The alarm went off at 2:50. We had an early flight out of Portland, Maine at 5:15.
The de-icer worked in the dark, moving around the plane, spraying fluid on the wings so that the landing flaps would not freeze shut. A small forklift connects to a basket about the size of a cherry picker. There are small lights on the basket and the hose. It looked like some deep sea machine working in an abyss. Daylight was still hours away.
I had a coffee in the terminal. Force of habit, I guess. I was awake and didn’t know what else to do. I still slept on the plane, waking up at some point mid-descent. There may have been an announcement, I might have simply jostled awake. I’m not sure.
The sun had risen, although it was eclipsed by morning cloud when I opened my eyes. I looked out onto the fingers of the Patapsco winding around the southern side of the city, the red-orange light gleaming on the water, the houses along Glen Burnie and Severn corridor.
We swung north before banking around for the airport. I saw the smoke stack and felt myself relax.
Technically it is a waste-to-energy facility. It’s where all the trash trucks take garbage to be burned which then provides energy for the downtown region. It looks like a smoke stack.
We were several miles away from where it sits along the interstate, but I know its contours even at a distance. White with orange letters, Baltimore written vertically up the side, the font like something from a Buck Rogers starship. Safety lights along its column flickered, although I couldn’t tell if it was emitting smoke at that hour.
It has an odd, timeless quality. Despite all the changes to the city’s landscape, it is one landmark that has remained constant since my first visits to the city, over 25 years ago.
The sensation upon seeing it is not limited to air travel, although it does seem more dramatic from a plane. In the car, I can watch the mileage signs count down for hours, but it’s not until the smokestack emerges along 95 that I feel that sense of having come home.