Another year, another winter trip to Baltimore for work. You know the drill: arrive, work, eat, work, sleep, and repeat each day that I’m here. I suppose that the little free time I get could sit in my hotel room, watching TV, surfing the web, and reading a good book. You know… normal stuff. Relaxing. Reasonable. Or, I suppose, I could be more adventurous. I could leave my hotel. Go out. You know, do things. Like visiting an awesome car show. Or strolling through a historic baseball stadium.
This year, my trip to Baltimore coincided once again with the Motor Trend International Auto Show at the Baltimore Convention Center, so I certainly made time to visit that. But there was also so much cool stuff to see and do in the Inner Harbor region of the city, things that I had not seen on
my trip last year. So with my sense of wanderlust solidly in tact, I ventured forth from my hotel, and once again explored Charm City.
For the second straight year, work took me to Baltimore, Maryland. Sadly, I didn’t use my Accord or my wife’s Jeep Grand Cherokee, as I was required to use a vehicle from my employer. The International Auto Show
On a rainy and windy Friday morning, I stopped by the Baltimore Convention Center to spend some time at the auto show – not a bad way to use an hour break!
After paying a reasonable entrance fee, I headed in to see the newest vehicles on offer from the major manufacturers… and to also take an unexpected journey to the cars of yesteryear.
My first stops were to the Acura and Honda booths – I mean, if it’s made by Honda, I certainly want to see it. This is the NSX, Acura’s newest super car. It retails for a cool $157,000. I could afford that… well, the Hot Wheels toy version, at least.
A bit more attainable… the Acura TLX. In person, I found this luxurious four-door sedan to be eye-catching. Acura has worked hard to up the desirability of their vehicles after some lean years in the late 2000s/early 2010s. In my opinion, their cars and SUVs had gotten a bit too bland and uninspiring back then. The major design improvements that started with the Acura MDX five years ago have now carried over to the entire model range… I approve!
One thing that surprised me was how snug the cabin of the TLX felt. I learned later that it is classified as a compact car (I had assumed it was a midsize, like my Accord). It did not feel claustrophobic at all, just a touch smaller than I am accustomed to driving. That said, the seats were phenomenally comfortable and the controls had been thoughtfully arranged to fall easily to hand. I will neither confirm nor deny that I was making “Vroom! Vroom!” noises with my mouth as I sat there. I like the TLX quite a lot.
I wandered over to the Honda display, when one of the Civics caught my eye. The Civic has been known for decades as a reliable, safe, fuel efficient, comfortable vehicle that has happily transported countless people across roads worldwide…
…except this one is different. This is no commuter car. Instead, it is the Honda Civic Type R, the race-inspired evil twin of the Civic. At its heart is a turbocharged four-cylinder engine pumping out three hundred and six horsepower. Since its introduction a few years ago, the car has won numerous accolades as one of the best performance cars you can buy, with the list price of a nicely equipped family sedan.
The interior screams “race me!” The highly bolstered seats are designed to keep you planted during high-speed cornering (they’re also ridiculously comfortable). The red highlights not-so-subtly remind you that this is a car for performance. You’d better be able to handle three pedals, however, as the Type R is only sold with a manual transmission.
Produced in limited quantities, each Type R has a nameplate with its production number. The car usually comes with a stainless steel gearshift knob – I guess Honda removed it from this car so no one took it as a souvenir.
The one car I keep trying to like is the newest Honda Accord. I’ve owned Accords almost exclusively (1984, 1994, 1998, 2003, 2012, and my parents also had a 1980 and a 1991), and every Accord I have ever sat in has felt like it was tailor-made just for me. Controls fall easily to hand, seating positions are terrific, and it drives the way a car should. Except… the newest model does nothing for me. I don’t find the driving position that comfortable, the layout of the controls seems odd, and I can’t warm up to the styling.
Contrast the Accord with a car that does feel like it was designed just for me… the new Honda Insight hybrid. I like the styling, the seats are comfortable, the controls are laid out logically, and the hybrid power train seems like a great way to both save fuel and help protect the environment. As I’ve said before, if I ever need a new car, this will certainly get a test drive.
I moved onto some other brands, such as Chevrolet. This is the all-new Corvette. In a major shift from previous models, the new Corvette has its V8 engine in the rear of the car, similar to a Ferrari or a Lamborghini. The early reviews are positive: Car and Driver magazine reports the car can get to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds.
The new Toyota Supra sports car had an almost continuous crowd around it during my time at the show. Quite the popular display!
Ford also brought their muscle – a 2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. I’m not a Ford guy, but I have to admit, they made a beautiful machine.
Subaru’s display highlighted their longtime partnership with the National Park Foundation. They also (in total Subaru style) had an adoption station set up for rescued dogs. The barking of happy dogs finding new owners was all kinds of awesome.
My wife’s Grand Cherokee has also made me into a Jeep fan. The new Jeep Gladiator SUV/pickup truck was quite popular among the visitors. If I had to sum it up in one word? “Rugged.”
One thing about Jeep – they don’t tend to restyle their vehicles very often. The Grand Cherokee has basically looked the same since it was introduced in 2011. That said… my wife’s Grand Cherokee (a 2014) is better looking than the one they had on display at the show.
In a major departure from last year, a large section of the show was reserved for classic cars. Very, very cool!
Whereas the new car section was filled with the odors of fresh paint and “new car smell,” the classic car section smelled like a garage: oil, gas fumes, old vinyl… it was glorious.
Check out the suicide doors on the 1967 Ford Thunderbird!
“Balance, Daniel-San!” Does this car look familiar? The 1948 Ford Super DeLuxe was the same model of car that Mr. Miyagi gave to his student Daniel LaRusso in the 1984 hit movie The Karate Kid.
These two classics – a Packard (left) and a Cadillac (right) – reminded me of the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum that we visited last month.
In the 1980s, the dream of any child who loved cars was the Lamborghini Countach.
Personally, I’d rather have a first generation Acura NSX. The pinnacle of Honda’s engineering in the early 1990s, the NSX was directly inspired by Honda’s race efforts in Formula 1. Racing great Ayrton Senna, a four-time Formula 1 World Champion, helped test and tune the vehicle.
The first generation NSX was produced from 1991 until 2005. While the new NSX is an amazing machine, the original model is the one I’d love to someday have in my garage.
“All my friends know the low rider…” While the low rider look doesn’t excite me, there’s no denying that this Monte Carlo has style and attitude. Great machine! This was the last car I saw before I headed out – until next year! Camden Yards
Once the clouds lifted, I took a walk to nearby Camden Yards, home of the Baltimore Orioles. Built in the early 1990s, it was designed to bring back the feel of stadiums from the early days of baseball.
Despite the baseball season not starting for several months, the park was actually open to freely walk through. Although Babe Ruth was best known as a player for the New York Yankees, he was born and raised in Baltimore. To the left is the B&O Warehouse, which was part of the train station in the Camden neighborhood of Baltimore. Built in 1899, it has now been repurposed to be part of the stadium, where it serves as the Orioles’ team office.
Nearby is also a sculpture garden of famous Baltimore Orioles such as Jim Palmer and Earl Weaver. Beginning next season, visitors can use their phones to enter an augmented reality environment to learn more about these baseball greats.
Let’s play ball! I’ll definitely have to come back sometime to check out a game. The Inner Harbor
I also found some time to wander around the Inner Harbor, a section of Baltimore that features restaurants, shopping, a major aquarium, and historic ships.
Last year, I toured the submarine USS Torsk (pictured). My wife and I already talked about coming down to Baltimore for vacation to tour the National Aquarium (left). Today, I figured I would just get some exercise and amble through the area.
On one of the piers, I discovered a lighthouse! The Seven Foot Knoll was built in 1855 and stood in the Chesapeake Bay. In 1997, it was moved to the Inner Harbor for permanent exhibition (via Wikipedia).
A screw pile lighthouse such as Seven Foot Knoll gets its name from being screwed directly onto the sea floor. This is the oldest surviving such lighthouse in Maryland. Sadly, it is closed for the season (it will re-open for tours in April), but it was still cool to see.
Something I had not seen before – the US Coast Guard Cutter Taney. I was about to turn around when a sign caught my eye: “ USCGC Taney – oldest surviving ship to fight in the Battle of Pearl Harbor.” Checking my watch, I decided to make time for a visit!
Built in 1935 at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, the Taney served not just protecting the United States coasts, but also far away from home during World War II and the Vietnam War.
Upon boarding the ship, I made my way to the forecastle… imagine the history this ship has seen! On December 7, 1941, while moored in Honolulu, the Taney received warning that an air raid was in progress in nearby Pearl Harbor. The ship’s crew, relaxing on a Sunday morning, had all of the anti-aircraft guns manned and ready within three minutes of the alarm. Within ten minutes, all of the officers and sailors who had been on shore leave were back on board. While Honolulu was not the primary target of the attack, Japanese fighters who strayed too close were swiftly engaged by Taney’s guns.
The Taney was a large ship for its time, and the crew had relatively spacious accommodations, such as the quarters for the ship’s Operations Officer.
And while a spacious ship, the majority of the Taney’s 300-member crew were enlisted personnel, who slept in these bunks. Not a lot of privacy, here!
I think owing to the stories my grandmother and mom told me about my great grandfather who earned his trip to America from Croatia by serving as a ship’s cook (at age 13), I’ve always been fascinated by a ship’s galley. While the crew’s mess hall had a small griddle for preparing eggs and burgers for the enlisted personnel, much of the food was prepared in the larger ship’s galley one deck above, and then delivered via a dumb waiter to the mess.
Sailors like coffee, but how do you keep a pot of coffee from sloshing all over the deck during heavy seas? I like the coffee pot “guard rails!” As a coffee aficionado myself, I heartily approve of making sure the precious liquid is kept safe!
The upper handling room, positioned below the ship’s main 5” gun, holds the ship’s inventory of shells. The main gun was capable of engaging aircraft or enemy ships. The 5” gun was a mainstay of US Navy vessels, but the Taney was the only ship in the Coast Guard so heavily armed.
The ship’s store carried snacks and personal goods that crew members could purchase for greatly reduced prices. The inventory is representative of what you would have found in 1987, the year the ship was decommissioned. The Pepperidge Farms Star Wars Cookies made me smile.
A few minutes before 3:00 pm, an alarm sounded aboard the ship – anyone who wanted to tour the ship’s engines should meet up outside the engine room. I hustled over, and it turned out that I was the only person interested, so the tour guide gave me a solo tour!
Of all the Navy ships I have visited, very few have let you see into the engine room, let alone walk among the turbines and boilers. It was very, very cool!
While the captain and the officers on the bridge might issue orders, this panel, deep in the bowels of the ship, is what actually makes the ship move.
This tachometer measures the speed of the ship’s starboard propeller. The gauge reads for moving forward (right) and backward (left). Instead of a car odometer that tells how far the ship has traveled, this “odometer” displays how many revolutions the propellers have turned – in this case 40,119,116 times!
I was fascinated by the seemingly endless array of pipes and controls that controlled the steam turbines. My tour guide, Ed, explained that the temperature in the engine room was a steady 85-90 degrees. Contrary to expectation, it was fairly quiet. Unlike the racket of a diesel engine, the only parts of a steam turbine engine that make appreciable noise are the fans that push air into the engine.
One deck above, the Pepsi can has a serious purpose. Despite the humorous artwork, it is actually an escape tube, and the only way to leave the boiler room in an emergency. With steam at 600 psi of pressure, and steam temperatures above 400 degrees Fahrenheit, a boiler room accident could be deadly to all involved.
Such a cool tour! Despite having to juggle my schedule to make the visit to the Taney happen, I was glad I took the time to explore this historic vessel!
At the end of my trip to Baltimore, it felt great to park the vehicle I borrowed from work and get behind the wheel of my Accord. It felt like… home.
Despite my visit to Baltimore being a work trip, I was able to make time to explore some more of Charm City. The
Motor Trend International Auto Show runs through February 9 of this year at the Baltimore Convention Center. Tickets are $11 for adults ages 13 and older, $10 for senior citizens ages 62+, and $8 for US military personnel. The USCGC Taney is one of four historic ships in the Inner Harbor. Prices vary depending upon the number of vessels you wish to visit: the Squadron Pass ($15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $13 for students age 15-20, $7 for children ages 7-14, and free for children 6 and younger) lets you explore two ships, and the Fleet Pass ($18 for adults, $16 for seniors, $16 for students age 15-20, $9 for children ages 7-14, and free for children 6 and younger) allows you to visit all four.
The Inner Harbor is a fun, family-friendly shopping and tourism district in Baltimore, and I would highly recommend the visit. Thanks, as always, for taking another voyage down the open road ahead!
’Til next time.