Today when I was waiting in a line for MARC train tickets to and from DC, in a line which was interminable because there was a ginormous, random group of German tourists in it all nattering away gutterally as they do, a girl behind me struck up conversation with one of em, and said,
“Oh, you’re going to DC? Oh gosh. That’s WAY better. It’s so pretty there!”
Agent L normally holds herself above the fray, but she had to turn around and give this girl a look of pure POISON. The girl, whose ponytail and sleek sweatpants spoke of her not being local, didn’t notice. The German she was speaking to did, and gave me a wry smile.
I was in DC a mercifully short time, and then I high tailed it home.
For outsiders, I’m not sure the Baltimore DC rivalry is easy to explain. DC is basically the cool kid at school who has his arm always looped around a pretty girl’s neck and is explaining, with false modesty, how awesome he is. Baltimore is the geeky poor kid rolling his eyes at DC from the corner, secure in his own corner of the universe, even if it’s not acknowledged by the jocks.
When I was a young’n our only rock club closed, and another didn’t open for a year, so we had to go the The Black Cat or The Nine Thirty Club to see anything, or else to a friend’s basement. And DC is forever living on the fame that they spawned Fugazi, and, okay, a few other kids too.
But culturally? Jesus. This is where it breaks down. DC has its lifers, who are so patrician as to have no culture at all. And then, because of the nature of politics, a lot of the population is transient. Specifically two years transient.
Over my past two days in DC I overheard three conversations by a driver, a security official, and a young lady, all explaining with breathless admiration of themselves and their place in the world that elections are a surprise to the country but not to them, cause they know things. They know people and get the news first.
Baltimore, with an entrenched, incompetent and at times idiotic city council, has a mixed relationship with politics which can in no way at any time be described as reverential. We choose to move around the system, not ingratiate ourselves within it, and we do it in very clever ways.
Baltimore is a city that was forgotten for many years. White folk left. Industry left. Drugs came. What were left unscathed were pockets of ingeniousness. Artists, who for reasons of stubbornness, or mental illness, or lack of funds, or love of the city stayed instead of going to New York City. Musicians who were determined to make it work. Pockets of pure weirdness that John Waters tried to capture but missed, cause he largely fails to get the humanity behind his caricatures. Baltimore has community. People, who, though poor, have lived in the same house for 6 or more generations. (To be fair, they can feasibly be all living there at the same time. We do have a teenage pregnancy problem) People who know their neighbors and their neighbor’s grandparents. People who “hon” you and make sure you’re doing okay just cause you’re at the same crosswalk at the same time. We look out for each other.
I have a point.
After I got off the train after my rather less harrowing experience at the Turkish embassy today, since I believe in a reward system and I’d just done something hard and scary, I wandered to the Mt. Royal Tavern, which is basically Plato’s Dive Bar, and bellied up to drink with the day drinkers. There were maybe six people in the bar: three middle aged black gentleman drinking beer and talking politics loudly, a couple white dudes with unkempt manes obscuring their heads and too much beer obscuring their skeletal features at the end of the bar, and beside me, a clearly homeless man with a shock of what had once been ginger hair over his head, and a worn leather jacket which might or might not have had blood streaked down the arm. I never could decide. The bar tendress was probably 45 but looked older. She was wearing a purple sports bra with a black hoodie unzipped so you could see her belly, and spandex shorts. She called me gorgeous and drank more than I did while I was there.
Peachy on my right started noddin on the counter, and the bartender said,
“Hey! Head up, sunshine!”
He put his head up and blew a raspberry at er.
“That’s not very polite,” I said.
“Yeah, I’ll whup you,” said the waitress. “Take off em glasses and two fingers and-” she mimed wiping him across the face, “that’ll teachoo. C,mon. Big Daddy said you havta behave.”
“Oh. Was I behaving? I din mean to.”
“C’mon. We wanchoo drinkin in here steada out on the streets.”
“Bar’s where yr spossta drink,” he hiccupped. “Spossed ta get drunk, drunk, DRUNK. in a bar. S’what barsre fer.”
“Yessir,” I said. Trying to mine what he was feeling and come up with an appropriate response I said, “Life is too long to not drink.”
He had to ruminate on that a minute.
“Oh, to th’eternal pain of bein sober.” We clinked glasses. I returned to my book.
Later I got in a conversation with two fellas who were fresh off work as sprinkler system installers. We got into a long conversation bout whether it’s better to apprentice to a trade or go to school.
“What I learned from th’union is everone cheats on the tests,” said one.
“But they know their shit bettern anyone who can pass them tests, amIright?” I said.
“Hell yeah. Sean- tell this lady what our union rep did with that rebar sitchation yesterday.”
Then I got a long, drawn out talk about rebar, abuses thereof.
And I looked at the clouds, and the art institute kids passing by with their odd clothes, and at my two companions- a black fella with maybe ten years on me and a skinny white kid, covered in tattoos, both engaged in a passionate discussion about the importance of what they do, and I thought, “This is Baltimore. At its best. Me in my pencil skirt and cardigan talking to these guys and all of us enjoying it.”
So if you’re ever in Baltimore and want the full experience, go to the Tavern.
Fellas, this is the painting above the bar, to ensure you have a nice time.