A stroll through flowering neighborhoods

April 30, 2005|By JACQUES KELLY

THE OTHER morning I had every intention of boarding a train for Philadelphia or Washington for a day trip of no specific itinerary, other than maybe a good lunch and quick trip to an old neighborhood or a museum that sits uncrossed on my to-do list.

Events conspired against me and I decided to make my expedition within Baltimore and not surrender an official vacation day. Instead of an Amtrak upholstered seat, I paid $1.60 for a plastic perch on the northbound 6:40 No. 11 MTA bus.

The cast of characters on that vehicle treated me to one of the better performances of people theater in many months.

Don't think hard-working Baltimoreans are still half asleep at that early morning hour. I found an animated set of passengers; one woman, dressed in a formal white cook's uniform, regaled riders with the pleasures of eating fried fish, shad roe and potato salad. As people pulled the cord to alight, she wished them well with a hearty, "Take care, baby."

The cook was still talking when I pulled the cord at Bedford Square in Guilford, which was as far afield as I was venturing this day. I had one hour to walk and snoop through some of the loveliest spring sites in the city and then be outta there - on my way to the day's labors.

For all the glories of a Maryland spring, I am partial to our dogwood, now at their peak along Greenway, that magic mile of land design and domestic architecture that will never be repeated again and holds its own with any city I've visited.

Years of urban exploring have informed me that the dawning hours deliver the goods. I don't want to think about the real estate tax assessments of this neighborhood; I'm just grateful the residents keep up their properties with so much pride. I am often disappointed by Baltimore's suburbs that ring the Beltway. Far different from what was called, in 1925, a garden suburb - Guilford, Homeland or Roland Park. To observe these neighborhoods is my idea of the way to spend a cool and clear late April morning.

I crisscrossed Sherwood Gardens probably because this is what I did as a child and wanted to make sure it was all there, the way I'd remembered. I'm not so sure the commercial sponsorship panels on the tulip beds are a great idea. I know the gardening bills are high here, but do we really need an ad pitch here? These signs are small, but you can't help but notice them.

I say this because the neighborhood is such a winning conceit - big, big houses that all fit in with one another, only placed on fairly small lots. Guilford is a textbook case of placing many mansions in a single city neighborhood and not having the whole business look like a tacky McMansionville. The dogwood helped, too, along with every other newly green tree.

Maybe this was a cheap substitute for Washington's Dunbarton Oaks or Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square. But, know what? It works.

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