Somewhere out there -- Patapsico Abnew in Souf Bawlamer? Dancin' the polka onna payment in Dundock? -- is a poet with a paintbrush and a sense of humor and the soul of the city pulsing through his or her veins.
You want evidence? Check the Bill Hotz photograph that ran on this newspaper's Maryland section front page two mornings ago. It's all about the national language of Baltimore, the municipal psyche of the city.
It's a little sign in the median strip on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, as you enter the city, which used to say:
WELCOME TO BALTIMORE
But now says:
WELCOME TO BALTIMORE, HON!
I think I just fell in love.
''Hon'' is the verbal emotional center of Baltimore. Even in a time of great social transition and politicalupheaval -- where many of us are first learning to eat quiche, even though we're still mispronouncing it -- ''hon'' is still the common denominator of the mother tongue, a word that embraces all of us into the same community without asking first for name, rank and zip code.
It's a counter lady at the Lexnin Market asking if you need a spyewn for your oystyer soup.
It's an unself-conscious intimacy that wouldn't understand officiousness if it got imported from Warshnin or Naplis.
It's legions of Bawlamoreans pressing down on our car exhilarators with pride as we head toward Norf Abnew or Hollandtayon or even the Pratt Liberry.
And if the city of Baltimore doesn't leap into action and paint WELCOME TO BALTIMORE, HON onto every available road sign, then everybody at City Hall is paying even less attention than we imagine.
(Is this legitimizing graffiti? Of course. But understand something: Graffiti isn't just a visual intrusion. It's a reflection of the soul of the intruder. And this is a soul as reflective of Baltimore as crabs and beer or
never getting over the loss of the Colts.)
WELCOME TO BALTIMORE, HON is the essence of this city. It' all about friendly unpretentiousness, and not taking ourselves too seriously, and it's about a sense of home.
Robert Frost almost had it right, when he wrote: ''Home is the place where/When you have to go there/They have to take you in.''
Actually, If he'd have been a Baltimorean, he'd have written ''Home is the place where/When you have to go there/They have to take you in at . . .''
(This doesn't mean we don't know good grammar around here. Everybody in Baltimore knows, for instance, you got your singular ''you'' and your plural ''youse . . .'')
But I digress. What Frost should have written was: ''Home is theplace where/When you have to go there/They ought to call you hon.''
WELCOME TO BALTIMORE, HON talks to everybody with heart that beats. It's an automatic smile, a roadside hug for hometowner and tourist alike.
For more than a decade now, the city has fiddled with nicknames and slogans that just didn't make it: Charm City, Baltimore Is Best, The City That Reads.
All sound more like wishful thinking than a true reflection of the municipal character.
This is a city uneasy putting on airs. Having shrugged off much of its historic municipal inferiority complex, it's still a little uncomfortable getting dressed up for company.
WELCOME TO BALTIMORE, HON says: We don't think of you acompany. We think of you as one of us, for as long as you feel like staying with us.
''Ever since I moved here,'' says a woman who arrived here a year ago, ''everybody calls me 'hon.' It made
feel at home right away. Also, it makes me feel young.''
''Baltimoreans are likely to take the time not only to greet but to chat at some length with strangers who pop up in their lives,'' Tony Hiss writes in the current New Yorker.It's a long and affectionate piece on the town that captures some of its essence but will make natives feel a little self-conscious knowing people around the country will be reading it.
What, somebody from New York's paying attention to us?Hon, you got nothin' better to do with your time than that?
''The air [in Baltimore] feels soft and gentle on your skin; the summers are subtropical. In June, on open ground, there's a sharp, rich, enveloping smell, made up of honeysuckle and a dozen other flowering vines and shrubs.''
That's Tony Hiss again, sounding like a poet. It's all very flattering, but we're a little self-conscious with poetry, which is too studied.
''Hon'' is more our style, because it has no style. It's not studied, it just sort of slips off the tongue. Is anybody at City Hall listening? If they are, do they understand they've just been handed a public relations gift from the gods?
Welcome to your new city slogan, hons. It's as Bawlamer as you could get.