Guest blogger, Valerie Casola of Loyola University, shares her experience about summer in Baltimore.
That smoky smell of greasy, savory pit beef mingles under your nose, the taste suddenly appearing under your tongue.
Heat pounds on the sidewalk, leaving a thin, glimmering sheen of sweat under your t-shirt.
Deep, hearty laughter travels down the street from lively row-home porches.
Murals splashed with shades of blues, reds, and greens on to the side of brick buildings, and on the cement next to sewer grates, pique your curiosity.
It is the summertime, and you are in the city of Baltimore.
For the past three years, I have been living as a student in Baltimore. I have tasted the sweet, sweet char of meat straight off the barbeque; the melty, chocolate-y goodness of Berger Cookies has left me looking silly, smearing all over my mouth and cheeks; Old Bay has become as important as salt on my fries; and I have attempted to learn how to properly pop open a fresh, crisp crab in the most pristine fashion.
These are rites of passage for all who encounter this city – college students, tourists, lifelong residents, and eager, new faces. Most people who stay long enough to complete these tasks feel as if they’ve discovered all there is to know about Baltimore.
I’ve got news for those people. They haven’t even scratched the surface.
Having the chance to live in Baltimore as a student in the summer, away from the hair-pulling, mind-numbing, nail-biting stress that comes along with a full schedule of class, has provided me with a unique perspective of the city. Because campus is so quiet, and I have more free time, I have been able to spend more time exploring the neighborhoods of the city. What I have found is that the more time I spend wandering up and down the city streets, the more I realize how inspiring it is.
I’ve always thought Baltimore to have a magical quality to it – not because it is lovingly dubbed “Charm City” by locals – but because I have always been inspired to use what I’ve experienced to mold myself into who I want to be. I figured this is what happens when you move away to college and find happiness in your newfound freedom, but my experiences for the past two summers have suggested otherwise. Baltimore has that magical quality every day, and being confined to a college campus five days a week, focusing on schoolwork and working to afford groceries and other essentials, makes it difficult to notice.
Baltimore has this effect that emblazons the quintessential sentiments we have of moving away from home and the becoming of our true selves. Baltimore is not like every other city. It is not in a rush. It does not wish to steal your time or your effort. There is nothing lurking in the shadows, waiting to swallow you whole when you feel submerged, head over heels.
It wants you to be you.
In the city where there is something for everyone, there is something to do every weekend. Being a smaller city, most areas and events are easily accessible with cars, public transportation, and on foot, allowing everyone the opportunity to experience what the city has to offer. The Gathering, a famous food truck festival occurring several times a year, showcases the creative culinary minds of the city. Foodies go nuts over the fried milk curds and cupcake trucks, and vendors compete to see who can sell out the fastest or queue up the longest lines. Baltimore is also home to over 15 different restaurants that have been featured on the Food Network television show, Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives – ranging from that famous pit beef, to gourmet, sugary breakfasts. Greek, Jewish, and Polish food festivals dress the air in enticing aromas that would make anyone spend the cash in their wallet just to get a bite.
Community movie nights in Federal Hill, Little Italy, and Fells Point, not only bring visual creators together, but provide fun entertainment for families. Power Plant Live and Baltimore Soundstage feature new artists daily with ticket prices so low, you may feel like you’re stealing from the venues.
Baltimore also hosts several festivals, such as HonFest, Artscape, and the Baltimore Book Festival. Artscape, one of the biggest of the summer, occupies parts of Station North, Federal Hill, and parts in between, to display talented artists and their works. Parking garages are emptied and reserved for personal, miniature galleries while live performances of music and art are displayed in the middle of the street. City buses shut down and become air-conditioned cooling stations. People build misting stations to make sure everyone stays cool. Small businesses with booths hand out free water and ice chips.
Attending events like these has opened me up to the idea that Baltimore wants you to come as you are. Pockets of communities with different ideas and talents all seem to share the same desire; they want people to witness what they do and find a way to get involved. I’ve also noticed that when all these communities – the foodies, the hipsters, the dancers and performers, the artists, the people rallying for change – come together, there is nothing but happiness and positivity.
Baltimore has such a strong sense of community that, unfortunately, others don’t notice or want to see. Many people rely on what they hear and see on the news to paint them a picture of this city, but they will never understand the heart and soul of its people if they don’t come and seek it out themselves.
Yes, I do live on a college campus on the very outskirts of the city, and some may say that I haven’t seen “the real Baltimore,” that I may only be exposed to its good and not its bad, but from what I have witnessed on public transportation, walking down the streets, and at large gatherings, the people who live in Baltimore only want what is best for each other. Baltimore is a community that is grieving – but that does not mean it can’t and won’t take steps in a positive direction.
The people of Baltimore inspire me every day, and I know they inspire each other. There is a yearning in the air – to do better, and to be better. I’m thankful I’ve been able to take the time to witness it when I am not wrapped up in my own life. Baltimore is so much more than it receives, and gives so much more than it takes.
Spend a summer in Baltimore.
Brave the heat.
Eat the crabs.
Paddle in the harbor.
You’ll walk away with something more.
-Valerie Casola, Loyola University Maryland 2017