We have sold our charm, grace -- and memories

Joy Rupertus

August 04, 1993|By Joy Rupertus

THE sun was just rising when my dad and I reached the old piers at the harbor. I remember the water was always dark. The soft waves gleamed with flashes of early morning light. I can hear the sounds of the gulls flying above, always alert for a morsel left unattended.

I hear my dad laughing with the old oystermen. I remember Dad leisurely sampling the delicacies of freshly shucked oysters from several wooden bushel baskets before he made his selection.

The gnarled hand of the oyster man reaches out to me with a lollipop and ruffles my hair. His face is a mass of friendly wrinkles, and even in good weather he wears shiny rubber boots and wet-weather gear.

Everything is always a little damp by the water.

I remember the salty smell of the harbor, the peaceful feeling we had when we were near it and the sound of the waves slapping gently against the splintered wooden piers. Sometimes I lay on my stomach and looked down at my young face reflected in the water or searched the pilings for a crab.

Now when I lean over to peer into the water at the Inner Harbor, I see the reflection of high-rises, and I watch Styrofoam cups floating by. I can't hear the gentle waves for all the cars and the boat horns. I would never lie on my stomach for fear of being trampled or mugged.

The politicians said we needed tourism to bring revenue into a declining city. We were going to share in that revenue, but the common people no longer have the harbor nor a penny to show for its loss.

The new ballpark would bring revenue to the city, or so the politicians promised. I went to the new ballpark. I didn't know anyone. Four of us paid $60, and the hot dogs didn't taste right. The average Jack and Jill can't afford to attend the new ballpark -- just Washingtonians and lawyers and doctors from Baltimore.

The Baltimore I grew up in is gone. The characters are well hidden. I remember a guy who rode a big motorcycle with hundreds of reflectors on it and a man named Mr. Diz, who wore buttons all over his clothes. They appeared at every parade.

Back then, the masses of common people had things to do. It is they who give the city part of its charm. They are the gingerbread makers and the screen painters. They don't go to the stadium or dine at the Inner Harbor.

They can't afford it.

Baltimore once had charm. Charm is elegance and grace. Charm is slow-paced and trustworthy. Charm is polished silver and brass. The people of Baltimore, the characters who live here, have charm.

You can still find some charm here and there in the non-tourist sections. But charm is a fragile thing. If you build a high-rise next to an old Victorian house, the house will lose some of its character. The flowers around the house will be deprived of sunlight, and they will wither and die. Charm is lost.

I say the politicians are wrong. The decline of our city is not financial: It is a decline in values.

We have sold charm and grace, and our memories, too, for a promise of revenue.

Joy Rupertus writes from Baltimore.

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