When I told people back home that I was moving to Baltimore, the reactions were not always enthusiastic. In fact, some were down right negative, as in “Why would you ever want to move there?”
I guess I was naïve. I don’t watch tv, so I never saw the Wire, and most of my impressions of Baltimore were based off of Hairspray and one previous visit to the Inner Harbor, which was mostly spent at the National Aquarium. Soon people were winging crime statistics and horror stories right and left at me. The area where the school of public health is located was especially notorious for crime they said. I started fact checking and began freaking myself out even more.
But surprisingly, it was Baltimore that sold me on Hopkins, not the other way around.
I remember my first solo visit to Hopkins, almost two years ago now. I flew into BWI and rented a car, one of those mini cars with no rear end. I was terrified driving around on the beltway, trying to follow my GPS and not get flattened by the trucks whizzing by my toy car.
I crashed at my sister Sybil’s house for the night, and got up when it was still dark to get ready for my first drive to Hopkins. I spent the day listening to lectures from the Dean and various professors from my department, followed by lunch with prospective and current students, and then campus tours.
As impressive as Hopkins was, I left feeling unsure if the program was the right fit for me. Then I decided to explore the city. I was waiting at a stoplight by Hopkins, and a group of local pedestrians started pointing and laughing at my car. I wanted to restore my dignity by yelling back that it was a rental, but I didn’t have time before the light turned.
I drove down to a place called Fells Point. I fell in love with the cobblestones, the historic row houses, and most of all the harbor views. I took the water taxi over to the Inner Harbor, and just walked around, soaking up all the sights and sounds, and enjoying seeing so many types of people. I walked back to my car, taking in the city life along the way.
I’m not sure what happened. Maybe it was me discovering for the first time that I loved being in a city. Maybe I just liked Baltimore because I hadn’t spent much time in better cities. Maybe it was the fact that my first impression of Baltimore was based on the nicest parts of the city. Maybe it was just enjoying the freedom of being completely on my own for the first time.
Or maybe it was simply love at first sight.
At any rate, I bit the bullet, enrolled in Hopkins, and moved into a row house. Baltimore has not disappointed me. I love the action and the interactions, the water, the skyscrapers, the quaint neighborhoods, the outdoor and indoor markets, festivals, museums, and local shops. I love being completely on my own, but not alone. And I love being able to walk everywhere and run for miles through parks, neighborhoods and the harbor. I love never running out of places to explore.
Most of all I love that I get to meet new people every day, and rub against so many different cultures and backgrounds, especially the crazy characters on the street. I keep trying to find what’s common between me and those that are not like me at all, sometimes it’s just a smile, sometimes it’s enough to grow into a friendship.
I’ve lived here for over a year now, and sometimes Baltimore feels so comfortable, that it feels like home. Other times, it feels like a different country. I’ve seen the nasty and sad parts, the rich and poor parts, the beautiful parks and woodsy spots, the dilapidated houses overrun by rats, the streets full of trash and the homeless campouts. I’ve been in the “high crime” areas, and been in places where I felt unsure of myself or scared. I’ve seen people and places here that made me cry, and seen things that made me angry.
If it was love at first sight that drew me to Baltimore, surely, the initial sparks of romance and excitement have died down. They’ve been replaced by something more steady: appreciation, concern, compassion, contentment, and most of all, hope for this city.