THESE GREAT summer mornings give me enough time to fit in a much appreciated daily walk. The sun rises early, chasing out the night's shadows and throwing the city into a favorable light, the kind of tones that photographers and early pacers like.
For years, I dutifully trudged up Charles Street and did six or seven loops on the Homewood Field at the Johns Hopkins University. This summer, I decided the going round and round was pretty dull, so I resolved to take in more of old Baltimore. So, I'm off at the breakfast hour for my abbreviated city tours. I've vowed to take different routes mostly determined by streets and alleys I've never seen or known.
One thing about walking at 6:45 a.m. or so is that you see things you might not observe later in the day. I speak of the fleet of tow trucks whose operators so mercilessly extract cars from rush-hour "no parking" lanes. You also learn to keep your eyes open. While passing through the 1700 block of St. Paul St., I noticed a neatly lettered sign on a business office's front door. It said, "No weapons permitted."
The other day, I dropped by Sisson and 26th, where a short, rather antique highway bridge crosses the old and frisky B&O Railroad. I looked down at the very sad sight of four or five rusted box cars, the guilty parties in the big Howard Street Tunnel fire of the summer of 2001. They sit in a playpen of fencing and look like evidence in some legal case.
The spring's multiple deluges have left the city a jungle of weeds, but the old city seems not as gloomy as it has been in other summers. I notice some signs all over of more fresh paint and other encouraging signs of financial investment.
Maybe I'm just lulled into the optimistic mood that comes with breaking out of a somnolent lethargy and hitting the streets, propelled by curiosity and a desire to see something new.
Of course, when you walk in the city, there are only so many routes. So, for a little variety, I take the alleys. No matter how noisy and polluted the main streets are, the alleys are quiet (generally) and often cleaner than newspaper stories lead you to believe.
There is something about an alley in the morning. They're still cool, amazingly green and largely untouched by fancy renovations. While I get annoyed at the miserable paving conditions on the city's major thoroughfares, I forgive the back-alleys ruts and broken bricks. You expect the mistakes here, like the rusty garages, the peeling paint and the exploding garbage bags.
The alleys, through their accompanying back yards, are a smorgasbord of the human condition. Some yards are neatly paved (obsessive compulsives), others are a dog's breakfast (scatterbrains) and others are a dismal, dispiriting wreck (probably indicating health issues of an elderly owner).
And, when you've had enough social observation, all you need do is turn the corner and return to the well-trodden way.