I had one of those mental explosions a few days ago while riding on South Street and heading through the Inner Harbor. There, where for 16 years I drew a paycheck at the old News American, I looked around at a vastly changed world: darting busboys at the Renaissance Hotel, a bustling Power Plant and an Aquarium that seems to grow a new wing every spring.
This transformation of the old port city has taken a long time, but its accumulating parts and new additions still possess the power to jump up on me.
I thought of it the other day coming home from a trip to New Orleans. Being the thrifty Baltimore resident, I opted for the $1.60 light rail ride from the airport. I passed the old Carr-Lowrey glass plant in Westport, a new renovation candidate, and thought to myself, look fast, it'll be a condo or apartment by the time I get back to New Orleans again. I spotted a rusty red bridge over a Patapsco River backwater near Russell Street and thought, could it be an extension of the Gwynns Falls Trail? Indeed, a newspaper story a few days later confirmed my hunch.
I get a case of Baltimore goose pimples often these days when I observe another chunk of the old city change for the better. It could be a clutch of new homes in Locust Point, the tidy cottages that have replaced the dreadful housing projects along Martin Luther King Boulevard or a nest of construction cranes at Johns Hopkins.
I say this because I spent a childhood in a Baltimore that seemed to suffer plenty of social and economic setbacks while it was locked in a kind of fearful, naysaying spell of inertia. We had our thrills with the Colts and Orioles, but much was gray.
The other morning, I was scooping up the paper off my porch when I caught another kind of proof. I glanced over at neighbors' yards, and there, after years of minimal maintenance, were two well-tended front gardens. I thought I'd never live to see this.
So the news that the Charles Street organization would like to see streetcars return - and even pass my house - did not come as such a shock. While in New Orleans, I rode both branches of the Canal Street car line that has been restored after four decades of bus operation. Streetcars disappeared from St. Paul Street three years before I was born, but this onetime get-around-the-city conveyance might well return.
After all, only this past winter, on a snowy Sunday, my brother and I were driving home from the Hippodrome. Who would have thought, we said, that all the downtown department stores would be gone? Yet, who would have thought we'd be watching a movie in a restored Hippodrome and heading home alongside a Howard Street light rail car?