Author Archive for Charles Cohen


Daytrip No. 2 National Pinball Museum Baltimore,Power Plant, Inner Harbor

A row of Vintage Machines from the 50s and 60s, More than 25 in all

Last fall I was on the web researching the origins of Captain Fantastic Pinball Great and discovered that the National Pinball Museum was relocated from Georgetown to Baltimore. My question is that’s the best thing that has ever happened to that Museum. Get the hell out of D.C. Let’s just our fickle city embraces this treasure of great potential. In the same way the government muscle gets behind institutions like the National Aquarium and The Port Discovery with signage and fast track improvement through the bureaucracy, The Mayor needs to get down to the pinball museum for this place is a gem in the making, one of the true defining flavors that can keep Baltimore unique and dissolve into touristy schlock.
On Saturday after an ice storm the kids and I made our way at the location at Power Plant for an afternoon playing the history of the silver ball. All I could think of if this place existed back in the day, it would have changed my life — I don’t know if that would have been a good thing.

Twelve bucks got you a debit type card which you could swipe from machine to machine. By doing so I took time to notices the sublets between machines which wasn’t hard considering one point I could be playing a baseball game from 1952 to Ted Nugent 1978. It’s amazing to note the subtleties in the bells, the ruthless small flippers of the past the rush to heap all kinds of glitz a la The Guns and Roses machine of the 80s. I was digging all of it, the woodworking and the hand pumps from the early days to slim down elegance of the 70s.I recalled the moment when we were dazzled when machines started going out with electric light score keepers instead of the rolling numbers. The folks at the museum were cool enough to let my nine-year old slide without a card considering she wouldn’t be playing any games on her own.

The moment when this six year old gets pinball

Being weened on Video and Computer, DS, pinball was a great leap for her and her younger sister. The only time they ever experience pinball was an app on my iTouch. They seemed to get a drawn in a bit, but in the end it was me who they had to drag out kicking and screaming. These pinballs after all we seen as the downfall of civilization way before Atari showed up. I tried to stave them off by telling them that maybe we could be regulars that after a while they would nail these games, just as repeated play makes them experts out of Wii, that they would emerge as pinball wizards kicking boys’ butts. But they weren’t having none of that and we scooted with still time on the card. But I’ll be back.
Some of the cool games: Funhouse, The Creature of the Black Lagoon. Dirt Bike and the soccer. The display of the earliest, primitive models on the first floor was also impressive.

The graphics by itself is worth the trip, every bit as influential as comics.


Baltimore Vs. The World and why I love The Ravens Chance on Sunday

Ravens play with a chip on shoulder better than any team in the NFL.

Baltimore Vs. The World.Written to the tune of “Seven Nations’ Army.”

It’s the Baltimore Ravens versus the World and I wouldn’t have it any
other way. Although I admit, it was hard to stomach the spleening
spewing from our supposed fans all over the radio waves this week and
I did grimace as one pundit after another lined up behind the hype
that is The New England Patriots. The most gave us our Defense are a
bunch of hall of famers that might be an Irritant for Brady as he
marches his way into another yawn Superbowl. Our offense was spinning
it’s wheels about our Hapless Quarterback who better just hope he can
do a Trent Dilfer imitation and maybe he can repeat another Superbowl
appearance. Funny how bigger the game the more people duck under the
myths rather than reality. They must have forgotten the colossal
beatdown The Ravens put on the vaunted Steelers during the opening
Season. It wasn’t just the defense, Joe Flacco orcrastrated those
drives like a mystro. He wasn’t lighting it up in the air like the
glory boys. He made his strikes and then gave ‘em a dose of Rice. It
was greatest beatdown that I’ve ever personally witnessed and that
includes The Colts – The Baltimore Colts.

Funny the same resignation to impeding doom that splattered the
airwaves this week, was the same defeatism ick that was oozing was the
Ravens had to go up to Pittsburgh this season and get what we all knew
even back then would be a vital win. All focused on Joe how he never
beat Rothersburgher in his house, never mind much stench went to rest
of the team to that embarrassment the Ravens put on in the Playoff
defeat last year that ushered the Steeler to their umptinth Superbowl
Appearance.  Somehow there’s no mention, no memory how Flacco this
year lead The Ravens down field to steel a win in the last eight
seconds. And let’s look at how he did that. He threw twice of a
wobbling, insecure Rookie Speedster,  Torrey Smith. The first throw
was on the money and Smith dropped in the Endzone. But Joe went back
to him flying down the other sidelines the next play and Smith’s
career was no doubt saved that glorious catch. Nobody talks about
that. Just like nobody talks about Joe engineering the Ravens greatest
comeback in team history against the Arizona Cardinals when we were
down 24 points. Of course everyone not only discounts that win, but
indicts the Ravens as pretenders for even having to resort such
theatrics. Yeah sure and The Washington Redskins took it to The New
York Giants this season, you know the same team that is all but
crowned as this year’s Superbowl Champions.  Funny in football the
same critical eye isn’t applied to ever team. Even now the Steelers
are now defined as a weaker version of itself, although that may have
been due to the demonization that they received in Baltimore.
When it comes to New England Patriots, their laurels stand as thick
fog blocking the pundits. Brady, who has he really beaten? Was the to
toughest team he played was in fact the Denver Broncos, a media
fascination that at 8 and 8 lost three games as they stumbled into the

No problem. Baltimore Ravens thrives in this kind of gloom lighting.
We’re a dark team. I remember a quote from Josh McDaniels the Denver
Coach (who spooky-enough is cued up to take over the Pats Offense
Coordinator position) after getting their puts kicked after they
amassed a seven game wining streak. He said, “Our team just doesn’t
have that kind of anger.”

So I love the roll the Ravens have been handed. It’s a point of view
that I share in my life as I struggle against my personal BS to reach
my potential, the silliness that doubles as the thinking of the day
and unfortunately determines our fortunes. That’s why I wear the
Ravens colors.  No one wears a chip on their shoulders better than the
Baltimore Ravens.
New England is no better than t hey were back in the War of 1812 when
they sided with Mother England and bitched about our privateers and
cheered when the Brits were making their way to Baltimore to burn it
to the ground. We had something to say about that (See National
Anthem). If we bring the game that we open the season with once again,
lowly Baltimore will shock the world.



Daytrippin’ No 1. Matoaka Cabins an old Time Chesapeake Experience

Beach Front Experience just an 1 hour and half out of Baltimore

Time 1.5 hrs. to 2 hr depending on traffic.

Directions: I-97 to Md. 50 East. About two miles and get off on Md. 2 south. For about 30 miles.  Left on Calvert Beach Road and then you’ll see the driveway with a sign for Matoaka Cabins on the Left. A day pass costs $4 per person. $2 per kid. 410-586-0269

When it comes to day-trips  there lingers the urge to go back in time, but truly it’s gettig harder to do, mainly because we can’t help but mess with the few diminishing remains that we can still visit. We turn them in into museums or we build a gleaming visitors’ center in the middle of a bucolic enclave. We mess with the old ways, always updating and congratulating  ourselves that changes have been camouflaged as  historic preservation.

Thankfully time, developers or  a tourist onslaught  hasn’t done a thing to  Matoaka Cabins in St. Leonard down in Calvert County. Named after Pocahontas real name, Matoaka looks very much as it did back in 1960 when Larry and Connie Smith bought the waterfront bluff. Back then it was camp that dated to the 1930s. The place still has that vibe with its slapsided-planked cabins with the bowed screen porches, the dirt basketball court with the makeshift nets.

Eight Cabins for about $240 a weekend, offers a rare rustic Chesapeake Treat

The rutted entrance itself evokes a charm as you notice the homemade maintainance, an open lots cut away in the brush, a rustic shed overlooking the Chesapeake Bay, perfect for the aspiring water colorist. A simple sign asks you to pay at the house got to by a curved shell path. $4 per adult, $2 per child and the third of a mile beach front is all yours. Making the turn from the house lies the best view from a cut lawn that rolls out towards a steep drop i.e. Calvert Cliffs.  The beach holds promise of fossils from Miocine epoch, 15 million years old. Sometimes there’s pieces of old boats washed up on the shore, inspiring my  daughters, Ellie and Lilah to play shipwrecked for the afternoon, ducking hostile natives and searching for food before nightfall. After a good hour I was praying for rescue. Back to reality, sharks teeth is a top find and a pretty tough score and the searching, an afternoon spent in an old man’s stooping position turns into a kind of meditative act. Last year I did swim in the  Bay, but I’d wear some surf shoes when otherwise on a clear bottom I came across something big and metal. Clunk. No damage

There isn’t any restrooms along the beach, perhaps an outhouse stands back up the long climb to the Matoaka Camp. Hey like I said it’s rustic. Despite the raw look of the cabins, the proprietors know they offer a rare opportunity to wake up under a wooded canopy overlooking the Bay. Cabins run about $240 per weekend.

We haven’t taken the plunge. Besides we get a  kick from paying $12 for some beach experience and zooming home missing the bay bridge traffic.

I had a chance for a quick interview of the Smith’s daughter, Becky Barney now 50ish. She grew up in Matoaka with her four brothers and sisters, meaning there was no need to go to camp. The camp came to her. Each week would bring a new set of kids to play with.

“We go to know a lot of the people,” she said. “They came back because us kids were  here.”

She also saw the demise of  the Bay, the decline in fish and crabs and the runoff  is on dramatic display on these cliffs as mature trees miraculous hang to nothing but topsoil jutting over the edge,  before joining the woodpile that has since fallen over. Luckily Matoaka still offers a chance of what an old Chesapeake excursion felt like. 


Favorite Fells Point Street Performers are back

Jim Pettibone and his dad, Leron, are back playing the sidewalks, another indication that the street scene is alive and well despite the jolts of gentrification that’s been rocking Fells Point, the home base of The Baltimore Wire Service. Much bemoaning can be done about the sweep of upscale restaurants — that is if you’re into bohemia or  maybe a slummer or worse one of those old timers who hold the good ole days over everyone else.  But hang with these guys and the new incarnation of  Fells Point may just surrpise you. Sure there’s plenty of up-scaler, but there’s plenty of rif-raff of all walks and race. Best yet the cross-culture goes across all lines and everyone seems to be doing a Chagaul flaot on Baltimore  rare mini-season, the flash in the pan moment  when the air hangs heavy with blossuems just before Preakness, the annual drunk feast, and the blitz preview of sun burnt season. I’ve had the opportunity to bring my guitar and try to get down Leron’s timing. (His chord changes comes somewhere in the third measure between two and three, somewhere. I’m still looking for it). But most of the time I  take advantage of the catalyst they create. Women dance. Men in cowboy hats, seemed find such H’ombres on the East Coast.  Two years I noted Fells Point quiet diversity, but last Saturday and surely tonight, the momentum has kicked up a notch.

Being a resident, I say this is a mixed blessing. More nutjobs yelling at closing time, but also I appreciate the joy and see it as a bromoter of the times. It’s a gauge that was tested back after 9/11 and a few y ears ago, there was too much peace and quite. Now on these glorious early May week, Fells Point as much of the city, whether you’re dining outside Bs in Bolton Hill or Loittering in front of the Maryland Film Festival at the Charles, this is about as good as it gets in the City, before thea Heatwave comes that is a Baltimore Summer. 


New circulating Funny money is actually legal competition to the Mighty Buck

Witney Webre of Zeke's displays a 5 B-note now being accepted throughout Baltimore

After all this jabbering about sustainable economy — buy local, support urban farming, rediscover craft industry — a group is putting money where the big ideas are. They have created a local currency — The B-note to be more specific, legal tender that functions in same way the good ole greenback works, passing bucks from one hand to the next, except for one thing. The B-note stays in B-More Not true with the dollar, which is at the whim of the big spender who could buy a beer for the house at the corner bar or plunk some cash on an overpriced pair of sunglasses guaranteeing that the money zips out to some corporate headquarters.

“The whole purpose of this is to benefit the small independent businesses, to get people thinking about where they spend their money,” said Jeff Dicken, a member of Baltimore Green Currency Association, the group behind the currency project.

The idea was in the making for a year, as the group planned the distribution, designed the 1 and 5 B notes and raised about $8,000 to print 100,000 Bs of tender. The B-note hit the streets three weeks ago and is now being accepted by 64 business citywide all listed on The acceptance is far larger than the currency architects imagined.  Dicken said he had hoped that maybe they’d recruit 30 to  50 businesses in a year’s time. Now they’re looking to cap 100 business by the end of the summer.

The local currency movement basically enforces the buy local cred. That is the B-note is worthless (so far) unless spent in the community in Baltimore, forcing the consumer to think or search out where they can plunk down their B-Buck.

Damien Nichols, one of the organizers, found that explaining the mechanism is behind the currency can be difficult, but Baltimore with its tight network of indigenous business understands the power of buying local.

“You’re surround the community with a fence and all the energy and the money stays here,” said Nichols.

The idea is that people can exchange dollars for B-Notes at an exchange rate of 90 cents on a dollar or ten dollars for 11 B-notes. So the purchase incentive is built in. Secondly the Baltimore Green Currency worked to set up a lateral economy where businesses buy goods and services from each other such as  a store owner can get graphic from a designer, who have agreed to accept the notes, rather than just have a group of stores, a shoping center. Whats more no one stands to profit from the currency. There is no cut. Baltimore Green Currency as an organization raised the money as a way of responding to the Recession and the strain placed on local businesses.

“When you go and buy something from Walmart, all that money leaves town,” said Michael Tew, an organizer with Green Currency.

The money collected at exchance centers or what is formally known as Cambios ( Little  Shop of Hardware, Capital Mac in Fells Point and Murray Blum in Hampden ) is put in a bank account backing the currency, according to the organizers. The idea, according to association members, is that the B-notes stay in use much like the dollar and so far few people have been  cashing in Bs back to dollars.

Rooted in the buy local, grassroots, sustainable movement, the B-note made its debut along the independent heavy neighborhood of Hampden and has since spread throughout the city.

The Baltimore Note, artfully done with the Oriole Bird on Side A and Frederick Douglas on the other for the 1 B, and The Raven with the required portrait of Poe on the other for the Fiver follows the  lead of other communities, There’s the Ithaca Hours or BerkShares in Berkshire, Mass or The Plenty in Pittsboro or Brixton Pound in London and of course Seatle, home of the World Bank Riots, came out with Local-Bucks. And now Baltimore Green Currency stands ready about the 100,000 in cash notes, 6,000 on the streets.

You get the idea, progressives playing with money.   But the economics benefits is very tangible and cross-cuts the community.

“It gives you a real way to buy local and Baltimore as a community takes pride in that,” said Nichols.

Still adopting a new currency was a bit much for some businesses owners to handle. One owner laughed at the idea that someone came into her store with the idea of  printing their own money.

“I’m still coming around to it,” she said.

Others like Mickey Fried, owner of Belle Hardware in Bolton  Hill, locked on to the political ramifications of creating local money. When asked to accept the currency he considered what would happen if he was inundated with the B-note. Would he be able to use it and of course there’s overall concern: What if the B-note fails.?

“It’s a risk because if it fall flat on its face, then frankly we’ve basically given the stuff away,” he said.

But Fried also had faith in Baltimore’s tight network of small business and likes striking back at the ever  expanding move to bring in corporate stores where the profits leave the city for corporate headquarters.

“There are lot of people who  have put a lot of emphasis into what a slip of paper (dollar) is worth, but I don’t think they thought much about the circulation. If you don’t think about w here you spend your money, that money isn’t staying in your community.”

Jokingly called hippie money, the B-note has captured  the attention of the usual suspects, small businesses people already rooted in social consciousness that these days has been translated in that over-used word – “Sustainability.”.

But the real challenge is for the B-note to translate into the regular  sector, where money exchange hands in crumpled bills in quick pace, basically a place like a famous deli on Lombard Street or a popular movie house on Charles Street or how about a baseball stadium off  395. The day the B-note gets in the hands of the apathetic spenders, the greater the change. The organizers know this and are pushing on with goals like having the city accept the B-note. Last week Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake happily posed with a B-note. A sign of the future or bandwagon move by a politician.

This ain't funny money, it's the latest in the Buy Local Movement


Minas might have a subversive fishbone


Most boutiques, shops, eateries, cafes and joints in between are passive establishments, set up to receive you like a park bench or a public bathroom, the listening station at a music store. You go in, you wander, consume and walk out. But few with the mighty shingle out front are set up to instigate, and fewer of those actually get away with it.

Minas, 815 W. 36th Street,  in Hampden is one of those storefronts. Part boutique, part gallery, part toy store, part book store, Minas pulls off the modern-day emporium provocateur quite well. That’s mainly because of the laid back proprietor Minas Konsolas. The  Greecian-ex-pat, Baltimore bounded since 1976, keeps a steady eye on his customers. Good with faces, he is, especially when he learns of their artistic habits. Writers and artists have gathered in his space for years.  A reading every third Thursday 5 p.m. has become a Baltimore mainstay. His upstairs gallery exhibits usually have pluck, a much appreciative counter to the amazing assembly line of  schlock that papers cafes and eateries around this town. Exhibit A is the current exhibit of James DuSel’s black and white photographs.

 Phainomena is the name, but the photos are black and white sprung from Leica, Rolleflex and a Linhof cameras of the 1930s. The old school look is well-earned and his subjects mundane, industrial, utilitarian work horses — the steel foot rest from a malt shop stool, a granite foundation, a chrome stack of nested chairs that I swear I saw somewhere (The Maryland Club or was it the Boy’s Choir in East Baltimore) and thought it would make a nice photograph. Light is stalked and captured, flared along a banister or snared in stainless gleam. And yeah, we get the point and DuSel’s mission statement, “I fully engage myself in the process, it uses my eye to measure the light , not a photocell. Thus I become part of my equipment, and my equipment becomes part of me.” Nice motto, but the proof is the artist’s vision sticks with you or at least with me as I found myself staring at a usurped train tracked installed to hold shopping carts at the Whole Foods down Mount Washington Way.

Next up  is Minas himself.

“It seems like I have been practicing for this the whole time,” said Minas, who took a frustrated portrait classes at MICA in the 1980s. This exhibited entitled, Interaction, is a big leap from his Masks that made a popular splash when exhibited in his shop two years ago.

“Interaction,” he said. “I’m trying to bring the word back to its original meaning when meeting someone was to smell touch and be with them.  We’ve got so many gadgets in-between us. Now that when we meet people in reality we don’t have anything to say.”

Of course he saying all this as he scrowls his art on his lap top. Minas realizes the irony, shuts down the computer and takes me to see the art live in his studio. I puruse his future offerings, but I’m struck most with the photograph pinned to his easel. His next subject.  Wild hair and wild eyes. One of the Catonsville Nine. (Those Vietnam Protestors that grabbed national attention way back when). He comes in here, ” he says, pauses. Nods.  

“I always like my paintings to have a part of me in it, because we all have a different vision of things”

I glance at the gent with the madcap hair and Minos with his subtle street wise concierge coiffe. This I got to see. 


William Donald Schaefer’s Funeral serves as quiet street fair

The soul of William Donald Schaefer wasn’t necessarily in the speeches by the state’s dignataries from Senator Barbara Mikulski to U.S. Rep. (and always rumored mayoral candidate) Kweisi Mfume . Try standing in the street outside St. Paul Episcopal Church on Charles and Saratoga streets. That’s where Schaefer prefered to linger anyway. While he pushed for big changes in the marbled halls of government, he never missed a crab cake dinner or failed to loiter with “the druggies” as one woman observer put it, in front of Lexington Market playing the part of civic barker. Schaefer was all about impressing his impact one handshake at a time. This is where he seemed most comfortable in the oddity that is street life. Except the day of  his funeral, the street of Baltimore failed to deliver its normally reliable panache. Honestly apart from the usual dignitaries and wanna-be dignitaries, there was a tumbleweed vibe, the hanger’s on in a ghost town as if they pack themselves in a Saloon in hopes of reviving the days long gone only to find the taps all dry. (See Scene in The Outlaw Josey Wales for further elaboration). And that spoke volumes in the same way when I went down and watched Martin O’Malley launch is Governor Campaign (last year) and saw a cluster of what seemed be paid employees and few bored government workers. Even then I tried to compare this wilted extravaganza to what Schaefer’s statewide spectacle must have looked like. But under bullying clouds going wild in blue skies, Schaefer got a light dusting of true outcome from The People that the Old Timey Pol used so well as a backdrop.

loitering, some people’s connections that drove them to take the day off to go to the funeral was dubious like one Patterson Park resident who remembers offering Schaefer a pair of vice grips when he his car broke down in a parade. “He told me to run along.” And the repeating version of  people down on their luck getting a job or public housing from Schaefer came off as if we were burying what James Smith declared, “The Last Don” not a public figure. But what really was telling was the great absence of people in the street. Factor in the clumps of media there were probably 50 people milling about and some of them were eating lunch. Sometimes it takes a death to realize that the change has been more sweeping than we had thought.

Robert Finn remembers running into Schaefer “and I’d tell him about a pothole and he told he already knew about it.” That was enough for him to stand outside the church, “and say goodbye to the man.”

Desha Dodopia. Owner of Desha’s Den, a former bar on Glover Street. She said she once spotted Schaefer on the street and invited him to her bar. “He came right on it. Just like that. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Antoinette Olanrewanjo, she met Schaefer when she was five years homeless, sleeping behind My Sister’s Place then on Saratoga Street, sometimes on the very steps that lead into Schaefer’s memorial service. She was there now, a woman who has left homelessness behind.“He saw me out on the steps and he said get up be free,” she said. “He told me let the people see the homeless.”

Brian McMillion called him the Don of Baltimore. He remembers when he worked in a community garden off of Greenmount Avenue and they wrote to the city asking for funding “he came out and gave us the check. He loved marigolds”


Thomas Forsythe Sr.  still a city worker, recalled when he started out as a mail room clerk fetching Schaefer’s breakfast.I would go to give him his change and he’d say keep it. Keep it. Put it in your pocket Do it now. Everything with him was do it now.”Schaefer tried to transfer the do it now attitude to the state government  with mixed resulted. His gumshoe technique didn’t get a thorough translation in the bureaucratic mish-mosh of state government. But his point man Luther Starnes, officially titled was a community liaison, but Schaefer thought of him as Secretary of Hard Luck. All those letters,the desperate ones written by people who believe that head of state could actually do something — he would get those to sort out. Schaefer would send him ones with the Get It Done emphasis.

“We never said this is  a state problem or a federal problem, it was our problem,” Sterner said. He recalled one time a Marylander-ex-pat and veteran living in Western Virginia and was getting nothing but hassles getting an official Maryland Flag from the Veterans Affairs. Starnes drove one out special for him.

“No one ever heard about that, but these are the kinds of things he did,” he said.

Starnes, (Right) Just after giving a eulogy.