Rolling groggy into Baltimore on Amtrak train 185 I had forgotten that all the roofs are flat; bricks painted green, blue, pink; windows boarded up. I thought of that new Atlantic article about snitchers in Baltimore ghettos. But the streets looked empty. Too early for drug deals, I guess.
Squalor. S-q-u-a-l-o-r I counted walking north from Penn station on the durty North Charles sidewalk. My intended destination: Tapas Taetro, right up there at 20th, for an early lunch. Hummus, maybe. Or crab cakes. Nope. Closed until 5:00. I wasn’t planning to go all the way north, those 12 blocks to campus. I’d just walk until I saw a place to eat. But each one I came to was (card)boarded up—one Chinese, one Korean, one “cool Caribbean,” two diners. No restaurants, but five hair salons, two realty offices, WYPR public radio and a “Big Boyz” bail bond shop. A few stuttering fat women, old, tired-looking, probably strung out out of their minds. A few teenaged gangsters giving me the up-down. Got to that big Safeway on 24th, cut across the parking lot to St. Paul. A young man dragged a blue-sneakered limp foot across the road with his brown-sneakered left. His neck collared with a plastic grocery bag. The sun h-o-t hot. And I was so preoccupied with forehead sweat running my makeup that 32nd startled me, those brown dumpsters in the alley behind The Allston. Up on the wobbly fourth-floor fire escape, the black asphalt roof still inviting, no girls sunbathe in bikinis.
It was supposed to rain—60 percent chance—but it’s not. Sun’s so bright I have to scrape my white-tableclothed table (did they used to have tablecloths?) at Donna’s so that the awning covers my shoulders.
All of those 7ams at Donna’s, writing about Mars with cinnamon hazelnut in a paper cup. The two female waitresses still work here. (That one Meagan and I always thought was a bit slow in the head, she still seems a bit slow in the head. Perhaps more so with those ridiculously plastic, ridiculously sea-foam green hoop earrings.) My waitor, Josh P., is new.
Next door is still Rocky Run, with the pricey beers, and then Charles Village Pub with the cheap ones. We watched the Ravens there that one Sunday afternoon. (That was before the Warhol exhibit in Chicago—or was it after? And long before the Warhol sleep documentary at PS 1 MOMA. Remember the afternoon skyline from the rooftop? It was so fucking hot.) And there’s still Eddie’s, still—a banner on the window says “celebrating 45 years.” I laugh, not out loud but in my head, because last week, in a compulsive fit, I cleared my desk and threw away the tattered Eddie’s discount card, thinking, When’s the next time I’ll be in Baltimore again, anyway?
April 25, 2007. The streets are quiet, still, empty. The Hopkins kids at the next table—in suits and lacrosse t-shirts, some young entrepreneurs club meeting, no doubt—are pretentious, discussing “border theory” of South America, and the air smells like the water, I think as I sign the check. “Donna’s,” it says at the top, “Charle’s Village.”