Friday, August 17, 2007

Charm City

A reconnection to someone from my past has opened my mind up to just what really went on back then. I have spent these past 27 or so years here in Maine reflecting past antics through rose colored filters most of the time. His noting that Baltimore was not his favorite city after I had assured him it was mine made me pause. His big complaint was the crime and the noise. He lives there now. I lived there over 27 years ago.

For someone who has chosen to live in the frozen outback in Lobster Land, away from the teeming masses that congest city streets, calling any city "my favorite" seems a tad disingenuous I guess. But it is true. If I had to pick a city to live in, it would be Baltimore.

Did this time skip of a quarter century mean much in the overall rhythms and flows of the B-more then and the B-more now? Is the Baltimore of 30 years ago really any different than it is now? It is certainly slicker and more hip than before. At least in the tourist guides. Because now, they actually have tourists. I would guess though that Lombard St, Greenmount Ave and untold numbers of other streets are still moving to the same rhythms they did back then. Marginal income families struggling to make it from one day to the next.

Let me drop my Pollyana reminiscing for a moment. Let me take a few seconds and remember the Baltimore that could be ugly, mean, and draining of Life's exuberance.

In no particular order

~Andre - dead at 25 of a gunshot wound to the head over the dumbest of reasons but one of the most common - a drug deal gone bad. A friend who happened to be black and taught me there really should be no differences between us based on the color of our skin.

~Escaping a gang of black punks in Cherry Hill with a truck full of TVs I was supposed to deliver to folks who anted up $500 to open an account in some bank I cannot for the life of me remember it's name. They reinforced the idea there is indeed a difference between us based on the color of our skin.

~At an all night Freaker's Ball downtown that had to be the template upon which Raves were built. After dropping too much LSD, witnessing all that Love Peace and good vibes turn ugly in a heartbeat with the slashing of a knife as blood went everywhere. Proof that wherever I found Love, Hate was but a knife stroke away.

~Watching a gay guy get beat down on Read St and when I intervened, was beat down for my trouble. Taught me to be cautious with the good samaritan routine. Because the gay guy was not even slightly grateful.

~Block after block of rowhouses just slightly ahead of being condemned with lost souls slouched on the tread worn marble steps draining beer from bottles in paper bags.

~ And probably the most telling of the sad state that was Baltimore in the early 1970s was the Inner Harbor before it was even close to being the money making tourist trap it is today. The stink of the mud bottom at low tide was not the familar stink of a healthy body of water. More the smell of a bay that had been used and abused for too many years by residents who had taken it for granted. The smell fit the city. The aroma of decay and garbage left out in the Sun.

Yeah, this was the Baltimore of my youth. The ugly side of this fine town. But through it all, I found most Baltimorons were upbeat and combined with that special way they pronounced the letter "o", they quickly became some of my favorite people. I loved the remix of the National Anthem at any Oriole game as the "Oh say can..." became "O" shouted out by 40,000 fans and I sat in section 35 of the old Memorial Stadium watching the original Homer do his fan best to bring victory to Coach Weaver and the gang.

Even as their city fell into disrepair and ill repute, they found their good times. They hung in with blue collar grace. Ate their crabcakes, drank their boilermakers at the corner bar, and talked baseball. They took Life as it came at them. I liked that.


Edgar Allan Poe said...

That's a fair treatment of my Baltimore. I can't express how grateful I am to find, finally, a bold look at some of my city's real negatives. I, too, liked Baltimore, but, damn, they beat me up there and left me to die, then, once I favored them with dying, they buried me in a Presbyterian graveyard. I was NEVER a Presbyterian, for Chrissake! And add insult to injury, I didn't get a tombstone for 25 effing years. Okay, so fans can find me these days at Fayette and Greene, but--wouldn't you know it?--the graveyard gates are locked Sunday, arguably the best tourist hours. Et tu, Baltimore.
Respectfully, EAP

Henry Louis Mencken said...

So, that stench prevailed even into the 1970s, eh? What you call the Inner Harbor was simply The Basin in my day. As a child, I came that way to go to school, and I could barely bear the stink. As a young reporter, I came that way between assignments and my favorite watering holes, and the odor was gagging. Thankfully, they buried me out toward the city line. How's the smell these days? What's the date anyway?

Apertome said...

This is a really cool post, attempting to shed the rose-colored glasses and look at things as they really were. It can be hard to do sometimes, as we tend to remember the good things and just plain forget about the bad. Well done.