Festive weekend makes city look good

October 05, 1997|By MICHAEL OLESKER

At week's glorious end, we have Eddie from South Baltimore, the semiwell-known bookmaker, standing on Hanover Street and grunting merest splinters of the English language to avoid suspicions that he has an actual brain in his head.

"You don't got any tickets?" a guy is asking him Friday morning in a voice plaintive with desire.

"Mmmph," Eddie declares, shifting his gaze so he can pretend to focus on some other, distant, far more important bit of business, as if he actually had any.

"What, 'mmmph?' " the guy asks. " 'Mmmph,' I can get up the street."

"So go up the street," Eddie says.

At this moment in the process of ticket buying and selling, and the various states of greed that accompany it, he was wishing to appear not only clueless but discreet, this being the morning after the Orioles had come home from Seattle with a two-zip Division Series lead in the American League baseball playoffs.

At such a time, Eddie wanted to let all buying fever build and wanted the fever to create a price tag to break all previous price tags in the historic annals of ticket scalping in Baltimore.

"They come out of the woodwork now," Eddie said.

"Who?" he was asked.

"You know," he muttered, glancing into the distance again. "Mmmph."

"Mmmph?"

"Whatever," he said, looking slightly annoyed. "Guys from Towson. High school girls from Dulaney Valley who want seats in the left field bleachers so they can stare at Brady Anderson's [uniform]." He waved a stray hand dismissively in the balmy South Baltimore air. "Guys who carry cell phones just 'cause they think it impresses somebody."

They're all down here this weekend, along with the usual gang of street corner misfits. They're in the city of Baltimore, because it is once again the center of the grandest community gatherings in the entire state of Maryland.

Thus, they're on Hanover Street, pestering Eddie from South Baltimore for playoff tickets because he has a reputation for selling such things at a slight profit; and they'll go to 33rd Street today where Memorial Stadium's been dressed up like a lady; and they'll stroll around Harborplace because that's what people always do; and they'll wander through Fells Point because that's what they always do on weekends, but especially on this particular weekend.

Yeah, the city's dying. Mmmph, mmmph. You should choke on the words. We'll have a hundred thousand, minimum, at our various ballparks this weekend, all of them living at the peak of their adrenalin; and tens of thousands at the Inner Harbor, some of them strolling about with money in hand and others floating lazily in pleasure boats through the afternoon Technicolor; and hundreds of thousands at the Fells Point Festival, where they'll wistfully remind themselves what they miss about this city from their sterility now approaching maybe Hanover, Pa.

Is the city dying, as everyone always says? The answer's a sort of "mmmph." Parts of cities are always dying, and parts are being reborn while everybody's not noticing, and sometimes it's the balance that kills you. But, on such a weekend as this, hope stirs in a lot of hearts.

I went to lunch last week with a couple of old friends, one who's gone into banking in a large way, the other who's done real well in finance. Both grew up in the city, though neither lives here now. It's a familiar pattern. But they both still work in Baltimore, and each still keeps his memories here.

"There's still a place for this city in people's hearts," the financial guy said. "They want to believe in it, because they remember what it was like when they used to live here."

"And there's a transformation coming," the banker said, "that people haven't even suspected yet."

We were sitting in Little Italy, and he waved a hand southeast, toward the water's edge, and then toward Fells Point and Canton. New money has already arrived, young professionals looking to avoid suburbia's numbing sameness; and newer money on its way, with homes along the Boston Street water's edge already well into six figures and talk of seven-figure homes not far off.

"You'll see the changes coming to Highlandtown, too," he said. "People see good investments, they see neighborhoods with charm. "

From his mouth to taxpayers' ears. On weekends such as this, with the crowds arriving for ballgames and community festivals, it feels good to think about the city's salvation. It isn't always easy. The drug traffic fuels crime, and the schools continue to struggle, and anxiety takes on a life of its own in a lot of neighborhoods.

But here's Eddie from South Baltimore, waiting to embrace the suburban types who arrive by the vast thousands on weekends such as this, and it reminds everyone of possibilities. The city's not just a theme park -- a ballpark here, a shopping mall on water there -- it's also the old, cobbly charms of a Fells Point, and the future itself beginning to arrive on streets all along the water's edge.

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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