Fear And Loathing In Westminster: A Savage Journey Into to the Heart of Western Maryland



Howard Community College Maryland Student Legislator fall session group photo

Timothy Winans

It was a brisk Saturday morning on the HCC Campus in tranquil Columbia, Maryland. I love Columbia—every city in America should look like Little Patuxent Parkway on a weekend morning. I had woken up at 5 a.m. that morning after only a few hours of sleep after cramming in four STEM assignments the night prior.

The only thing in my stomach was coffee, and the butterflies you get just before a long-planned event is finally going to take place, in which you aren’t quite sure if you’re going to knock it out of the park or that baseball is going to hit you directly between your legs at 100 miles per hour while every drunken lunatic in the stadium laughs. All in all a perfect weekend morning.

After waiting a few minutes for Joy Rice, a civic engagement intern at HCC, to arrive in her Uber, all five of us stuffed our bags into the trunk of my black Volkswagen Tiguan and piled inside for the long but exciting road trip to Westminster, Maryland for the biggest Maryland student politics event of the fall.

For the fall session at McDaniel College for the Maryland Student Legislature, our goal is a weekend filled with the non-stop nail-biting action of a mock Maryland legislative session. The city of Westminster, Maryland might not seem like an exciting place, but the devil’s in the details.

This was the birthplace of Sargent Shriver, a driving force behind the creation of the peace corps, founder of the Job Corps and Democratic nominee for Vice President under the George McGovern ticket in the 1972 presidential election after nominee Thomas Eagleton Resigned from the ticket due to having a history of mental illness—which in 1972 meant political suicide.

The 1972 Presidential election is to political journalism what the 1927 World Series was to the New York Yankees. At the same time, the 1972 Presidential election was to the Democratic Party what the Berlin Wall falling was to Mikhail Gorbachev.

The incumbent president Richard Nixon not only beat George McGovern by nearly 30 percentage points and over 500 Electoral College votes but also beat an entire generation out of its political will.

The 1972 election has been heavily on my mind—anyone who is familiar with the 1972 election has likely been cracking their spine the last few months and checking their water bottle to make sure they have not been dosed with LSD, or if they were alive in ’72 wondering if they’re having an acid flashback.

Back to the present. Joy Rice was playing a killer playlist of road trip tunes, we drove past the stunning landscape of Western, Maryland. With the beautiful, finely-manicured grass-rolling hills and the sparsely populated terrain, it was hard not to drift off into the peaceful tranquility of the region.

As we approached Westminster, the peaceful tranquility of the rolling hills was replaced with the sight of sprouted-up construction sites on every corner.

Shopping centers that looked like the fresh paint was still drying on them were surrounded by the dilapidated shell of the infrastructure that must have been built in the postwar boom of the 1960s which passed way to the historical section of Westminster where McDaniel College is located.

Left to right: Maite Inchaussandague, District 17 Delegate Joe Vogel, MyKayla Demby (MSL)

The impressive historical 1880s architecture made it seem as if we were arriving for a quidditch tournament, instead of a weekend filled with legislative debate.

It was a long, very exciting day of passing legislation including an act supporting the addition of medical marijuana to the prescription drug formulary in Maryland and meeting the youngest person ever elected to public office in Maryland at 25 years old, District 17 Delegate Joe Vogel.

We packed back into my Volkswagen and headed to our discount student-friendly motel The Boston Inn for some well-deserved rest.

Pulling into the long dark driveway of the motel the fear began to take hold, this motel was not the quaint roadside motel that was displayed on the online booking site. The thought crossed my mind that those hustling swine at Booking.com had set us up to be killed—no, not killed, trafficked. They were going to lock us all into the basement and force us to package all those little bars of soap and fill all the tiny shampoo bottles.

I decided to be the scouting party and procure our room keys from the desk clerk. He seemed friendly enough but maybe a little too friendly—nobody yells at the guy who they’re about lure into the tiny shampoo factory. I suppose there are worse fates than being forced into indentured servitude in the basement of a dirty motel.

We got the keys and cautiously headed to our rooms, which were conveniently located next to a dark tunnel filled with shopping carts packed full of trash and the sound of scurrying vermin. I happen to be a politics junkie, so I am used to the sound of scurrying vermin hunting for their next meal.

Suspected illegal drugs in a white capsule found under the bed of our room at The Boston Inn (MyKayla Demby)

At first, it seemed the hotel must have sensed that the bed bugs and roaches would be alarming to visitors, so they left fentanyl capsules under the beds, but we quickly learned that these bed bugs were hooked on the stuff. I was able to negotiate a truce with the bed bugs—I wouldn’t touch their opioids and they wouldn’t touch me or my belonging as I slept in the cigarette burn pocked sheets.

In the morning after some stewed store-brand Folgers coffee which is The Boston Inns’ hallmark singular breakfast item, I grabbed the Narcan and checked to make sure my fellow travelers had not been murdered or exposed to the fentanyl that this place was practically dusted in. The dangers were well worth the reward of attending the MSL Fall Session.

Inevitably my mind drifted back to the ’72 election and its mirroring in our politics today, reflecting on the fact that politics much like The Boston Inn is a dirty business. The stakes are high, we elect people into our political system much like The Boston Inn lets people into their rooms. Some of the people that are let in leave the place a little better or at least the same as when they got there; others leave their bad habits under every bed or tape recorder or golf course storage room after they leave.

The biggest difference between Nixon and McGovern versus Trump and Biden is that America has changed, even if the politics haven’t.