Today I went back to Baltimore. I hadn’t been there in 23 years. I lived there at 19 when I ran away from college with my first girlfriend. I lived there 3 years from 84 to 86 and worked at M.U.S.E. and Microprose.
At the time I didn’t have a camera nor did I have any idea that I should even take pictures to record my life and so I have no pictures at all. No pictures of my girlfriend at the time. No pictures of the 3 different apartments I lived in. No pictures of the various cars I drove or the places we went. No pictures of either of my jobs, offices or any of the people I worked with or became friends with. (Except one who is still a friend. Hi Dan!).
So, I was in New York for 9 days and I decided to take a train down to Baltimore just to see it again. I bought the train tickets and then tried to rent a car. That was the first disappointment. I couldn’t rent a car. They only rent cars from the BWI airport. Downtown, Avis and Hertz have car rental offices in a couple of hotels but both were already sold out and both are only open just a few hours a day and you can’t return the cars outside of those hours. No car meant no going to Hunts Valley or Cockeysville, the places I lived the last 1.5 years in the greater Baltimore area.
I’d already bought the train tickets so I thought I’ll just at least go to the places I know downtown and check out the 2 downtown apartments I stayed in. As I remembered all these places and tried to look them up online I started to realized that 23 years is a REALLY LONG TIME and almost everything was gone.
There used to be a company called Ms. Desserts. They had a small location in the food building at Harborplace, the inner harbor touristy area in Baltimore. They made the absolute best cranberry muffins I’ve ever had. I still remember them to this day 23 years later. Totally yummy and totally moist all the way through. Well, they no longer exist. In fact Harborplace has mostly been taken over by chain stores. Hooters, Subway, Cheesecake Factory. Lame! What’s interesting about going some place that has the same damn stores you can get your local city?
The entire food building had been re-arranged. It used to be that downstairs was like 16 smaller food stands almost like a farmers market and upstairs was like 20 or so fast food places. Places I remember were my first funnel cake store. Yum! A store that made large fries they served with Old Bay Seasoning and malt vinegar. They were great. There was also this place called “The Fudgery” that made fudge live on these giant marble tables. They’d pour the fudge from cauldron on the tables and then toss it 6-8 feet in the air with these giant broom size spatulas with this awesome chant about making fudge. It was always fun to watch.
Now it’s not much different than your average mall food court. There’s only about 8 food places upstairs and the downstairs is retail stores.
Walking down from Penn station (yea, both NYC and Baltimore have a Penn Station), I searched for the location of my first job. I wasn’t sure I remembered exactly where it was but I managed to find the old location of M.U.S.E. at 317 St. Charles. M.U.S.E. is where the original Castle Wolfenstein was made for the Apple II. I was kind of hoping to find my favorite deli ever across the street. It was called Pickadeli and they made meatball sandwiches by cutting the loaf in half, pulling out the bread and stuffing in the meatballs from one end. They were gone as well. It basically felt like downtown Baltimore was dead. Even though it was lunch time on a weekday there was almost no one on the streets. Vastly different from 23 years ago when it was crazy busy.
I walked over to Lexington Market just because there isn’t much else to seen in Baltimore. It was still there. In fact it’s been there since like 1772 or something (yea, before the USA was the USA). It had changed too. It looked familiar on the inside but the part that used to be a “market” was now all fast food stands, no more produce, meat, etc. Actually there were still a couple of groceries stores left. It got me wondering if there is even a market left for produce, etc. Obviously there are in some places like San Francisco for example has lots of farmers markets all over the city several times a week but I can imagine in lots of cities, for lots of people, cooking is out, fast food is in. In fact it’s often cheaper than cooking.
I went and checked out “The Block” to see how it had changed. The Block is a famous block long area of nothing but porn stores and strip clubs. It used to be pretty amazing. Lots of neat flashing signs, etc. It was like the perfect block of sleaze. You know if you watch some montage of a guy getting drunk and going to bad places in an old movie, that was The Block. Well, I guess the progression of VCR, DVD, Internet has not been kind to The Block. One side of the street is pretty much gone, changed to some government building. The remaining stores are just old and run down, nothing flashy anymore. Broadway in San Francisco is more impressive.
I headed out to 31st and St. Paul because I thought that’s one of the places I used to live. It’s near John’s Hopkins University. That block had been completely rebuilt with new buildings and so I’m not 100% sure that’s where I used to live. I guess I need to ask my mom to dig up some old letters or something to see if she has my address from back then. John Hopkins still looked the same but there was a block of stores on St. Paul from 30th to 31st and I think only 1 store is still there from 23 years ago. Eddie’s Market.
I also tried to find my first apartment which I thought was at like 28th and Howard but I checked the map and it didn’t look like the roads went the way I remembered them going. 25th seemed like it was the right shape but when I got to 25th it seemed way too large and busy to be the street I was on. I checked 21st through 26th but nothing looked familiar.
The final thing I could think of was going to Giant which is the local chain of supermarkets. In particular there used to be this cinnamon coffee cake thing that Giant made all wet with cinnamon and sugar that I used to crave…… No luck. They didn’t make them anymore.
When I got to Giant I recognized the intersection of 33rd and Greenmount. This area is a town called Waverly and 23 years ago it was like a model of “old” America from the 40s or 50s. Now it was most closed stores or run down. A shell of it’s former self.
I guess all that says that you can’t go back. It’s just not the same. 23 years is a long time. Hmmm, I guess that’s not really true. I can visit Stanton California where I grew up and while there are a lot of changes there’s still a ton that is still there, still familiar.
Maybe it’s just Baltimore has changed more than most cities.
On the good side I am glad I went. I got to eat Herr’s sour cream and onion potato chips. Yea, I know they are from Pennsylvania but I remember them from my time in Maryland. Even though so much has changed there were lots of things here and there that I hadn’t thought about in ages and seeing then again brought back lots of fond memories. It was still cool to see it because I really have no other reason to ever visit Baltimore.