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When you think of The City of Baltimore, what comes to mind? What do you imagine? Congestion, dirty streets, drugs, and rude people? Or possibly mayhem, riots, crime, “The Wire?” Or maybe it’s the Inner Harbor, great crab, and the sound of sea gulls? Maybe The Ravens & The Orioles? (Did I mention I grew up an Eagles fan?) All of the above? Interesting. Well, let me tell you a story. And then let me share with you a wish and a dream for Baltimore.
I’m a new kid here in Baltimore City. My family and I relocated from the Austin, TX area late this summer, and since moving here, I have truly fallen head over heels, dumbstruck in love with this place. It’s like Cupid drew back his love-arrow and somehow made me and the city just slam into each other like Jack’s song in Nightmare before Christmas
What’s this? What’s this?
The sights, the sounds
They’re everywhere and all around
I’ve never felt so good before
This empty place inside of me is filling up
I simply cannot get enough
I want it, oh, I want it
Oh, I want it for my own
I’ve got to know
I’ve got to know
What is this place that I have found?
What is this?
Too much? Well, to be clear, no one ever accused me of being subtle. I have a penchant for the dramatic. But hey, that’s just how I roll. Anyway, the point is this: I love Baltimore. I love Charm City, and my heart is where all those bench seats say, “Baltimore, Greatest City in America.”
But I promised you a story.
My husband and I started house hunting when he accepted a job promotion last winter to the Baltimore area, and as you may or may not know, depending on if this is the first time you’ve visited Slow Down and Savor or the 1,500th, we were coming in from the Texas Hill Country, where at the time it was 90 degrees, nothing but wide open spaces and big sky. I was pregnant at the time, and while I’m nearly always hungry, during that time it was pretty common for me to go way beyond that that, finding myself HANGRY a lot!
So what were the first impressions on arriving in Baltimore in November? It wasn’t 90 degrees. Granted, I’m a Yankee. I grew up in South Jersey, finished high school in the DC area, and went to college in PA. I understand cold. I understand snow. But my husband and 7-year old kiddo are Texans and had (still mostly have) no idea what COLD really is. Brand new things!
So when we came up here to look at neighborhoods and houses in November and then again in January, we got a taste for what Baltimore was like with cooler temps and with snow on the ground. Guess what? It was beautiful. Not only that, there were people out and about, joggers with their dogs, moms with their babies all bundled up, kids running around the various park playgrounds, and 20-something’s walking, talking and laughing. It felt good. It felt safe. It felt fun. So much for all the fearmongers.
By the second visit in January I was very pregnant, and very hungry. My amazing husband dealt with my being very pregnant and very hungry in the best way ever. We decided to explore Baltimore, and especially our potential new neighborhood in Baltimore by way of its restaurants.
We especially enjoyed the little holes–in–the–wall. You know them. They’re the places the locals call home. And it was through these little nooks and crannies and tucked away gems where we found everything from llama burgers to real-deal Neapolitan pizzas that we learned where to look for houses, and where NOT to look. We met a bunch of people, and quickly learned that people here in Baltimore are NICE. They’re genuinely NICE! Another stereotype broken. Boom.
After delicious sandwiches and wings at Mother’s Grille, Napoleon-influenced fare at Hersh’s Pizza, exotic burgers Abbey Burger Bistro, tacos at No Way Jose, or breakfast at Spoons, we would walk the clean streets of Baltimore by day and by night, commenting on how absolutely safe we felt. And how comfortable everyone else looked like they felt. As I mentioned people were OUT. Girls walked their dogs. Alone. People were jogging, not in groups, but alone. They didn’t look concerned. They looked happy. We were happy doing the same. Well, not jogging or walking dogs, but being out and about. You get the gist.
Stereotypes were being broken left and right, just in tune with our ever-growing desire to be residents RIGHT NOW.
But there were a few details to tend to first – like selling our house, giving birth, convincing the family that moving to Baltimore would be great, you know – the basics. So upon arriving back home to our Austin-suburb, we’d share photos and experiences with our 7 year old, who in turn was becoming more and more thrilled with the idea. A PIRATE SHIP?! In the city!? An aquarium in walking distance? THE RAVENS!?! Talk about a freak-out. We were all sold.
A couple of months later, our little bundle of joy, our baby boy was born, and we were 1 month away from the big move. But where? We settled on Federal Hill as our desired neighborhood, found the best realtor EVER, and went on a real-deal house hunt. Of course I joined the hunt via face-time – how did we ever live without it?
But then in April, as the entire United States knows, Baltimore burned. Riots and fires and looting, OH MY! I mean, are you kidding? Already our families were nervous about our living in a city, and beyond nervous about us living in Baltimore based off the aforementioned stereotypes, but now THIS? No one is going to understand why we were still going.
During the “mayhem,” my husband traveled back to the city, where he found us a beautiful, historic, 115 year-old charmer right in Federal Hill. And guess what? So much of the city was untouched by the pandemonium. Yes, what happened, the pure emotional destruction and the sadness touched everyone, but the physical was nothing like the newscasts.
I was surprised. I expected to see burning cars and broken windows on our FaceTime conversations, but no. What we saw were girls still out walking and people jogging and 20-something’s laughing and carrying on. Our new found favorite restaurants were still serving happy neighbors, the city was very much alive. There was hope.
The riots didn’t stop us. Michael, the kiddo, the baby and I were Baltimore bound in July and we were excited. Our extended family wasn’t too thrilled with the recent events, but we were PUMPED.
When we arrived, we immediately knew we were home. It was a crazy feeling, but it was a feeling deep inside that we all shared. We felt so comfortable, overjoyed and complete. All of us, including our little man keeps saying how much we love this place.
We love our church, Grace City, which meets at Federal Hill Prep. We love Mother’s Grille, our favorite spot for burgers, wings and a great family-friendly atmosphere. We love the parks, and the harbor.
We love how on Halloween, the entire neighborhood came out to celebrate.
All of the businesses, bars and restaurants handed out candy to trick-or-treating children, and the rest of the people were out on their stoops, enjoying the festivities well into the night.
We love how we can walk to amazing museums, the National Aquarium and other educational activities.
We love how though we’re in the city, only 15 minutes away there’s gorgeous farm land, just ready for us to explore.
We love how all of the neighborhoods in the city stick together, and make sure everyone feels secure.
Now, here’s my wish. And my message. It’s not for the city itself, per-say. It’s for those who don’t know the city. I want people to think family, fun, excitement, culture, history, and joy when they hear Baltimore. I want people to think past “The Wire,” and the riots. I want people to understand that yes, the sadness with Freddie Gray’s death is real, but the city is strong. The city didn’t crumble. I want people to see beautiful parks, kids playing and yes, those 20-something’s enjoying themselves and carrying on. I want them to know Baltimore for its amazing food, that like Baltimore itself can’t be defined by one flavor; and for its eclectic restaurants that spill out onto the streets, not just with people, but with neighbors.
I want people to see what I see, what my family sees as we walk our son to school, as we walk to our favorite eateries, as we walk to Ravens games, as we look out our windows and out from our rooftop. I want people to hear the laughter we hear at the park, at the sno-ball stop, and while we’re at The Harbor. I want people to see Charm City for what it truly is: an awesome place to raise a family, and a beautiful place to call home.