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Hometown Tourist

Susan Allenback
(Jefferson Jackson Steele)

Susan Allenback answers the door

and leads two reporters and a photographer into John Waters' library. "His throat's been a little scratchy," she warns them as they wait. A moment later, as he begins to come down the stairs: "I think I hear the pitter-patter of little feet," she says. When Waters enters, Allenback disappears to take care of other things. During the interview, Allenback moves quietly about the house. With the busy schedule around the upcoming release of Waters' new hitchhiking book

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Carsick

(see Feature, page 21), Allenback is clearly very busy. She helped plan the trip, and even after he left on his cross-country adventure, it was often Allenback's voice on the other line when he was stuck on the side of the road in need of a pep talk or navigational assistance.

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Though she didn't accompany Waters on the road, Allenback has done a fair share of traveling around the country. "Going back to my roots, I'm a wanderer. I still do have wanderlust." She may be a self-described "nester" with a deep love for Maryland, her native state, but coming from a military family, Allenback has come to see home as a transportable entity rather than a fixed position. "In my experience, my things are my home," she says. "I go to a hotel, I put up a candle, I unpack my suitcase and put my clothes in the drawer. I'm compelled to make camp."

Allenback credits her dad with inspiring the effort to "live [in each new town] like you're going to live there the rest of your life. He really wanted us to become where we lived." Instead of feeling permanently detached, Allenback made the decision to fast-track her community involvement in each new town, and took in as much as she could in the limited time allotted to her. "When you go to a new school with kids who have all grown up together, two things happen," she says. "Either you go in loud so you can't be ignored, or you become sort of withdrawn and it's harder."

In adulthood, free from the demands of a military schedule, Allenback was still not ready to settle down. She became an actress and spent some time living in California. Eventually she gave up her wandering and settled in Baltimore, where she continued to act, working on shows such as

Homicide

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and

The Wire.

In fact, it was Allenback who provided the whistle for Omar Little, not Michael K. Williams. Williams couldn't whistle, and Allenback, who could and had worked with a post-production company called the Loop Group, was asked on her first day to overdub Omar's infamous whistle. "It just always makes me laugh that that's my alter ego," she says.

She has done extensive voice acting, and in the early 2000s she co-created and voice acted in

My Wonderful Radio Show

, a Mr. Rogers-influenced radio program for kids. Fourteen years ago, she met John Waters while working in the extras office for

Cecil B. Demented

and eventually began to work full time as his personal assistant.

She is also the mind behind the Hometown Tourist (thehometowntourist.net), a website that tracks her explorations of Maryland and encourages others to explore their home state as well.

Her most recent project is Blockenstein, a community-wide yard sale on the 3100 and 3200 blocks of Bank Street. For Allenback, Blockenstein, which just celebrated its eighth year and is sponsored by the Highlandtown Community Association, is much more than just a good reason to get rid of the junk in your house. "For me," she says, "it was a way to get people to know each other, because I feel that if you know your neighbor even just a little bit, it changes the way you look out for each other."

This passion for community is the uniting force behind Allenback's many passions. She is a strong believer in localized change, and bringing people together is one of the ways she endeavors to make a difference. "We'd all love to save the world," she says, "but we can't. Many of us don't have a further outreach than what's right around us. So if I can do a little bit in my community to get a diverse group of people to get together to know each other and to like each other, I love that."

Though Allenback wishes more people would get to know and love what's right outside their door, she still sympathizes with those who can't stay in one place for very long: "A lot of young people live around me and I know they're going to move eventually, that they're just passing through," she says. "But they're young! I was like that too." Even if she can't keep her neighbors forever, she hopes to help them connect with their community for however long they decide to stay. Sometimes, Allenback says, leaving home can be what you need to fully appreciate it. "I love Baltimore a lot," she says. "Somebody said to me once that Baltimore's like a fly paper town that you can never really leave."

With her deep love of Maryland and her current work helping Waters promote his book, one wonders what she thinks of hitchhiking as a means of exploring the state. "That would be really fun when you think about it," she says. "You could do it two ways: You could either have a destination, or you could just have a sign [that says] 'Need a ride' and go wherever somebody's taking you in Maryland." She adds that she and Waters might have to try it. "A

Thelma and Louise

kind of thing!"

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