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Archive for September, 2008

Baltimore, the City that Reads

Here on the changeable banks of Baltimore harbor we tire quickly of alternative monikers.

In 1812, we lived in Mobtown. More recently, we’ve been dubbed Crabtown, Queen of the Patapsco, and Nickel Town (Nikel Bag Town?). A 1975 ad writer coined for us the marvelously subjective nickname “Charm City.”

Speaking subjectively, now-governor Martin O’Malley declared us the “The Greatest City in America” when he became mayor.

In 2002, we declared we would thenceforth “BELIEVE” in Baltimore. Like, if you squint your eyes, you can believe those guys on the corner are slinging lemonade.

Many park benches are emblazoned with another motto of yesterday, “The City That Reads.” More like “The City that Breeds,” some snicker, for the out-of-wedlock pregnancy rate (hence our ubiqitous billboards for DNA Testing, reading “WHO’S THE DADDY?”). Others suggest the the motto could be “The City That Bleeds.”

But I digress! This weekend, we will read in Baltimore! The annual Baltimore Book Festival is nigh upon us and more than 200 authors will talk about reading Friday through Sunday evening.

Highlights?

  1. Guys barbecuing, free McCormick, and $1 beers (this attraction may not relate much to reading)
  2. Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Standing Up to the Madness
  3. The Radical Book Tent… Guys, I gotta say I love Barnes n’ Noble
  4. Maria, from Sesame Street… Really, is this woman still on TV?
  5. Literary Walking Tour of Mt. Vernon… Featuring not only predictable Poe, but tales of Tupac Shakur, who at one point was not feeling the California Love

Truthfully, a couple of us Mt. Vernon locals will spend half the book festival weekend in the city that doesn’t stop Blackberry-ing to read (apart from Page Six) but after that we will put on our literary hats with the best of them.

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Tiny Fey as Palin

Everyone already saw this SNL skit, but it’s too great to let it pass without a mention.

Here you have it–Tiny Fey as Sarah Palin in Tina Fey glasses, posing at a podium next to Amy Poehler, holding court as Hillary in a pants suit. In her swan-song season, no less.

The comedic dream team somehow sucked the bitterness out of a heretofore conceptual Hillary-Sarah throwdown. Here in Baltimore, this is refreshing. As undoubtedly in other blue-state-country, one doesn’t hear of the dreaded Sarah from Alaska without an ironic quote and a groan.

“I told them THANKS BUT NO THANKS!” 

“The pipeline is GOD’S WILL!”. The war in Iraq is a “task from God!”

As so forth, with much eye rolling.

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Good Day Sunshine

Good Day Sunshine!  Cheesy Paul McCartney’s words have new resonance today as Baltimore’s skies cleared. A single thunderclap during yesterday’s storm provoked my blind, anxiety-prone dog Foxy Brown to chew out the remaining Styrofoam from inside my apartment door, scratch wood off the battered frame and bend the metal back so it cuts right into the shin as you enter to regard the wreckage of a foyer.

This is the fourth time she’s done this. And I knew what was in store for my little apartment on Calvert, as I sat in a conference room watching the skies open at 10am. We discussed Powerpoint slides while I looked at lighting jagging through clouds hurling rain on the city.

Please, can summer be over now? Let’s shiver and be bitter winter people, just no more thunderstorms?

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Baltimore Block Blog Stats

Just like we all used to competitively monitor our myspace visitor count, pre-Facebook addiction, vanity leads us to glance every now and then at the Baltimore Block visitor stats helpfully provided by WordPress. The stats also show how visitors found your blog–by google or referring sites that blogroll or link to you in posts (thanks, streetscene.wordpress.com).

The vaguely unsettling part is not the most popular posts are “Stamp Out Poop” and “Juno Safe Sex Video” but that people actually search, every day, for “poop” and “dog poop”, and click on our block blog to get MORE POOP.

Other popular search terms that lead one to A Baltimore Block blog?

  1. “Wizard of oz flying monkey” (did I write about this?)
  2. “Recent abba”
  3. “Cutest animal story ever” (I did not write about this)
  4. “Pearl Jam”
  5. “Poop” (it never gets old)

What is it that people are looking for when they ask Google, find me poop. ER … Do I really want to know?

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Charm City Celebrity Status

Grunting away on the elliptical at Baltimore’s Downtown Athletic Center, I realized the spandex-clad guy next to me, preoccupied issuing mumbled curses at the TVs after Ravens’ fumbles, was Governor Martin O’Malley.

Honorable Governor of Maryland, Martin O'Malley

Honorable Gov. Martin O'Malley

This is my second O’Malley sighting at the flagship Merritt Athletic Club, where he apparently worked out daily as city mayor. Now based in Annapolis, his weekend workouts seem timed when he figures normal people have better things to do than hang out in a grimy gym (the first time I saw him it was Superbowl Sunday).

As I pedeled away, I imagined what I would tell our toiling public servent (he was on that machine for a while). I would implore him to help blaze a carbon-free energy future for Maryland, build bike lanes, and start a blind dog trust. Luckily for him, before I summoned the courage to interrupt his blithe Sunday afternoon workout, he skipped out to his hybrid Tahoe SUV–he sits in the back behind seriously dark tinted windows.

Which made me wonder… Why do famous people drive 6000-pound SUVs boosted on 20-inch wheels? This characterizes successful drug dealers, actors, sports stars; the jacked-SUV is also common around Capitol Hill. Is it an attempt to match their supersized egos? Or do they like other citizens fear red light runners–a numerous species in Baltimore–will ram them flat?

Either way, it might be interesting to inaugurate a Gawker Stalker-type tracking map for Charm City celebs, Tahoe or no. Top 5 on my map:

1. Governor O’Malley (where does his band practice?)

2. Duff Goldman (does he eat at Cake Love?)

3. Kima Greggs (aka Sonja Sohn, does she still do grocery shopping in Mt. Washington, as reported by an anonymous source)

4. Sheila Dixon — What’s her latest pricey shoe purchase?

5. Michael Phelps: Once he settles in Fell’s, ladies will be inquiring where this very eligible Baltimore bachelor spends his time (/money)

6. Foxy Brown, “dog on the town.” Track the lamp posts she bumps into as this blind doppelganger for a rapid, spaced out fox trawls the town.

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In her quest to convince the Miller Brewing Company in North Carolina that Charm City needs access to Natty Boh by the keg, Miss Sarah of North Collington Street (another lovely Baltimore block) has been conducting rigorous research about Baltimore’s favorite beer.

One-eyed Boh Man

One-eyed Boh Man

We’ve learned that the National Brewing Company began brewing this “Bohemian” style beer in 1885. The pale Pilsner-style beer, a style which originated in what is now Czech Republic terrain, was the official beer of Baltimore in the 1960s, served at the Memorial Stadium that hosted ball games at 33rd street.

In the 1950s, Natty Boh’s makers began touting the beer’s Chesepeake origins, labeling it as being of the “Land of Pleasant Living” (obviously, this was before Dundalk). The well-mustached Boh Man was introduced after prohibition, and has been a recognizable mascot of our favorite hops–and of Baltimore, for its close linkage–since the 1960s. These old TV adverts show that our city had a sense of screwy, off-kilter humor even then.

Natty Boh, now distributed by Pabst, is apparently so cheap it doesn’t pay to sell it by the keg. Miss Sarah is on a mission to change this. Why the push now, after the housewarming bash on North Collington (the keg was PBR)? “It would be perfect for weddings and graduations,” she reasoned in a g-chat. She’s planning a two-year campaign that could yield a seriously celebratory scene: newly minted diploma tucked under arm, tapping a 15-gallon metal canister of frothy golden hops.

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Just when my superintendent agreed to replace my dog-wrecked door, forecasters tell us to take cover cause Hanna’s coming through. According to the Baltimore Sun,

“The Tropical Storm Watch posted for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay yesterday has been upgraded to a Tropical Storm Warning, meaning tropical-storm force winds of 39 mph and higher can be expected within 24 hours. Forecasters say Hanna could produce rainfall totaling 4 to 8 inches before the storm ends late Saturday, and even heavier amounts in some locations. Storm surge flooding of 4 to 6 feet is possible near and to the east of the storm’s center.”

Here comes Hanna (from Baltimore Sun)

Here comes Hanna (from Baltimore Sun)

Storm=thunder; Foxy wigs, chews her way through a new door

Gales=nasty beach weather; beach camping canceled (sorry, Sean)

Sheets of rain=dog walking dream

Luckily, we’ll all have lots of time to stay inside and watch our favorite newscasters parse out the deep hidden meaning of Sarah Palin’s collegiate soul-searching.

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