Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore’

#WeAreBaltimore

July 29, 2019

Lately, my hometown of Baltimore has been under attack. The President of the United States has lashed out at Baltimore because U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings criticized him. Elijah Cummings has been a major player in Congress’ investigation into the President and his staff. He had a lot of prominent moments in the hearing where Michael Cohen testified. He has now apparently made himself a target by speaking up against the man in the White House. I am still unsure about what that investigation will bring and how useful it is to the country. There are too many desperate conspiracy theories around for anybody to make real sense out of anything. Setting that aside, Trump obviously feels threatened whether this ends in his fall or not. He is lashing out from fear and ego and his target has been my city.

The thing is, Trump is not the only one attacking Baltimore. Many have been in the past few days and I am one of them. Now, I love Baltimore and my heart will dwell here for the rest of my days even if I moved on. However, recently yet another event has happened that makes me want to rail against Baltimore leadership. Keith Davis Jr. was recently framed by the police and the State’s Attorney’s Office and took the fall for a murder he most likely did not commit. However, that is not the only thing. Years ago now Freddie Gray died while in police custody and the new State’s Attorney Mosby tried the cops. She bungled it and they all got off scot-free. Three mayors in a row have now been plagued with controversy and scandal. Mayor Sheila Dixon stole gift cards intended for the needy at Christmas. Ineffectual Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake made a bad deal with the Grand Prix and bungled the Baltimore riots. Mayor Catherine Pugh went back on many of her campaign promises and was eventually caught in an illegal bribery and ethics scandal. I do not even need to go into the Gun Trace Task Force which did not do any tracing and instead robbed and framed people like crazy.

It can be really easy to rail against this corrupt town. The police and most of the politicians are absolutely and thoroughly corrupt. The crime rate is high, the murder rate is depressing, we are never far from another riot, and the cops and politicians are very racist. On a semi-humorous note, Trump was not wrong about the rats. Baltimore has famously huge rats. And yet, I still hold out hope. There are still politicians that I trust somewhat. I trust Councilman Bill Henry because we were friends back when I was in high school and he proved himself to be a good man. I trust Councilman Leon Pinkett (who presides over my district) somewhat as I have seen him connect with locals over concerns. I trust Elijah Cummings because he is a progressive and has proven himself to be a decent man. Of course, this trust can always be revoked as soon as one of them does something wrong.

More than that, I believe in the people of Baltimore. The good people who I have met in person or talked to online. There are good people I have protested with or bitched about the city with. There are plenty of people who are not racist or ignorant and eventually people will see the light. Something has to give and then hopefully the citizens of Baltimore will wake up and things might change. But Trump has no right to rail against Baltimore because Baltimore is afflicted with the same sicknesses that the rest of the country has. Sicknesses like racism, homophobia, sexism, transphobia, capitalism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and so many more societal ills. These are problems that many politicians including Trump have no interest in fixing. These problems distract the populace from the real problems we need to face and allow their status quo to continue.

So yes, #WeAreBaltimore because I have pride in the 410 forever but do not let this distract you for long. There is plenty to protest and plenty to fix and we will not do it feeling outraged for a slight against by a moron.

Snake Skin

July 6, 2019

Mera Warren had seen her share of darkness. Her path had been darkness but she turned away from that path and had started to walk toward the light. Though she was widely known as a snake, Slytherin class of 2001, Mera had learned to harness that ambition for the forces of good. She had been young in 1998 when she and her fellow Slytherins had been locked in the dungeons with the rest of her house during the final battle with Voldemort. She had let her fear convince her to go along with the rest when she refused to fight in the battle. It was that and listening to the words of Draco Malfoy and his hangers-on. The older kids had convinced her that they were doing the right thing. When even Dracoy turned away from the dark, it was clear that they had all made the wrong choice.

After Hogwarts reopened, classes resumed but she and the rest were looked down upon by the other three houses. Some of the teachers found it hard to stick up for the students. Many Slytherins transferred to other schools. Mera had not been given that option. Her parents were not that well off and so she had to say goodbye to many of her friends. She had toughed it out. She kept her head down for a while and then little by little, she proved that she could be trusted. She helped Professor McGonogal clean up after class, she visited Hagrid, she tried and eventually succeeded in making friends. Inch by inch, rung by rung, she redeemed herself. Still, when it came time to graduate, she packed up her bags and left England.

She needed a fresh start. She needed to get out from under the cloud of Voldemort’s second reign of terror and the Battle of Hogwarts. There were too many memories even on the streets of London. Mera felt like she must have green scales after all because people seemed to instantly know who she was. In addition, she still harbored that Slytherin ambition. She wanted to be somebody but she did not know who that person was yet. All of her dreams had turned out to be nightmares and it was time to find new dreams. And so, she went to America. She arrived in Baltimore with very few bags and very little direction but a new lightness in her heart.

It was not long before she worked her way into the wizarding world of the East Coast of the United States of America. She got a lot of attention from her accent at first. She had not realized she had one but everybody had a comment. They were nice about it but it made Mera feel self-conscious. Finally, she got a steady job offer. Her skills with fast-casting and even faster thinking had qualified Mera to be a magical bounty hunter of sorts. It was a department inspired by the appearance of Newt Scamander in America in the early 20th century. The department, the US Department of Magical Creatures deputized certain officers to track and safely contain magical creatures in the most humane way possible.

“Hey partner,” Clark Coulson said gently. “You still with me?” He had been her partner for months now and they got along very well.

“Huh?” Mera said. “Sorry. I guess I was swimming in my past again.”

“Well,” Clark said. “We have our assignment. Do you want to get going?”

Mera stretched and shook the tension out of her shoulders. “Where are we going?”

“A warehouse in Canton,” Clark said. He was big and tall, and working class like a construction worker. He would have been a Hufflepuff back in Hogwarts for sure. “Just follow my lead, I know the way.”

Mera nodded and the two of them apparated across town and landed on an out of the way cobblestone street. Mera could see the harbor through a sliver of a gap in some buildings. She had never been too far from the water in her life.

“This is the place?” Mera asked, pointing toward a warehouse clearly in the process of being renovated and repaired. Much of the waterfront area was getting revamped and there was plenty of construction and reconstruction.

“That is the place,” Clark said. “The guy with the key should be here in a minute. Once we’re done, I’ll treat you to something from Fell’s Point. You want a crabcake?”

“That does sound delicious, Clark,” Mera said. “So why wait?” She pointed her wand at the locked door and called out ‘Alohamora!” and the door opened with a deep clicking sound.

“Always so gung ho,” Clark said. “I guess it’s technically not breaking and entering since we’re supposed to be here. Stay behind me.” He started toward the door.

“Excuse you?” Mera said. “Stay behind me.”

“Mera,” Clark said. “Let me be the meat shield. There’s nobody I trust more to watch my back and I’m better at shield charms. You’re better at combat spells. Facts are facts.”

“Well, if you were going to flatter me, you should have led with it,” Mera said with a smile. “Lead the way, meat shield.”

Clark smirked and pushed the door open wider. It was pitch black inside and deadly silent. They both looked at each other and almost said “Lumos!” in unison and the tips of their wands lit up. They stepped into the darkness, their steps echoing on concrete.

Pride 2019

June 10, 2019

A lot of cities had their pride parades this past weekend but my hometown and current home Baltimore is having Pride this coming weekend. I have always been an ally to everyone under the banner of “Other” and this includes everybody under the banner of LGBTQ+. That was how I was raised, to be kind and think well of other people especially if they are not trying to hurt anybody. My mother came from a tolerant family in the American South that shunned racism. I went to school for twelve years at a Quaker school which taught love and acceptance for all. In high school, I entered the world of theater which was generally more open-minded than the rest of the world. I met the first gay people I knew of here. Of course, I may have met many gay people previously but it was the nineties and people were heavily closeted.

When I went to college, I met even more people from the beautiful spectrum of humanity. I was introduced to gay culture and my mind was opened even more. I worked professionally in theater for five more years and I met more gay people. I met so many different people over the years. I also read a lot of books and watched a lot of content. It all helped form my feelings on the whole LGBTQ+ community. It just goes to my further my constant argument that exposure helps breed love and peace. Ignorance breeds hate. If you listen to the message that Pride sends out, it is a message of equality, happiness, fun, and fighting back against the darkness. How anybody could interpret it as anything else is a mystery to me.

A long while ago I sort of came out as aromantic. I have never once felt a romantic feeling. I have never longed for the companionship of another human being regardless of gender, sex, or orientation. A lot of people need that sort of thing to make their lives complete but I am happy to have my friends and family. Obviously, over the years the makeup of the LGBTQ+ banner has had some changes. There is too much bickering over who should and should not be at Pride and this year I am seeing a lot of people being fed up with it. This is the first year that I have seen clear statements accepting aromantics at Pride. When I saw it, I felt something break free inside of me and I smiled. We are a small subsection so specific support was not something I was expecting. So, this year will be the first year I attend Pride as an aromantic and not just an ally.

Oh, and the only people who should not be at Pride are cops and hatemongers. Hatemongers are obviously not welcome at Pride. These include the Christian Right, the Nazis, the Klansmen, and all of the raving lunatics who would rather burn it all down than let people be free to be different. However, it also includes silent partners. The corporations who sell rainbow flags but turn their backs on actual gay people, the forces of Capitalism who decided that gay people don’t make them enough money, the well-meaning ‘middle of the road’ types who do not want to make waves even when it means defending people’s rights to be happy. This also brings us to the cops. Yes, the cops. The cops who protect armed nazis in Detroit who chose to march through Pride, sending people who were celebrating indoors and fearing for their lives. The cops who have a history of breaking up gatherings of gay people and almost never side with ‘the Other’ over ‘good’ white men and women. The same cops who have a history of beating the crap out of minorities when they feel like it. No cops at pride, only love and true allies. Please.

Developments in Development

May 27, 2019

So, while I have been off at work, a lot has been happening in my neighborhood. It is interesting to me because nothing much happens in my neighborhood because it is so out of the way. Nestled between Hampden and Druid Park, my little world is often overlooked by just about everybody. However, I have lately dealt with the neighboring Woodberry Community Association. Community Associations are double-edged swords because they can provide a sense of community but they are also rather exclusionary. I feel like the ones I have dealt with are unfairly prejudiced against renters, seeing them as subhuman and more people to be watched and feared than cared for. At least, that is what they say about their tone.

The big hoopla around here is that a lot of land in the area got new owners and they had development on their minds. This caused a lot of conflicts right away because people fear change and renters. New apartment buildings were the plan and there was a lot of pearl-clutching over the possibility that they could be low-income housing. The thought that less fortunate people might have a place to go to convenient to the Light Rail was unthinkable. But I’m probably being unfair to some of these people. Some objected to the destruction of buildings that had been there for centuries. I am all for historical preservation but that only extends to places where things of note happened or particularly pleasing architecture. The buildings they were trying to protect ranged from dilapidated to downright ugly.

I went to several meetings to observe people (and a lawyer) try and figure out how to halt or alter the development plans. To be fair, they had a solid legal footing for holding the developers and owners to a limited amount of construction. They remained deadlocked for months and months as both sides attended committee meetings and tried to sway the government to their side. This kind of bureaucracy is kind of fun when you are on the inside but watching from the outside is mind-numbingly boring. Especially when you can see the benefit to both sides. It is like watching horse racing when you do not have a bet in. I even attended a somewhat secret anti-developer meeting to see what was up.

The latest event changed everything. There are two stone houses that I used to walk by when I took daily walks before I returned to the gym. They are on the way to my polling place down the street. They always looked ancient and were probably there since at least the 1800s. However, they also looked like crap. They were overgrown with plants and neither had been in use for anything for quite some time. They were just houses to me.  They were probably used before the mill burned down as housing or storage for something. Just after I left for work the other day, bulldozers came and plowed them both to rubble. This was way before anything had been agreed to. Cue the pitchforks and torches.

The local residents leaped into action and contacted our local city council member. By the time the council member got there, the buildings were completely destroyed. Still, he got a stop work order put on the site and the resident’s ire turned toward the developers. The first to falter were the architects of the new development. They disavowed the action, claimed ignorance of the plan, and announced that they had resigned from the project. The developers, feeling the heat, did the same and announced that they were done with the project leaving the owners standing alone. Now, the owners will probably sell the property and the whole process will start again. And they wonder why nothing ever gets built in Baltimore.

The Confidence of a Child

May 20, 2019

I almost completely forgot to talk about this story because Mother’s Day was a long (but good day). For Mother’s Day, I went with my mom to the Orioles game because we are both diehard fans. We are also not fairweather fans as it was pouring rain when we went down there. This was actually the second Sunday in a row that we tried to go to an Orioles game. The Sunday before, we tried to go to the game and it was also pouring down rain. Spring in Baltimore where it only rains when you want to be outside (and all the time). We waited under cover for an hour eating barbecue sandwiches from Boog’s and then they announced that the game was canceled and we were ushered out. We ended up eating nachos at Dempsey’s and just had a chill and chilly day.

The next weekend, on Mother’s Day, my mother only asked for one thing and that was to try again. I was definitely game for it and neither of us got our hopes up. This time there was a two and a half game delay but we were happy to just sit and talk while the rain came down. We ate chicken tenders from Boardwalk Fries, a place that I had not been to in years and years. (Mostly because I have not been to a mall in forever). Mom gets cold easily so we moved around a lot, going from our seats to go browse stores. It was just a really chill time in one of the coolest places in Baltimore. Finally, the game started and we got to watch a game that the Orioles actually won. It felt like the kind of day that was meant to be. We ended the game back in Dempsey’s having some good food (with a really distracted server but we were in too good a mood to care).

But that was not the story I wanted to tell. While that in itself was a pleasant story, I had another one in mind when I started this. I tend to ramble sometimes. That was all backstory for one of the weirdest stories that has happened to me and luckily my mom was there to witness it. At one point in our day, we went to the Team Shop somewhere around home plate. The store is a little alcove where you can step in and buy Orioles merch. It feels like a Hudson News but all orange. They had run out of the largest size of the big orange blanket because it was cold and wet and everybody had the same idea except they had it before my mom. While we were waiting for them to restock, my mom and I were standing next to the wall of hats and chatting.

Out of the blue, I felt something hit me square in the back and then drag down my spine. It was a soft something. I turned around to see a little kid with a giant orange foam set of talons. A foam finger that actually looked cool. I was not mad since the little guy had not hurt me but when I turned around I expected his eyes to bug out as if he had mistaken me for his older brother or dad or something. Instead, he just stared at me like “What? Yeah, I scratched you with my claws.” Before Xanax, I would have been more weirded out and would probably have gotten angry as my anxiety levels raised. Instead, I was like “Whoa, little dude.” The kid just peered at me and then pointed at my hat. I was wearing a blue WYPR hat which I had gotten for donating to the local NPR affiliate that I had listened to for over two-thirds of my life.

So, the kid points at my hat and says “Didn’t they go out of business?” and I blink and tilt my head to show how confused I was. “No, I’m pretty sure they’re still going,” I said. My mom chimed in with “They’re a local NPR station, they still exist.” The kid furrows his brow and says “No, I’m pretty sure they went out of business.” I was absolutely floored by the confidence of a small child who was absolutely sure and stuck to his guns when challenged. I was a much meeker child and I would have backed down immediately. My mom counted with “You might be thinking of WJHU which did go out of business a while ago.” I looked at my mother and then the kid. Only later did I realize that WJHU went out of business well before the kid was born. I have no idea what the kid was thinking as he got bored and walked away. I still wonder about it but it is a mystery I will never solve. Still, I have to admire the kid’s chutzpah.

Media Update 5/23/18

May 24, 2018


Straight Outta Compton

When I was a kid, I really bought into the whole “Rap is Crap” stuff and I bought into it being dangerous, vulgar, and pointless. However, when I really listened to it, I changed my tune. Like a lot of people, I had condemned something without really giving it a chance. One of the albums that really changed my way of thinking was Straight Outta Compton by N.W.A. The music and the beats hit so hard and the rhymes blew my mind. This was the new street poetry and yes some of it was violent and sexualized but it was a reflection of a world that I was not a part of. It was a musical and political awakening for me. I used to listen to that album on a loop as I walked home from high school. I came to it years after the group had broken up and gone their separate ways. This movie is their story. Of course, I am not sure how much of it is fantasy and how much of it is real but it is a good story. There is enough truth in there for me. All of the actors are great at bringing both the drama and the music to life. In fact, Ice Cube’s son got to play his father in the story which must have been quite the experience. Whatever the true truth is, this movie at least reminded me that these legendary figures were (and are) flawed people just like I am. I definitely recommend it but be warned that the movie is two and a half hours long.


All Eyez On Me

The world was shaken when Tupac Shakur was shot in Las Vegas in 1996. His music was already helping to change the rap game. I talked a lot about it when I reviewed the first few episodes of Unsolved, the miniseries about the investigations into the deaths of Biggie and Tupac. Tupac is still a legend in my hometown of Baltimore because that is where he got his start. It was here that he attended the Baltimore School for the Arts (the same high school my brother went to). This movie is a trip through his life from before his birth to his death. It hits a lot of the highlights of his life including things I did not know like his engagement to Kidada Jones, the daughter of Quincy Jones. Far from “just a thug”, he was a poet who knew Shakespeare and other poets from his education in the arts. He obviously learned from everyone he worked with including Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and Biggie Smalls. The movie hinges on the performance of Demetrius Tripp as Tupac and he does a great job bringing humanity to the mythic figure. We also get actors really nailing figures like Biggie, Jada Pinkett, Kidada, the villainous Suge Knight, Snoop, Dre, Faith Evans, and many more. The script is a little messy but it gets the impact of the man’s life across and the difficulties and flaws he had to deal with. Most of all, it portrays the lost potential when he died. He could have been an elder statesman of rap or an activist if he had lived to maturity. I also recommend this one as it is a fascinating story about the rise and fall of one man who is still loved.


Roxanne Roxanne

This movie caught my attention as I was going through Netflix looking for the movie Notorious (which I will have to catch at another time). This movie tells the story of Roxanne Shante who was a battle rapper back in the eighties. She started rapping at age nine and started to get famous as young as age fourteen. This was in the golden age of hip-hop when everything was fresh and new. It is the world of graffiti, breakdancing, and rapping that formed the trinity of hip-hop culture. This world was reflected in the fictional story of The Get Down but this is a very real story. Roxanne was a hustler with a brilliant mind who was drawn to the streets where she thrived instead of school. Her life was difficult as she was black, a woman, and she came up poor. The movie is such a snapshot of life in the projects in Queens (and the rest of the east coast) in the eighties. The star of the movie is Chante Adams who just does such a great job bringing Roxanne to life. She is such a likable character. I definitely recommend it.

Music of the Week:
Roxanne Shante – Roxanne’s Revenge

Tupac Shakur – Hit ‘Em Up

N.W.A. – Straight Outta Compton

The Chainsmokers – The Rookie

Imagine Dragons – Thunder

Weekly Update:
– This week’s theme is “Rap Biopics”
– I watched more iZombie Season 4
– I watched more Beauty and the Beast Season 1
– I watched a crapload of PBG Hardcore on YouTube
– I finished watching the Pinkertons
– I watched more Barry Kramer on YouTube

The Light Rail

May 21, 2018

While I was going to college in New Jersey, my mother moved into a house over in the Woodberry neighborhood of Baltimore. Her reasoning in picking the specific house she picked was that it was on the Light Rail line. Baltimore’s Light Rail was built in the early nineties to provide mass transit for the citizens of residents vaguely west of the center corridor of the city. As somebody who lived fairly near his high school, I never needed the Light Rail. I could hitch a ride with one of my parents or I could walk if it came to it. So I never really gave it much mind until I came home from college one summer and it was only a few blocks away. My mother was taking it to work so her sons could borrow her car. Still, I never really rode it. I also rarely rode the buses as I preferred to walk if I could not drive and I hate driving.

When I worked for the Kevin Kamenetz campaign in 2010, I was often working next to the Floors, Inc. warehouse up in Hunt Valley throughout the summer. After a while, I did not want to drive and I would instead ride the train up to the McCormick spice factory. I would eat my breakfast as I walked past McCormick which was a bad idea. Eating applesauce while the air around is full of the smell of paprika is a bad idea. Whatever I was eating mingled with the flavor of whatever seasoning they were working on that morning. It was kind of a weird way to start long days of physical labor. However, I got really used to waiting for and riding the train up and down the line. In addition, the cars were always air-conditioned, shady places to sit while I rolled toward the north part of the county. It was at this point that my eyes were opened to how useful the light rail could be.

Now that my day job is in downtown Baltimore, for the first time, I started purchasing monthly passes to the Light Rail (which was recently renamed the Light RailLink). Now that I have been riding almost daily, I have started to get a feel for what the Light Rail is like. The trains have a layout as follows: There are two ‘cars’ linked together by a flexible walkway between them. Each car has wide doors on either side in the center and two smaller doors on each end. The trains having doors on each side is to accommodate platforms on both sides. However, most platforms I have encountered are all on one side. The only exception I can think of off the top of my head is North Avenue station. Maybe the northern end of the line at Hunt Valley. Anyway, the inside of the trains is filled with hard plastic chairs with cushioning in pairs. There are pipes all around to grab onto if you are standing.

Most of the time when I get on, there are people sitting in all of the window seats which leaves a lot of open seats in the aisle. Being the introvert that I am, I only sit down when there are tons of open seats which is mostly only on the weekend. I also rarely sit down because inevitably some elder person will board the train and I want that seat to be open for them and their tired legs. So the way I usually experience the train is on my feet. You really notice the skill of each driver if you are standing on a train. The tracks in many places in the city are not straight and instead curve around existing structures and traffic patterns. Standing on the train there is often little warning when the train will slow or turn and each driver hits these moments with different momentum. Holding onto something is essential to stay standing.

I have also noticed that there are basically four reactions that people have when they get on the train and see that there are no seats. The first is the least likely which is the doors open and somebody decides to wait for the next train. Sometimes, this is necessary as trains can be absolutely crammed full of people after sporting events. The second is a person will find a spot to stand, grab onto something and stand still until their stop. This is what I do and I find it is the most ideal choice. The third choice is when a person is in denial that there are no seats and will make people move out of the way so they can walk the train in search of a seat. This always feels pointless to me. Finally, there are the people who sit down on the steps at the doors which is completely counterproductive. The best train rides are when everybody just chills out and stays put.

So are the trains safe? Well, as with most things, yes and no. I have ridden the trains without incident a lot. First, make sure you buy a ticket because Maryland Transit Authority cops board the train and random stations and at random intervals to check everyone’s ticket. On Free Comic Book Day, I finally saw somebody actually get arrested for the first time for trying to use an old ticket and claiming the machine had printed the wrong ticket. Second, most people on the train just want to get to their destination so everybody keeps to themselves. I have never seen an altercation on the train and most people just assume they are going to be bumped into on the train. The worst I have seen is a man who started a loud sort of sermon on the train and seeing somebody that unstable is always a little worrying. Third, you have to watch yourself around the trains themselves. The week before last somebody was hit and killed by a Light Rail train which briefly caused chaos in Baltimore. So be safe out there but enjoy the utility of the train.

The Zoo

April 30, 2018

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So, I thought I would celebrate the end of this April challenge by taking a trip to the Zoo. Of course, you don’t know in what order I wrote all of these posts so you bought that line hook line and sinker. I picked the perfect Saturday to go to the Zoo. The sun was shining high up in the sky and there was not even a hint of rain on the horizon. It was about sixty degrees Fahrenheit (16 Celsius) and there was a cool breeze when I set out. I grabbed my phone and my phone battery pack and set out toward the Zoo. To get to the Zoo, I did not climb into my car. I instead decided to walk. Walking would bring me through the woods in Druid Hill Park. This always a slightly challenging but pleasant walk. This time it was filled with Frisbee Golfers. I warily watched them to make sure I did not get accidentally beaned by flying discs.

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To get to the Maryland Zoo, I had to actually walk past it first since the gate is on the far side of the park from my house. I walked the two miles to the gate and there was no line even though it was a nice day. It had been more than twenty years since I had been to that zoo even though it has never been far from where I lived (except when I lived in New Jersey). I had no idea where to go and it was way different from when I had last been. I climbed onto a tram that took me to the actual exhibits. The zoo’s land is very big and spread out and after two miles I was glad to sit in a tram for a few minutes. The ride over was pleasant and then I was walking in a sea of people, most of which were tiny children.

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The first things that I saw to my right were penguins. I had not really been expecting penguins as Maryland is only frosty part of the year. They were cute little African Penguins, though, not the larger varieties from the extreme South. They happily swam around as I took pictures and observed their shenanigans. I then took a trip to the Polar Bear area. The polar bears pulled a me and decided to stay inside and chill. However, right next to their exhibit is the Rise and Conquer exhibit. For those who do not know, Rise and Conquer are the names of the very real ravens that are brought to every home game of the Ravens football team. Between games and offseason, the two celebrities hang out at the Maryland Zoo in what I can only assume is a private bird apartment. Meanwhile, two celebrity lookalikes greet the crowds out in the public part of the Maryland Zoo. Over the years I have become a little obsessed with ravens partly because my hometown is so obsessed with them too.

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From there I pretty much went to grab something to eat since I had not gotten lunch yet. Food was expensive so I just got some cheese fries so I could keep going without overfilling my stomach. It was at this point that I realized that I was not only in a sea of humanity, but I was also in a menagerie of languages and accents. I do not know if this day was different but there were so many people speaking languages other than English. It truly was a melting pot of all these different cultures that were floating around. I definitely thought I heard Japanese, Spanish, and something that sounded Eastern European. I am not sure if the Zoo is a destination for tourists or if it is just a magnet for the more ethnic members of our city. Either way, it was a really interesting soundscape.

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After eating, I made my way into the African Journey section. I was ready to really see some animals. I walked along familiar wooden walkways to various animal enclosures and I saw animals from a whole other continent. I was a little disappointed because the leopard and the lions were being shy. I was especially keen on seeing the leopard because it is a variant of the panther which is the namesake of one of my current Tabletop RPG characters. However, there was a zoo employee in front of the cheetahs and she told us all about cheetahs who were busy pressing their noses against the fence as they watched the gazelles run around across the way. For example, I had no idea that cheetah claws do not retract and are therefore dull and are used more as cleats than as knives.

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I seem to remember all of the monkeys and apes being in cages in the open air but now they are behind glass in a cool little house. I do remember them fling poop as a kid so I suppose putting them behind glass removes that particular hazard. The place was dark and not exactly conducive to taking pictures as I tended to pick up people’s reflections instead. Still, the monkeys are definitely some of the most interesting because they are the most like us without being us. After seeing so much, I was kind of tired. I did not see anything on the map about a reptile house which used to exist. It was my nemesis growing up but I have since become fascinated with snakes (from afar). I decided that since I had been there for over an hour and the place was not far from closing that it was time to head home. I found my way back to the tram and ended up back at the prairie dogs and then I walked back out through the gate. After that, my home was just another walk away.

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As a side note, there were two reasons that I went back to the Zoo after all of these years. The first was that it was an easy Z word. I could have easily written a story about a zoo for dragons or I could have reviewed the movie Zoombies (Zombie zoo animals) but I felt like walking. The other reason was that I am still playing Pokemon Go and I have walked past the zoo enough to know that there are plenty of awesome pokemon in there. Yet again, Pokemon Go inspired me to exercise more than I would have. Thanks to the app, I know that I walked almost exactly 6 km altogether which is nearly 4 miles. There were a lot of hills and such along the way so I definitely felt like I got a good workout. I definitely recommend a trip to the Maryland Zoo.

Summer Camp Pt. 1

August 7, 2017

I have been thinking lately of my summer experiences as a kid. When I drive down the streets of Baltimore City, I see school-aged kids walking on the sidewalk and I suddenly remember that school is still out. When you reach an adult age and you have no kids of your own, you kind of forget that summer is a magical time where school is out and you get to play. Most of my play during summer was structured because my parents believed in not leaving me to my own devices and also believed in having relative adults keeping me safe. So, like a lot of kids, I went to summer camp.

The first camp I went to was called Camp Glencoe situated out in Baltimore County, not far from my home but far enough that it was my first time away from home. I had been to day camp before but this was my first shot at sleeping away from home for longer than a day or two. Glencoe’s specialty was kids with dyslexia or learning disabilities but they also prided themselves on taking care of kids with other health difficulties. At the time, I was having some difficulties with my ADD and I was definitely starting to have a lot of complications from my Double Aortic Arch which had been diagnosed as asthma. So, I do not remember doing a lot of outdoorsy stuff but I did stuff when I could.

One of the most memorable things about Glencoe was that we were told of a camp legend pretty close after arrival. There was a ninja that stalked the grounds of Glencoe. Nobody knew the identity of this ninja even though kids constantly investigated. Some swore they had found black clothing in their counselor’s room but I never believed that the real ninja would be so careless. During large public events at the camp, the ninja would run out of hiding and strike. His weapon of choice was whipped cream pies. He would run out and score direct hits and then he would run away. This was a camp tradition. The first time it happened, I was blown away and kind of scared. The second time I joined in the camp tradition of pretty much every kid in camp running after the ninja, trying to catch him. We never did.

I remember doing a lot of reading. I had daily tutoring sessions where I did math and English with teachers. It was not as bad as it sounds. I am a nerd so I never really hated the actual school aspects of being in school. This is also where I got all of my summer reading done for school. I know some kids do not enjoy summer reading, wanting to play sports, hang out with friends or do anything else. I always loved reading and having the assignments gave me an excuse to spend a lot of time reading and discussing the books with the tutor. I did not have dyslexia so math and reading were easy to me, I just had a concentration problem to work on. So, I remember spending a lot of time doing homework in between meals, swimming and occasionally doing outdoorsy activities.

I had done a few sleepovers at that age but only for a night or two. It was not until middle school when I started to stay over at friends for longer periods of time. As I said, Glencoe was the exception to that rule since it happened before my fifth-grade surgery. We lived in large dorms with rooms packed tight together. The hallways were patrolled by counselors at night, making sure we were not up to anything. I found that I was not really that homesick which was a happy discovery. The only truly bad experience I can think of is the boy’s dorm once had a huge building-wide pillow fight staged by the counselors. It was like a prison riot. I remember a younger boy dropped his pillow and opted to punch me in the face instead. I was stunned and angry and I was still chasing him when the pillow fight came to its natural end. It took me a while to cool off and that incident helps fuel my sense of fair play in a fight.

I also remember a camp-wide water gun fight we had at one point. Everybody had a full Super Soaker or two and there were buckets full of water balloons scattering the camp. Again, we had another riot but this one was a lot more fun. We happily blasted each other with water, running all over the camp to cool off. No points were scored and there was no object to the game besides pure mayhem and pretending I was a cool army of one fighting through the masses. I even remember filling up and firing from within the shallow end of the camp swimming pool, wading chest deep like I was in some eighties action movie. That is a fond memory and I do not remember getting too winded thankfully. I thought, for such a structured camp that catered to younger kids, that this unstructured, chaotic game was an amazing feat by the counselors.

Ultimately, I started to excel more at school now that new ADD medication was kicking in and I had a solid grasp on my studies. I started to enjoy learning for learning’s sake more and I never got poor grades all the way through high school (and only a few bad grades in college). Once I had my surgery, I did not need to go to Camp Glencoe and my folks started looking for other summer options for me. I did not really have any close friends at that camp so I was not really sad to leave it. I was ready for normalcy. An ‘asthma’ -free experience with no homework. I got that experience, sort of. I will talk about it next Monday!

A Thursday Fire

February 20, 2017

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There was a fire around the corner the other day. It was a four-alarm fire on Union Avenue, the major thoroughfare in my neighborhood. It is the street I take to work and just about everywhere I need to or want to go. The thing is, I had no idea that it happened. I was asleep at the time and apparently upwind so I did not smell any smoke. The idea that something happened so close to me without my knowledge is kind of spooky but a credit to this city’s firefighters. They took care of the blaze without any collateral damage to surrounding neighborhoods.

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One thing that is also interesting is that I also did not hear the fire trucks or I did and they simply did not wake me up. I was born in Baltimore City and I was raised in that city as well. For most of my life, I have been a city slicker and that comes with accepting certain things. I used to live very close to University Parkway (and at one point on University Parkway) which brought with it certain realities. University Parkway is a major passage for emergency vehicles in that part of Baltimore. It is a wide, multi-lane road that is easy to navigate in a hurry. So we grew up hearing sirens more often than not. So it makes sense that I would not even notice extra sirens nearby.

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Usually, when a fire happens it is a horrible tragedy. If you remember, Baltimore had a huge fire during the riots nearly two years ago. In that fire, senior housing was burned down. Thankfully, nobody had moved in yet because construction was not quite done. Still, housing for seniors is a very important thing to have burned down. The building that burned on Thursday night was not being used for anything at the time. It was an old brick building nearby that I had taken pictures of last year because I found the graffiti on it interesting. The building was slated for development which I imagine will be dramatically delayed but at least nobody was killed.

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This also brought to mind how easy it is to get news, photographs and video of an event so soon after it happened. My brother asked me about the fire the morning after it happened and I had pictures of it on fire pulled up. I had the exact account of how it happened in minutes. It is extraordinary in this day and age that we get simple facts as wrong as we do when the real story is so close at hand. I suppose the problem comes in when so many people are seeing and saying different things. The truth should not be so complicated, should it?

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I walked down to the building on Friday to have a look for myself, partly because I felt awkward about not knowing that the event happened. By the time I arrived in the afternoon, everything was obviously all calm. You can see the damage from smoke on the outside but if you did not know there had been a fire, you would not be able to learn that from a glance. Of course, the double doors were wide open and the shadows inside hid what must have been black scorch marks. The windows that had already been broken, looked a little more heat damaged. On Saturday, all the open windows and doors had been boarded up.


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