Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Charm City

Take any south-bound train into Baltimore, and you will know the instant that you cross under 695 (the assumed if not actual dividing line between city and county): piles of trash fifty feet high. In actuality, it isn’t trash, its wood chips and building materials and who-knows-what-else. It just looks like trash.

I was in Philly for work today, as I am often. Daylight savings made this my first return train yet that has brought me through the city in the daylight, and the scenes made me overwhelmingly sad.

It’s the same sadness I feel when I tell people I live in Baltimore. You get the concerned, knowing nod from people who are too polite to ask the obvious questions. It’s the occasions where people don’t say anything where you just know they are running through every episode of The Wire they’ve seen in their head. Those that aren’t “polite” just blurt it out—Is that safe?
It’s a question that bothers me more than I ever want to admit. Mostly, I hate being asked that because this is my home. I’ve travelled lots of places, and a myriad of cities have felt comfortable to me – New Orleans, Boston, Seattle, Shannon – but Baltimore is home. I’ve considered living other places, I have lived other places. But some part of me identifies with this city. I see some of myself in it, and I fit here. So I hate being asked if this place is safe. Put me in the middle of Smalltown, U.S.A. and I will feel edgy and uncomfortable in a way I never have here.

But, I have to be honest, part of the reason that question bothers me so much is that it is so valid. This is a dangerous town if you don’t know where to go and where not to. Sometimes, it’s dangerous even when you do.

There is no two ways about it: Baltimore is infested with drugs. I am sure the tourism board won’t thank me for this, but I am only stating fact. You live in or around this city long enough, and it winds up on your doorstep in one way or another. I know this from experience. I’ve never used, but it has impacted my life more dramatically than anything else with the possible exception of cancer (which I have also never experienced firsthand).

And yet, this is my home. I know all cities have neighborhoods and niche cultures, but those that thrive here, that define this place in a way far more entrenched and impressive than the drugs, just happen to fit me perfectly.

In a way, I like to flatter myself by thinking that I am somewhat like Baltimore. See me at a party after one too many and you will think “damn, stay away from THAT mess.” Sit in a meeting with me at work when I start railing on branding, and you will see a part of me that is composed and rigid and capable, like our collection of “business” buildings in the harbor. Like that collection, that part of me is small.

I have my moments of being open and affectionate and just a little bit charming. Those are the days when I walk through Mt. Vernon. I have days when I can’t seem to care if my hair is combed or my socks match but I know I feel like laughing. Hello Hampden. There is the part of me that feels nostalgia for times that came long before me, when I need to be surrounded by history, and those are the days when I am thrilled to wander around Greenmount Cemetery. When I need to feel literary and hope that my ramblings here amount to more than a task for oblivion, I can put my hands on Poe’s grave in minutes.

Like Baltimore, I am frenetic and love to have a million options for what to do on a Saturday night. Like Baltimore, I think 2 a.m.is about as late as it is physically possible for me to stay out.
Yes, Baltimore is dangerous. Am I? Is there a part of me that is? Maybe that is a part of me I don’t know yet. But I know this—there is beauty in this city, dangerous or not, and being here inspires me. This is home.

And on a more personal note, I am heading to Penn State in two and half weeks for a lecture. I will be meeting the cast of Paranormal State. I love the show, but in procrastinating from work, I did some blog hunting and learned a bit about the cast. The trip is motivated by a desire to meet people I respect, who intrigue me.

Ryan Buell, the main ghost-hunter dude, just published this blog about writing his book that made me all misty. I don’t have a ton of writer-friends, and so sometimes I feel a bit at a loss for a way to express to people how writing truly is a love-hate-love endeavor. Ryan’s blog sums it up, and if nothing else, I want to shake his hand and thank him for letting me know there are more of “us” out there. You should check it out—www.ryanbuell.net—it’s the March 22, 2010 entry.

Sergey, who is the techie ghost-hunter dude, has this amazing blog full of photos. I love looking at photography, and I swear, that man captures emotion and truth better in his photos than I will ever be able to in words. I just want to tell him he rocks.

But, this is where the “danger” part of my personality shows through. I see one ideal and two probable scenarios. Ideal: I am able to shake Ryan’s hand and thank him in a cohesive statement, and tell Sergey he rocks, and we all share a nice conversation and I make some new acquaintances. Probable scenario #1—I enter the room, see two people that I admire and want to meet, and am instantly reduced to a pile of giggling befitting a twelve-year-old and make a complete a*s of myself. Probable scenario #2—I am so terrified that Probable Scenario #1 is the outcome of attempted to achieve ideal scenario that I hide in a corner all night and don’t say anything to anyone…like a twelve-year-old.

Yes, guys and gals, like Baltimore, I am a danger to myself. Stay tuned for the outcome. I guess I better get over my fear of people before I officially become a published author in November. Giggling like a school girl could make interviews really tricky…


  1. In my life I have lived in 10 cities, six states and four countries. Of those cities, I could find home in three of them. I love Toronto because it's where I'm from; it's big and multicultural and somewhere I will always feel at ease. I love Prague because it's gorgeous and aloof and haunted by its history. But I love Baltimore for what it isn't; it's not beautiful and it's not shiny. It's violent and sharp and it's home to some of my best experiences, friends and memories. I have nothing but love for Baltimore. There is not a single bit of me that would second guess moving back given the opportunity.

  2. Ahhh... Wade... you understand! But I disagree. Something in being not shiny and in being violent and sharp makes this place beautiful.