WHAT THIS town needs -- besides more companies with more jobs that pay a living wage -- is a 30-foot pink flamingo. Here we are, trying to wake up from our long, postindustrial urban nightmare, trying to remain a vibrant hub of the mid-Atlantic -- indeed, the Queen City of the Patapsco Drainage Basin -- and what we need is a 30-foot pink flamingo.
Of course, we could be content with what we behold as classic Baltimore -- the long streets of rowhouses, the view of the harbor from Federal Hill, the cobalt halo about the Bromo Seltzer tower, the Patterson Park pagoda, the zoo, the railroad museum, the Walters, the mansions of Mount Vernon, the boozy-love scene in Fells Point, the new-old ambiance of Camden Yards and the city-within-a-city called Johns Hopkins. We love what we see in little snatches -- older guys with their hairy chests playing bocce in Little Italy in summer, younger guys polishing their cars in Druid Hill Park, school kids breaking across an avenue when the crossing guard drops her arms. And you can still smell bread baking along Fleet Street, peanuts roasting at Jeppi's and the fish-fry of Lexington Market.
It's all still here, holding up quite well.
But, let's face it, some days this old port city seems more famous for its flaws than its charms. It's been that kind of year.
Plus, the once-prestigious Orioles haven't been to a World Series since Mike Flanagan was in midcareer -- and the death of Dave McNally and the ascent of Flanagan to the front office this week remind us of how long past are those glory days.
So what we could use, for a little cheering up, is a 30-foot pink flamingo.
And it looks like we're going to get one -- and just before one of Baltimore's great annual events, the mayor's Christmas parade through Hampden.
All I can say is: It's about time!
We are luckier than we think to live here. We have huge, maybe intractable problems.
But this is still Funky Town. This is the city that inspired John (Pink Flamingos) Waters. This is the Hairspray Capital of the World. This is the land of white marble steps, painted screens, bald-tire urns, ceramic pigs in rowhouse windows and more lawn gnomes per capita than any other metropolitan region in America. We still have fun here. We still have the Miracle of 34th Street -- that whole wonderful block of rowhouses decked out in a luscious buffet of holiday lights. Now we're talking 30-foot flamingo a couple blocks away.
Randall Gornowich, an artist who can turn an ironing board into a wall clock -- you think I make this stuff up? I've seen the man do it! -- will give Baltimore a three-story bird this weekend. You could look it up. Or look up at it.
Saturday afternoon, you could be walking down The Avenue in Hampden -- that's 36th Street to those of you from Outer Monrovia -- and when you reach Cafe Hon, if you look up at the old fire escape, you should see a 30-foot pink flamingo. And there should be a banner that goes with it, and the words on the banner should send up a Christmas song: "Fla la la la la, La la la Mingo!"
If none of this happens, then Gornowich sold me a good one or he left town with Denise Whiting's commission. (Whiting runs Cafe Hon, and she's the one who hired Gornowich to create the big pink bird.)
Yesterday, as snow fell on Hon City, Gornowich was still working on the flamingo's long neck. The body is just about done, and the legs still need to be assembled. But Gornowich has the help of two other artists, Mickey Fried and Jan Cook, and he thinks he'll make the deadline to have the big pink thing in place by the time of Sunday's parade.
"The body will be about 15 feet wide and 18 feet tall," Gornowich says. "The legs will bring it up to 30-plus. I'm, like, so excited."
Only one problem.
"I hate pink," Gornowich says. "That's my only issue with the project. Pink starts with red -- the color of passion, of emotion ... ."
Of love! Of rage! Of Christmas!
"And then you water it down until it becomes ... Pepto-Bismol."
How did Gornowich make the flamingo?
With wood, chicken wire, latex paint and glue. When it dries, the glue-and-paint combination will give Gornowich's flamingo a hard shell and make it quite durable.
And when you're talking 30-foot flamingos -- potential new smile point in old Baltimore -- durability is key. The last thing this town needs is to get all excited about a 30-foot pink flamingo then have it turn to pulp in the first rain. That would be a bummer.