Everything is awful in Baltimore, except for when it's not
By Gary Almeter
Jun 28, 2019 | 6:00 AM
Everything is awful in Baltimore. There’s drugs, poverty, potholes, and hyper-aggressive homeless people, squeegee kids and dirt-bike riders. And it's humid.
Everything is awful in Baltimore. It really is. There are drugs, poverty, potholes, hyper-aggressive homeless people, hyper-aggressive squeegee kids, hyper-aggressive racist cops, consent decrees, blight, hyper-aggressive dirt bike riders, and the Preakness might pull a Colts. And the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra musicians have just been locked out of their home.
Not only is everything awful, but summer is here and everything is awful and humid! We will soon be walking around our awful city and we will be sweaty and our clothes will stick to us and our hair will have a mind of its own amid all the humid awfulness.
Everything is so awful that it’s become meta-awful. We have to answer the question, “How awful is Baltimore?” whenever we make national news for some aspect of our awfulness. Like in 2018 when USA Today identified us as America’s most dangerous city and our friends from college living in Boston and Chicago text us to ask us if it’s really as awful as it sounds.
Everything is so awful that our newspaper maintains a homicide database. As of last Wednesday, The Baltimore Sun’s homicide database identifies 152 reported homicides so far in 2019. The news is scary, and valiant attempts at cease fires have been met with skepticism and derision.
Everything is awful and rather than alleviate the awfulness our leaders exacerbate the awfulness with some awful behaviors and subsequent high-profile resignations, which prompt regurgitation of the “How awful is Baltimore?” query from our Chicago and Boston friends.
The Orioles are losing left and right. Our city government was recently rendered powerless by a cyber-virus. Some beloved nightclubs have announced closures in recent months.
Baltimore is also sort of awesome. Our proximity to the Mason-Dixon line means we get to wear seersucker with some liberty. And our proximity to the ocean means a trip to the beach is always a possibility. The best hospital in the world is here. In the past decade, friends who had a child with leukemia and friends whose daughter had a bungee cord hook land in her eye have said, referring to our Hopkins-adjacent-ness, “We are so glad we live here.”
We have crab cakes and hiking trails, and we can take a train to New York, and we have the Ravens (some cities’ teams have never even been to a Superbowl!). We have inexpensive real estate and innocuous winters and Under Armour and John Waters and Thurgood Marshall and sailing and kayaking and the “Star Spangled Banner” and Patterson Park and Berger cookies and Captain Crunch French toast at the Blue Moon Café, and you have read this all a zillion times.
I’m sorry. Suddenly this is the editorial equivalent of a T-shirt; or a You Tube video of a three-legged kitten snuggling with a two-headed piglet that we watch to feel good for a few minutes. I need to do something more than revel in a hubcap margarita and crab cakes if I want to make a lasting effect on the city. We all do. It can be profound, like volunteering time. Or simple, like smiling at tourists. Tourism generates more than $17 billion in revenue.
I know we can’t just put a dash of Old Bay on the apocalypse and expect it to be palatable. But perhaps since I live here and I don’t want to leave (because I really like my neighbors and I have neither the emotional wherewithal nor tolerance for administrative hassles to move), I need to change it. And by “it” I mean both my attitude and the city.
We are all somehow uniquely situated to participate, cultivate, donate, advocate, foster, facilitate, fund, further, and/or otherwise strengthen our city. Trust me, I’ll love every minute I spend eating ice cream at The Charmery to combat the humidity, but it’s not enough.