I’ve had people ask me if I’m from New York, I’ve had people ask me if I’m French. I’ve been told I have a Southern accent, and people sometimes wonder if I’m more Italian than I lead on to be.
But Baltimore is my home. I’ve grown up with the 410 as my neighbor, and location was a huge part of my college decision. When I was grooming over my options for the next four years, I was smacked in the face with this notion that I just couldn’t leave. It was either a big bustling city with a grid system and fancy numbered streets or Baltimore. And I just couldn’t leave.
Some people have a bit of a hometown identity crisis; maybe they’ve moved all over the place, maybe they’re not sure with which zipcode they identify. Maybe they visited another country and finally felt like they belonged for the first time in their lives.
I’ve had the supremely lucky experience of growing up in the same place where I felt cosmically connected. I have a desire to travel as much as the next dreaming college student, but I’ve never felt an overwhelming sense of wanderlust because I know I’m rooted in the right place. Travelling, to me, isn’t a means of escape. Baltimore is my paradise, better than any Caribbean blue-watered beach or trite, romantic little European city.
I’ve written before about how sometimes I just crave change. While I am an animal of habits, this has never translated to me needing the familiar. Baltimore was an exception to my need for change in routine. Baltimore will always be my exception. I hate spicy food. Old Bay is the best. Being outside in the sun for a prolonged amount of time is not my thing. I can wander around Artscape for hours without getting exhausted. I will never get tired of Baltimore. It’s always surprising and exciting me, but it’s still Charm City.
When I came to Hopkins, I was so desperate for others to catch this Baltimore fever. During Orientation week when your hometown defined who you were, my Baltimore ties exploded into full-on obsession. I taught my friends that Old Bay is amazing on everything. I did my best to mimic a good-ol’ Bawler accent (for those who had never had the pleasure of having a lacrosse coach from Essex). I screamed “OHHHHH!” during the National Anthem at Convocation, warranting some very confused looks. I begged my friends to watch Ravens games in the social lounge of my dorm. I was the resident tour guide, recommending the best restaurants; I was always there to give a look of playful disgust when friends mentioned they went to Phillips Seafood.
Teaching others about the beauty of Baltimore taught me how to see it myself. Suddenly, the nightlife and cobblestone streets of Fells Point became even more special when I lead my friends around Thames Street on Halloween. I played tourist when my friends took their first trip to the Inner Harbor. I squealed like a fangirl when local news broadcaster Deborah Weiners visited my Baltimore & The Wire class. I bonded with one of the writers of The Wire over Locust Point and Patterson Park.
I beam with pride whenever I hear a Hopkins student compliment my city. One friend told me that they had never before seen a city with so much unique culture and pride. I didn’t even try to hide my smile.
Baltimore is so misunderstood that any slight sign of appreciation means the world to me. It’s not just the textbook example of urban crises; it cannot be defined by the boarded-up homes or the AIDS epidemic. For every WBAL news story about the homicide rate, there’s another about Baltimore citizens coming together to raise money for a new urban center or an interest story about the unique Kinetic Sculpture Race. I don’t mean to ignore Baltimore’s issues; it’s just that with so much beauty and so many quirks, sometimes it’s hard not to focus only on the good. Baltimore’s problems are real, but so are its beauties.
It breaks my heart when baby Blue Jays in the Class of 2018 Facebook group ask if Baltimore is actually a decent place to live. I imagine the section 8 housing where my mom’s students live, I think back to the tragic stories of the newspaper headlines. And then I picture the sprawling stone homes of Guilford, I feel myself traipsing our college neighborhood of Charles Village, I imagine the median of Roland Park where last summer I (illegally) planted sunflowers. I remember the feeling of the humid summer air on my face as I drive past fields with little rec lacrosse players, past harbors and bays and beaches dotted with people soaking in Baltimore’s summer days. For every place that Baltimore needs to fix, I can think of three places that Baltimore should boast.
Loving Baltimore means accepting its flaws. It means being able to drive through Southeast Baltimore, understanding that for some people, Baltimore is not heaven. It means being able to watch the 6 o’clock news with a healthy cynicism of the city’s operations. It means getting mad at the treatment of the bay and the Chesapeake watershed. It means accepting that sometimes you won’t be able to sleep because of police sirens and train whistles and the churning of helicopters overhead.
Loving Baltimore means knowing that life couldn’t be any more beautiful, any simpler, any place else. It’s the knowledge that the water isn’t more blue or sparkly anywhere else. It’s knowing that no state has a better flag. It’s being positive that Birdland has the best sports teams in the nation. It’s the winding turns of Key Highway near Federal Hill, it’s the comforting feeling of the I-83 exit sign. It’s the view from the top of the Patterson Park pagoda, the view of the wharfs and factories and the harbor on one side, the skyline of downtown on the other.
My love for Baltimore is shameless. I snuck into a 13-and-under autograph signing at the Ravens training camp, and cried after I had an extended conversation with John Harbaugh. I’ve hung out on an oyster farm and not felt pretentious. I have a favorite oyster. My friends will vouch: I put Old Bay on everything (old bay ice cream anyone?). A lacrosse stick was thrown into my hands at the age of 7. There are embarrassing photos of 3rd grade me, wearing an Orioles visor, posing in front of the Domino Sugar sign on a school trip to the Museum of Industry. Whenever I had to give directions to my house, it was always “that house on the unmarked cul de sac with the Maryland flag out front.”
Even though I’ve lived here my whole life, I always smile and gaze up at the buildings. There’s so much to love about Baltimore, and yet I’m finding new reasons everyday.
My Pinterest displays 18,000 pins across 16 boards dedicated to my interests, from film to tattoos to food to fashion. But I think my Charm City board is my favorite.