the Washington Monument... in Baltimore
i'm from DC. but, i go to school in Baltimore. it's my mother's fault. when applying to colleges, she really want me to attend this small, liberal arts, women's college that was conveniently 50 minutes away from my home and family. her influence was so great that i never saw a letter from any other school that i applied to, making this school the ONLY choice for me.

it's all good though. i love my Alma Mater. but really, my disdain for Baltimore came a lot earlier than this.

maybe you should blame my father. when i was eleven or so, he remarried a woman who was from Baltimore and they started a family together. my father and i were always close and i spent every other weekend with him. so, i began to get acquainted with this city not too far from my own. the thing i learned very quickly is that proximity means nothing. literally less than an hour and a $7 train ride away, Baltimore and DC may as well be the earth and Mars. it was quieter, more residential, and yet still very loud, but in a scary way, like Prague sans the whimsy. what i remember most is seeing so many people standing around waiting to do what looked like absolutely nothing.

in DC, my school friends and i would just walk around the city. on a typical day, left to our own devices, we would just walk around to find something to do. since i'm from downtown DC, that meant we spent a lot of time at the various museums that the Smithsonian had to offer, going to the park at Haines Point, or traveling in the opposite direction to cruise U Street into Adams Morgan into Georgetown. to say the least, we got around. but even when we wanted to sit still, it was done so at a cafe or the carryout or the park.

but my initial feeling is that you can't do that in Baltimore. we rarely walked around anywhere. we were either in someone's car, cab, or bus. and the sights weren't that much to behold. on any given block there might be a dingy liquor store, chicken boxery, or uniform shop. that is, until we hit the mecca... the world famous Lexington Market. a place so cool, you can get fish and fishnets, chicken grease and hair grease, cow tongue and tongue rings. we didn't really frequent places like this in DC; Eastern Market seems like Dean and Deluca by comparison. but there is was an appealing pedestrian quality about it and an approachability that seemed pretty cool. i mean, you can't go to the downtown market in DC and get boiled peanuts. you just can't.

but don't take this as me actually liking Baltimore...

when i came here for undergrad, i kept my expectations low, because i had been here before, but i was still hoping for the best. i was in a different part of the city and i could explore the place on my own. so i settled in for that first month for the WORST SLEEP OF MY LIFE!!! it was sooo quiet on my campus, that i could hear the nightly helicopter chases for the local jail escapees. seriously though. i'm used to hearing a little traffic all night in DC, but the quiet in Baltimore and the utter danger posed by the city seemed to be the strangest conundrum. but, i've become accustomed to it now, which is a blessing and a curse, since i don't plan to stay here for the rest of my life. also, i developed allergies. the dogwood trees are lovely to look at but were murder on my airways. i'd never had allergies before, except for a nasty case of hay fever during summer camp in 1995 (which was in Maryland also), so this was another tick mark against this place.

thank God Baltimore is a college town. i would never have survived all girl school if Loyola, JHU, Morgan State and UMBC weren't all in close proximity. but, even that posed different issues as the town slogan for Baltimore and Towson should be "Welcome! The racism will surprise you!" a ton of college kids in a city of neighborhoods means meeting people who have never seen the likes of you before, especially if you happen to be black. oddly enough, Baltimore seemed way more vanilla in terms of diversity for me. everyone was either black or white. in DC, i knew about Spanish history and how to hold a simple conversation in Mandarin before the age of twelve because my city is so diverse.

and since i am a glutton for punishment, i decided to return for my stupid decision to go to grad school, mostly because you don't turn down THE Johns Hopkins University. but i was armed this time. i decided to live downtown, in a part of the city that reminded me most of DC, i indulged in local pleasures such as open mic nights and the Saratoga Street Farmer's Market and even Lexington Market from time to time. but, most importantly, i stopped comparing Baltimore to DC. granted, i will always put on for my city and can't help but notice that Bolton Hill reminds me of a less posh DuPont Circle, but i've been trying to learn to appreciate Baltimore for what it is, not what it isn't. it's been a lot more enjoyable when i find out how good a chicken box actually is, after refusing to divulge in such localities in undergrad.

i remember so vividly the cab ride to my father's new Baltimore home, but to this day i don't know exactly where it was. sometimes when i ride around the city, a lot of places will look familiar to me for unknown reasons.
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