June 15, 2004
This past Saturday was the annual Hon Fest in Hampden, hon. It's where Baltimoreans get together to celebrate the...colorful side of life in Baltimore -- the one that ignores the crime, drugs, etc. that plague the great city. Folks even celebrate the newly-hip Hampden, where I grew up, as the epitome of Baltimore. The Hampden that, at times, lurks below the surface is racism and teen mothers who really had no idea that there was a birth control pill. Baltimore is sorta like that. It's Southern, and the racism goes both ways, to be sure. There is a lot of crime. Drugs abound. Poverty is a serious problem. But I think that it's great that, for one Saturday a year, we get to remember and celebrate that Baltimore is a great place to live. There are a lot of history, hipsters and galleries. Great food, and even better camping and hiking. Sports. Nice Southern folks. Lots of good reasons to go there, if you have never been. Many many reasons to be glad to live there or to say that you come from Baltimore, hon. I used to get a lot of flack from my friends when Hampden began to become "cool," and I resented my neighbors. In the 80s and early 90s when I was growing up there, it was anything but cool. I had friends at home who hated that my best friend in grade school was black. The Avenue only became the hip place to drink and eat and shop that it is now in the late 90s. The famous Cafe' Hon was a feed store until I was in high school. I'm not saying at all that I dislike the new Hampden. Hell, I love it! I'm glad that I can go home to Hampden and get good coffee and shop in a used bookstore. I just don't think that the Hon Fest celebrates our Hampden heritage so much as the escape from it -- the escape from racism and being broke white kids. When I ran around Saturday with my camera, I was soaking in the Hampden that I wish I grew up in -- and reveling in the demise of the Hampden I used to reluctantly call my home. I even scored an Edgar A. Poe action figure at Mud and Metal. In all, I am glad that Hampden is not the place it used to be. And, despite some belly-aching I sometimes hear about all the "yuppies" (they are Bobos, really, people) that are taking over the city, I am glad that Baltimore is changing, too. All of the giantic SUVs and even bigger bookstores are better, to me, than not being able to walk around with my African-American wife in certain parts of the city, wherein one of us was always getting looked at strangely. For the pain that shopping there can be, I'll take a Whole Foods market over a crackhouse anyday. No matter what, I'll take my favorite city and hometown over anywhere else, today. I've only been back in Illinois for a day. And even though it's good to be back to where I actually live, with my books and gear and new Ikea goodies, I miss Baltimore a lot when I am gone. And everyone in it, too.