An Ode to Baltimore
SF Weekly editor Brandon Reynolds graciously settles his bet with City Paper
Published: February 6, 2013
Editor’s Note: Last week,City Paper made a friendly wager with San Francisco newspaper SF Weekly. The editor whose team lost the Super Bowl would write an ode to the victorious city, to run in both papers accompanied by a picture of the losing editor wearing the winning team’s gear.
This week, SF Weekly editor Brandon Reynolds graciously settles the bet with the following essay. Reynolds had to create his own Ravens hat, as such accessories were understandably hard to come by in the Bay Area the day after our boys defeated theirs in the Super Bowl. If you look closely, you’ll see a solitary tear rolling down the editor’s cheek.
Ah, Baltimore, you have added another song to your history. These tales of glory and loss are important because, like San Francisco, you are shaped so much by your art. Our hills are known from Bullitt, our homes from Full House, and our hearts from all those goddamned hippie songs. You are known through the films of John Waters and, of course, The Wire, the greatest televisual document of a city, its people, and its disposable phones.
You are a great American city in a time when what that means is up for debate, but what that means for now (and this is something San Francisco can appreciate) is this: You are a place of contradictions, in every way louder, dirtier, and more chaotic than the suburban outdoor mall that is 21st century America. And you are better for it.
You are a lover of riots and strikes, and your Camden Yards is a beautiful prison for baseball. But your roughness translates to grace: Your fondness for tables piled with Old Bay’d crab necessitated invention—and so you made of the hammer an eating utensil.
You’ve given the world Thurgood Marshall and Pat Sajak and Cass Elliott and that pothead who won all the medals. You have inspired Poe and Waters, and we thank you. For you are a city that has for two centuries allowed the strange and mustachioed to give voice to sexual deviancy through art. (Descent into the maelstrom, indeed.)
And you are clever too: You were wily enough to engineer a blackout during the most-watched moment of our year. (Don’t think we don’t see the signs of conspiracy: David Simon, lover of spectacle, working in New Orleans—it adds up.)
But Baltimore, you aren’t like your sister cities. There’s Annapolis, with its obsession for mown lawns, cable-knit sweaters, and knots. And D.C., a place of strivers, where a government ID badge is a happy-hour meat-market necessity. And Philadelphia, that gray eldest sibling, haunted by its history, conflicted down to its sandwiches. (Though you’d never admit it, Baltimore, you are probably closest to your cousin Richmond, a city similarly bound by loyalties to food, insoluble racial tension, and a masochistic love of its own decay. Plus the Poe thing.)
Baltimore, we feel your loneliness. San Francisco recognizes a kinship born of a certain solitude, for Charm City, like the City by the Bay, is an outsider. We are both particular in our ways: You eschew speaking the letter “t,” we eschew pants.
Indeed, there is no city quite like either of us. We are not bound by region, or reason. You, Baltimore, like San Francisco, belong to no place so much as you belong to yourself.
We are glad to know you.
Brandon R. Reynolds