Life in Baltimore
About 16 months ago, Matthew, my mom, and I were eating dinner. My mom had some health issues after falling and breaking a few bones, and Matthew and I were living near Orlando, Florida. We were visiting her home in Sterling, VA after driving to the area ahead of a major hurricane hitting our home town.
Mom: “Where are you planning to move next?”
Matthew: “We’re not sure. We’ve even looked at Baltimore. Maybe Dallas. Maybe downtown Orlando? Or the Space Coast? We don’t know.”
Me (not quite shouting): “NOT BALTIMORE!”
Mom: “Well, that’s very decisive.”
Matthew pressed: “You know you can buy a row house, near Patterson Park, with a roof top deck right in our budget.”
I groaned. I loved living in the city when I was in college, and he wasn’t playing fair. He knows I lived near Patterson Park. He knows I loved it. I liked the cafes nearby, the Inner Harbor, an $11 train ride to downtown Washington, DC. Or taking the train the other way, right to New York City. Truthfully, I even liked the winters. There WERE winters. Christmas felt like Christmas. Christmas sucks in Florida.
A week ticked by. Matthew cruised Zillow. We looked at houses near our rental in Indialantic, FL. Nothing. Our window to move was dwindling. When you own a business, and travel for event photography and green screen photography across the nation, sandwiching house hunting and moving into the schedule is tough.
Matthew started forwarding me listings of row houses in Baltimore. Near Patterson Park. With roof top decks. Completely redone.
We lined up a dozen properties for a weekend whirl-wind house hunt with our Baltimore real-estate agent, Stephen. On the first day, we never made it out of the car. One house was worse than the next. Decayed neighborhoods. Trash blew down streets like tumbleweeds. Obvious drug use. Hard drugs. With glass pipes. Happening in front of us. A dystopian world.
We returned to the Westin. Depressed.
The next day we looked at another six houses, this time near my preferred neighborhood, Patterson Park. The first was cute, but small. Parking was difficult. But I could see myself living there with Matthew and being happy. The second was gorgeous — but in a “transitioning” neighborhood a little further from the park near John’s Hopkins Hospital. That house included a second lot, on the corner, where the neighboring row house had been torn down and the lot tacked onto the property. In other words: parking for three cars, at least. A double wide. The next house was in the same neighborhood a block away. It was slightly larger, but more dated. A possibility. Maybe.
We bought the second house. The one in the questionable neighborhood. Time from initial conversation with mom (where I vetoed moving to Baltimore) and time to purchasing house in that city — less than a month.
The question always asked is, why? The Florida weather is wonderful. There is no real winter. The Starks of Winterfell (Winter is coming!) wouldn’t know what to do. I love the ocean. I love the Gulf. When we lived in Tampa, we’d take our boat out to a secluded island that was a wild life preserve. Often, we were the only ones on the beach. There were hundreds of sea shells. You could snorkel.
Dolphins — dozens of dolphins — often followed our boat, jumping in the slip stream of the bow.
I am a city boy. I’ve always been a city boy. I like urban culture. I’m liberal. I’m gay. None of those things fit in Florida, even metropolitan Orlando. For every gay friendly neighbor, you had two that glared at your rainbow shirt. Trump flags were the norm. Maybe that shouldn’t have bothered me, but it did. I felt surrounded by people who didn’t get me.
We had to evacuate TWICE for category four hurricanes. Once we were forced to DRIVE from our home near Orlando to Washington, DC for a shoot with AARP because all flights were cancelled with the storm. That’s when we had our sit down with my mom. The one where she asked our moving plans.
TWICE I landed in the hospital for strange infections caused by spider bites. A third time, while we were moving from Tampa to Indialantic, my shoulder swelled up three times it’s normal size and my arm became paralyzed. I figured it was another strange insect bite, and resolved it with my stash of antibiotics. I refused to go the doctor. Matthew put my arm in a sling that was a ripped up tee shirt. The antibiotics worked. My arm didn’t fall off.
I am bug phobic.
Florida has huge bugs. Jurassic bugs.
Baltimore has rats — but I’ve never seen one. Sorry, Trump.
It’s been a year now that we’ve been in our Baltimore home. Almost to the day. For half of that time, we’ve been sequestered with COVID-19, and haven’t been able to take advantage of urban life. We can’t go to the cafes or walk the Inner Harbor, or shop at the farmer’s market, or work out at the gay friendly gym. Our neighborhood is transitional, and we’ve seen drug overdoses, car accidents and police helicopters.
Matt and I give out masks my mom, sister, and friend Pat sew. Our neighborhood needs masks.
I clean up trash for the entire block every morning. Bags of trash. It never ends.
And that’s all ok. As a creative, gay man I’m at home. Our neighbors are friendlier than any suburb. Art springs up all around us, in unexpected places. The day after Justice Ginsburg died, she was painted with a halo on the side of a nearby row house. Black Lives Matter murals sprung up in Patterson Park. Another neighborhood street was painted with the words in a rainbow of color, “Black Lives Matter”. It stretches the entire block.
Every kind of music drifts by our house.
It’s a cacophony of creativity. Even during COVID-19, I’m inspired.
The past 6 months were hard. COVID-19 has murdered the event industry. We continue to wait the pandemic out, looking for the return of green screen photography, conference photography, and experiential photo marketing. We anticipate a gradual awakening with the New Year, and have events scheduled for 2021. They are penciled in. They could be erased.
If you told me, during that dinner with Mom and Matthew, that I would end up looking out my office window onto Patterson Park Avenue, I would have never believed you. If you told me we’d be on indefinite hold with a world wide pandemic, I would have thought you were crazy.
I do miss the ocean. And the island. But not the bugs.
I’m happy to be home. I love the city.