I was only gone for 35 hours, but I like to think I spent my time wisely.
The six hours on the train up and back were put to indulgently satisfying use starting one of my birthday books, "The Goldfinch," talking me through just under 300 pages.
Beautifully written, immediately engrossing from the first few pages, I already know I'll be sorry when this book ends.
It's taken me no time at all to realize that train trips are second only to being at the beach when it comes to hours on end doing nothing more than turning pages. Heaven.
Much as I enjoy getting lost in the scenery passing by outside the train, it could have been snowing for all I knew.
Arriving in Annapolis just after a shower, it was sticky and muggy when my friend picked me up from the train station where she'd been incorrectly informed that my train had already come and gone (it hadn't). She was in a mild panic when I spotted her in the parking lot.
The afternoon flew by and by the time we got ready to get back in the car to go out for dinner, it was almost 8:30 and we spent the drive chatting on speaker phone with a mutual Richmond friend who'd called earlier, unbeknownst to us.
He'd been out for happy hour and it was happy he sounded as he tried to stir the pot and make us laugh, taking us right up to the restaurant parking lot with his nonsense.
My friend had been hoping to take me to a new restaurant, a place I hadn't yet been, but when pressed, I admitted that what I really wanted was crabs. Again.
That's how we've ended up at Cantler's, a riverside crab place three of the last four times I've gone up there. Only this was the first time the weather made sitting outside a possibility.
The earlier mugginess had given way to a beautifully breezy evening and there was a prime corner table on the patio overlooking the river. My friend warned me that the service outside tended toward the terrible, but even she had to admit it was a prefect night to do so.
As a dedicated summer-lover (you'll never hear me complain that it's too hot or humid), these long days are part of the siren song of the season. As I looked out over the river, I was struck by not just how light it still was at 8:45 (duh, ten days until summer solstice), but how there was still plenty of light for the boats and houses along the shore to throw reflections on the water.
It didn't hurt that the river was smooth as glass, allowing the reflections a mirror-like surface to join with the reality above.
A fading white shack, sailboat masts, boat hulls all joined their likeness at the water line. It was not only beautiful, but striking for how dusky the sky was...and yet still enough.
Okay, so my friend had been right and the service was lackadaisical at best, although I did get a kick out of seeing servers clearing tables pour any remaining water from cups onto the window boxes along the patio's railing. So eco-friendly, if nothing else.
As usual, we powered through hushpuppies and extra-large crabs, scratching our head when a server told us they were low on crab seasoning, as if it's tough to get Old Bay or kosher salt.
Gradually the patio began clearing out except for us and two women at a nearby table deep in wine and conversation after an earlier broken wineglass (it happens).
For that matter, my friend and I got pretty deep into it, trying to elucidate the difference in a relationship when young versus middle aged and how what you want that partnership ultimately to become changes (or doesn't).
A (male) friend once told me that middle aged people don't "fall" in love, they find a compatible person and agree to compromise, but my girlfriend and I begged to differ. Why shouldn't we be able to feel passion and romance like we did when we were 25?
Over multiple splits of bubbly (her) and Herradura (me), we ruminated on the things that matter to us in a partner before being distracted by a boat towing another, smaller one into the dock below, both with lights twinkling on the inky river.
When we'd stuffed ourselves silly and the place was close to closing, we got back in the car and she asked if I wanted to go to a neighborhood, down and dirty-style bar. Sure I did.
While meandering through Eastport trying to find said dive bar, she noticed our friend had left another message, pulled over in front of one of the charming (and no doubt costly) vintage houses and called him back again.
That's how we ended up parked on a residential side street for who knows how long, our tipsy friend providing hilarious phone entertainment that kept us both in stitches.
So much for the bar. She did drive home via downtown Annapolis, around the city dock area, a place I hadn't been since the '80s.
Back in college, my boyfriend Curt and I, along with my best friend and her beloved, spent many a Sunday right there, eating (I had my first Monte Cristo there and thought it was the best sandwich I'd ever had), drinking (it was legal then) and wiling away the afternoon (I began practicing that early).
And while it was mostly recognizable, all the dilapidated little storefronts (I particularly recalled a hardware store that even back then felt like it had been frozen in time) have long since been replaced with chains and boutiques.
Still, a trip down Memory Lane was a fine ending to our evening.
Today's greatest pleasure was finding a treasure trove of my girlfriend's family photos and memorabilia.
As a lover of photography, I am always entranced by old photos, but there were some truly amazing pieces she had, like a couple of tintypes - precursors to photographs- and pictures from when her grandfather had been in school, an announcement for her grandmother's wedding in 1901 and even family report cards from 1879 and 1890 (back when kids got grades for hygiene and penmanship).
There was a wide, panoramic photograph of a rocky beach in Massachusetts, not looking all that different than how it did when I first went to Cape Cod in college.
Over and over, my friend marveled at how tickled her Dad was going to be when he saw all these old pictures of his father. Honestly, it was pretty fascinating to see them and I'm no relation to anyone in them.
We got so caught up going through stuff that all of a sudden we looked up and realized I had 75 minutes before my train left.
Ever the resourceful one, Friend instructed me to grab my things and we'd head to the nearby steakhouse for a quick happy hour.
Admittedly, I'm not the steakhouse person she is, but I can happy hour with the best of them and with less than 60 minutes to departure, we were walking up a staircase with large-format black and white photographs of local scenes such as the distinctive Thomas Point Lighthouse, Maryland state capital, and watermen pulling in crabs.
At the bar, we set out to have quick glasses of Lamarca Prosecco (although it took three flat pours before we got glasses with sufficient bubbles) and a pre-train nibble.
My friend wanted the buffalo meatballs while I chose bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates and I'm proud to say she ended up liking my choice better than hers, an accomplishment in my eyes.
We were in and out in 20 minutes and at the train station in another 20. Mission accomplished.
My train ride home was cozier than its predecessors because of the rain beading up on the windows, but also more punctual for a change. Plus the fairly empty Quiet Car I was riding in afforded the opportunity to get further lost in this magnificent book I'm reading.
I'd call these two well-spent summer days.