I knew instantly, the day, if nothing else, would be interesting.
A couple weekends ago Adriana and I, buoyed only by the desire to see Colt Cabana wrestle before he is sued into oblivion, headed to Joppa, MD to see Maryland Championship Wrestling. Prior to this, I had no idea Maryland even had a wrestling promotion, and neither of us had ever heard of Joppa, which gave the day an overall vibe of what the fuck are we doing. We pretty much banked everything on the faith that if the sound stages for House of Cards were located there, as Wikipedia suggested, the town was probably large enough that we would not get murdered.
The afternoon started with rain, my phone getting stuck in a boot loop, and Adriana’s GPS not being able to pick up a signal because of the cloud cover. Then we were near Baltimore. Dave Chappelle has a joke about how going to the ghetto is fine, as long as you’re expecting to go there. This pretty much encapsulates my feelings toward Baltimore. I realized later I had mapped the address of MCW’s home “arena,” not the building we were actually going to.
Realization #1: Maryland is wonky
There is never a subtle transition into Baltimore, even when you are expecting to go there. You don’t drive into Baltimore, you drive and Baltimore just appears. Like Beetlejuice, or a shitty Platform 9 3/4. And it is weird. This is the spookiness of Maryland. I’ve heard the term “fruit salad” used to refer to something that is heterogeneous but lacking the integration of a melting pot. Maryland lacks the cohesion of a fruit salad, which at least can gather all it’s constituent parts under the umbrella of fruit. It’s more like if you combined everything deemed a “salad” together, fruit salad, ham salad, egg salad, word salad, etc. then spread it out like a crooked hat on Virginia.
I kept trying to cram down my sense of unease as we passed through Baltimore, by reassuring myself we would be back in the suburbs soon. The older I get the more comforted I am by their freakish consistency. All being comprised of equal parts McDonalds and parking lots.
We kept driving and I kept anticipating a return to normalcy, a return to new condo developments and Kia dealerships. Instead we got a steady stream of liquor stores and autobody shops and one dinosaur sculpture made out of fork lifts. We were in Buffalo. Except we weren’t in Buffalo, we were edging up to Joppa, MD, and we had no way to turn around because we were fenced in by about a hundred miles of unbroken Jersey barrier.
When we saw Pete Holmes in February, he told a joke about being booked to stay at a hotel that turned out to be in an unsavory part of town. After some internal debate of whether to stay or flee, he got into his car and set his destination point to Barnes & Noble. I have never wanted to follow this advice more than after we passed the fourth motel with a homemade sign, but something about a town housing a sex industry office park told me we wouldn’t be in Barnes & Noble territory for a long time.
And then yonder, on the horizon,
A FUCKING PANERA.
I’d like to say this didn’t go down the way it did, but my dedication to truth in storytelling forbids it. This was genuinely one of the happiest moments of my life. I was screaming in the car from sheer excitement. We had made the hot tag and Panera Jesus had beat the fuck out of our enemies. I was going to live to eat another Bacon Turkey Bravo. So what did we do? We went into that Panera. There is nothing to write about it, because you cannot have a unique experience in a Panera. My brief experience in Joppa had already taught me that’s why Panera is awesome.
Renewed, we set our sights towards finding Joppa Center. All expectations for how the day would play out had now exploded, and I was high on the feeling of escaping death, though I was never really in danger.
And then, the second greatest moment of my life arrived: we found a Sonic. In high school, I heard stories of people making a 4 hour pilgrimage to Delaware to pay tribute to Sonic. There are at least 3 in Maryland now, but we’ve never successfully found any of them. We finally got close when we went to go see Calabrese in Baltimore, but it was closed. So to come so close to an open, functioning Sonic right after a time of immense struggle felt like a cosmic sign. We were warriors, and the Sonic was our Valhalla.
Realization #2: the Mason-Dixon line is a bitch
Sonic is a quintessentially Southern establishment, and Maryland, officially a Southern state. Does Maryland possess any Southern qualities like decent barbecue, Piggly Wiggly, or Sonic? No. Are we constantly tempted with commercials for things we have no access to? Yes. The Mason-Dixon line is a motherfucking liar.
It was a moot point because there was no time for Sonic, for it was Colt Cabana day.
Joppa Center is actually a flea market. It turns out in addition to motels and liquor stores, Joppa also has a thriving Amish community. It is a very confusing set up, both physically and morally. We found an open door on the front of the building next to an unattended metal crate full of cotton candy and walked into an antique store with no merchandise. We were politely informed by the owners that you could not reach the show this way, even though you could see people streaming through due to a complete lack of wall. We followed a line of chain link fences down the side of the building, to a backdoor. Inside, it looked like maybe an old gym or cheap banquet hall, with a truly horrible overhead lighting situation.
I’ve heard fabled stories of flea market wrestling. Now here we were in an Amish flea market / antique store in a town with a fucked up ratio of liquor stores to Paneras. We had arrived. Now all I had to do was watch a few dudes beat the shit out of each other in a light tube log cabin death match and Brock Lesnar Guy could go fuck himself.
We sat down on our zip tied together line of folding chairs (just like in my dreams) next to a bunch of hefty but pleasant white people (of course) and across from a child dressed as Sting (oh Jesus, this is too beautiful.)
In terms of actual wrestling,
It was some sort of tag team battle night. The first tag team that came out were called the Appalachian Outlaws, which temporarily caused my brain to double-back from all that Sonic-fueled social progress, and respond with “oh shit, you have fucked up.” If there’s any segment of Maryland I’m uncomfortable with it’s the hick side. I don’t care about The Wire, but once you get into this group that purchases dip and loves the rodeo, I am weirded the fuck out. I couldn’t even watch Teen Mom 3 because of that girl whose boyfriend worked in a coal mine. The Appalachian Outlaws wrestled these Joker-looking types called… The Punk Rock All-Stars (frowny face) in a contract match. What the contract was for I don’t know, but where it was, was on a pole zip tied to the side of the ring. The zip ties really added to the ambiance. When the match was over somebody had to come with a pair of scissors and liberate the pole. I’d like to note that although I do not have an extensive history as a wrestling fan, it is my understanding a contract match is usually the centerpiece of the night. In Joppa the contract match happens first. Probably because the zip ties weren’t going to hold.
Tie for best match of the night was Black Wall Street vs. Sudden Impact. There were so many times I was convinced I just saw somebody fucking die. I don’t know what wizardry/carny bullshit these guys were up to, or if they were just actually beating the shit out of each other, but every hit seemed SO FUCKING HARD. Their precision on land was balanced out by about 20 of the most sketchy suicide dives I’ve ever seen, all done in rapid succession. It was glorious. I think out of 20, there was 1 that seemed successfully executed, although to be fair, that one looked really good. So kudos to that guy (I think it was Drolix?). The rest I was just sitting on the edge of my seat going ‘ohshitohshitohshitohshit is he going to get up? ohshitohshitohshitohshit’ One dude got carried out, and we never did figure out if he was okay.
Torrie Wilson was by far the low point of the night, not because of Torrie herself, who is still the beacon of unattainable womanliness she was during my childhood, but because an “evening gown” match was brought back in her “honor.” It wasn’t even so much as an evening gown match so much as it was a handful of valets trotted out in Bebe dresses. The crowd then cheered for who they thought was the hottest. No stripping, no wrestling, no good vibes. It was depressing.
I really liked these other punky little motherfuckers, The Hell Cats, who just went balls to the walls the entire time. They seemed like they could be Sami Callihan’s younger brothers. What they lacked in precision they made up for with an apparent complete disregard for their physical safety. One guy suicide dove onto the barricade, snapped his finger, then cut a promo trying to hold his jacked up hand off to the side.
Colt Cabana and Lanny “the Genius” Poffo formed the oddest tag team of all time. First of all, Colt Cabana entered to the Art of Wrestling intro (“live from the studio apartment…”) which was incredibly satisfying. I thought we were going to break Lanny Poffo, I just had this image of him crumbling like dry plaster. But instead he did some flippy shit off the second rope, and my mind is still trying to process it.
My other favorite match of the night was Shane Strickland vs. The Bruiser. First of all, Google bills Shane Strickland at 5’10”, which is fucking mind boggling, because he comes off like he is 7 feet tall. If Shane Strickland can’t put Vince McMahon’s rumored obsession with height to rest, there is literally no hope. I’m also pretty sure Shane Strickland could have done his entire match with an egg baby. He just seemed that utterly in control of his movements. The Bruiser seemed to be the hometown hero. They wrestled forever, There were so many near falls I lost count, which I usually find infuriating to watch, but they were just so damn mesmerizing I became invested. The Bruiser won, but the crowd still gave Strickland a lengthy standing ovation. No hurt feelings. I didn’t even know that was possible. Every time I watch RAW I want to punch at least one of them in the face.
Afterwards, we hung around to meet Colt Cabana, which became a deep source of social anxiety as we got closer and I realized HOLY FUCK SINCE WHEN HAS COLT CABANA BEEN SO HOT? I always thought he was cute, but dude is like Adonis-level tall and jacked. He signed my dreidel and then I ran away before I could say something horribly awkward to him.
We tried to leave but somewhere along the way (possibly while fleeing from Colt Cabana) I lost my earring, which Adriana found after much effort. And then we rewarded ourselves for our courage and went to Sonic. And I played my horrible collection of WWE entrance music. A cherry limeade pairs well with Sami Zayn’s “World’s Apart.”
I also subjected us to my horrible early 2000s playlist because when people give me iPod control I become intimidated and freaked out and my first thought was “play some Lumidee” because I am a fucking genius with incredible taste.
And it was great.