Blaze Starr holds a special place in my life and probably in the lives of a number of other boys who grew up in Baltimore in the '60s. Her passing is another reminder of the changes the city has gone through ("Funeral services set for Blaze Starr," June 17).

When I was navigating the path from adolescence to manhood, I discovered The Block. On some Saturday afternoons, my mother would dress me and my siblings in nice clothes and drive us downtown to Hecht Co., Hochschild Cohn and Stewarts to shop for clothes. Downtown Baltimore was a bustling commercial hub. We would shop, eat lunch and shop some more before returning home to Northwest Baltimore. I find shopping as unpleasant now as I did then, but once I discovered The Block, the shopping outings were not totally boring.

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I discovered the fact that when my mother took more than three or four outfits into a fitting room, I had ample time to run to the elevator, ride down and run down West Baltimore Street to the 2 O'clock Cub where I could feast my eyes on the larger-than-life cut-out of Ms. Starr that was posted outside the entrance. After a minute or two, I would dash back to the store, my absence unknown to my mom.

A few years later when I was a high school musician, I took the risk of taking two guys in my band and driving down to the 2 O'clock club to offer to "sit in." Our love of music and our desire to play anytime and before any audience helped me convince a drummer and horn player to accompany me. The worst thing that could happen is the manager could say no. He said yes, and we replaced the recorded music whenever we appeared. We were told there would be no compensation other than tips. We learned quickly that playing jazz, swing and whatever else passed for the appropriate rhythm was not going to result in lot of tips for us because the focus of the customers in the strip club was not on us.

Blaze Starr was a gracious woman who took the time to talk with us about her life and about some of the dancers we played for. We learned a lot about life and business in those brief talks. For teenage boys who should probably not have been legally allowed to be in a club where alcohol was being served, it was exciting. We would play until the 2 a.m. closing time and then walk down to Pollock Johnny's for Kielbasa. On one occasion, we took a young sailor with us. He had been in the club for hours and had spent most of his month's paycheck buying "cocktails" for a certain "Rita from Rio" who he assumed was going to leave the club with him when she got off. We paid for his Polish sausage and loaned him money to get back to his base after we convinced him that Rita was not from Rio and she was not going anywhere with him.

The department stores are long gone. So are the Colts and the Bullets. But I often reminisce about the Baltimore I grew up in. It was a wonderful city and I am sure that it will come back from it's recent setbacks, but it will never be the same.

Roland Nicholson Jr., Albany, N.Y.

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