A summertime visit to Maryland’s Charm City

August 27, 2021

A few of us earthlings boated into Baltimore last weekend. When I mentioned to some friends where we were going, they looked at me like I was crazy – like I had just said I was thinking about vacationing just outside the gates of the airport in Kabul.

But drinking a respectable martini, not one of those swimming-pool varieties that leaves you cross-eyed, at the Owl Bar in the famous Belvedere Hotel on Chase Street – three olives, please – I pondered the city’s poor reputation. Of course, 300-plus murders a year doesn’t help, but neither does the constant barrage of murder and mayhem served up on television on the nightly news.

The war zone depicted in those broadcasts isn’t what we experienced this weekend, nor is it what we have experienced over the many decades of visiting Charm City.

Every city has its ups and downs, and Baltimore to me looked like it is in one of its upward trajectories. The Belvedere gleamed like I hadn’t seen before: its banquet rooms busy on a Friday afternoon, the gold and marble touches in its main lobby shining. Smiling, happy citizens dressed to the nines were arriving for wedding rehearsal parties, and the endless array of captivating, black-and-white, celebrity guest photographs was straight and orderly on the walls of the hallway leading to the venerable old Owl Bar.

It felt good to be in the city; it felt right to be there.

We left there, happy-houred and looking forward to our next iconic stop, where we expected to see history in the making. Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Birds and the Braves, the Birds riding an infamous losing streak headed for the record books. They didn’t disappoint, losing 3-0. That was No. 15. As of this writing on Wednesday, they had made it 19.

But you know what? The game was still enjoyable on that magical, gem-like green field, the boys of summer playing their game, the crowd cheering every walk, every single, drinking their beers and sodas, and eating Italian sausages smothered in fried onions and peppers. Just writing that makes me want to go back soon. It didn’t hurt that Boog Powell was in the house, celebrating his 80th birthday, still hawking his famous BBQ, still looking young and strong, signing autographs with a hand as big as a catcher's mitt.

I want relish to keep on beating mustard and ketchup in the base-running races; want to once again holler O! in the national anthem; and want to keep on feeling the hair rise on the back of my neck when the fiddle cranks up during the seventh-inning stretch with John Denver singing “Thank God I’m a Country Boy.”

Walking to the harbor

We walked several blocks down to the harbor after the game, where there were still plenty of people along the water eating Rita’s Italian ice and watching the moon rise. We talked of plans for taking down two of the Harbor Place buildings and replacing them with more green space, and marveled at the USS Constellation tied up right there. It all looked good and clean, well-lighted and friendly. That reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s famous short story, “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.” Simple pleasures.

Rock bands Seether and Three Doors Down were playing in the harbor-front pavilion. The mixture of their music with the music of several outdoor venues – along with the occasional sounds of sirening ambulances and whirling helicopters – eventually gave way, well after midnight, to the city finally going to sleep, the mirror-like harbor reflecting the many tall, glassy buildings surrounding the water.

That was just one day in Baltimore, and doesn't even include the highlight of our visit. That was our hours-long tour of the American Visionary Art Museum in two industrial-era brick structures at the foot of Federal Hill that consumed most of our Saturday.

It’s impossible to say too many good things about this amazing collection of artworks by largely untrained artists who have followed their passions and visions. There are only two words I can use to best express my feelings about the museum: Just go.

After six miles of walking, energized by a lunchtime interlude at DiPasquale’s Italian Deli of fresh subs with cold Rosé, cappuccinos and mini cannolis, we hiked to the top of Federal Hill overlooking Baltimore’s historic Inner Harbor. There, we visually inhaled the dynamic city spreading out before us, all the way eastward to the Sparrows Point manufacturing facility retooling now for the wind turbines US Wind plans to deploy off the coast of Delmarva.

Baltimore may not be quite as exciting these days as Kabul, thank God, but it’s still one sweet, happening and exciting city.


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