Industrial Exchange trades smiles for gloom to save day

December 11, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

A FEW MONTHS ago, I received that dreaded mint green slip, the summons to appear at the courthouse for jury duty. Everything in life is timing; and the idea of appearing at 8:15 a.m. at Lexington and St. Paul in December held no appeal. So I made the best of it, packed my unaddressed Christmas cards and a book for the day of waiting.

A trip to the city courthouse points out the aftermath of all the city's crime news constantly before your eyes. It is a downer of all downers - to see young men being led around in shackles while their grandmothers sit crying on the oak benches in the corridors is not my recipe for an uplifting day. But maybe a hard dose of reality at this time of the year is not such a bad idea.

And jury duty puts you squarely in a panel of your peers from Baltimore. I am often impressed at how the citizens of this town assemble and make the best of it.

At the recess I darted across Calvert Street to the post office, where an honest clerk informed me that my small package, no matter what fee paid, could not be guaranteed to be delivered to a Philadelphia suburb the next day, as I wanted. No, I was told, the Postal Service did not have a daily contractor who worked West Chester, Pa. Depressed earlier in the day, I was now frustrated.

My luck changed. I was soon greeted by an old Federal Hill friend, Nancy Miller, also on jury duty, who suggested we make better use of the lunch break and head off to the Woman's Industrial Exchange on Charles Street. This was my first luncheon trip back to the Exchange after it had shut down for renovation and after the departure of its longtime cook, Dorothea Day Wilson, whose food was my idea of what an old-fashioned Baltimore lunch should be.

Friends had warned me I would not like the new Exchange food because it would not be Dorothea's, and after all, landmark food, like classic Coke and Little Tavern hamburgers, has nothing to do with culinary superiority. It is all about tasting the same as it ever did.

Here I was, in a depressed mood, arriving from the courthouse and post office, seeking a sanctuary I was determined not to enjoy.

I opened the front door and got the slap in the face I needed. The place was filled with smiling people obviously having a fun time out on old Charles Street.

Like December magic, some of the prettiest music I'd heard all year was cascading out of the tearoom.

I'd hit Christmas pay dirt.

Members of the choir from the all-girl Western High School were lined up singing sweet carols, on key, lovely altos and sopranos accompanied by their chorus master playing a little electric piano.

I saw the hope and aspirations in their eyes. And yes, they seemed to be having a good time. I walked out and suddenly the world had all changed. Charles Street suddenly looked better; in fact, it looked great. I saw the renovated shops being patronized by the people on the street, who even in a cold rain, looked pretty good.

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