Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Hagerstown, Maryland

We drove South from New Cumberland, PA to Hagerstown, MD via 81 S. This highway winds through the Appalachian mountains following the route of an old Native Americans trail known as the Indian Warriors' Path or Shenandoah Hunting Path. We followed this Interstate across the Mason Dixon line.

Here's what I wrote about the Mason-Dixon line in my book The Name's Familiar:

The Mason-Dixon line, which crosses Maryland, was not originally designed to divide the North from the South, or to mark the free and slave states. The line was drawn back in colonial times when two families had a dispute over their land grants. The divided families were not the Masons and Dixons, but the Penns of Pennsylvania and the Calverts of Maryland. In 1760, the feuding families called in a pair of surveyors to settle the dispute. The surveyors were Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon. Not only did Mason and Dixon chart the territory, they physically marked it with milestones. By 1767 they had marked 244 miles.

Funny, I remember the entry being more exciting...

I just came across an article which explains that many of the original stones have gone missing and a pair of history buffs are trying to find them. From National Geographic:

"Todd Babcock and Dilwyn Knott, armed with a passion for American history and a Global Positioning System (GPS) are locating and documenting each and every stone laid by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon more than 200 years ago."

Mason and Dixon "used the stars to calculate this path through the wilderness and mark out the 233-mile-long boundary line between Pennsylvania and Maryland, and the 83 miles long north-south boundary between Maryland and Delaware; the effort took five years. The stones—huge blocks of limestone between 3.5 and 5 feet long and weighing between 300 and 600 pounds—were quarried in Southern Great Britain and shipped to America. Carried by wagon to their final resting place on the line, the stones were placed at one-mile intervals. Mile markers were decorated with vertical fluting and a P on the north face and M on the southern face; every fifth mile along the line the stones were engraved with the Penn coat of arms on the Pennsylvania side and the Calvert coat of arms on the other."

Those are the kind of details I should have ferreted out back when I wrote The Name's Familiar.

The nice thing about this part of the commute is that the weather is getting warmer and milder, the travel arrangements are better, and we've left the Northeastern toll road region behind. The North Eastern states love their toll roads.

It makes sense in NJ as I assume they have meetings to figure out how to make traffic more confusing there. They're incredibly creative in their use of traffic circles and jug handles as well as toll roads and one way streets.

In his book Lapping America, which recounts his travels on the Interstate system, Claude Clayton Smith notes: "Designed to alleviate congestion, toll roads actually create their own congestion when cars and trucks stack up at the tollgates... With at least one serious consequence. More babies are being born on the Interstates these days than ever before as traffic jams prevent women from getting to the hospital on time."

It also seems as though we're always driving the scenic parts in the dark and the dull parts in the light. We drove through the Newark area by day and the Pocono area by night.

But that is New Jersey.

Let's talk about a new studio for us, Ballet and All That Jazz in Hagerstown, MD led by Ranelle Flurie. Although this was our first time at this studio with this project, our history with Ranelle Flurie goes back quite a ways. A number of years ago Valery Lantratov and I worked for an American theatrical producer who brought Valery's company to the U.S. as one of two touring companies of a large ballet attraction. I worked as the public relations director and we were on the road together in 2003.

The company performed the Nutcracker ballet and worked with local studios around the country to provide a children's cast. Hagerstown stands out in my mind because another former employer from my days in radio, Chuck Thornton, had bought the show and lined up the sponsors for it. It's a very small world.

One of the things I remember most about Chuck is how successful he was at connecting to people in our local community of Leesburg, Virginia and again with the Hagerstown community when we re-encountered each other through the ballet. We share a similar philosophy, that the secret to success is in the relationships you build.

This year it looked as though we would be coming through Maryland, and by yet another coincidence we reconnected with Ranelle Flurie. She remembered Valery's performance as Drosselmeier.

They, too, had gone on to bigger and better things after a few years working with the large touring ballet company and were pleased to work with a Russian instructor again.

Ballet and All That Jazz is a spacious and busy studio with many students. We were impressed with Ranelle's enthusiasm for dance and for providing opportunities to her students and we hope we won't lose touch again!

I apologize that my photographs of this class were too blurred and unremarkable to be worthy of posting, but thank you very much to all the students who came out to the class and who worked so hard.