My dear, dear friend Shar is starting at LMCJ this week and obviously my heart is aflutter, so much so that I am trying to be nonchalant. That said, I will take this blog to try to convince her that she has not just made the worst mistake of her life. Also, Shar, I just ordered you a two-pack of mace–one for your car, one for your purse.
Welcome to Baltimore, Shar. We are so glad to have you here. And because I know how much love you have to give the world, please know you’ve come to the right place. Love is all we need. Well that, and a more effective mayor, less institutional racism, additional affordable housing, more legitimate opportunities for young people, better job training, a cleaner harbor, and better allocated and well-spent funds on education.
I know, Shar. People are rolling their eyes from here to Garrett County where you grew up. Maybe this post will help you explain what the heck you’re doing here in this oft-maligned place.
This week I read The Baltimore Chop (a widely read blog) for the first time and it literally ruined my day. I couldn’t stop thinking about these people being so angry at Baltimore, enough so to give up on it (we all get angry at it). I mean look! I understand the reservations. I do. Violence, expenses, weather, grumpy people, innate danger. Dead bodies in your front yard–not okay. It’s a lot.
But, I am a Baltimorean, an apologist, a-let’s-get-this-done-now-pusher, a #bestplaceintheworldtochangetheworld girl. I’m also pretty consistent. And according to my friend Mary, I am right 98.9% of the time. Below in gray italics is an article I wrote in Towson University’s student-run newspaper, The Towerlight, in 2007. My weekly column was called “Sunny Side Up with Amanda Doran.” My 2018 comments are in whatever-you-call-non-italics and green.
“Stop bashing my charming city”
“Stop bashing Baltimore!” a bumper sticker yelled at me last week. “I don’t! I wouldn’t! I’ve never!” I mentally yelled back at the adhesive piece of paper.
“Adhesive piece of paper?” Ick! Come to think of it, I haven’t really seen these bumper stickers around since then. I do like the version 11 years later that reads: “Baltimore, actually I like it!” which I mentioned in my Locals’ Guide to Baltimore. 11 years pass and I’m still hung up on emotional bumper stickers.
That sticker was right. I have always called Baltimore City home, living in the same row house my entire life until moving into a downtown Baltimore apartment. I’ve seen this city through 4 mayors, a plethora of changes, and miles upon miles of gentrification. Growing up, all of my friends lived in Baltimore County and I always occupied the role of that annoying person forever defending the ‘hood.
How many mayors has it been now? 6? Now I have my own rowhouse with Chas. We’re not in the “hood” but it’s a great little life. The gentrification has continued and no lies, we live in its midst. It feels like some of the divides we had 11 years ago are even deeper cuts.
I drive Homeland Ave. to Woodbourne Ave. every morning to work. From Charles St. I turn right on Homeland. I pass Notre Dame University of Maryland on the right and homes straight out of Southern Living on the left–I’m talking potted ferns, all of the original shutters in place, and purposefully be-speckled paint. I drive about a half mile and Homeland becomes Woodbourne Ave. After a veer right and a sign that reads “Homeland” (which I always say in a British accent, to myself), I enter the York Rd. corridor. At this point there is litter like there is pavement and there is air. There are at least two people doing the “heroin lean” and there’s a legless man in a wheelchair who approaches my car at least twice a week. On the southeast corner of this intersection I have seen numerous drug deals. I’m talking I see the cash, the goods change hands, all of it. There’s constant roadwork, seemingly because it’s started and just never completed. My entire first year at LMCJ there were wooden planks just sticking out of the ground in a circle. It was as if an avant-garde artist with ADD had begun and abandoned yet another one of his ideas, but on a corner, at a bus stop, within walking distance of several schools.
Why the abrupt change from Homeland to Woodbourne? Redlining. The map below, which you can download and zoom in on all you want here, shows the four “grades” of land in Baltimore in 1937–see the legend. In ’37, the area I’m talking about was just third grade, but probably slipped into fourth grade by the time of the Baltimore Riots of 1968.
The City has a huge stigma around it because, newsflash: crime occurs here! The points I always come back to is that crime occurs everywhere and can you really have a city without crime? A high concentration of people has always led to criminal activity. I say we stop dwelling on Baltimore’s shortcomings. When we’re there maybe we should live cautiously but we should celebrate the awesome things about Maryland’s (and the east coast’s, in my opinion) greatest city. After all, if you hate it, why do you go there? And if you don’t go there and you hate it, how can you hate it?
With our highest per capita murder rate ever in 2017, I feel a little silly reading the paragraph above. It’s more than “a high concentration of people,” obviously, you naive 20-year-old Amandy. Back then I had no idea what was coming: Freddie Gray, the Uprising, and the imbalance in crimes and arrests that have followed April 2015.
Here’s an interesting news story about going to Baltimore or choosing not to go to Baltimore. Carroll County Public Schools are no longer permitted to take field trips to Baltimore City. Ya know, because ignorance and avoidance have always been the answer to progress, right? Dan Rodricks’ response to this is pretty beautiful.
In my old neighborhood, there was indeed a resident gang called the “Tivoly TA.” Were we frightened when its members spray-painted their name everywhere? Maybe a little, but then we realized that their name meant the Tivoly Avenue, Tivoly Avenue. We figured, how well orchestrated could their crime be if they couldn’t even create an intimidating and less redundant name? We put clubs on the cars at night and carry pepper spray in our purses should the Tivoly Avenue, Tivoly Avenue strike, strike.
See? You do need to live cautiously. And honestly, gangs are no joke. Especially not in Baltimore. HBO’s documentary Baltimore Rising covers many of the decades-long or centuries-long causes that have led to situations such as the gangs in Baltimore. In addition, a few gang members make appearances. So while it might have seemed “funny” to chuckle about the Tivoly Avenue TA, the causes and manifestations of years of inequality are anything but.
Every day when I skip down the sidewalk to my perfectly parallel-parked car (okay, not so perfectly parallel-parked), I am tempted to belt out, “Good Morning Baltimore” from Hairspray. Seeing the centuries-old architecture and the phenomenal, eclectic mix of people just out my front door is enough to try out for the role of Nikki Blonsky.
Last week, that great song was in my head for my entire 90-minute run (preparing for none other than the Baltimore Half Marathon) that connected Baltimore’s major neighborhoods. As I pranced through Mount Vernon, Federal Hill, Locust Point, Canton, and Fells, I thought the entire time about the wonderfulness of my hometown, and Sisqo’s hometown, and Christian Siriano’s, and John Waters’, and Babe Ruth’s, and Tupac’s, and even Nixon’s VP, Spiro Agnew’s hometown. I may not be able to lay down tracks like ‘Pac, go by only one name like Sisqo, or sew skirts like Christian but this city is a harbor (pun intended) for greatness. There is an amazing art scene, a ton of museums, delicious restaurants, thirst-quenching bars, a slew of things to do, and marvelous sidewalks for fascinating jogging sessions.
The previous two paragraphs are basically the foundation of my yoga playlist next week. That’s right. Who wouldn’t be motivated to do crunches to “Good Morning, Baltimore.”
On a great run last year, I both ran through the set of the movie, Step Up 2 and ended up chasing down a stranger’s runaway dog for an entire mile. I wasn’t able to meet the actors and the dog whose name was actually “Tootsie” got away from my fleeting feet but I can’t think of a place where more random things could happen on a quick 3-miler.
Mary was with me for the above run. Still remember it like it was yesterday. Obviously the weirdness persists. For the first time in years, I was in Baltimore for New Years Eve. We attended the Hampden Ball Drop and successfully found Baby New Year, a grown man double-fisting, wearing an adult diaper, white sneakers, and a baby bonnet. Here’s his midnight salute on 34th St.
Our mayor, Sheila Dixon, can’t always formulate complete sentences (but hey, it works for the President). And our saying, “Get in on it,” leaves a lot to be desired and probably could be construed as a sexual joke. But it certainly improves when you say it in a Bawlmer accent. Try, “Git in oin it.”
The above actually refers to George W. Bush! Can you even imagine what 20 year old Amanda would have thought had she known about POTUS DJT so many years ago? “Get in on it” still sounds pretty bad though.
So I’m sick of people bashing Baltimore. You’re bringing us down and if you’re that opposed to this bodacious place, stay out. And if anyone knows where to find one of those sweet stickers, let me know, my bumper’s looking pretty bland.
So moving on from the redlining, let’s find the silver lining.
Why do I even still care? (Thank you, Brendan Fruin, for pointing out this glaring omission.) As a commenter stated, we only live once. So why choose to live somewhere you might be taking risks by even living? Is that foolish? Maybe for some.
Essentially, Baltimore matters to me because in addition to its history, it’s landmarks, its institutions, and free festivals, there are people here. There are people who were born here, who live here, who will never leave here, and they deserve our efforts. Sure, I live here and I don’t plan on permanently leaving here but I do have the financial means to leave if I want and I know I could get a job somewhere else. But if it never occurred to me, if I didn’t have money for a plane ticket, if I couldn’t uproot my life and find another place to work somewhere far away, I would be “stuck.” Or maybe I wouldn’t even know I am stuck because no one ever said it was even possible to live somewhere else and live in some other way. That’s why I work in a Baltimore school. That’s why we stay. That’s why we lift up the things that make Baltimore so weird and fun. It’s the people that make Baltimore. And it’s just not its time to die.
Last week I posted Let There B More Love on NextDoor for Hampden and the surrounding areas. Not only have I had my biggest week ever in terms of readership, I have received five messages about volunteering at Lillie May, 17 replies, and 35 thanks (whatever that means). And that’s why you belong here, Shar. We may be imperfect and messy and a little loopy and still figuring things out 400 years into our existence, but we try. That’s also why The Baltimore Chop can take their negativity elsewhere. We do not have time for it. We have work to do. And Baltimore needs our success.