Charm City, but not much to look at

Poll: More dubious honors for Baltimore - this time as the big loser in a prettiest people contest. At least we've still got our charm.

March 15, 2003|By Rob Hiaasen | Rob Hiaasen,SUN STAFF

Who are you calling ugly? Clearly, you've never been in Cleveland's airport.

OK, that was uncalled for - beautiful people do inhabit Ohio. It's just that Baltimore has taken another poll on the chin.

Geez, if it's not the heroin, teen pregnancy or communicable-disease capital of the country, it's something else. This time, it's just plain ugliness.

Comes news that an America Online/Travel + Leisure magazine poll asked 500,000 people to rank 25 popular travel destinations. Categories included Best Nightlife, Best in Spring, Most Romantic, Best Public Transportation and Best Cultural Attractions.

If only the poll had stopped there - but it got deeply personal: It ranked Baltimore lowest in the Best-Looking People and Best People-Watching categories.

Let's not beat around the bush. What is this poll really trying to tell us? That no one wants to look at us because we are ... ugly? Hey, H.L. Mencken was no Ben Affleck. Were the old Baltimore Colts good-looking? Was Divine good-looking?

"We should be honored. Ugly is beautiful," says Baltimore filmmaker John Waters. "I think we should celebrate and put it on the benches around town." Ah, yes - BALTIMORE: HOME OF THE WORST-LOOKING PEOPLE. He also suggests a T-shirt and bumper-sticker campaign.

Waters, whose career has celebrated such unconventional beauties as the cross-dressing Divine, says it would have been a dishonor to have been second-to-last in the "Best-Looking People" category (Philadelphia won that distinction).

When informed that online voters selected San Diego as having the best-looking people, Waters was characteristically reserved. "Oh, God! San Diego is this suburban, boring town where no one looks sexy."

Someone `has to be last'

Polls are not the scientific products of Nobel Prize winners. The folks responsible for the second annual "America's Favorite Cities" survey are quick to remind people that this poll is supposed to be irreverent and fun. This is like telling your girlfriend you can't look at her because she's hard on the eyes - but you mean it in a fun and irreverent way.

"We didn't come out and say you're ugly," said Elisa Shevitz at Travel + Leisure in New York. "Somebody has to be last."

Of course, she's based in New York! They have the best people-watching, according to the survey. Shevitz probably spends her fancy lunch hour people-watching. But - get this - the Big Apple didn't make the Top Five in the "Best-Looking People" category. San Diego, Honolulu (who doesn't look good with a tan?), Austin (show of hands - who is sick of Austin being best-this or best-that?), San Juan and San Francisco allegedly have the best-looking people.

"My parents are beautiful," Shevitz added.

And?

"I'm from Baltimore. My parents still live in Owings Mills, and I think they are beautiful."

So, take that America Online and leading travel magazine pollsters: Bonnye and Alvin Shevitz of Owings Mills are beautiful people, beautiful people who are probably watched all the time on the streets of Baltimore - where we spent lunch time yesterday people-watching. Stop by stop, here are our equally scientific findings:

Subway restaurant on Calvert Street: Stared at customers, some of whom were built to pre-diet Jared dimensions. Stopped staring at customers.

The Gallery shopping center: A handsome dude walked into Brooks Brothers. Was it Baltimore R&B heartthrobs Mario or Sisqo? No, just a guy who works at Brooks Brothers. A sweet older woman walked by the Godiva store. Maybe Bonnye Shevitz? Outside Victoria's Secret, was that Baltimore's Jada Pinkett Smith or Tori Amos? Naw, it's just the models in the print ads for the New Angels Collection.

The Block: If the Preakness is one end of the people-watching spectrum in Baltimore, then The Block commands the other. Pretty people? "Pretty" is so vague. Plus, who really takes the time to see the inner beauty of strip-club barkers? We defy pollsters to find better places to people-watch - except for poll winners New York, Miami, Las Vegas, New Orleans and San Francisco, and maybe a couple thousand other places.

Harborplace: By the waterfront, a funny-looking man made funny-looking balloons (sword, heart, octopus) for kids to wear as hats. Moms kept nudging kids toward the funny-looking man making funny-looking balloons. The kids were giggling. The moms were giggling. They weren't the best-looking people, but it was a beautiful thing to watch. And that's the thing about beauty - sometimes a blue balloon in the shape of a sword or octopus is the best-looking thing you'll see all day, in any city.

`Just not sophisticated'

The poll also ranked Baltimore among the bottom five cities in these categories: cultural events, shopping, dining out, outdoor exercise and bar-hopping. And apparently, we are not the first or even 20th choice for a romantic getaway. Laughable! "They are just not sophisticated in how they look at things," as Waters said.

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