Posts Tagged ‘Baltimore

22
Jan
12

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.

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26
Apr
11

Baltimore Mayor First. William Donald Schaefer may have been a two-term Governor, but his heart belonged to Baltimore.

The late Governor and Baltimore William Donald Schaefer heads to City Hall one last time.

There’s a reason, that the pugnacious funeral procession started Monday morning in Annapolis where William Donald Schaefer officially hit his career crest as governor from 1987 to 1995, but ended roaming through his hometown of Baltimore before landing for a day of viewing at City Hall .

Baltimore is  still  morphing into the vision that he created 40 years ago. As Baltimore’s histrionic Mayor, he  grabbed national attention for having the gall to envision a dirty rotting wharf-front as a gilded tourist attraction.  Here is where he made his mark as four-term  Mayor Willie Don.

Schaefer will be eulogized as the guy who flipped the switch for mayors stuck with dying waterfronts not just nationwide, but worldwide, to view their harbors , not as derelict land but potential vacation spots for tourist looking some of that beach vibrations in between their jaunts to the ocean. Why couldn’t people get that good ol boardwalk stroll in the city. Crazy. Preposterous. Nuts as the guy who jumped into the seal tank at the National aquarium. Oh wait that was Schaefer.

But to Baltimore he was so much more. He was an old school character, tough and goofy, a little hard-boiled, part Comic Costello. He exuded a kind of fairy tale aura that drew you in the schtick and still did even from the hearse.  Even on Monday’s procession, you were in his world.

I saw this one last time today. When I was standing in Fells Point, one of about 14 stops on his tour de Baltimore before he was laid out at City Hall. I was standing in this still yet to fully blossom Colonial seaport, home of the Baltimore clipper, 1812 privateers and  tugs vacated to make way for a waterfront hotel that has yet to appear. This was also the place that Schaefer wanted demolished in the late 60s and 70s for I-95, 695 interchange.  This was the place where Schaefer realized the strength of the neighborhood, after fierce fighting, enduring protestors dressed like American Revolutionaries,  and he realized that rather  than bull them over like Robert Moses did up in New York, he embraced Fells Point and neighbors in the city.

Senator Barbara Mikulski displays a sign for the cause that launched her career and shaped Baltimore

So there stood his chief foe, Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator flanked by neighborhood activists of days long gone. She told me how during the long battle, a low point came after she, then councilwoman, lost a bill to save the neighborhood and other waterfront stalwarts like Federal Hill across the Harbor, which now stands as  Baltimore’s more humble version of Boston’s Beacon Hill.. But rather than bask in his victory, Schaefer noticed something big was brewing in the neighborhoods.  He called Mikulski and others in for a sit down and fate did a slow change.   And when the motorcade finally ambled up the Fells Point cobblestones and came to rest in front of Jimmy’s Diner, a one time politico hotspot, the cluster of a crowd cheered. About 50 strong went ecstatic — a strange reaction at a funeral procession. But it was as if  the mayor was gonna step from the black shine of the limo , his  eggplant head  never  find balance on his neck, always in motion, looking for an angle, contorting his face, rolling his eyes,  yes even clown-like. His act was infectious when at his prowess and at times sadly ill-timed when he got older.  Still he was pure Baltimore, a tugboat of a man, tenacity done different. So when Old Schaefer failed to step out the limo, they cheered for his aid, as if  it was a homecoming. The strangeness stretched on as a classic Schaefer event, which of course it was, hitting spots like Faidley’s at Lexington Market and was it an accident that limo paused in front of Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street as if he was going shoot the you know what in the KibitzRoom.

Schaefer's entourage heads down what was once the heart of Jewish Baltimore.

Working the crowd, today’s pols should be as masterful.

I remember when I had a similar  private audience with the king. It was behind old Memorial Stadium, three-quarters demolished. I was doing my first documentary, about Baltimore’s emotional hold  on the stadium, which he argued unsuccessfully to save. (Why I’m not exactly sure) On his  suggestion, he pulled up  and jumped out of the Limo and laid down the reasoning, how the demolition of the stadium was a failure of imagination. He did this right in the middle of the street and just nailed it with no press hands, no guards. Just him in his suit and the limo. Then he jumped back in and jetted.Whether you agreed with his politics. (He didn’t make too many friends when he bailed on Jimmy Carter for Reagan back in 1980), you had to admire his mastery of the craft.  Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy w th tourist glitz even if you crown it with jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion urban renewal, like of jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Schaefer’s passing isn’t an end of an era. That era was long gone. You could see it  in the ragtag crowds around  town. There were clusters of people, A few hundred here, 90 there. But the thousands were absent.

That may because many of  the Baltimore contingent are dead or have left the city a while back, although I’m betting his funeral on Wednesday will be a major draw.    Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy with tourist glitz even if you crown it with a jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion of  urban renewal, the loss of good paying  jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American  community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Despite the shortcomings, Schaefer had heart, an unabashed radiance woefully  missing in these wound-too tight times. Too much risk to let your personality shine, too many people with video on their phones. Schaefer himself as an 80-year-old Comptroller was taken down by gaffes that came off sexist, out mode and crass. Still we could use a guy who would bother to work the crowd. A lot is being made about Schaefer’s jump in the pool at the National Aquarium. But that was one of hundreds of so-called stunts. During some research at the News American archives now stored at University of Maryland, I came upon boxes upon boxes of Schaefer immersing himself in  tiny neighborhood shing-dings.  . There’s the Mayor with a lemon stick. There he is in leprechaun hat.  If Baltimore was the city of neighborhoods, he was the ring master
Where is that kind of politicking today? Don’t tell me,  time is better spent on strategic placement like Obama visiting Facebook’s headquarters.Compare the luke warm to snarky coverage he got  to the New York Times front page  photo of Obama running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to surprise tourists, after he managed to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

We need to get back to the human level. That’s why Schaefer even though after beating back Mikulski’s bill was able to see the human potential that she represented and he eventually came around to seeing Fells Point and Federal Hill as Baltimore assets. That insight shaped what Baltimore is today. We could have easily been in Newark’s position even if we live with in a two tier society that David Simon’s Wire so deftly depicts.  Schaefer’s  was a vision of classic slow cooking. It took two developer’s renaissance after Fells Point and Federal Hill was saved in 1970s for other neighborhoods to emerge nearly 30 years later as go-to waterfront spots like Canton, Locus Point. That’s why on a Monday afternoon, people in Fells Point cheered when the hearse slowed to a standstill.

The Mayor's hearse stops by Fells Point, Baltimore

They wanted so badly for someone to pop out once again with that kind of audacious, infectious belief in  Baltimore.

25
Apr
11

Rhino Spotted on the Jones Falls, Baltimore, Maryland

Look carefully and you’ll spot an animal way out of its normal habitat.

On Saturday, just after a rain storm a rhino was spotted by yours truly. The rhino was seen in an obscured wooded area in what was Baltimore’s eariest industrial mill center now a struggling stream under I-83, a major expressway. The area lies not a mile away from The Maryland Zoo, which borders the stream. The zoo does have a rhino. All these thoughts came to mind when I was out on my bicycle and saw firemen looking down from a bridge. I figured it was probably a jumper until I saw them drive away, leaving me alone on this graffiti trail.

A graffiti Bridge along the Jones Falls in Baltimore

Then I turned to my left and saw this. My flee instinct kicked. Large Animal. I’m alone in woods. RUN. But I also was amazed. Am I seeing things. Was this a boulder with odd lighting. No. I scamped down and yes it was a rhino. How they got it down there is a mystery. The terraine ain’t easy by yourself never mind carting this thing down there. I talked to a passerby, a local Hamden guy and he said he goes by there ever day and hasn’t seen anything like this. I got closer and the detail was impressive. Notice the silica, the little hairs, the ribs.

Artist prank taken to its highest form.

This is why I prefer bike riding. I would never had seen this bit of wildlife. The placement of the art was impecable. not in the middle of a meridian strip but placed in urban wildnerness primed for discovery.

The closer I got the more impressive it became.

Indeed this was a Rhino, an excellent speciman.

22
May
09

Father and Son play their cajun hearts out

Loren and Jim Pettijohn find that cajun music fit in with the streets of Fells Point, probably because Fells Point could easily fit along the levees of the great Delta City of New Orleans. In the early 1800s, Fells Point grabbed the world’s attention for perfecting the Clipper Ship and privateering (legalized plundering of the high seas) only to incite the wrath of the British, which led to the War of 1812. Later the Point helped bring the Chesapeake famous seafood industry to the nation with its canneries and railroad link up in the late 19th Century. And like New Orleans, Fells Point is heavy with bars. But unlike New Orleans, Baltimore’s street music scene is pretty pathetic. These guys may be the best we got to offer. I met them several months ago and swore I’d come back upon a second spotting with a camera. Finally I got my chance.

The music seems to hit all walks of people in a city that tends to segregate itself. Recently Fells Point has emerged as one of the more integrated night scenes in the city. True many of the bars are still white, but the street is increasingly mixed, something that couldn’t be said just two years ago.
The Pettijohns have a way of engaging people. If you watch carefully you can see that Loren’s a gifted guitar picker, particularly between songs when he’s flying up and down the neck. And as a father, I’m sure he’s enjoying these  moments with his son at a time when parental ties get frayed. It shows in their music which    grafts so well with Fells Point  lost seafaring history —  more vibe than fact on the street, but a powerful thing vibe at that. People  pull dollars from their pockets, break out in dance, stop and stare. Sometimes the poorest of folk are the most generous myself went home and grabbed my guitar and harmonica and played with them. It’s that pumping accordion and how it hits the night. That’s why to watch Jim nimble fingers I was shocked to find that he has MS.  He talks sometimes how his fingers get  numb and it seems he lashes out  against his ailment with his fierce play. Stay tuned for more dispatches.

02
Aug
08

Carlton Street, Baltimore A visit to the Arabber’s Stable

First thing’s first. The word Arabber is an old world name given to the group of people who make their living selling fruit and vegetables from horse and cart. There used to hundreds of stables working from back alley stables throughout Baltimore. Today, there’s only one working stable and one in a holding pattern literally in tents under a bridge in West Baltimore. 

In July I published a feature in the magazine, The Urbanite. It was the result of a year’s worth of work, some of which I filed with the Baltimore City Paper. You can check out the articles on http://www.citypaper.com and do a search or go to http://www.urbanitebaltimore.com and check out the 20 minutes in video, four stories I did.

There’s a rush you get or at least I get when a story gets published. I still get it and is probably why I’m still in this miserable profession despite having a wife and two kids and doing a terrible job as a provider. (More on that later).

Anyway, after you put out a story there’s this nagging  question what now? I established all this contact and got all this momentum, do I just drop it and go on. Sometimes, most of the times yes. But with the Arabbers, a sub-culture I have been writing about for ten years I don’t want to let it go. I’ve got a line on a story that goes beyond the quaint but sad narrative of people of old timers trying to make a living from horse and cart.

I want to go into their lives and work my way backwards, that is I want to write about their lives on the margins in Baltimore, dealing with poverty and their aspirations and then go oh by the way, he’s walking to his job which happens to be taking a horse out on the streets.

I believe I have this story with Dante, a nine-year old kid, who aspires to be an arabber. 

Today I went down there for the first time since the article came out. The reception was frosty and strange, but that’s what happens. The stable manager gave me grief for mentioning that I someone was smoking pot in the alley. Not an arabber mind you, but a resident who lived in one of Baltimore iconic alley homes, tiny homes built for B & O Railway workers back in the 19th Century. I told him wasn’t trying to besmirch the stables but rather show how the kid’s love of horses kept him away from the teenager offering him to join the party. The kid kept his attention on a horse rounding the corral that was build right there in the alley. It’s a wild sight watching these horse lapping around in the dirt knowing you’re right in the city. There’s a sense of serenity.

I went back there today and Dante had already gone out with a new arabber, a good sign that the culture isn’t quite dead and I hung out with Keith “Superstar” Brooks, his father Brock and “China” sharing some food. Nothing else but the re-affirmation that the story is rich and waiting for me to push on.  

Tony takes Rose, the horse out in the corral in downtown Baltimore

Tony takes Rose, the horse out in the corral in downtown Baltimore