Awakened by buzz of big top

City Diary

March 06, 2002|By MICHELE ROSENBERG

PROUD LIONS, sleek tigers, majestic elephants and an occasional camel skulk in the moonlight. Automobile traffic is quiet at this hour. Downtown Baltimore sleeps.

But the animals are awake, and they're in a hurry. They have a train to catch. Gawky men with pimply faces corral them away from the sidewalks. Men wielding heavy-duty brooms and ultra-large shovels gather any traces of their passing. Tomorrow, the streets will show no signs that anything but automobiles have been here.

The ruckus wakes me. I figure it's just another fight at the boys' home across the street. Maybe this time one of the unruly residents has started a fire. Semi-incarcerated teen-age boys aren't the most well-behaved neighbors. Neither are elephants.

I look out of my bedroom window. Am I dreaming? It's a circus parade, but quite unlike the one when the circus came to town. When it arrived, all of the radio and television stations featured the media stars who rode the elephants, handing out cotton candy and balloons to the myriad children of all ages who gathered on the sidewalks of Cathedral Street.

After much hullabaloo, the animals would arrive at the Civic Center, which today is the Baltimore Arena. The mini-performance was a prelude to the exciting weeks ahead. Everyone was supposed to rush and buy tickets for the performances. Many did.

I resisted this subliminal advertising, but I was rewarded on the last night of the circus, when I had it all to myself. I needed someone to share it with.

"Ilene, wake up. There's an elephant outside."

"Michele, what have you been drinking? Go back to sleep."

"No, really. There are horses and dogs and ... Oh, just get up."

So began our annual ritual of watching the circus leave town. The animals and their trainers marched up Park Avenue toward the trains at North Avenue. The animals take a different route today.

We invited friends to sit on our stoop in the 800 block of Park Avenue. Popcorn was popped, snacks were arranged on the steps and one of the more agile would run toward downtown trying to gauge the arrival of our animals.

One night, a fellow tenant was returning from what appeared to be a hot and heavy date. He spied us sitting on the steps. Five people at 1 in the morning eating popcorn on the marble steps of Baltimore is not a typical March scene.

"Whatcha all doing?"

"We're waiting for the circus."

"I'll join you."

He forgot his date, who appeared anxiously concerned. She wasn't into sitting on cold steps waiting for elephants at 1 in the morning.

That was more than 20 years ago.

Since then, I've been to the circus with my husband and children, even my grandchildren. But to this day, I admit the circus was the most fun for me when it left town.

Today, the animals no longer march up Park Avenue. Instead, they leave from the tracks behind the B&O Railroad Museum in West Baltimore.

On March 17, somewhere in Pigtown, someone is going to wake up and look out his window and say, "Wake up, there's an elephant outside."

Today's writer

Michele Rosenberg grew up in Forest Park, spent part of her 20s in downtown Baltimore and now lives in Dickeyville, where she is a free-lance writer.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

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