Md. native steps into another new role

July 07, 2006|By JEAN MARBELLA

With The Devil Wears Prada opening last week and now this column, I will have "starred" in three movies.

Like Anne Hathaway in Devil, I was once a fresh-faced graduate of Northwestern's journalism school. Like Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, a Sun features writer. And now, like Elizabeth Perkins in He Said, She Said, a Sun columnist.

My life didn't seem quite so glamorous as I was living it.

But I've been thinking about it a lot lately - the life, not the glamour - since I recently sold my old house and had to clear it out. (It was on the market for six months, and yes, I had to drop the price.)

Being something of a pack rat, I didn't so much move out as launch an archaeological dig of personal artifacts. An electric typewriter. A guitar and keyboard. Some tragically flowery Laura Ashley dresses. A pair of Rollerblades, eight pairs of ballet pointe shoes and, not so coincidentally, a cane. Who was this person?

When I moved here in 1987, I think I imagined staying a few years and moving on, surely not long enough to accumulate a basement full of discarded personas. At that point in my life, I'd been out of college for nine years, and was on my third job in my third city - not so unusual for a newspaper person.

But somehow I took root here. Baltimore has a way of doing that. The Sun ran an article back in the 1990s on how the census found that 74 percent of Baltimore-area residents were born in Maryland. How quaint, I thought, how provincial. I'd moved here from South Florida, where people seemingly were from everywhere - well, New York and Cuba, mainly - but Florida.

Then I remembered, I was one of those quaint, provincial Baltimore residents who had been born in Maryland.

There's no getting away, is there?

I was born in Havre de Grace, but my family moved when I was 3. (They were nice enough to take me along.) With my local roots so tenuous, I learned to play the birth card when necessary - being from here seemed to matter, more so then than now. Sometimes I would fail to mention that we'd moved away early on - long before I could declare myself a Crip or a Blood - but I'd get found out pretty quickly.

"Oh, where in Havre de Grace does your family live?" would be the next question.

Busted. "The part called Chicago."

It seemed inevitable, though, that I'd end up back here. My dad once gave me a collection of Mencken's writings as a Christmas present, and he used to talk about going to the parade when the Orioles returned to the major leagues in 1954. Long after he left Baltimore, he was still a Baltimorean.

And, of course, living as comfortably with the past as if he'd stayed here.

My second time around here, I had to get used to people giving me directions that relied on now-gone landmarks.

"When you get to where the Muhly's Bakery used to be, turn right." But then, I became one of those people. "Meet me at Ransome's," I'd say, long after it became Porter's. I call the Whole Foods in Harbor East Fresh Fields, even though it opened years after Whole Foods corporately swallowed up Fresh Fields.

So now I live in Rose and Lloyd's house. Having moved in only a year ago, it isn't Jean and Steve's house yet, and it might not be until we move out.

People have been welcoming me to Federal Hill (motto: Smile, you're on PoliceCam), even though I've only moved from three blocks away - which does seem like clear across town by Baltimore standards.

Likewise, I'm new to these pages, but not to The Sun. I've just moved desks (it seems about three blocks away as well, from one corner of the newsroom to the farthest possible other corner).

Until this week, I was the editor of the Today section, which was also where I got my start at The Sun, as a health and fitness reporter.

After several years of covering everything from stem cells to aerobics (this was the 1980s after all), I became a general features writer, until 1998 when I became a national correspondent.

In addition to somehow annexing Cuba as part of the national beat (first when American baseball - well, the Orioles - returned to Cuba, and then, a year later, when a 6-year-old boy named Elian Gonzalez did so as well), I made it to more than 30 of the 50 states for stories. (Ah, Hawaii in February; Maine in July; Nebraska, never.)

But now I'm home. And it's hard to imagine I ever had to leave to find something to write about.

Does any other state have a William Donald Schaefer, spiraling off into some sort of alternate reality? Other cities may have itchy men, but do any have the Itchy Man? Somehow, while I was distracted by national news, I missed some amazing stories, right outside my door.

But I'm on the case now, and anything that happens around here - from the ordinary to the extraordinary, from the personal to the political - is fair game. So join me, every Tuesday and Friday, as I go from being someone who lives in Baltimore, to someone who covers and comments on it.

Maybe someone will even make a movie: She Said, She Also Said.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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