Thursday, April 1, 2010

11 Great Things About Baltimore

You know, Baltimore gets a lot of bad press.  Much of what people know about it comes from Homicide: Life on the Street or, more recently, The Wire.  It's not unusual for visitors here to expect little better than a war zone, instead of the few bad neighborhoods that all cities have.  It doesn't help that our (now former) mayor was recently convicted for stealing gift cards from needy children.  Even when we top a "best-of" list, the news story is how surprising it is that we're not "worst-of".  However, in the six-plus years I've been working and/or living in this city, I've grown to love it, and here are a few reasons why.

1. The Arabbers.  You may know them from old movies: men with horse-drawn carts laden with fresh produce, ambling down the street and melodically hollering out their wares.  Outside of the movies, however, they've long since vanished from city streets.  Except in Baltimore.  Now that it's getting warmer again, I'm looking forward to the first time I hear the clopping, jingling, and singing that means an arabber is coming down my street.

2. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.  I've never really been a music person, exactly, and classical music specifically was always one of those things that I knew I wasn't quite getting.  Oh, I knew it was pretty, but the meaning eluded me.  It was like listening to poetry in a foreign language.  The BSO, however, has sucked me in, due in no small part to the music director, Marin Alsop.  I never thought that I'd whole-heartedly proclaim myself a fan of of an orchestra conductor, but I am.  She is not only an incredible conductor to watch, but also makes a point of introducing the pieces in a way that demystifies without condescending.  She has the orchestra play snippets of the piece as she explains the story, so you can remember and follow along as the whole thing plays (crucial, for a narrative-driven brain like mine), while using humor without taking anything away from the seriousness and majesty of the music.  Go, if you get the chance.

3.  Similarly, all of the other places dedicated to sharing their knowledge, each of which I've fallen in love with individually: The Maryland Zoo, with an obsessively-flipping otter.  The Walters Art Gallery, where I saw a map that made my jaw drop open.  The Baltimore Museum of Art, where I discovered how just a little bit of context can transform weird abstractions into art.  Geppi's Entertainment Museum, where I geeked out over Action Comics #1.  The B&O Railroad Museum, where you should definitely take the train ride.  The Maryland Science Center, where I had my first real job and am thus a little partial.  The National Aquarium, where I can visit rays gliding as though in flight around a sea turtle missing a flipper.  The American Visionary Art Museum, covered with countless bits of broken mirror.  The Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, with so many beautiful roses.  Fort McHenry, with its wonderful view of the water.  And those are just the ones I've been to, and can think of off the top of my head.

4.  The way Fell's Point smells like bread.  There's a bread factory down that way, and on nights when I'm leading tours without quite having eaten enough beforehand, it's rather wonderfully torturous.

5.  How my neighborhood (Hampden) is in the middle of the city, but feels like a small town, complete with a main street packed with locally-owned businesses, summer yard sales that seem to be set up as an excuse for residents to sit outside and gossip, a massive annual holiday display, and a beautiful park with trees perfect for sitting under with your fiancee, and bag of donuts, a book to read and a sketchbook on warm Sunday mornings.

6. Bengie's Drive-In Theatre.  OK, not actually in Baltimore City, but still.  We have easy access to one of the few drive-ins in the country, where you can see double or triple features, plus vintage cartoons, shorts, and bumpers, for eight bucks a person or less.  Plus, you get to hear the crazy rantings of the owner over the sound system before and between each movie at no additional cost.

7.  The Charm City Roller Girls.  I went to a bout for the first time this past weekend, and man is that a good time.  I'm not much for sports myself, either watching or playing, but the combination of serious athleticism and a wicked sense of humor (I tend to find that sports tend to be taken way, way too seriously much of the time) all around really worked for me.

8. The Enoch Pratt Free Library system, one of the oldest free public libraries in the country.  I have a branch within easy walking distance of my house, and I think that might be on the "must-have" list for wherever we move next.

9.  Our most famous current resident is John Waters.  A filmmaker best known for reveling in tackiness and bad taste might not make everyone's version of this list, but I've always had a soft spot for the weird outsider.

10. Herman Heyn, Baltimore's Street Corner Astronomer.  He's been an institution on the Harbor and around town for over two decades, and every time I see him set up in Fell's Point during one of my tours I plug him to my crowd.  Even though (as I've mentioned elsewhere) not a whole lot makes it through the glare of the city lights, you'd be surprised what does.  Herman asks a mere dollar suggested donation for a look through his telescope at Mars, Jupiter's moons, the rings of Saturn, craters on the Moon, and whatever else happens to be in the sky, and for many people (not just kids), it's their first look ever.  I don't care how many pictures, videos, or CGI recreations you've seen of the planets, it's nothing compared to seeing the real thing with your own eyes, and I hope Mr. Heyn is here to show it to us for a long time to come.

11. Perhaps more than anything else, because Baltimore is where I got my first full-time job fresh out of college, where I left that job five years later, and where I first truly lived on my own.  This is where I first visited inner-city schools, where I realized that many of those kids go to school only because they need the food, and where I saw specific homeless people until they recognized me.  This is the city where I broke the heart of someone dear to me, breaking my own at the same time, where I healed, where I fell in love, and where I will be married.  Baltimore is where I became an adult.

I may not originally be from these parts, and it's quite possible that I'll end up somewhere else entirely, but no matter what happens, I know I'm always going to have a special place in my heart for Charm City.  Even if we do have some of the worst drivers in the country.

1 comment:

Annie said...



I love Baltimore too. We are so much more than the Wire (though that was a great show and I still have to laugh when I see major drug deals on the show going down in front of the place that regularly buy coffee in the morning).
Though you are right about the driving thing. It's always park where you feel like day in Baltimore and drivers regularly argue about moving out of fire lanes and ambulance spots. We can be a classy bunch.