We've got some hills, we've got some trees,
We sing in four-part harmonies;
And now I live in Baltimore,
'Cause that's what Maryland is for.

Having time to kill on this, the penultimate morning of my TAFF trip, I decided to pen a reply to Dave Locke's letter of a few days ago. This kept me occupied until midday, when Avedon drove us the mile or so to Grosvenor Metro Station, the nearest connection to Washington's big new mass-transit system, to pick up her friend Ken Josenhans, a local fan. We were heading for Baltimore (known to its natives as 'Bollmer'), and took Highway 95 rather than the more scenic parkway.

"I don't use the parkway any more," said Avedon, "not since a sniper decided to start taking pot-shots at passing cars. On 95 there are four lanes. Gives more room to take evasive action."

Another sniper? I thought Avedon might be pulling my leg but, this being America, who knew?

"On the way to Baltimore," said Avedon, some time later, "is the road to the future." I assumed she was waxing uncharacteristically poetic, until I saw the turn-off indicated by the roadsign ahead: Future. Good grief!

We were meeting Dave Ettlin, another old friend of Avedon's, outside the offices of The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper he worked for. When we got there, Dave was waiting for us with his wife, Bonnie Schupp, and a couple of kids (their daughter and a friend, I think), ready to act as a native guide on our tour of central Baltimore. First, we ambled down to the recently rebuilt harbour area where a magnificent old sailing ship, The Constellation, was berthed. As well as giving its name to Baltimore's 1983 Worldcon, which Avedon had worked on, The Constellation also had a colourful history.

"This baby was a real thorn in you guys' side during the Revolutionary War back in 1812," Dave told me, with great relish.

I was then shown the conference centre, Hilton, and Hyatt Regency that had been the venues for CONSTELLATION, which were of just as much interest to this fanhistorian as more conventionally historical sights. The harbour development reminded me strongly of New York's similar South Street seaport and also of London's Docklands, reflecting a particular architectual vogue, I suppose. This impression was reinforced when we sought somewhere to eat in one of the harbourside pavilions, which were essentially small malls. We ate in a balcony area that allowed you to buy from a number of stalls offering different cuisines and varieties of fast food, the first time I'd encountered this particular arrangement. I had a calzone. The food was good, but equally important was the opportunity for conversation. It turned out that Dave worked on the City Desk at The Baltimore Sun (founded 1837) and so got to report many of the city's high-profile murder cases.

"Dave just loves grisly murders," explained Avedon, "and the gorier they are the more he relishes them."

"We had a great one a while back," he laughed, "a real classic which the cops called 'The Chinese Takeaway Murder'. Don't you just love the names those guys give these things?"

"So why," I asked, taking the bait, "was it called 'The Chinese Takeaway Murder'?"

"Because the victim's body was chopped up and packed into the type of takeaway cartons they give you in Chinese restaurants, of course," he replied, "which were then dumped all over Baltimore. Isn't that great?"

"Once, back when I worked at the Sun," said Avedon, over Dave's chuckles, "I walked past when some of the other reporters were arguing over who'd get to write a particular obituary. I heard one say he was going to call it 'The Man Who Laughed at Death', so I said: 'You're talking about Ettlin, aren't you?'. Dave laughed when I told him, and said they were out of luck as he'd already written it and had it safely stored away."

Dave Ettlin had also been a founder member of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. BSFS was the third flowering of organised fandom in Baltimore, the others having occurred in the early-1940s and late-1950s, and it was born during a bus journey on 1st January 1963 when, returning from the Washington Science Fiction Association's New Year's party, the Baltimore fans who'd attended decided to form their own group. These were Jack Chalker, Dave Ettlin, Mark Owings, Enid Jacobs, and David Katz (who disappeared from fandom soon afterwards). Jerry Jacks -- invited by Jacobs, and a student of Chalker's -- attended the first meeting a week later. BSFS lasted until October 1968. Dave was later part of a slan shack known as Toad Hall (no relation to Geri Sullivan's later Toad Hall) along with his then-wife Vol, their infant daughter Jenny, and Jack C. Haldeman. Among those who hung out there were George Alec Effinger (or 'Piglet', as he was known) and Roger Zelazny.

Dave started work late afternoon/early evening, so before we went he showed us around the Baltimore Sun building. We started in the newsroom, walked through the composition room, and finally came to the huge room housing the printing presses and a sight to gladden the heart of any fanzine fan.

"This is it," said Dave, gesturing expansively, "the twenty-six million dollar mimeograph! That's how I've always thought of it."

Ah, the fannish spirit! It endured despite Dave having little to do with fandom anymore. A little later, puzzled by his question about that year's Hugo Awards, Avedon queried why he'd only asked about the pro nominations.

"I don't get sent fanzines anymore," he replied, a little sadly I thought.

Dave may not have any involvement with fandom anymore but his daughter Jenny, now known as 'F.L.', is active in the BaltiWash fandom of the '90s and a regular congoer.

Later, as we drove back to Kensington, the overpass carrying us out of Baltimore passed over a Coors depot, prompting Avedon to launch into a tirade about what a "fascist scumbag" she thought was its owner, the allegedly aptly-named Adolf Coors. I knew nothing of that, but I can personally confirm his beer is a crime against humanity.

That evening, Avedon had a computer class at the University of Maryland, so Ken Josenhans and I decided to go along with her and to hang out on the campus. With Avedon installed in her class in the Millard E. Tydings building, Ken (who my notes describe as "big, broad, and bespectacled") and I wandered across the spacious campus to the student union, stopping first at its record store (cash register sign: "no credit, no checks, no receipts, no exceptions"), where he bought expensive imports from exotic England -- y'know, by bands like the Cocteau Twins -- before settling down in the Roy Rogers, a burger chain franchise. I had the R&R burger (cheeseburger with ham), which I piled high with tomato, lettuce, and ketchup at the relish bar. Ken showed no such restraint, and I watched in amazement as pickles, onions, cucumber, lettuce, tomato, rutabaga, zucchini, peas, carrots, corn, beetroot, asparagus, taco chips, apple slices, artichoke hearts, pumpkin, ketchup, mustard, sour cream, thousand island dressing, chili sauce, castor oil, and many other things besides flew from the relish bar as Ken swiftly and skilfully constructed a dangerously unstable tower of a burger that he carried back to his seat with great care and proceeded to chow down on. It's just possible I may have got one or two ingredients of Ken's burger wrong -- it has been ten years, after all -- but one thing I've never forgotten is the taste of my own, which was the best I had during my whole trip. Roy Rogers has been a must-visit on every trip I've made to the US since then, which is one in the eye for the surprising number of people who think I wouldn't know good food if it bit me in the ass.

This being my final night in America, it was perhaps appropriate that when Avedon and I got back to Woodfield Road the final thing we did before retiring for the night was watch the final hour or so of the final episode of MASH. The tearful goodbyes of the characters as one-by-one they set off for home were also the genuine happy-but-tearful goodbyes of the actors to each other at the end of what many admitted was one of the best experiences of their lives.

I knew just how they felt.