Monday, November 6, 2023

Baltimore: The Greatest City in America

 In 1986, when we moved to Baltimore so that I could begin work on The Sun's copy desk, we rented an apartment in Towson while we looked for a house in the city. 

A couple in a nearby apartment had a daughter the same age as our twins, and the children played together and swam in the pool. In conversation with the parents we discovered that though they had lived in Towson for several years, they had never set foot inside Baltimore's city limits. 

Their daughter had never been to the National Aquarium, the Science Center, the Maryland Zoo. Or the Baltimore Museum of Art or the Walters Art Museum. Had never strolled around the Inner Harbor or seen the Constellation. Her parents were content with the turn-ons of Towson (which was not in 1986 the cosmopolitan happening place it has become today).*

In that they resemble many people in the counties surrounding Baltimore who decline to come into the city or, if they happen to work in the city, prefer to drive in at 40 mph or more and exit at the same speed at the earliest possible moment. They regularly write letters to The Sun to inform us that we in the city are living in a cesspit. 

That is not to say that the bleak picture of a crime-ridden decaying city that Sinclair's Fox 45 television station exerts itself to broadcast to the surrounding area can be wished away. 

Too many people, especially impetuous young men, carry guns and use them. Some years ago the driver of an unlicensed cab was fatally shot across the street from my house at 9 p.m. That was when I discovered that one task for the Fire Department is to show up the next day and hose the blood and brain matter from the pavement. 

There is no denying the consequences of living in a one-party city with too many Democratic hacks in government. Two mayors have left office amid charges of corruption. We spend more than $600 million a year on a police department that seems unable to reduce homicides or even manage traffic enforcement, and for which we have spent an additional $22 million in settlements to the victims of the corrupt Gun Trace Task Force. Our Department of PublicWorks can't manage water billing or operate the sewage treatment plants. 

We have schools that have to send children home on days that are intolerably hot or intolerably cold. 

A third of city residents do not own an automobile, and public transit is laughable. 

So you may be wondering why I am still in the modest house my wife and I bought nearly thirty-six years ago, or why I call Baltimore The Greatest City in America.**

Our house is in a racially mixed neighborhood in the northeastern quadrant of the city, and we like our neighbors. There's a creek nearby that I pass on my daily walks, occasionally seeing a heron take flight or a hawk circle overhead. 

Despite the city's reputation for danger, for more than thirty years I drove through the city after work at the newspaper at midnight, one o'clock, or three o'clock in the morning, without incident. 

There's a very nice bookstore in the neighborhood, one of several in the city. (You see that, Towson?) There's also a very nice Italian restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Abruzzo; my wife and I had a leisurely lunch there with a friend yesterday. The Enoch Pratt Free Library has a branch here and is diligent about providing books I request. 

We have a group of friends who meet at a bar near Belvedere Square at three o'clock in the afternoon several days a week for beer and badinage. 

My parish, Memorial Episcopal Church, has a progressive history: rejecting its segregationist past, hiring the first woman priest in the diocese and the first openly gay male priest, working to form alliances with the surrounding Black neighborhoods.***

We've been to the museums, the symphony, the zoo, the opera, and the Inner Harbor. We've visited the one-of-a-kind Visionary Arts Museum and drunk in the view of the city from the summit of Federal Hill. 

And yet, when I say any of this online, some jabroni in the county tells me that I'm living in a shithole and am a hopeless liberal who can't listen to reason (as if some feckless echo of Donald Trump constituted the voice of reason). Let me tell you, I have seen what some call the lovely suburban life, York Road from Towson to Cockeysville, Ritchie Highway from Annapolis to Baltimore, and I'm having none of it.

My wife and I have had a happy life here for three decades, and now that we are retired we feel no impulse to leave what for us has been The Greatest City in America for anywhere else. 

*I joke. Towson, a county seat of 5,000 people adjacent to a state university with more than 20,000 students, cannot support a bookstore.

**"Baltimore: The Greatest City In America" is the slogan then-Mayor Martin O'Malley affixed to benches around the city, a morale booster for a battered urban populace. It got some attention recently when a resident used it on an an NPR radio show

***And indulging me in smoking up the joint with incense a couple of times a year.