passed up the bakery displaying donuts and muffins for the Doubleday Cafe, which offered a hot delicious breakfast for a steal of a price. The wait at 7 am was already 20 minutes, and the restaurant was packed with diners already elbow deep in a coffee, pancakes, and scrambled eggs.

When we did get seated, we had a good, hearty breakfast, eggs, whole wheat toast, coffee, potatoes, all for under $12 for two people.

Next, our plan was to wander around Cooperstown to see what the vendors had, then go to the Hall of Fame, see about autographs, etc. Because there’s so much to report, I’ll do it in sections…

I’m here in L.A., some 2500 miles from Charlotte. At least that’s the number of miles of credit I get on my frequent flyer account for this trip. The one thing that convinces me that there’s a god, is *his* utter love of torturing me. For nine months I don’t have to travel, but now, a week before my trip to Cooperstown, I have to be in L.A. I know I should be grateful to have a job, which I am, though I’d be more grateful to be Paris Hilton rich. However, it prevents me from being home, starting my packing for a trip I’ve planned for at least seven months.

 Since we’re camping in the Adirondacks and in Cooperstown that means extra planning with camping gear. Wonderful husband figured out the rough itinerary, but now we have to figure out the specifics, which museums in Montreal, which hikes in the park, etc. I get home Friday. I have to unpack and re-pack Saturday since we leave Sunday. Typical.

 When I stopped at Whole Foods tonight, I knew there was something drawing me into the Borders in the same shopping center. Why did I want to buy another book when I have a large unread stack at home already? I talked myself out of the shopping trip. (The Sur La Table still calls though!) Oh right, now I remember after the store is closed and I’m comfortably clothed in my p.j.s, to buy a copy of Cal’s book for my brother. I love suprising him with Orioles things, Brooks autographs, Cal Ripken bobble heads from the Charlotte Knights. He’s probably sick of all of it, but too polite to tell me.

Honestly, I think I’m the bigger O’s fan. I know for sure that I’m more in love with Cal. Did he have the life-size poster of him hanging in his bedroom? Did he stare at those gorgeous blue eyes last thing before falling asleep and first thing upon waking, for yearrrs? Do you think he considers streaking across the Cooperstown field yelling, “I LOVE YOU CAL!” I’m sure he’s never considered flashing Cal just to make Cal smile.

 I think we’ve established, I am the bigger fan.

 So here I am pretending to care about my job and I’ll have to stay moderately focused this week. I’d rather be home with my wonderful husband preparing for our much anticipated vacation. No worries though, in a flash, this week will be over, as will next weekend, and our vacation. Gone in the blink of an eye. Life is going too fast in all the good parts. There’s so much life left to live and it’s going past so, so fast.

On the plane today I was sitting next to a father and son who had just been in Charlotte for the son’s orientation to his freshman year at UNCC. I looked at the father and thought, “can you believe that you’re already sending your son off to college? how long did you anticipate this moment? how long ago was it that you thought it was far off in the future?” I felt like I was watching a time travel movie, there I was in the middle of this stranger’s story at 50 some years old. Who will be in the middle of my story in my mid-fifties, looking at me wondering if I expected life to go so fast?

I want to savor these moments, finally taste the good part with my husband and our vacations, our time together.

Cooperstown will be a memory in a flash.

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