Fells Point scene offers some hope for city living

October 04, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

On Thames Street at the foot of Broadway, with the Fells Point Festival erupting in happy confusion all around him, Gene Raynor's standing outside his Waterfront Hotel Restaurant, and his old neighbor Aunt Marie's there with some of her lady friends, and the smell of pit beef and fried dough is in the air, and bands are playing loudly and sometimes on-key, when Raynor naturally decides it's the perfect time to do a spontaneous political poll.

"Now?" somebody says.

"Sure," says Raynor, who happens to supervise the state's board of elections, and he gestures toward the first intelligent person, a woman in a Department of Sanitation T-shirt, who walks by.

"Who do you like for governor?" he asks.

"The one coming up?" the woman says, as if everyone else was discussing the election of, say, 1948.

She's shouting loud enough to be heard over the noise of the crowd, the wailing of a baby in a stroller, and a woman calling out of a second-story window to a guy down below about bringing her up some fajitas from across the street.

"Yeah," says Raynor, "this election coming up," but before the woman can answer, a fellow in a "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon" baseball cap strides past and interjects, "American Joe Miedusiewski. I'm voting for him."

"American Joe?" says Raynor. "He already lost."

"Oh, my God," says the man, and walks on.

As it turns out, the race for governor involves Parris Glendening, a Democrat, and Ellen Sauerbrey, a Republican and a woman.

"I don't know if a woman can do the job," Raynor's Aunt Marie Tomlinson says now.

"My mother," says Marie's daughter, Marianne Berger, rolling her eyes heavenward. "Look how I raised this woman. She's been brainwashed."

"What do you mean?" somebody asks Aunt Marie. "We've got women in high office now."

"Well, yeah, Barbara Mikulski," Aunt Marie says of the U.S. senator. "She looks out for the old people."

"One day we'll have a woman as president," a young woman says.

"We've got one now," somebody else says under his breath, stepping back gingerly to allow a fellow wearing a "McGovern for President" button to squeeze past on the crowded sidewalk.

"What about the U.S. Senate race?" Raynor asks.

"I don't like Sarbanes," announces a waitress from Little Italy.

"Why not?"

"He's like all them politicians," she announces with the wisdom of one in her profession who's seen it all.

"How's that?" Raynor asks.

"Bad tipper," she confides.

So maybe people aren't fully focused on the political races yet. So maybe some things are more important at the moment, like the reason everybody went to Fells Point over the weekend, which was the neighborhood's annual festival.

It felt like maybe 12 million people were there, though you couldn't tell from this newspaper's coverage yesterday, which consisted of nothing, not a photograph, not a paragraph, not a hint that all these people got together over the weekend, in the allegedly hopeless city of Baltimore, and they had a marvelous time.

There was, naturally, much vital city news in yesterday's paper: two stolen cars in the Northern District, plus a breaking and entering on Woodlea Avenue and a shooting on Glenwood Avenue.

These are important to note. They tell us, as if we need reminding, of the city's dangers. The drug trade flourishes, despite the cops' best efforts, and some of the kids are now picking up weapons before they hit puberty. The schools are asked to cope with problems parents once handled. And all of this is reported in the newspaper every day.

But the city has its charms, too, and the Fells Point Festival gathered many of them. It's become our annual reminder, at summer's end, of why so many of us hold on, why so many resist the various pressures to flee to the counties.

So we acknowledge our troubles. But over the weekend, down there on Broadway, Mary Lou and the Untouchables were belting out "Proud Mary" while a crowd from every neighborhood in town cheered them lustily and ate raw clams and drank from overflowing cups, and for all of this city's troubles, the glad moments like these count for something, too.

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