Baltimore. It is a place now known and discussed nationwide…and certainly not for good reason. It is also the place I’ve called home for almost 5 years now. It is hard for me to believe that 5 years have already gone by and, I suppose like any long relationship, sometimes it is also hard for me to remember life before it. Once upon a time, I ate french fries without covering them in Old Bay; I had rarely seen Utz potato chips on a store shelf; I had no idea what a Berger cookie was…let alone how to spell that correctly; a sno-ball was nothing more to me than a spherical object tossed at someone after a January blizzard. Yes, in the almost 5 years since I arrived in Charm City, I have fallen in love with it. Someone actually warned me during my first year here to be careful about that. He insisted that you come here with a plan to simply attend school, finish an internship, etc., and then somehow, when you’re not paying attention, you fall in love with Baltimore and you never leave. Well, I’m not sure about the “never leaving” part…but the rest is certainly true.
|Me with Baltimore’s unofficial mascot 🙂|
Baltimore has become home to me, so much so that I moved back within the city limits just 6 weeks ago, after a 2-year stay in the suburbs. Contrary to what you’ve seen on the news this week, Baltimore is a beautiful city. It is a place where people take great pride in their neighborhoods, their local businesses, and of course their beloved sports teams. The Inner Harbor is breathtaking; there are world-renowned hospitals and universities nestled within our little corner of the world; there is certainly no shortage of beautiful parks and there is nothing quite like a morning run along the waterfront downtown. However, Baltimore is also as dichotomous as it is beautiful. Just a few miles from that gorgeous Inner Harbor which shows up in every travel magazine are desolate neighborhoods. Empty storefronts and abandoned buildings are the norm. School buildings which long ago lost proper heating systems, ventilation, and even structural integrity still serve as home for students 6 hours a day…for the students who can get there, that is. Students ride multiple trains and buses just to get to magnet schools outside their district in an attempt to get a decent education…or simply to stay safe. This is the part of Baltimore no one wants to talk about, and the one that rarely gets attention. There is beauty in this piece of Baltimore too…you just might have to look a little harder to find it.
So what happened this week? I don’t quite know the answer to that question. I drove home from school on Monday feeling slightly concerned. Students in my class had told me hours earlier about things they had seen on social media regarding a gathering after dismissal. The typical Monday afternoon traffic was nonexistent, as I realized I was one of the few people driving south on 83 while there was a steady stream moving north. When I turned the corner to my apartment complex, I saw what made my heart sink: the basketball court at the end of the block, usually packed with 30-40 local students playing pick-up games after school, was completely deserted. I knew in that moment that something was wrong. Sure enough I noticed the helicopters flying overhead and went inside to sit in front of my television with tear-filled eyes as I watched teenagers, no older than my students, engaged in such destructive behavior.
The thing is my initial reaction was not the anger which many people seemed to feel right away. I mean, I’m not suggesting that what they did was in any way acceptable. It’s not. Such acts of violence are inexcusable. However, I couldn’t help but think of my former students back in DC as I watched what was unfolding on the screen. I thought about how they are now just a little younger than these students on the screen. I thought about the fact that no one is raised to hate or mistrust anyone; regardless of where or how you grow up, these are learned behaviors. I thought about how these teenagers must feel like they have literally nothing to lose. And I was heartbroken. I thought about the construction men from my math class this semester who told me about the feeling of hopelessness they had after serving their time in prison, about their failed attempts to build a new life for themselves when they were released; how they summed up the reality of life after incarceration in one succinct phrase: God forgives, but society? Not so much. This past week, “the other Baltimore” became the news story…but really, there is no such thing. We are all Baltimore. And just like a relationship in which two vastly different people attempt to coexist in a confined space for a long period of time, this week the relationship between vastly different worlds in Baltimore reached a breaking point. And, just like in any such relationship, it will likely remain that way until both sides are willing to communicate peacefully. Will that day ever come? I don’t know that either, but I won’t stop praying in earnest that it does.
I love Baltimore. I loved Baltimore last week, I love Baltimore today, and I will continue to love Baltimore tomorrow. That doesn’t mean I will ignore her faults, or pretend that she is something she’s not. Baltimore is not a perfect city, but she is a beautiful one. And just like every other person I love, I want her to become the best version of herself that she can be. I will continue to do my part to make sure that can happen. I don’t know exactly what that entails right now, but I’ll keep trying to figure it out. Peacefully.
In the meantime, to shed some positive light on Baltimore in the darkness of the week, I’d like to highlight some Katie-safe reasons why Baltimore is the perfect home, or even weekend destination, for a person with food allergies.
1) Sweet Sin: This bakery is ENTIRELY gluten-free. They make cakes, pies, cupcakes, bread, cookies, etc. If you’re simply gluten-free, this place is a dream come true. Even if you’re gluten-free/dairy-free, this place is still your dream (not everything is dairy-free, but there are LOTS of options). This is my go-to location for cupcakes en route to any event that might involve everyone else indulging in celebratory treats. It’s also just a really cute place with charming employees!
|Delicious Sweet Sin cupcakes!|
2) Meet 27: This is the bar/restaurant attached to Sweet Sin…so also ENTIRELY gluten-free. They also now have a carry-out option. The food is some of the best I’ve ever tasted…and I’m not exaggerating when I say that their sweet potato fries (battered in chickpea flour) are the most amazing dish I’ve tasted in my life, with or without allergies.
|Just look at that plate of food. Need I say more…|
3) Charmington’s: My favorite coffeeshop in the city by far. This is partially because coffee is delicious, partially because they make lattes with almond milk and homemade syrups in which they can tell you every ingredient, and partially because it’s around the corner from Sweet Sin so makes for a perfect Katie-safe coffee/cupcake afternoon. Granted, this is also the coffeeshop where the physicist and I reconnected on a rainy Friday night. So regardless of all those other reasons, it will always hold a very cherished place in my heart.
|Beautiful beverages at Charmington’s.
The top one belonged to the Physicist and the bottom one was mine.
We were celebrating our “Coffee-versary”…doesn’t it only seem fitting that I would have such a thing?? 🙂
4) Joe Squared: This is place is usually known for its pizza, but it offers so much more. Just click here to see the amazing variety of gluten-free/vegan options. All risotto is gluten-free…AND can be vegan (yay, coconut milk!!). So are the wings. Let’s just say the options are nearly endless. At least as far as food-allergen menus are concerned 🙂
There are so many other places I could highlight, but for today I’ll stick to my favorites. Please, don’t be convinced by what is shown on television that Baltimore is simply chaos and destruction. We are not. Right now our harbor is lined with National Guard troops, the Ravens parking lot has become a command station of armored trucks, and we are understandably a city on edge. We are no doubt flawed, and right now you might even say broken. However, we are also beautiful, we are resilient, and we are hopeful; hopeful that someday soon, both peace and justice will reign in our beautiful city. Until then, I’ll continue my prayer: May God protect ALL people of this city; and may Christ’s love pervade every street corner, every citizen, and every heart in Baltimore this night and always. Amen.