I'm a recent graduate of a college in downtown Baltimore, and for four summers I have occupied Baltimore, working downtown and trying to understand its workings. I feel as if, despite my original discomfort about living downtown, Baltimore itself has adopted me into its community and made me feel a wholehearted Baltimorean.
Now, instead of saying I've "occupied" Baltimore for several seasons, I say, without hesitation, that I live here — and couldn't imagine living elsewhere. You could say I've been charmed.
Not long ago, Baltimore disgusted me in the summer. I thought it was hot and smoky and full of aggressive strangers who either smoked up the sidewalks, sneered at me on their unhappy way to work, or tried their best to intimidate me into giving them money ... day after long, hot day.
I remember summer 2009, in particular, as steaming hot from the moment the sun rose. The heat would eventually lapse into an uncomfortable burn, until the sun finally set and brought masses of city folks onto the street and to my corner. Outside my window, they would yell and scream madly at each other, happy to have some release from the heat but seemingly as unsatisfied with the city and their fellow residents as I was.
Those summers, I hated the city. I hated going outside, and I resented feeling uncomfortable and crowded into my square block, which I refused to leave except to get groceries and travel to the
When, in the fall, my classes resumed, my friends would ask me how the summer went. I would reply with a terse smile, "I'm glad to be back in school." They would nod sympathetically and then proceed to tell about their glorious adventures in summer festivals and more remote and exotic-seeming locales than Baltimore. I was eat-my-teeth-out jealous.
Last summer, again a seeming prisoner to the city, I decided to find some good things around town. I started reading a couple local papers, first getting hooked on their Sudoku puzzles and crosswords, and then eating up their articles and "best-of" lists. I didn't have a car (and still don't), so I started walking everywhere. From downtown (my urban "prison") to
Every sector was so unusual and different; yet after a couple visits to each, I began to see the same people (friendly, usually, and always fascinating) and understand the vibe of each mini-galaxy in the now not-so-small universe of Baltimore. I walked and walked, sometimes ending up in the spots not usually highlighted in the local papers — but instead of letting it ruin my day, I looked around me and breathed in: This is where we are. And look at where we are headed! I began to love both. I started thinking "we" more and more, considering my roaming and adventurous self as now definitely a part of the Baltimore universe. I was no longer there to judge, just there to be a part of and enjoy.
I even became used to the humidity and smoky quality of my outdoor adventures (although, these days Baltimore air seems much cleaner) and started to really enjoy my time outside, walking and sweating with my city-mates.
I am sure this city success story has more to do with my changing ideals about my surroundings than with Baltimore itself, but even so, it says a lot about the way Baltimore remains essentially the same and yet retains the power to charm even its most stolid critics.