I was going to do a post moping about how much I disliked it so far in Baltimore.
I really like my job at NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse. The city just wasn’t cutting it for me.
But today, for once, it was a cool 85 degrees. (Thank you Baltimore, for making 85 degrees cool.) And you know what, now that I think of it, it’s not so bad. Sure, Baltimore’s proclamations of it being “The Best City on the World” on its bus benches is wholly inaccurate, but maybe this summer’s not gonna be a failure.
For certain, the city still looks like a terrestrial deadzone. Trash, occasionally human, mostly inanimate , is everywhere. I’ve yet to see a pretty building. Place smells bad too, like a high-school locker room. There’s no fresh air to breath here.
Oh yeah, and I think you’ve heard this one before, a lot of people get shot here. HBO popularized that pretty well with The Wire. So many murders occur here that Baltimore’s City Paper has a feature called “Murder Ink.” that compiles every reported homicide. The typical victim is an African-American man in his 30s, found in some asphalt corner riddled with bullet holes.
But as bad as it is, the homicide rate is still not good enough for first place among American cities (come on Baltimore!). And that has been good enough for me. While jogging yesterday, I ran through a neighborhood singing along to Major Lazer’s “Keep it Goin’ Louder” at a criminal volume and wasn’t shot, which bodes for my survival this summer.
So I’ve slowly started liking Baltimore more, rhyming couplet not intended. Maybe it’s a variation of the Stockholm syndrome or something, the fact that the city hasn’t claimed my insignificant life yet has made me appreciate it more.
More honestly, I love people-watching here. Absurdly interesting. Despite the generally degenerate, dichromal tan and gray look of the city, the people here seem so colorful and alive. Actually, alive isn’t really the right word. People here just seem to be filled with a greater sense of struggle. There’s a edge of disillusionment and hostility in their eyes that I don’t see in Evanston, Illinois. Folks keep to themselves and don’t quite take to spontaneous social interaction with strangers. Ha, it took me a while to notice that I was among the few people here who eagerly greet the bus drivers when embarking on public transportation. (Then again, maybe it’s less people being guarded, and more me being overly and inappropriately perky and friendly for my environment.)
But when the people do talk, do interact, they’re very passionate about what they say and what they do, be they record store owners, hot Asian nurses, or pickup basketball players. I watched some guys playing today on this rundown court, and damn, they were hustling. Guys were falling all over the asphalt, slamming into fences and poles to fight for loose balls. Most baskets scored were And-1s. Heated face-to-face arguments occurred every time scores were tabulated. Every fucking point was earned. Frankly, instead of merely just observing, I intended on playing today, but was forced off the court every time because I wasn’t aggressive or assertive enough. Lesson learned. However, I’m slightly glad I didn’t play today. Without any preparation, I, having become accustomed to shiny indoor hardwood courts where every slight slap is called as a foul, would’ve been eaten alive.
The courts are a microcosm of the city.
I have to learn the Baltimore-style game, toughen up to hang with these gritty motherfuckers.
Maybe that’ll be my real education for the summer.