Ramfanatic Takes In Baltimore

I had an occasion recently to visit Baltimore, a city I had visited only once since my tenure in Charlottesville, where occasionally a few of us would take off early on a Friday for a night on East Baltimore St. The one time I revisited Baltimore was more for the train trip and meal than a "real" visit to the city.

In many ways, Baltimore is like any other port city. Lots of action and transients. But I will have to admit that on my earlier trip to Baltimore, I had never seen any of the city other than the strip joints on East Baltimore St. This time was different. I went with a friend who had a business appointment in the suburbs and I got a opportunity to see some of the residential areas. Not bad. Not bad at all.

In addition to many fine residential areas in Baltimore, I was surprised to see so much downtown building going on. Entire blocks being leveled to build condos and quite a few of them already exist. Baltimore appears to have been able to do what so many cities try and fail to do. That is to attract people back to the inner city as their place of residence. Richmond, my current home town, has tried it for years and has achieved some success, but not the success I saw in Baltimore. It's interesting to note that the designer of Harborplace in Baltimore is the same person who designed the now defunct 6th St Market Place in Richmond. Downtown Richmond has an image problem. The image may be worse than reality but when you read in the newspaper that 5 people were shot in one incident in a Shockoe bottom night club parking lot, its no wonder that many Richmonders avoid downtown Richmond like the plague, particularly at night. The recent flood may very well have ruined Shockoe for good. It's ironic that 180 million dollars was spent to build a flood wall and when the flood came, it was from the sky and not the river.

Back to Baltimore. Harborplace is nice. There are many things to do like the ships, the aquarium, shops, etc. You shouldn't place any particular interpretation on my observation that there were not many people there who looked like me or my friends. It's not your mother and father's America anymore if the composition of the crowd at Harborplace is used as a barometer.

One thing surprised me about Baltimore. There were more panhandlers than I have seen recently anywhere. We were approached 4 or 5 times in a couple of hours and one person who approached us tried to give us a sermon about how nobody in Baltimore seemed to care that he and his wife (?) were in a strange town without any money. He said he was from Norfolk and I had to resist the temptation to give him a few bucks, but I knew better. I felt sorry for his young and frail wife who just looked lost. I certainly didn't envy the position they were in.

We took in Camden Yards and it was even better than I thought it was going to be. The Orioles were not in town so we had to peep through the fence for a sight of the stadium. What a sight it was. Holds around 48,000 and we are told the stadium is always filled to capacity when either the Yankees or the Red Sox are in town. One neat thing was the placing of brass plaques the size and shape of baseballs in the bricks behind the outfield seats to denote where every home run has been hit. There were many plaques but it should be noted that no one has ever hit a ball out of the stadium. That will give future generations something to strive for and, eventually, they will achieve it.

The highlight of the trip was lunch at a fine restaurant in Little Italy which is very close to the harbor. We ate rather late and when we entered the restaurant, we were surprised to see that we were the only diners they had. We were late for lunch and early for supper (dinner). The waitress (or are both genders now called waiters like both sexes are now called actors) was both good and entertaining and informed us that she was working her last week before returning to Towson State for her senior year. It was a nice experience. It was almost as if the restaurant had been reserved for us and almost made us feel like celebrities. The prices were reasonable and the food was good. If I'm ever in Baltimore again, I will be sure to dine in Little Italy. I don't know how many Italian restaurants there are in Little Italy, but there must be around 35 or 40 in a 4 block area.

We stayed just long enough for me to experience the "go home" traffic and I now understand why people from the Washington/Baltimore area laugh at us in Richmond when we complain about the traffic. It's hard to realize, at times, but we don't know what traffic is compared to those cities.

I almost forgot. One of my traveling companions wanted to go by the place where Memorial Stadium was for old times sake. We went where the stadium used to be, but found only a vacant field with some earth moving equipment parked and ready to go into action. A sign said they will be building condos in the near future. I could tell that my friend was sad about there being no more Memorial Stadium but when one looks at the new football stadium, which is just across the street from Camden Yards, it's easy to see why a change was needed. Time marches on and some call it progress.

It was a good day and if you have not been to Baltimore recently and have the chance to do so, you should strongly consider taking advantage of the opportunity. It ain't the same Baltimore I saw in the mid sixties when I was a frequent visitor to the "Two O'clock Club". I was tempted to try and locate Blaze Starr but decided that I had better not go there. I understand she is now a part of the accepted power structure in Baltimore and would probably be embarrassed if I reminded her of her "bump and grind days." Even though they are no longer with us, I bet JFK and the Louisiana Long (Earl, I think....... I get them mixed up ) would remember Blaze.