Wednesday, January 12, 2005

A Temporary Change In Tone

Some people have commented on the increasingly querelous tone on the blog. Last night I was told by our good friend Steve that I'd become apoplectic - yeow! hey, is that a good thing? - and on monday my very own father called me long distance to ask why I've been verging on incoherent rage. ARE YOU EFFIN' KIDDING ME? We're mad because there's way too much to be mad about and it's hard to both angry and reasonable. Be that as it may, if one's parent makes a long distance call on their own nickle to query one's mental state, something may indeed be up(one thing I've learned is my father is right way more often than I'd like to admit). So to provide some contrast, today I will offer up a change in tone and talk about something I like instead, especially since there's an anniversary of sorts approaching.

In one week it will be three years since I moved to Baltimore. Even now, when a local hears I've moved from San Francisco to Baltimore, I'm met with a baffled look followed about 5 seconds later by said local spluttering "Wh...why???" I have a pretty standard riff about how the DotBomb ruined SF far sooner than most people realized and in far reaching ways people don't always consider(this riff is really long and dull and has probably been posted elsewhere on this blog at least once, so I won't repeat the rest of it here - and this is supposed to be a positive post dammit!). After recovering from severe eye glazing, baffled local then replies, "Yeah, sure, that makes sense, but why Baltimore?" I normally reply that it was the only place I had an employment opportunity that I had never been before, and that my brother lives in DC, so I'd be near family without being unbearably close. Also, Homicide is a better show than Law&Order. Baffled local gives up, gets frustrated because I've given them the reasons why I left, why I've come, but haven't answered the penultimate. At this point, local gasps, "BUT WHY ARE YOU STAYING?".

I have to admit I'm normally stuck for an answer that doesn't sound terribly cliched, so I normally make positive noises about the quality of the people and architecture. I'll mention the truly interesting American history (my favorite period in American history is the War of 1812, and Baltimore comes out of that episode looking damn good, I must say), as well as the complex labor history. I'll say good things about the food, the museums, the harbor. I'll get a chuckle over the fact that Baltimore has one of the last and best old-fashioned machine-style politics in the country. I'll say that it's great to live in a city both Thurgood Marshall and David Hasslehoff called home. If they're of a literary bent, I'll point them to Mencken's "On Living In Baltimore", which time has rendered inaccurate in letter, but not in spirit. I normally leave out John Waters and Barry Levinson, but they are both good film makers(although personally I could live without Waters being the tastemaker for all that's hip, but that's a minor quibble).

Still, this mishmash of positive stuff doesn't quite do it justice. Baltimore is a charming city, but it's more than that. I've never felt like much of a booster for any particular city until I moved here, and I don't know the words to describe what it is about Baltimore that flipped the civic pride switch in me. At one point Jo Mama - who Dave G. once described as "the other half of the Baltimore Boosters Club", and he should know, they're married - and I decided it had something to do with "vibrant idleness", but that is only part of the story. I've had both locals and recent transplants say to me "I don't get it. I wish I could see Baltimore through your eyes." And it frustrates me that people can't.

It turns out you can. As a (very) early birthday present, yesterday my girlfriend bought me an autographed copy of Perry's Baltimore Adventure, by Peter E. Dans. Yes, it's a children's book, and it's sort of cheesy and full of the sort of uplift at which someone of my temperment would normally vomit. But the illustrations by Kim Harrell capture in pictures what I can't in words. If you want to see Baltimore through my eyes, take a look at the view she renders of Mount Vernon, spread across two pages. It's the view from the sky of what I saw the first time I was taken through Mount Vernon. That's what made me think to myself, "this is a beautiful city, and I'm staying here." If you know me personally, ask to see the book next time you're over, and I'll show it to you.

By the way, I know there's tons and tons of horrible effed up stuff about Baltimore, but you can see that on The Wire, and read about it every day so you don't need to read it here, at least not today.

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