Discarding the fear of nights in the city

October 06, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

On a recent humid evening, the granite tower of the old Mount Royal Station stood out along Cathedral Street. Its bright back-lighted clock reminded me: It's time to take a seat for the entertainment season. Over the years, it has become a personal beacon, one that I associate with ticket stubs and good times.

This landmark clock tower, now part of the Maryland Institute College of Art, is part of the station where I made my first train excursion in 1953. For 10 cents, you could ride from Camden Station to Mount Royal. Today, the station and the tower light the way to another season's worth of music, drama, comedy -- and eating.

And now for a little confession: I breathe a little easier when all of Baltimore's warm-weather seasonal events have ended. The streets return to a somewhat normal state, and there's a chance of getting to an appointment on time now that Artscape, the Book Festival and the other outdoor events are over. The grown-ups can now enjoy themselves indoors. Tonight is the season premiere of the Baltimore Opera -- an annual event that suggests the fall-winter calendar has begun. There's nothing quite like going out for live music, stretching the legs and walking up Mount Royal Avenue as the crowds converge on the old Lyric, much in the way they have been doing for well over a century.

I've been observing Baltimoreans emerge from a dismal period (perhaps a dozen years or more) of edgily staying indoors at night because of worries about crime. There is no antidote for this sort of trepidation like seeing others out, unafraid, enjoying the night's events, as they should.

I've been scratching my head for answers. Maybe it's the presence of more college students around -- I noticed a group of Loyola T-shirts at the Everyman Theatre the other night.

I'll also give credit to the expanding presence of all those outdoor dining tables and patrons, which impart a touch of safety and livability to otherwise unwelcoming streets. Also, it's time to give some credit to the occasionally sneered-at Starbucks. Its operations are well-lighted and open at times when locally run coffee outlets might be closed.

And let's praise the developers who have faith in Baltimore's non-Inner Harbor downtown. This October, I see many more lights in apartments and condos created in old factories, warehouses and office buildings in the downtown.

Baltimore does not have a highly concentrated cultural-entertainment zone; you have to navigate around a bit and enjoy the neighborhoods. Maybe the gaps will be filled in one day, but even in the ancient period, the Lyric and the Mechanic were not that close. But when both the Lyric and the Meyerhoff are full, watch out. And what better way to take in Mount Vernon Place than a Peabody musical program, followed by a walk up Charles Street?


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