The Baltimore Sun

Mrs. Hager? Federal Hill is whispering about you, primping for you, on the edge of its collective stoop -- all for you.

It's not everyday, you see, that a first daughter disembarks from her honeymoon into the 'hood, not everyday that a girl accustomed to the White House opts for a rowhouse, certainly not everyday that a Republican icon settles into one of a blue state's bluest enclaves.

So Jenna -- neighbors should be on a first-name basis, right? -- South Baltimore can't wait to extend to you their warmest, "Hey, hon," and their choicest advice for surviving and thriving on the historic streets you'll soon share.

But before you roll that U-Haul in, there's one thing you need to get straight -- watch it with the parking. Sure, your new home comes with a parking pad -- at $440,000, it had better -- but the fastest way to steam your new block mates is to wedge your cars, assorted Secret Service rides, or any presidential motorcades when Mom and Dad decide to drop by for a visit, into anyone's hard-won street spots.

"First and foremost," says state Sen. George W. Della, a Federal Hill resident for all his 64 years, "go get a parking permit. There is no privileged parking here."

And, Jenna, lest you think the good senator's a bit touchy, he's not the only one who brought this up -- not even the harshest. Consider yourself warned.

That business aside, your neighbors are eager to roll out the welcome wagon. Though, technically there won't be a wagon. Or balloons. Or anything, really.

That's because your neighborhood association board took an actual vote on that. Do we make a to-do for Jenna Bush?


"It was a board decision to treat her like anyone else, like a normal human being," explains Donna Fair, president of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee.

But don't get the wrong idea, Jenna, like any normal human being that moves into Federal Hill, you're certainly invited to attend neighborhood meetings -- mark your calendar for the first Tuesday of the month -- and encouraged to volunteer for one of the group's many committees. Governmental liaison, perhaps?

"We're always looking for more people for the executive board, to chair committees, the whole civic thing," Fair says. "I would love to have Jenna Bush, or anyone for that matter, on my executive board."

Though you and husband Henry will be spending a lot of time personalizing your new home, with its nearly 2,000 square feet of built-in bookcases, crown moldings, walk-in closets and soaking tubs, eventually you'll need to venture out. Folks here know just where you'll want to go.

For starters, three words: Cross Street Market.

Everyone agrees that a person just cannot move to Federal Hill without sampling the market, which could be one of the best places to taste Baltimore's flavors and acquaint yourself with the native patois.

Look for Ronnie Detress at Nick's Seafood. The oyster shucker says he'd treat you right, fix you up with some shrimp, some calamari, maybe a dozen of his bivalves on the half shell -- anything inexpensive.

"Presidents' daughters don't pay for nothin'," he says gruffly but with a wink, adding that his wife is fixing to bake you a welcome cake. He hopes you're hungry.

A few stalls down from Nick's, you'll find Pete Pittas holding court behind his Sweet Shoppe counter crowded with shelf upon shelf of dessert treats, a few of which he thinks you, as a young woman, will melt for. "If she's like any of 'em," Pittas says, "she likes chocolate."

Chocolate filled with butter cream, chocolate molded into the shape of Maryland crabs -- and the goodie he thinks you'd particularly like -- the pecan kittens.

"She can come in here and browse any time she wants," the fatherly Pittas says. "I wouldn't know her, though, so she's going to have to introduce herself."

Outside the market, along Light and Charles streets, you'll find local shops and boutiques, all of them hoping to be the spot where you'll part with this year's economic stimulus check -- compliments of your dad.

Over at Doggie Style, manager Stephanie Sheubrooks isn't sure if you've got a four-legged friend, but if you do -- she thinks you might like their food bowls shaped like martini glasses or the vast selection of doggie biscuits that look and smell confusingly like people food.

If you don't have a dog, Sheubrooks would like to remind you that Father's Day is coming up, and that a certain first hound named Barney would look most fetching in one of her "McCain for President" dog tees.

Or the Obama shirt, Jenna, if that's your thing -- didn't you tell Larry King you weren't necessarily voting Republican in November?

Speaking of dogs, your neighbors want you to know that the quickest path to a Federal Hill friendship can be the trails of the local default dog run -- Riverside Park.

"If she wants to meet people, she has to get a dog," says Teresa Deltete, a Montgomery Street resident. "People won't even know you, but they'll know your dog."

Last week over at the grassy park, people were walking the requisite dogs, pushing strollers along the paved pathways and relaxing, like Sarah Moore and Brendan Therres, on a bench near the airy gazebo.

Like everyone, Mrs. Hager, the Villa Julie students haven't forgotten your exuberance for collegiate consumption.

So if you want a beverage, you won't need to ask Therres, who's 19, twice. "She seems like you could go to a party with her and just chill and hang," he says. "If she wants to buy me a drink, sure, I'll go."

"You're not even 21," scolded Moore, herself a legal drinker who, to be frank, Jenna, is less inclined than Therres to invite you to the next happy hour. And it's less to do with your boozy past than your family business.

"I'm quite leery of political figures," she says unapologetically. "I know she's not a political figure, but she's from a political family. ... I'd talk to her probably, but I don't know if we'd be best friends."

Unfortunately, Jenna, attitudes like that might be par for the course in a city of more than 340,000 voters but only about 32,000 of them registered as Republicans.

If the donkey gets you down, it's hard to imagine a place where a Republican could feel more at home than the Ropewalk Tavern. We're talking exposed brick, beer on tap and a nearly life-sized statue of Ronald Reagan -- a drink on the house is almost guaranteed.

Don't miss the Gipper's annual birthday bash, complete with birthday cake, the Great Communicator videos on loop and -- of course -- jellybeans.

But James Tsai, a 28-year-old law clerk who, like many Federal Hill dwellers, drags his laptop to Spoons coffeehouse for a little something caffeinated, doesn't think you need to overly stress the politics.

"Jenna will probably have to realize that this is a more down-to-earth city than D.C.," he says, surrounded in the coffee shop by young women splitting pastries and tables of friends lost in conversation. "People here don't wear their politics on their sleeves."

Tsai, by the way, has every intention of saying hi to you, Jenna, providing the Secret Service is O.K. with that.

By the way, Sen. Della (sorry, a lifelong Democrat) wants you to keep an eye out for the Baltimore Guide. It will probably land on your doorstep on Wednesdays. Seasoned South Baltimoreans know to look in there for what he calls "the half-price food opportunities."

Such as half-price crab cakes on Wednesday at Captain Larry's -- run, don't walk.

"I hope she makes it down to J. Patricks one Thursday. She might be able to sit down and have a cold one, hear some impromptu Irish music. That's when all these young people come in with their musical instruments and sort of jam," Della says.

"We have people from all walks of life here. Bankers, energy traders -- even president's daughters. It makes for a great neighborhood."


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