Washington? To Baltimoreans, it's a world away

March 02, 2002

I RECENTLY read a story saying the federal government is considering a change that would separate Washington and Baltimore, which our District of Columbia friends blissfully consider to be one huge, seamless market.

I speak as a native Baltimorean, one who thinks I'm in a very different world when I see the signs for the New York Avenue exit off the Parkway. And, I am informed, real Washingtonians get a twitchy feeling when they spot the Gladys Noon Spellman Memorial sign.

One market? Who are we kidding? That 38-mile stretch of parkway is as long and deep as the divide between the two cities.

We Baltimoreans bask in our xenophobia, take pride in seizing up with fear when we receive a wedding invitation that requires a drive to that strange destination called Bethesda. Our deficiencies in local geography and routings can be amusing. If you want to challenge a skilled Baltimore City cab driver, request a destination in Dundalk. You will receive a blank stare that dissolves into a look of horror. Baltimore City people totally blank out at Eastpoint.

We don't travel much, and when we do we repeat and repeat those cozy and familiar trips again and again, often to places where we'll see plenty of reassuring fellow Baltimoreans.

And after the past 20-25 years, when so many Washingtonians came here for Orioles games, I'd like to see what would happen if a newly created Senators team suddenly started having opening days in northern Virginia. I have a feeling there would be a lot less Parkway and I-95 traffic on the nights the Orioles were at Camden Yards.

One of the greatest myths surrounding the two cities is that Washingtonians actually like Baltimore. No, they don't. They may say they enjoy an outing to our harbor, or take in some museums here, but the thought of living here, or being labeled a Baltimorean? No. Never.

Washington is a place where people do not do their shopping with a handful of coupons, as so many people do on the shores of the Patapsco. (I had a friendly Hunt Valley Wal-Mart clerk congratulate me recently for doing a thorough job of coupon clipping and cashing.)

Baltimore is a place where thrifty Depression mindset is considered a mark of virtue. In Washington, by comparison, it is no sin to wear an $800 suit. In Baltimore, the wearer of expensive threads may need a speedy trip to confession.

Baltimoreans have a distinct tendency to overstate the blue-collar persona they like to drape over these parts. I'd include all the "hon" business that enterprising merchants and media spinners have been able to wrap around a dollar bill. It's a self-imposed, self-policing provinciality.

Washingtonians, by contrast, allude to upbringings that are quite the opposite - perhaps time spent at fancy colleges or in diplomatic circles, their political clout, addresses on DuPont Circle or in Chevy Chase and Potomac. They are also unafraid to say they spent $7 on a cup of coffee.

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