I have city envy. There. I’ve said it. I have lived and worked in the Washington, DC area for many years. The city is as culturally non-descript as the limestone that comprises a large percentage of the buildings here. It looks as though the same architect had a monopoly for a good long while. Old buildings and new buildings all look roughly the same. There’s a height limitation that no other building can be taller than the Washington Monument – the world’s most boring monument to a founding father.
If the buildings seem gray, the people are even more so. Many transplants from other non-descript parts of the country live here temporarily. No one’s putting down roots here. No eye contact is made on the sidewalks. A ride on the Metro is like an awkward trip to a stand-up library sprinkled with intermittent and inane cell phone conversations. Homeless people are quietly sidestepped and ignored.
Saturday, we paid a visit to my nephew’s new row house in Baltimore. I’ve always had a thing for Baltimore. It’s known as Charm City. I am unabashedly charmed. Baltimore has distinct neighborhoods – many ethnically divided, but in a charming sort of way. Little Italy abounds with fabulous places to eat. Fells Point is a mix of young bar goers and longshoremen. Canton takes full advantage of its spot near the water, and don’t get me started on SoWeBo, which boasts an Elvis parade each year, painted screens, and ladies who call you Hon and still tease their hair. There are many more neighborhoods –unmarked except for the subtle differences that make them each unique. The downtown area boasts not one but two stadiums, their own World Trade Center and the Bromo-Seltzer Tower. And tourists have a great place to visit in the Inner Harbor.
My nephew’s house is situated in an area known as Patterson Park, named after a beautiful public park that boasts public playing fields, a swimming pool and ice rink, and a beautiful pagoda that can be seen for many blocks. His is a neighborhood in transition. It still has a market or bar on every corner, and churches of every kind and style dot the landscape. The rowhouses here emphasize the transition. Many have been well-maintained or obviously updated, but there are just as many run down houses with stoop-sitting residents and barking dogs. Jim’s house is one of the updated ones, though you’d not really know it from outside. His door is feet from a pretty main thoroughfare, but once you step inside, the street noise seems to disappear. We spent the afternoon/evening on his roof deck.
We don’t have roof decks in Washington. That’s a real shame. It’s like being in your own bird’s nest, able to see the other roof decks – each distinct and probably not up to code. You can see for miles, including the downtown skyline, a building topped with a large sign that features the famous National Bohemian winking guy, church steeples and a few schools and apartment buildings. For me, the best part was being able to see into the back yards of many rowhouses. Some with shanty-like back porches, others with tall fenced in patios, some well cared for and others not so much.
On this breezy spring evening, we were able to see many folks cooking out or just enjoying their outdoor nests. There was a party atmosphere to the whole neighborhood with music playing, happy voices and the wonderful aroma of grilled meat, accented with the occasional blare of a siren or the deep bass sub-woofer from a passing car. Maybe it was the margaritas, or the young, good-humored company, but I could see myself leaving my suburban enclave and moving into this soup bowl of a city. I’m totally charmed.