When I want to go to places in Baltimore where I can still in some way, even briefly, buy into American ideals of pluralism and democracy—and that seems both more necessary and more fruitless right now—I’ll head to Druid Hill Park and Mondawmin Mall (2401 Liberty Heights Ave.,  523-1534, mondawmin.com). At Druid Hill Park, you can witness public space actually being utilized by nearly everybody: nerds like me walking their dogs, aspiring boxers training on the outdoor exercise equipment, plenty of people biking and walking to stay in shape or drop off a few pounds, kids playing (Safety City is a weird Baltimore anomaly), maybe a birthday party over in the grass, and always some serious hooping. In the evening, you might even see a few dirt bikers and on weekends, the city’s car clubs slowly rolling through the park. Within walking distance of the park is the Baltimore Zoo (1876 Mansion House Dr., marylandzoo.org), which has a nice gift shop and the opportunity to buy passes; and across from the park is Reservoir Hill’s Dovecote Cafe (2501 Madison Ave. #1f,  961-8677, dovecotecafe.com), a relatively new coffee and food spot and community-building center where you can also buy literature including local poet Kondwani Fidel’s “Asperous Artistry” ($20) and smaller gifts such as a smudge stick and, often, fresh vegetables. If you’re feeling up to it, you can walk over to Mondawmin Mall, which, like Druid Hill Park, seems to capture the multitudes that American ideals supposedly celebrate—all framed under the gut-level need to buy lots and lots of shit (also very American). My favorite spot is Music City, a mixtape stand that offers up the latest releases from Baltimore rappers in physical copies, which is a nice alternative to streaming them on say, Spinrilla, and is often where these albums make their first appearance before they sneak onto the Internet. Among recent releases over at Music City, there is Lor Choc’s “Worth The Wait” ($10), CTM Ball’s “Sandwich Bags & Scales Reloaded” ($10), Twon O.D.’s “Dirty World 2” ($5), and YGG Tay’s “Everybody Eats” ($7.
"I'm very proud of the youth movement as far as the rap that's going on and I noticed that there wasn't no platform to get their music out or be heard other than Spinrilla and DatPiff," QT, who runs Music City, says. "[Music City] is for the arts. I'd really like to see my city like a New York or Atlanta, know what I'm saying?"
Along with plenty of clothing spots such as Shoe City and Downtown Locker Room, two of the best mall pizza places around—Alfeo's Pizza and Mamma Lucia—and sturdy staples like Target and Shopper's, there is a whole wing of the mall for services including Park Heights Medical, Total Healthcare, and places for tax service. Something kind-of-sort-of resembling the alleged ideals of democracy and multitudes are hiding inside the mall. (Brandon Soderberg)
Not far from Pennsylvania Avenue and North Avenue and the CVS (2509 Pennsylvania Ave.,  225-2091) is Everyone’s Place African Cultural Center (1356 W. North Ave.,  728-0877), a community-oriented institution that has been there for 30 years and offers up an entire floor of dashikis, oils, soaps, and jewelry, including a cowrie shell set ($49.95) and Lion of Judah set ($34.95). Upstairs there are books, DVDs, and other media for the conscious and aware. After you’re done shopping and you have finally peeled yourself away from their book selections, head to nearby Great Grann’s (1341 W. North Ave.,  225-3336), for some soul food and baked goods, and then on over to the busied cultural hub that is Pennsylvania Avenue. There’s the Record Connection (1833 Pennsylvania Ave.,  523-4632), which doesn’t sell too many records these days, but plenty of CDs—if you’re looking for say, Slave’s “Greatest Hits,” Sade’s discography, or an essential L.T.D. album, this is your place. Then explore the Avenue Market (1700 Pennsylvania Ave.) and stop by the Shake and Bake Family Fun Center (1601 Pennsylvania Ave.,  669-9100, skatenbowl.com)—if it’s evening, maybe you’ll want to skate some of this holiday and/or election ennui away, and if not, you can purchase a night of bowling ($10-$30 depending on the night with a $3 shoe rental) or skating ($4.50-$10 depending on the night with a $3 skate rental; Wednesdays are $1 family night) for friends and family, or a private room rental for the future. Just walking around Sandtown-Winchester and into nearby Upton is a gift to give yourself around the holidays. (Brandon Soderberg)
President Davo "Everybody Eats" Mixtape ($7), Music City, 2401 Liberty Heights Ave., (410) 523-1534, mondawmin.com