The Governor Ritchie Highway (informally known as Ritchie Highway) is a 41.1-mile long street encompassing all segments of America’s socioeconomic spectrum. From the run-down row-houses of inner-city Baltimore to the historic waterfront mansions of Annapolis, the piece of Route 2 located directly between Baltimore and Annapolis is truly an exercise in diversity of situation and lifestyle. It is an exercise I have completed numerous times during my years living in Maryland.
Our trip along Ritchie Highway commences at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, the heart of the pre-Revolutionary city where Francis Scott Key birthed the legendary lyrics of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” From simply visiting the tourist mecca that is the Inner Harbor/Federal Hill area of Baltimore, you wouldn’t witness the abject poverty and high racial tensions that have come to define “Charm City” in recent years.
Behind the sparkling facades of historic power plants converted into Hard Rock Cafés, four-story Barnes & Nobles book havens and the Peabody Conservatory, the self-proclaimed “Greatest City in America” is also now regionally known as the heroin capital of the US. Freddie Gray lost his life at the hands of police brutality in Baltimore last year; riots and protests still persist to this day.
In August, Bloomberg reported that the Baltimore City Police had been recently exposed for using a military-grade spy plane to surveil the city’s streets in real time. The area immediately surrounding the city is essentially a flatland containing block after block, mile after mile of government-sponsored, architecturally identical row-houses, most of them vacant, despite the city’s high rate of homelessness.
Exiting Baltimore’s south end along Ritchie Highway doesn’t yield much improvement, either, at least at first. Immediately external to the gloomy industrial grasp of the city lies the small, unhealthy town of Glen Burnie. Glen Burnie is home to one of Maryland’s few Motor Vehicle Administration locations, which is really all you need to know about it. Like Baltimore, crime is high and income is low. Many of those living in Glen Burnie are supported by food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or other welfare programs.
If Baltimore and Glen Burnie are representative of the low end of America’s socioeconomic spectrum, however, then Severna Park and Arnold, Glen Burnie’s neighbors to the south, are the beginning of Ritchie Highway’s foray into the higher end of the spectrum. Severna Park, the home of the Naval Academy’s former preparatory school (the Severn School), is everything one would expect a homogeneously upper-middle-class, conservative town to be. Half of its residents (including Pat Sajak!) live in neighborhoods situated along the Severn and Magothy Rivers. High schoolers who grew up on a diet of Maryland blue crab and Old Bay spend their summers boarding and boating on the Chesapeake Bay. Sperrys abound, as do Trump: Make America Great Again signs. Arnold is the same way.
This is where I ended up spending all of high school, my most formative years. Despite the vast ideological and racial differences between me and most Parkies, I really enjoyed it. It’s how I’ve come to know Ritchie Highway so well, and why I’ve come to love it so much.
All of this brings Ritchie Highway to its ultimate destination: Annapolis, the Maryland state capital. The city, nicknamed the “Sailing Capital of America” (a title it dubiously shares with Newport, Rhode Island) is filled with colonial-era red brick mansions, purposeful cobblestone roads and maritime prep.
Situated on an inlet of the Chesapeake Bay, one of its most distinguishing characteristics is the myriad yachts and yacht clubs located in the downtown harbor. Strolling down Annapolis’ Main Street, you see affluent natives mingling inside of kitschy boutiques and quirky restaurants like Red Red Wine Bar or the all-day breakfast hub, Iron Rooster, where waffles and chicken in every combination can be found, from waffle chicken burgers to waffle bowl chicken salads.
In Annapolis, money and rustic grandeur fuse to produce a unique quasi-urban experience: the influence of wealth underlies the development of almost hipster small businesses instead of corporate offices. St. John’s College, a school even older than Princeton, with its renowned Great Books of Western Civilization curriculum, is located in Annapolis. The United States Naval Academy is also situated in the downtown harbor area, so midshipmen in dress whites meandering up and down the city’s hilly paths are not an infrequent sight.
Annapolis’ recent claim to fame is that Taylor Swift was rumored to be purchasing a multi-million dollar mansion in one of its Bay-front neighborhoods (this turned to be an April Fools prank started by a small business for publicity, but it did land Annapolis in Facebook’s Trending bar). Based on these distinctions, it should be no secret that it takes money, and a lot of it, to live in Annapolis.
If wealth disparity is a greater issue in American society than ever before, then Governor Ritchie Highway’s connection between the neighboring cities of Baltimore and Annapolis is a cutting reflection of that divide. From the impoverished projects of Baltimore to the old money of historic Annapolis, Ritchie Highway is both a journey through space and along America's socioeconomic spectrum.