Local personality Will Bauer, also known as Lou Catelli, gives us a ride on his signature tricycle, LouCille, through Hampden. (Algerina Perna/Baltimore Sun video)
Sporting his standard corduroy short shorts, collarless T-shirt and a bun supported by a barrage of pens and chopsticks, the man known as Lou Catelli, né Will Bauer, unlocks an adult-size tricycle from its spot in front of the Hampden Family Center. A new metal sticker that reads "Catelli" has shown up over night, he says.
"The mayor!" a friend squeals, stopping Bauer for a hug before he takes off on his afternoon rounds aboard LouCille, the trike he scored during an auction when the Sparrows Point steel mill closed.
The trike has become a neighborhood fixture, rising to social media fame when it was stolen last month and returned thanks to a community-wide search.
Its rider, though, is the real celebrity. Often called the "mayor of Hampden," Bauer, who uses the pseudonym Lou Catelli, has built a reputation for his quirky style, jovial disposition and jack-of-all-trades know-how in the North Baltimore neighborhood.
A member of the Hampden Village Merchants' Association and a board member and former vice president and treasurer of the Hampden Community Council, Bauer has long acted as a consultant of sorts, assisting local businesses in obtaining permits, liquor licenses and inspections, and helping landlords find tenants. He also volunteers for odd jobs, like helping residents find employment, giving rides on his trike during neighborhood events, composing an edgy calendar to raise money for the Hampden Family Center, and perhaps most notably, painting crosswalks DIY-style when a city contractor was lagging.
In spite of his renown, Bauer maintains an aura of mystery. He won't admit his age or tell the story behind his pseudonym. But friends and family say a captivating personality belies the Lou Catelli alter ego.
"I think the man behind the curtain is more interesting than the one in front of it," said Joan Dolina, co-owner of Arthouse, a Hampden restaurant, bar and art gallery Bauer helped open. "When you really get to know Will … [you find] that he's even more complicated and interesting than if you just see him on the surface. When he puts on that Lou Catelli persona, it's one-dimensional, but he has more dimensions than that."
Sipping his second espresso within the hour, his bare legs folded beneath him, Bauer insists that he's an open book, with a few exceptions. He doesn't reveal much about his ex-wife or his daughter — "some things you gotta keep back for later on," he says, later filling a teacup with champagne.
But "everything else is on the table."
He'll candidly discuss his hygiene and showering habits. He's down to less than three showers a month — in preference of slathering his body with coconut oil, which he says has cleansing properties. He talks about never wearing socks, preferring simple slip-on shoes, even if it makes his feet smelly, and about how he hates pants, only wearing them at select occasions, like when he officiates at weddings (by the bride's request only). Even in the winter, he's likely to be seen in shorts, sometimes paired with his "Star Wars"-like "Wookiee" boots.
"He was straight-laced, religious. Very conservative. He taught me how to be conservative," said DiPasquale, adding that his cousin dressed up daily, wearing a shirt and tie — and pants, a rarity for Bauer these days.
He was also innovative and computer literate at a young age, DiPasquale said.
"Thinking wise, he's got a high IQ, and he knew a little about every topic — music, history, obviously religion. He was too smart for his professors, that's why he hated school."
His mother, Diana DiPasquale Bauer, and his father, Alan Bauer, said that though Bauer was an "easy" child, who was kind, caring and willing to do anything, he was curious, intelligent and sometimes mischievous.
They laughed about "William's" history of being hot-blooded (One winter in the third grade, he secretly took off his coat every day, placing it in his backpack until his school called home and busted his cover), and they chuckled over Bauer's early signs of entrepreneurship, like when he started selling his mother's home-baked cookies in middle school.
But by high school at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute, he'd challenge his teachers — finding mistakes in textbooks or on the board — which led to tension.
Diana DiPasquale Bauer said her son ultimately didn't feel challenged.
"I just remember that last year, saying 'I don't want to be a scientist or a mathematician,' and senior year, you had to pick one of the branches. It just wasn't for me," Bauer said.
During his senior year, Bauer was home schooled.
After graduating, he worked for the family business, DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace in Highlandtown, for 15 years, learning the tricks of the trade and making memories. He even met his wife there, though they later divorced, parting ways in 2002.
In 2008, Bauer moved to Hampden, where he used his years in the food and hospitality business to help open Grano Pasta Bar. He said the experience reinvigorated him after a tough breakup.
"It was one of the most fun openings of all time," said Bauer, who when not working, would make his rounds through the neighborhoods, "trying to learn who everybody [was], learn their stories and their names." He later consulted for 13.5% Wine Bar, leading him to open his own business, Genco Pura, Ltd., four years ago.
Hampden, with its own "avenue" and its tight-knit business community, reminded him of Highlandtown.
"I realized people here all got along, and everybody had a great story. If you got it, you'd stay, and if you didn't, there were other places," Bauer said.
Painting neighborhood crosswalks, volunteering or raising money, assisting businesses through the processes for liquor licenses and permits — anything anyone needed, Bauer is willing to do, and with passion, said Jennifer Grimes, the chair of the crime and safety committee for Hampden Community Council.
"Will is just someone who works on all aspects of neighborhood going-ons. He volunteers for every festival — the Honfest, the Hampden Festival. He makes sure the lights are up on The Avenue [during the Miracle on 34th Street event]. He just makes sure things are done," Grimes said.
"I communicate with him five days a week about something in the neighborhood, and that's just me," she said, adding that she will often hear from Bauer first thing in the morning. "I don't know if he sleeps."
Dolina, the co-owner of Arthouse, said it's rare to hear "no" from Bauer.
"If he can do something, he'll do it. If he can't, he'll find somebody else who can help him," she said.
City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, whose district includes Hampden, said Bauer has been instrumental in helping businesses getting established in the area and that he continues to "participate in all civil events in the most colorful manner."
"We needed a crosswalk at the corner at Elm* Ave. and 36th Street, and we asked and asked for it, and finally, [Bauer] got there and painted. I forgave him and thanked him," Clarke said.
"We don't always see eye to eye ... but he shows patience and diplomacy in continuing the effort, usually until it's successful. He's willing to work with the neighborhood to overcome objections and to move the applications for business."
While many community members emphasize that Bauer takes his job seriously and is in high demand, he does take time to recharge.
"I have a good system," Bauer said. "Nine months in Hampden, hard-in, 7-days-a-week craziness. But from December 21 until April 1 every year, I go to Ocean City," staying in his aunt and uncle's condo while the beach is a ghost town.
He goes weeks without speaking to anyone, he said, roaming the beach for eight hours a day, collecting souvenirs, like sea shells, sunglasses, T-shirts and watches that wash ashore or people have left behind. He listens to podcasts, and just "utterly [detoxes] from everything in life."
Dolina said the time to reflect and recharge is essential. "If you ever see him walk down the street or ride his trike, it's 'Beep-beep! Hey, Will! Hey, Lou!' He is like the informal mayor of Hampden."
Bauer prefers the term "ambassador" over "mayor," a term that should be reserved for "Nosy" Jack Barr, a Hampden man who once scoured The Avenue for business news, wearing hats adorned with handcrafted noses.
"He'll always be the mayor," Bauer said. "Plus with 'ambassador,' you can drink a little more.
He plans to run for the 14th District City Council seat when Clarke retires.
"And then four years after that, I'm going to be the mayor of Baltimore City," he said.
He's confident that Hampden — the neighborhood he's helped build — has a model the city could use.
"This whole neighborhood, I tell people we're going to tell our grandchildren about this point in time … and just the extraordinary stuff that's happening," he said. "I'm not saying we have all the solutions, but I think if we could figure out how to do what we do here and spread it to the east and the west, I think it'd be amazing for our entire city and our state."
Education: Three years at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute
Career: DiPasquale's Italian Marketplace for 15 years; current board member and former vice president and treasurer for the Hampden Community Council; member of the Hampden Village Merchants' Association; owner of Genco Pura Ltd., which assists residents in obtaining permits and liquor licenses for their businesses.
Bragging rights: He helped open several Hampden businesses, including Grano Pasta Bar and Arthouse. He successfully recovered his stolen tricycle with the help of a social media campaign, and he once painted the crosswalk on 36th Street and Elm* Avenue, prompting the city to send contractors to repaint them.
Personal: Single with one daughter, age 17. He gets around on his adult tricycle, his bicycle or his 1976 Cutlass Supreme, and is known for his signature style, which often includes short shorts and man bun. He's an occasional wedding officiant and takes three months off every winter to recharge in Ocean City. He enjoys sambuca and doesn't curse.