The Saturday morning newspaper issued a warning not to go, so naturally not a single soul more than 1 million people or thereabouts showed up at Artscape '92 over the weekend.
The Saturday morning paper didn't mean to warn everybody, it's just the way things work out sometimes in the page layout business: two stories sitting next to each other at the top of the Maryland Section front page, one headlining the arrival of the 10th anniversary of the city's glad gathering of artists and writers and musicians and dancers, and the other detailing the latest madness with the guns.
You live in the city of Baltimore, and you balance one against the other: the melting pot blending of people with different backgrounds vs. the stranger lurking behind the next corner; the endlessly fascinating diversity of city existence vs. the rolling of the dice with your health.
Under a little tent Saturday afternoon, Jerome Dyson Wright sat autographing copies of his book, "Snowball's Chance in Hell." The title's a reference to black kids growing up in Baltimore. A few feet away was Paul Ford with a collection of his poems, including one called "Cracks in the Sidewalk."
"A poem about drug abuse?" somebody says.
"Life in the city," Ford sighs.
Some yards away, in a sprawling series of sculptures called "The Shrine of Our Lost Children," there were artist's interpretations of child abuse. A teen-age girl named Toni, blond-haired, eyes on the edge of wetness, told onlookers about her own impassioned contribution.
"It's about my parents," she said, pointing to photographs pasted across a mosaic background. "My mother was 15 when she had me. She's on the run now. My father's at the prison in Hagerstown. I'm with foster parents."
Life in the city: It's a lot like other places in America, only multiplied.
Recent city madness involves the lunchtime gunplay Friday at West Baltimore and North Pine streets, outside the University of Maryland dental school.
Daytime, the area is always alive with students and doctors and hospital patients and visitors. And, because this is how it works in American cities today, now there was a young man with a gun and no conscience.
As customers lined up to buy lunch, the gunman grabbed money belonging to a hot dog vendor and his girlfriend and opened fire while people watched in disbelief.
Yesterday, John Trikilis, 27, who was filling in for his brother, Manny, at the little hot dog stand, was listed in critical but stable condition at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center with a bullet wound in his chest.
His girlfriend, Mindy Lynn Murzda, 21, was listed there in serious but stable condition, with two bullet wounds in her lower back.
And on the weekend after the shooting, people who saw the two stories in the morning newspaper, the shooting story and the Artscape story sitting next to each other at the top of the page, the first story looking like some warning to avoid the second, took the little roll of the dice with their lives and about a million of them showed up at Artscape anyway, and they embraced.
It wasn't a literal embrace, exactly, it's just the way it feels at the best of these festivals the city holds to bolster its own spirit. Yes, we're still here, everybody tells each other implicitly. No, we haven't joined the exodus to that land where life revolves around the shopping malls. Yes, we still think we can make this city work.
You walk through these festivals not just to taste the food or look at the crafts, but to feel the comfort of people who share your sometimes-edgy existence. It's an unexpressed outdoor therapy session.
The drug dealers infect entire city blocks, and force people to stay inside their homes after dark. But here are thousands gathered in the moonlight at the old Mount Royal station to hear the playing of music.
The schools can't get students to pick up books, but here are pages of poems from the kids at the Madonna Catholic School, in Southwest Baltimore, trying to put meaning into the existence of inner city life.
The homicide rate outpaces last year's bloody rate, but here are black kids and white kids playing unselfconsciously inside the lobby of the Lyric Theatre, so that's a sign of hope, isn't it?
They're shooting hot dog vendors at Baltimore and Pine, in the shadow of a hospital, but life has to go on. The cops say they're questioning people, and they "hope and expect" to make an arrest. And on Mount Royal Avenue, where a million people gathered over the weekend, you could walk the sidewalks yesterday and still feel the good cheer from the Artscape weekend there.
Sorry about any unintended, implicit warning on Saturday. It's just the page layout business. You put an Artscape story right next to a shooting story, and it sends a shudder across the community, a hint to stay away.
What's tougher to explain, maybe, was yesterday's story about Artscape. It said a million people showed up. The story was carried on Page 2 of this section of the newspaper. And, top to bottom, it was two paragraphs long.
Maybe it should have said: Among all those people, nobody got shot, nobody got stabbed, but a lot of people looked at their neighbors and their art and their crafts, and they said to themselves: Oh, yeah. This is why I still live in this city.