Sometimes people forget the joy provided by the sights of home

September 07, 1997|By Jacques Kelly

ONE OF THE EXPERIENCES I've dreaded all my life is arriving back in Baltimore after a restorative vacation.

Year after year, we'd cross the bay and drive up through Anne Arundel County only to catch sight of a city that doesn't always look its best on an August afternoon.

Of course, not much looks great after you've spent a couple of weeks being lulled into a state of lassitude by the sound of the waves and the sight of the Cape May lighthouse blinking on the distant night horizon.

This year, however, was different. My annual apprehension at returning home melted into an unexpected delight. Baltimore looked just about perfect.

As we rolled north into town, the new Ravens stadium seemed twice as large as it had been two weeks earlier, an enthusiastic crowd was piling into Oriole Park, and shoppers were spilling out of Lexington Market.

The bright blue skies and the low humidity helped my attitude, and I said to myself, "You know, Baltimore doesn't look bad today."

One of the things I often overlook is that many visitors use Baltimore, its Inner Harbor and sights the same way we natives use the Eastern Shore, Ocean City and the Delaware resort towns.

Too many times during the year I hear friends say with pride, "Oh, I wouldn't be caught dead in the harbor on a weekend."

That's their loss.

Big crowds are not everyone's idea of a good time, but there are plenty of hours during the day when you can have the brick boardwalk, the water, the new buildings and sights to yourself.

Earlier this year, I set the alarm clock for 4: 30 a.m. so I could meet a small group of South Baltimoreans whose work schedules require them to be on the road by 7 a.m. They used the early morning hours to exercise and walk their dogs along the water's edge. I was tagging along as a newspaper reporter.

My taxicab pulled up in front of a Lee Street rowhouse at 5: 01, still dark, an hour when newspapers were being tossed on doorsteps.

The group assembled and started their daily exercise routine. I remained skeptical. Exercise is a good thing, but at 5: 15 a.m.?

As soon as I saw the drama of the rising sun over the eastern horizon, as well as the lighting show over the Alex. Brown and other downtown buildings, I knew why these people are so adamant about and attached to their morning jaunts.

Those of us who have lived here a long time sometimes fail to revisit the familiar. We promise ourselves we'll get around to calling on the Columbus Center or to strolling along the brick walks by the Jones Falls and Sylvan Learning Center. But how many of us actually do this?

I've read some stories about the new restaurants and places such as the Civil War Museum at President Street Station, but there are new finds, too. There are new pedestrian bridges, flower gardens and informational signs that explain history and ecology.

While these aren't special in themselves, their cumulative effect is impressive. The investment of nearly 30 years of urban redevelopment -- plus the money and labor -- continues to prove its worth.

While I was out of town, I listened to an acquaintance discuss a similar experience. He had company visiting from Washington -- the locals there love to come to Baltimore to do the harbor on a day trip.

His guests requested an escorted day in the Monumental City. My friend, a Baltimorean who lives just a few blocks north of downtown, hadn't done the harbor sights in years. Each summer, he leaves town and has little to do with the place where he's lived 40 years.

I silently chuckled at his reaction. He found the new Baltimore to be an unexpected delight, full of good sights, restaurants and people. No crime. No fear. None of the downers that make a city experience such a drag.

But it wasn't merely the absence of negatives. He liked the restaurants. The water was clean, and what junk floated out of Jones Falls was being scooped up by the city's trash navy. The skyline was dramatic. The water-taxi shuttles ran on time, and they were inexpensive. The other tourists there were much like ++ him, middle-class people out for a day of sight-seeing and casual entertainment.

But like so many of us, who could be there in less time than it takes to catch a weather forecast, he had postponed the good time.

Pub Date: 9/07/97

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