Flower Mart provides opportunity to show city life can be good

May 05, 2002|By MICHA4EL OLESKER

HERE IS THE beauty of this city in a nutshell, and its name is Fred Bierer. He runs the annual Flower Mart formerly organized by the dear ladies of the Women's Civic League, who gave the thing its genteel essence but mixed it with the air of a cotillion for dilettantes.

A year ago, when Bierer ran the Flower Mart after its 83-year run by the ladies, he gave it an increased air of street festival. He also walked around looking, by his own (and his family's) account, like an idiot: seersucker suit, Panama hat, yellow tie, pink face schvitzing like crazy in the humid spring air.

By 2 o'clock in the morning, having been awake and running around since 5 the previous morning, he found himself in two places: a state of exhaustion and the Owl Bar at the Belvedere Hotel with his friend Howard Gerber, who owns The Horse You Came In On saloon in Fells Point.

"Enough," said Bierer, rising in installments from his chair. "Time to go home."

Walking outside alone, he came upon four young lads. They were emerging from an alley. One of them had a cup in his hand and tossed it into the street. Bierer looked at him with veiled disgust.

Since arising at 5, he had not only presided over the day's Flower Mart, but found his emotions stirred. He is a child of this city, who grew up hanging around his parents' grocery store at North and Greenmount, and became an attorney, a civic do-gooder and a well-known soft touch. He watched a lot of people leave the city, but he stayed.

Also, he's a champion of the virtues of Mount Vernon Place, where the Flower Mart is held each year - this year, it's May 15, a week from Wednesday - and still remembers cutting school as a kid to attend the event.

As its chairman last year, he stayed long after crowds had dispersed so he could supervise the cleanup. "I wanted Mount Vernon put back into pristine shape," he said. Then he and Gerber counted the day's receipts, took the money to the bank and finally headed to the Owl Bar.

When Bierer emerged at 2 a.m. to find the four young guys, and the cup flung into the street, something stirred him to a gallant defense of his community. He decided to tell them to pick up the cup.

"Gentlemen," he said, opening with flattery, "We had a party today celebrating what a great place Baltimore is." The four looked at him as though his spaceship had just landed.

"And we celebrated Mount Vernon, which is the center of art and culture," Bierer said. He thought about mentioning the Walters Art Gallery, the view from the 13th floor of the Belvedere and the Washington Monument. Then he decided: Just get on with the message.

"And you have the audacity," he said, "to throw trash into the street in the middle of this celebration of our home."

Now the guy who'd thrown the cup eyed Bierer up and down. The guy looked about 23 and was built like a linebacker. Bierer, 54, is not. He is a non-stop cigarette smoker built like tapioca pudding. The guy took one step forward. Then he did something spectacular. He bent down, picked up the cup, thrust his hand forward and shook Bierer's.

"Sir," said the young man, "it was an error of my ways. It will not happen again."

"Thank you," said Bierer. "If you'll walk into the hotel lobby, there's a man there who will dispose of the cup for you."

And, with that, he strode a few paces to his car, got in and headed home.

Also, he carried the memory of that moment for a year. For it captures the essence of the city the way the Flower Mart itself does. It draws us together across the places that separate us. It reminds us that we're citizens of the same small, scruffy, struggling place. It lets us talk to each other.

We're a cosmopolitan mix. Sometimes we get on each other's nerves, and sometimes we're smart enough to remember what we have in common: We live in the same place, and we want to make it better.

The Flower Mart will arrive this year for the 85th time, full of food, arts and crafts, floral arrangements, a health village and entertainment to last until 9 in the evening.

One other unexpected thing happened to Bierer last year. Walking through the south plaza off the Washington Monument that evening, he happened upon a man trying to buy a potted plant for his wife. But the plant was $33, and the guy had only $16 left. He had a bank card, but his bank was too far away to walk.

"So I handed him a $50 bill and my business card," Bierer said. "I was feeling good, what the heck."

Two days later, he got a check for $50 from the guy and the loveliest thank-you note.

And if that doesn't make the day beautiful, then what does?

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