Summing up city in a few choice words



Let's see if I got this straight.

The city decides it needs a new slogan.

We hire a hot-shot West Coast consulting firm to come up with one, because apparently we're just a bunch of dumb yokels who can't come up with one on our own.

We pay this hot-shot firm $500,000.

The firm's hot-shot creative people sip designer water and stare out their windows at the Golden Gate Bridge and peck at their laptops for nine months until they finally come up with something.

And that something is: "Baltimore -- Get In On It?"

Hoo, boy.

All I can say is, join with me now, fellow citizens, as we descend on City Hall with torches lit and pitchforks at the ready chanting: "REE-FUND! REE-FUND!"

Five-hundred thou for that?

A hundred thou per word -- and we even spotted them "Baltimore."

Who signed off on that, the Public Service Commission?

Look, we could have approached 20 drunks staggering out of the bars at 2 a.m. and offered them free breakfast at Denny's and come up with a better slogan than that.

OK, fine, "Baltimore -- Get In On It" isn't a horrible slogan.

I don't hate it.

Oh, it doesn't exactly flow off the tongue.

And at seven syllables, it appears to be pushing the boundaries of terseness that have traditionally defined punchy civic slogans.

But it's not as dippy and faux Zen-like as that "Believe" slogan that still adorns billboards and bus signs and is apparently designed to induce collective amnesia about the city's homicide rate, drug problems, low-performing schools, etc, and get everyone's chest swelling with pride instead.

It's just that "Baltimore -- Get In On It" doesn't say anything about the city.

It's too damned vague.

My first reaction to the new slogan -- and I bet the reaction of most people -- was: get in on what?

The excitement?

The fun?

The light pole stealing?

Tell me what to get in on, and I'll get it on it.

Nevertheless, it appears "Baltimore -- Get In On It" will be officially unveiled tomorrow at the Hippodrome Theatre as part of a new branding campaign designed to attract teeming masses of visitors to our fair city, our Paris on the Chesapeake.

As to how well it resonates with Baltimoreans, only time will tell, although the initial reaction seems tepid at best.

The problem is that, like a lot of other cities, Baltimore keeps trying to replicate the catchy slogans of places such as Las Vegas and New York -- only without coming up with the catchy slogan part.

Vegas' slogan, of course, is absolutely perfect: "What Happens Here, Stays Here."

Right away, it says something about the city.

In five words, it conjures images of the Debauchery Trifecta: gambling, booze and sex.

It practically screams: Come sin with us! We can keep a secret!

New York's slogan, "The City That Never Sleeps," is equally vivid and descriptive.

Whether you want Chinese food, a rental DVD, a singing dwarf on roller-skates or a few tabs of Ecstasy, you can find it at any time in the Big Apple, even at 3 in the morning.

So that's what Baltimore needs: a slogan that tells you something about the city, something about how we live, how we work and play, what we stand for, etc.

Something that serves as a sort of verbal snapshot of the city.

Something that tells you about our soul.

Only in a wry, self-mocking sort of way.

Maybe something along the lines of "Baltimore: When You Need a Break from I-95."

Or "Home of the Most Fluctuating Utility Rates in the Nation."

Or a personal favorite, and one that I feel perfectly captures the absurdity of life here:

"Baltimore -- Still Looking for the Light-Pole Thieves."

I'd probably let the city have that one for, oh, $50,000.

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