BALTIMORE, Md. — The nickname, “Charm City,” is served up with a tongue-in-cheek twist in this gritty, no-nonsense, blue-collar town.
Baltimore is a city of simmering summer heat and door-front stoops, cobblestone streets and small shops, neighborhood bars and more than its share of street people. It’s a port city that’s strived to rebuild around its waterfront. It’s a city of brick row houses, some in disrepair, others spruced up down to their brass door knobs.
But something else does stand out about this city: In its distinctive, no bullshit manner, it is charming. Waitresses call you hon. Crossing guards greet you with a friendly hello. School kids wander to community guardens as part of summer camp. And, from her perch amid plastic flowers on her stoop, a great-grandmother down the block from our daughter will regale you with stories of how she bought her place with $200 down and $7-a-month payments during the Depression.
Those of varying ages and races appear to mingle comfortably. And everywhere, residents sports orange and black, the colors of the ever-struggling Baltimore Orioles, the team with a great downtown stadium and awful, cellar-dwelling record.
Our older daughter Betsy moved to Baltimore 11 years ago to enroll in Maryland Institute College of Art. She never returned home, not even for a summer. She’s waited tables, tended bar, run a college cafeteria and now, along with her guy, co-manages Turp’s, a down-home, neighborhood sports bar on Charles Street two blocks south of the train station. Since July 2, she’s been on leave, the mom of newborn Dylan, our grandson. Baby and mom are doing great, moving at the same casual, hot-climate pace that marks much that’s done in Charm City.
In afternoons and evenings, this has been a chance to bond with Betsy and the baby. But from 8 to noon, before the streets truly sizzle, Kathy and I are giving Betsy a little space and finding new places to walk or read or drink coffee in Baltimore’s neighborhoods. If there’s one thing that’s clear, it’s this. Baltimore is truly as eccentric as Pulitzer-Prize-winning author Anne Tyler makes it sound in her novels. It’s a place of sniffing bow-legged dogs, old men washing pickups, and young and old alike hanging out on narrow streets, talking to friends and watching strangers walk by.
Kathy and I are starting to wonder whether we might consider retiring here someday. But then, we probably should ask Betsy first.