Thoroughly modern meanings of Independence Day in the city


July 04, 1991|By MICHAEL OLESKER

Fourth of July? Sure, it means fireworks filling the sky like some heavenly magician's cape. Sure, it's a one-day reminder of freedoms we take for granted the other 364 days of the year. Sure, it's a politician's excuse to break out the platitudes.

But, around Baltimore, this being the birthplace of Key's song and all that, the Fourth of July means much more.

For example . . .

The Fourth of July means you can sit at the Bay Cafe in Canton and proudly point across the harbor to Fort McHenry -- even though you're actually pointing toward The Horse You Came In On in Fells Point.

The Fourth of July means you can't buy firecrackers, because it's called breaking the law. But you can buy firearms, because that's called "sporting."

The Fourth of July means the Baltimore City Council declaring summer vacation, and Baltimore citizens asking, "Vacation from what?"

The Fourth of July means going to Memorial Stadium to watch base hits skip untouched past Orioles' fielders and uttering the traditional cry, "Brooksie woulda ate that up!" -- even if the ball was hit to right field.

The Fourth of July means American presidents declaring independence from all oppressive powers, and wondering why it's taking George Bush so long to declare his independence from John Sununu.

The Fourth of July means thoughts of long weekends in Ocean City -- even though most of the long weekend is spent watching yourmotor overheat approaching the Bay Bridge toll booth.

The Fourth of July means neighborhood kids opening their lemonade stands -- and some guy from the state comptroller's office moving in for the take on new sales taxes.

The Fourth of July means some people defacing the flag without anybody calling it unpatriotic. They just call it "commercials."

The Fourth of July means taking the whole family through the National Aquarium's tropical rain forest and realizing it feels cool and refreshing after standing in the humidity on Pratt Street.

The Fourth of July means trying to forget the old baseball adage that the team in first place today will be in first place at season's end.

The Fourth of July means remembering the rickety roller coaster at Gwynn Oak Park. Even though the old monstrosity's gone, it's nice to know that you can go back and see if your insides are still on theground.

The Fourth of July means thinking of democracy and knowing that if you're African-American or Hispanic or Jewish, you still can't get into the Baltimore Country Club -- unless you're an employee.

The Fourth of July means just another day at the office for Cal Ripken.

The Fourth of July means seeing Baltimore get a new school superintendent -- and hoping he'll have in

dependence of mind when he starts getting pulled in different political directions.

The Fourth of July means remembering patriotic symbols of another era -- white sales at Stewart's, bathing suit sales at Brager-Gutman's, dress sales at Hoshchild's, sporting goods sales at the May Company, and appliance sales at Hutzler's.

The Fourth of July means President Bush will be embracing more troops who have returned home from the Persian Gulf conflict.

True, the welcome-homes have gone on far longer than the actual war itself. But the important thing, for Bush, is that the homecomings help keep Americans' minds off other things. Such as the economy.

The Fourth of July means remembering when the Colts would be getting ready to open another training camp in Westminster.

The Fourth of July means local bookies laying odds that it won't land on the Fifth this year.

The Fourth of July means hookers on Baltimore Street telling customers, "It ain't the land of the free down here . . . although it is the home of the brave."

The Fourth of July means remembering afternoons in Leakin Park and the traditional hide-the-body-in-the-trunk family outings.

The Fourth of July means Orioles owner Eli Jacobs, acknowledging the warm patriotic link between baseball and America, installing pay toilets as a farewell tribute to Memorial Stadium.

The Fourth of July means little league games on Fort Avenue, in the very shadow of Fort McHenry, where everybody sings the national anthem and nobody asks, "You think we should have invited Roseanne Barr?"

The Fourth of July means politicians waving the flag when they should be waiving the empty promises.

The Fourth of July means panicky school kids waking up and shrieking, "It's the Fourth of July? There's only two months of summer vacation left!"

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