Welcome to Bawlamer, Hon

April 09, 1994|By ANDREW RATNER

Twenty-five years ago, in P.S. 27 in Yonkers, New York, I discovered something: Baltimore. Millions of fellow New Yorkers forged a tie with Baltimore that year, 1969. Joe Namath's Jets beat the Colts in the Super Bowl that winter. (I swear I was the only kid in my class rooting for the Colts, probably because Baltimore was in the same league as my father's beloved football Giants.) Later that fall, of course, the Mets upended the Orioles in the World Series.

I remember looking out my schoolroom window, not far from where the Palisades loomed over the Hudson River, and wondering where Baltimore was. Could one get there by car? (Geography wasn't stressed in schools then either.) When Oriole Don Buford slammed that first-game, first-inning home run of the Series off my hero, Tom Seaver, that screaming collage of faces in Memorial Stadium -- men wearing hound's-tooth hats, women in kerchiefs, boys and girls my age -- looked strange to me, like the way footage of fundamentalist Islamic rallies looks to Americans now. All that orange and black; the row of little, white houses past center field . . . where is this place? I now know, of course, where Baltimore is. And, so do many others who have moved here from elsewhere.

The Land of Pleasant Living happens to be one of the more transient places in the U.S. About half of all Marylanders were born so, making the state the 12th lowest for native-born share of its population, according to the 1990 census. Maryland's native population was nearly 60 percent as late as 1960. By contrast, in neighboring Pennsylvania, 80 percent of today's residents are natives (the highest rate in the nation).

Michel Lettre of the state Office of Planning supplied me with some other interesting figures: Nearly 15 percent of Marylanders lived somewhere else as recently as 1985, making this the 18th state in the U.S. for its share of new residents.

Since World War II, Maryland has doubled in population to 4.7 million people. It's a growth rate unmatched on the Eastern seaboard except for Florida (which tripled its population) and much smaller Delaware and New Hampshire, which grew at rates only slightly ahead of Maryland's.

Most of the influx, of course, has washed into the Baltimore and D.C. suburbs. That flow of people is the underpinning for the profound cultural and societal changes that have swept much of Maryland and that is at the heart of much of today's political debates in Annapolis.

The boom has reverberated nearly everywhere but Baltimore, which has lost more than a fifth of its population in the last 44 years. Since 1950, Montgomery County has grown by about 360 percent; Prince George's County, 275 percent; Anne Arundel County, 265 percent, and Baltimore County, 156 percent. Among the smaller counties, Harford has grown by 250 percent over the past four decades; Carroll, 175 percent, and Howard an unbelievable 710 percent. Put another way, Baltimore had 40 times the population of Howard in 1950; it has four times the population of Howard today.

With much of this growth occurring over the past 15 years, soon you'll have a generation of Marylanders whose parents never took them to shop the big department stores that once adorned Baltimore's Howard Street; who don't know of the slot machines that lined the route toward the beach; who know Boog but for his barbecue. (Reminds me of my favorite ''Peanuts'' cartoon: Charlie Brown tells Lucy to play center field like Joe DiMaggio. ''The coffee guy?'' she wonders.)

The debate over Maryland roots can get nasty: in media hype over who can properly appreciate ''hon,'' the folksy welcome of Bawlamer waitresses; in complaints about the sold-out popularity of Camden Yards; in political races when the candidate isn't Maryland-bred.

But the changes, while discomforting to many born here, are for the good. Maryland's a vibrant place, economically and culturally. People want to live here. Maryland has a tradition, in fact, of embracing transplants: a third-baseman from Arkansas (Brooks Robinson), a quarterback with a flattop crew cut from Western Pennsylvania (Johnny Unitas), a Brooklyn pitcher raised Nebraska who calls out ''thank youuuu,'' (Rex Barney) and others.

We immigrant Marylanders learn to love the sweet meat of the crab and going ''downy ayshun,'' and become as proud of the Orioles as if we had cheered all those pennant years -- even if we did once peer into an 18-inch Zenith trying to figure out where's Baltimore.

Andrew Ratner is director of zoned editorials for The Baltimore Sun.

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