What do we call this decade? The Ohs? If you say that out loud it sounds like a certain baseball team. The Aughts? What's an aught? In a practical but infinitely more gloomy choice, Time magazine settled on "The Decade from Hell."
And maybe it was. A new national poll found that most Americans have nothing nice to say about these last 10 years, whatever you call them.
We reached new depths of national tragedy on a September morning in 2001. After Hurricane Katrina, we learned that the kind of chaos that ensues after a natural disaster in a Third World country can happen here.
We lost our sense of security, to say nothing of our retirement savings accounts.
We filled our spare time watching neighbors compete on reality shows. We Googled. "Friend" became a verb.
In Maryland, we shared all of those things with the nation even as we experienced the decade in a way that was uniquely ours.
A train derailed, setting off a toxic fire in a tunnel beneath Howard Street in Baltimore. A packed water taxi capsized in the harbor. A deadly sniper had people crouching as they pumped gas.
On Broadway, a chorus sang "Good Morning Baltimore." On HBO, the city couldn't have looked bleaker. Redemption came in the shape of a football.
Whether they were the Ohs or the Aughts, whether we want to remember or quickly forget, let's take a look back at the years 2000-2009: The things we lost. What we gained. The tragedies we couldn't bear to watch and the moments that brought us together.
Thrill of victory, poignant goodbye
Thousands of people skipped work and some even kept their kids home from school. In a chilling January rain, they lined downtown streets and sank into the mud of Memorial Plaza - all for a glimpse of the Vince Lombardi Trophy, a silver obelisk with the power to warm Baltimore's collective soul.
All of those kids and many of their parents were too young to remember the city's last Super Bowl win, 30 years earlier. With the Colts long gone, the city needed another hit of victory, craved it - a jolt of civic pride, an affirmation, a legacy.
That Super Bowl euphoria in the winter of 2001 helped dull the pain as a wrecking ball started to swing on 33rd Street. Despite impassioned last-minute pleas, lawsuits and accusations that officials would be desecrating a monument to war veterans, demolition crews did their work on Memorial Stadium. It fell slowly, brick by brick, bleacher by bleacher, forcing old Baltimore to consign the landmark to memory, along with all the home runs and touchdowns there.
An industry in its death throes
For hundreds of years, the oysters and crabs at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay sustained countless Eastern Shore livelihoods and became a state symbol. Out-of-towners who thought about Maryland thought about savory crab cakes, steamed bushels and the peppery bite of Old Bay.
As certain as the tide, money would come in for fishing, for picking, for seafood processors and restaurants - enough to build homes and raise families. But that way of life increasingly seemed all but over as oyster and blue crab populations dropped lower and lower, hitting crisis levels.
Regulators tried to encourage species comebacks with tight harvesting restrictions. Still, crab counts plummeted. Pollution and drought made a dire situation worse.
Destination crab houses began serving crabs caught in more prolific waters on the other side of the planet. The Eastern Shore, meanwhile, began looking for a future in tourism, retirees - and marketing of the sugary, multilayered Smith Island cake.
The crab might still be Maryland's iconic image, but it's a bit of false advertising.
Another act for the cultural scene
The economy did the arts no favor. The volatile stock market and then the decade-ending recession wreaked havoc on endowments and grants, and left many ticket-buyers thinking they'd better cut back on luxuries.
But there were happy endings, too.
After a death scene more prolonged than any Hollywood melodrama, The Senator, the last of Baltimore's old-time movie houses, was auctioned off. And Landmark Theatres opened a multiplex with cushiony seats and bar service at Harbor East.
It was over for the blocky and dour Mechanic Theatre, for years the signature destination for theater-goers in the region. A few blocks over, however, the restored Hippodrome Theatre opened, a gleaming, gilded beauty with room for bigger productions.
Baltimore lost its opera company, but the hiring of energetic conductor Marin Alsop infused new life into the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. With more affordable tickets, pop culture references and a recording nominated for a Grammy, Alsop fought to shake off the symphony's stodgy image.
Factories bow to brain trusts
In the 1950s, a third of those who worked in the area used their hands to make cars and cans, soap and sugar, tools and spices. But that steel-solid manufacturing core was barely holding on by the dawn of this decade.
Bethlehem Steel declared bankruptcy in 2001. General Motors' Broening Highway plant assembled its last van in 2005.
At ghostly Sparrows Point, once teeming with 30,000 steelworkers, just a couple of thousand people punch in.
The region's economy now centers on the head, not the hands, with workers in the lab rather than on the line.
Johns Hopkins institutions rose to dominate the employment ranks. Hospitals across the region expanded. Large biotech parks sprouted on Baltimore's east and west sides, luring scientists and researchers seeking the medical world's next great thing.
The factories died, but for those in lab coats instead of coveralls, tens of thousands of new jobs took their place.
Inside-out, topsy-turvy politics
Weren't Maryland politics always predictable? Heavily Democratic and a bit of an election night yawn? Not this decade.
Maryland voters, considered the bluest shade of blue, defied conventional wisdom and went red in 2002, electing Republican Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. as governor. Some called it a blip, an aberration, but, either way, everyone knew it was Ehrlich's reward for sensing the political zeitgeist and courting conservative suburbs instead of going after the liberal bastions of Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George's counties.
Then, after 50 years in office wearing one title after another, William Donald Schaefer, a man whose name is all but synonymous with city and state politics, found himself no longer able to charm the electorate. At 84, he lost the race for comptroller in 2006. No one was more surprised than he was.
More recently, to cheers from feminists across the region, Baltimore elected its first woman mayor in 2007. This fall Sheila Dixon became another statistic - the city's first mayor to be convicted while in office.
Changing of the sports hero guard
As fireworks erupted, we stood with tears of pride as Baltimore's blue-eyed home-run hitter took his last lap around the bases. Cal Ripken Jr. retired from baseball in the autumn of 2001, after 21 seasons and 3,001 games.
With his charming combination of athletic ability and old-school work ethic, he seemed like one of the last genuine role models.
A year later, we lost another great one when we buried Baltimore Colts legend John Unitas. The Hall of Fame quarterback with the golden arm died of a heart attack at 69.
Baltimore might have been without a solid sports hero for a couple of years, but at the 2004 Olympics, a teen-age swimming phenom with crazy long arms and big ears splashed onto the scene. The kid from Rodgers Forge, Michael Phelps, won gold there, but nothing compared to what he'd bring home from Beijing in 2008 - a record eight gold medals - enough to earn him the title of history's greatest Olympian and, of course, Maryland's reigning hometown hero.
A tragic symbol
A woman with a modest rowhouse and a clear view of the drug activity that endangered and cheapened the streets of her Oliver neighborhood thought that if she reported it to the police, if she did something, it would help. Deep in the night on Oct. 15, 2002, a young man with a long criminal record retaliated by pouring gasoline on her house and lighting a fire that killed Angela Dawson, along with her husband and five children.
The tragedy saddened the city deeply, but frustrated it more. Here was Baltimore, finally pushing down its homicide rate, with a new young mayor urging his jaded constituency to BELIEVE - yet someone who believed enough to take action was painfully vulnerable.
Civic leaders rebuilt the Dawsons' home into a youth center as one police commissioner after another took office with tough talk and new crime-fighting strategies. Still, drug dealers barely blinked, instead making videos encouraging folks to "stop snitching" - with an unspoken but obvious "or else."
East Baltimore neighbors, interviewed years after the Dawson fire, could have been speaking from any of Baltimore's virtual war zones when asked about police drug-quashing tactics. The drug trade hadn't disappeared, they replied. It just "went around the corner."
The boom ... and the bust
Progress, outfitted with stainless steel, granite, roof decks and parking pads, marched into such working-class bastions as Canton and Locust Point. The decorator appointments cracked the neighborhoods' Formstone-encrusted hearts and lured a new breed of city dweller: younger, ambitious, professional.
Longtime residents shook their heads at the endless parade of yuppies and U-Hauls and watched, bewildered, as microbrew pubs replaced corner bars and boutiques moved onto Broadway and the Avenue - our Main Streets.
Just east of downtown, Baltimore's new fashionable neighborhood, Harbor East, was created from whole cloth - that and the imagination of H&S Bakery magnate John Paterakis. High-rise offices. Expensive condominiums. Hotels. Chic stores and restaurants. A movie multiplex.
So much concentrated action and corporate investment mixed with designer bags, fine wine and sushi that it effectively pulled downtown's center of gravity eastward.
Though Harbor East largely escaped recession's grip, other grand ideas stalled. Ballyhooed downtown skyscrapers never materialized. Lots cleared for shopping centers and condos grassed over.
And quite a few of those renovated homes sat vacant as the decade closed, dust forming on all that stainless steel.
A city ready for its close-up
Those with the luxury of premium cable came face to face in 2002 with a side of Baltimore that city leaders would have shuddered to display even on public access channels.
Taking advantage of HBO's patience with complex plots and permissiveness with coarse language, "The Wire" shined a most unflattering light on Baltimore's blemishes: the crime, the drug infestation, the poverty, the corruption.
Categorized as fiction, the show played liked something from National Geographic. And creator David Simon made clear that he aimed to show his audience the all-too-real urban dysfunction he learned of as a Baltimore Sun police reporter.
Baltimoreans had a blast spotting their streets, bars and landmarks in each episode, to say nothing of the characters clearly based on real players in town. TV critics were effusive. And out-of-towners were just as impressed and obsessed, but maybe less likely to book a trip to the Inner Harbor.
An image consultant the city hired in 2006 said Baltimore's "very bad" national reputation was largely the fault of "The Wire."
When the series ended in 2008, Baltimoreans reluctantly let go of McNulty, Bubbles and the national spotlight. City tourism leaders resumed their HBO subscription.
Living with terror
In the days, months and years after terrorist-driven planes hit the twin towers, fallout rained down on America the way chalky debris dusted Manhattan that September morning.
Life would never be the same, we were told. And in some ways it wasn't.
We learned to decipher the candy-colored terror alert chart. Lime meant safe. Cherry, big trouble. Signs over the Beltway reminded us to look at one another with suspicion. We scrutinized our mail for anything powdery and white.
BWI Airport not only scrambled to tighten security like every airport in the country, national leaders tagged it to be a safety leader. So Maryland travelers weren't just taking their shoes off, standing in screening lines and relying on sample-size shampoo, they were helping to test-drive the latest measures in precaution.
The region took center stage in disturbing ways, too, as investigators searching for the person who loaded letters with deadly anthrax swarmed over Fort Detrick in Frederick. They implicated - then absolved - one scientist, Steven Hatfill, before turning to another who killed himself before being charged.
And when the world winced at photos of naked Iraqi prisoners forced into humiliating positions, it was officers from a Western Maryland military police company who would be charged in the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison.
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