A smoking ban? Baltimore is, as always, the last to get into line

October 28, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY

In one of crime novelist Laura Lippman's stories, a character utters an undeniable axiom about Baltimore: It is the place where trends go to die.

This week, my old Loyola High School classmate, City Councilman Robert W. Curran, brought up a ban on smoking in restaurants and bars similar to smoking prohibitions in effect in New York, Boston, Washington, Philadelphia and four Maryland counties.

Bobby, this is Baltimore. We do things last -- and don't think twice about it.

"There is no excuse now not to move forward," the councilman said in this newspaper's account. "There's no reason that Baltimore has to be the last large city, population-wise, not to protect its hospitality workers."

Well, actually there is a reason. Baltimoreans savor dawdling at the end of the line. No wonder Starbucks Coffee took its time about moving here. The word is out among national trendsetters: Baltimore is a slow learner.

In the house of my childhood, any discussion of a smoking ban would have landed me in the gutter, flat out, no questions asked. We were the address that Liggett & Myers loved.

I spent portions of my 1950s childhood running errands to corner stores to fill the tobacco needs of my elders. Long before I could read, I learned the difference between an Antonio y Cleopatra cigar and an Uncle Willie, thanks to detailed instructions from my grandfather, Edward Jacques Monaghan.

The word filtered did not exist. They liked their tobacco strong and straight.

My mother could not make it through dinner without lighting up her signature Lucky Strike. Her brother, my Uncle Jacques, would then reach for a Camel and Great Aunt Cora her Chesterfield. Pop Monaghan had his cigar going before smokeless Grandmother Lily Rose could pass the apple pie or bread pudding. A frequent guest, neighbor Dorothy Croswell, left her lipstick-touched Pall Mall in the ashtray while helping herself to a slice of chocolate cake.

I'll say this -- those smokers truly enjoyed their nicotine. They grew more loquacious as the smoke clouds formed; after-dinner talk sparkled. I learned three-quarters of what I know about old Baltimore as I breathed air that would be condemned by the Environmental Protection Agency.

I grew to hate smoke, but I learned there was no escape. The newsroom air of the old News American and The Evening Sun was about the same as in the Guilford Avenue kitchen. In a brief career as a copyboy, I had to extinguish tobacco wastepaper basket fires. One day, a pipe ignited in the pocket of a handsome sport coat owned by columnist Louis Azrael. As much I support a ban, I got annoyed a few years ago at the well-intentioned signs some of my friends put up in their homes that outlawed smoking among their guests. Behaving like an obstinate Baltimorean, I went to a computer and made up my own placard: Smoking Allowed.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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