I've been watching the ruckus surrounding Denise Whiting, the owner of the Café Hon, with a certain degree of perplexity. I am new to Baltimore, having moved here with my family this past August, so I feel like a person who has stepped into a movie theater halfway into the movie. I know I've missed important parts of the story and am trying to make sense of it all.
What I can't understand is why Ms. Whiting is trying to control the use of the word "hon" through her trademarks and restrictions, including the one prohibiting merchants from selling cat's-eye sunglasses during Honfest 2011. This strikes me as an impossible task and reminds me of Dr. Seuss's story "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."
As everyone knows, the Grinch believes that he can steal Christmas from the residents of Whoville by removing the physical trappings associated with the holiday — the presents, the trees, the decorations, and, of course, the roast beast. But the residents of Whoville are not so easily defeated. They still wake up on Christmas morning and celebrate the holiday, despite all that is missing. The Grinch is baffled and dismayed by the sounds of singing rising from Whoville until he realizes that the essence of Christmas has nothing to do with things. Stealing the objects associated with Christmas doesn't affect whether or not people celebrate a holiday. After all, you can't steal a concept or a feeling.
In much the same way, the word "hon" exists as an immaterial object and can't be forced into an association with cat's-eye sunglasses or even the women who wore them. Whatever the word may have represented in the past, "hon" has now become the type of quirky endearment that is one of the unique aspects of Baltimore. To me, the beauty of the word is that it can apply to everyone. It's an all purpose word that isn't bound to a particular gender or race, as evidenced by the greeting that waitresses will give you as they come to the table to take orders: "What'll it be, hon?"
Everyone is a hon, whether you are young or old, male or female, a longtime Baltimorean or an outsider. This point is underscored by one of my favorite local icons, the Hon Man, who during the mid-1990s, made it his personal crusade to amend the "Welcome to Baltimore" sign on the Baltimore Washington Parkway to read, "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon." What I love about this gesture is its expansiveness and generosity. By tacking the word "hon" onto the end of what is an otherwise impersonal, institutional stab at friendliness, the sign welcomes everyone to be a part of the community in an irreverent, funny way that seems to me to be true to the spirit of the city.
Grace Park, BaltimoreCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times