Struggling to Define Charm City

"Winter in Baltimore opens up and empties like a new moon. It's quiet, and the city feels like it's missing entirely...But she comes back in the spring, painting her blush on the azalea bushes that are streaked across the short yards of row-homes. She breathes life into the sidewalks again."

It's been a little while since I updated you. And you is an open interpretation here. I suppose I'm mostly referring to my blog; my public diary. But for other actual eyes, you're the you, in this case. But per usual, I'm digressing by falling into a hole of definitions and interpretations. *Insert eye roll*

But I'm working at Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrel House over in Halethorpe now. Or maybe it's in Relay. Or maybe in Arbutus? The locals' verdict is still out on where it technically is, it seems. Though when you see a can of our brewery's flagship beer, Guinness Blonde, you'll find the words "Brewed in Baltimore" proudly stamped across the top. So I consider its home, just like mine out in Parkville, in Baltimore.

I'm working as a tour guide at the brewery. In the simplest way possible, I walk my tours through Guinness history, ingredients in beer, the brewing process, casks and barrel aging, our site history, and a bit more.

When I talk about site history however, this is usually when people begin shifting their weight around and tend to finish off their beers. There's a moment here where I also explain why Guinness chose Baltimore over any other city in the states. I can tell people want me to breeze past this- they get the logistics of it. But what I think most of the out-of-towners don't get is the way Baltimoreans feel as if they're offshoots of the city. A part of the city. Which sounds lame and obvious but let me explain.

But bear in mind that this is so hard for me to explain. If I level with you, then let me say that I'm a little mentally hungover today; so I'm struggling even more than usual to articulate. Let me backtrack and breathe as I try to simplify all of this:

There's something about Baltimore in the springtime specifically. Like its finally alive again, but now hiding something behind her leafy-clad corners. Over the winter, she leaves everything to dry out. Winter in Baltimore opens up and empties like a new moon. It's quiet, and the city feels like it's missing entirely. And winters in Maryland are often long and dark and lonesome. But she comes back in the spring, painting her blush on the azalea bushes that are streaked across the short yards of row-homes. She breathes life into the sidewalks again. Women and men freckle her nose, sitting on their stoops breathing long strings of smoke that seem to mix into the vines that run down her neck and off of her shoulders. You can hear her laugh, once it's dark and warm. Peeper frogs sing from somewhere nearby, as if they're quietly telling you, whose alone on your porch, that you're not alone in fact.

In the warmer months, you can feel her. Breathed into by women like my father's mother. Women who saw that new moon in the dark, and later called someone she loved to tell them to look for the full moon.

In the colder months, you can see her. Built on the breaking backs of blue-collared men who sweat for a number. A number they see once and pass along to their families to use as a grocery basket. Men like my mother's father.

And throughout, you'll see the children. My grandfather's sisters; getting dressed by the open oven for warmth on Christmas morning. My grandmother's son, watching a tin trashcan spit flames from a match he and his brother dropped.

There's a break in time here- I moved from a trendy cafe on Falls Road to a restaurant in Arbutus. I was honestly more comfortable sitting at the other spot closer to home. But halfway through writing all of this I felt like I needed to move over here for lunch. My grandfather used to come to this spot often when he was younger. So often in fact that the owners always had a beer in the icebox for John, though they didn't actually serve beer.

The restaurant isn't intrusive to its environment in any way. The exterior has a humble red neon hanging in the window- blinds pulled closed with a few teeth missing. Inside it doesn't say much either. A comfortable soft pink counter with peeling stools that remind me of beach trips to Ocean City as a kid. There are homemade cakes, propped up on the end of the counter in simple and foggy cake trays; other homemade slices of pies and desserts hide behind a similarly foggy pastry case.

Here I feel like I'm just a few inches closer to my grandfather's Baltimore, though I'm technically farther from the heart of the city. I remember him talking about taking the trolley to and from, here and there. And using new ice skates to slip around on a sketchy neighborhood pond. I'm closer to the house my mom's parents came home to after a long trip across the globe from Japan. It's an old house. Also unassuming in demeanor. But from what I remember my relatives saying when I went to visit it, it's at least a hundred years old. And you can feel it when you cross its threshold. It's that same feeling you'll notice when crossing the cobblestone streets of Fells Point.

The best way I can think to describe it is a quiet feeling of steady anticipation. It's a poor metaphor, but all I can see when I try and personify that feeling is an old woman melted into an equally old and splintering rocker, intensely, and solemnly focused on something just out of my view. This is a feeling I've grown up with, and I think continue to grow into.

So whenever I leave town, like on Randy's and my most recent trip to Savannah, it feels like there's a long invisible root stretching from my heels back to somewhere in Charm City. I don't feel that quiet anticipation anywhere else, and the whole time I'm gone I'm constantly worried I'm going to miss whatever it is that Baltimore is waiting for.

Savannah's also a haunted woman, in my imagination. Yet unlike Baltimore, it feels like she's not hiding anything- or at least she's hiding less. When I took a stroll through Bonaventure Cemetery in the south, it felt emptier for whatever reason. Though Greenmount Cemetery in Baltimore was established just three years prior to Bonaventure and lacks the sorrowful Spanish moss and weeping trees, my favorite cemetery maintains a lingering feeling of disconnect. Like a very thin, understated sheer fabric drawn over a window. I can see what's behind it, but it still feels like there's something in the way.

I'm so close to being able to identify what it is exactly that creates that enrapturing feeling in this city. It's on the tip of my tongue. I can feel it every evening I spot the other old set of abandoned Seagram rick houses while sizzling past them on 95. Or every morning when I avoid the eyes of that woman with the sunken face, begging for money on the corner of that cemetery I've been meaning to visit. Or when I see my baby gliding down the front steps of my stoop as I pull into the driveway, a grin folding in his face. It's like I can hear this chorus of my Baltimorean family who've lived and died before me, as I hear the breeze wind its way between the buildings and branches.

The most I feel that I can properly say, is that this city is waiting for something. You could say it's change, sure. I would agree with this, but that's a conversation for a separate post. But it feels like Charm City has been waiting for something since its original foundations were being laid. I just hope that I'm not going to miss that something when I ultimately feel I need to try and settle in somewhere else. Maybe I'm scared she'll feel me sawing at the roots connected to my heels and spit me out like an unwelcome and forsaken child. Or maybe if I'm lucky, if I treat her well and with love while I'm here, she'll continue to nourish the ground I stand on. Whether that's Maryland soil, or elsewhere. My family first found their footing in this city and I shouldn't ignore that. Maybe if I happily do the same I'll be able to find the footholds and secrets they've planted along the way.


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