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Day Trippin'

By Afefe Tyehimba | Posted 6/4/2003

It was Memorial Day, and the last thing I'd planned to do for the holiday, come rain or shine, was to slog around the touristy Inner Harbor. Thus, at the behest of visiting relatives from Virginia, you know where I wound up. What to do first? I wondered silently. Some trilling at the Fudgery? Join the wait list for lunch at the Cheesecake Factory?

Paddle boats, my crew said, eyeing a fleet of purple and green plastic dragons that I wouldn't be caught three-sheets-to-the-wind in. So while they, adamant, joined the line, I headed toward the amphitheater where, for the next 40 minutes, I listened to some decent music, saw some indecent dancing, and observed how hard it is--despite their general love of the O's, snoballs, and blue crabs--to peg Baltimoreans.

As I sat down on the amphitheater's concrete steps to listen to a South American New Age-type duo called Mystic Warriors, I thought about our rep as a volatile, live-and-let-die lot who enjoy a good fight (especially between Mayor Martin O'Malley and State's Attorney Patricia Jessamy), who had the chutzpa to say all's fair when sexually abused Dontee Stokes busted a cap in defrocked Catholic priest Maurice Blackwell. What we don't hear much about, I thought while eyeballing the vast crowd, is the gentle, whatever-floats-your-boat side to folks who call Charm City home.

That attitude was on tap last week at the harbor when, apparently swept away by the sounds of Mystic Warriors' guitar and exotic wind instruments, a woman began to dance. Her unique fashion sense--black knee-high leather boots, a flaring nylon miniskirt, a hot pink waist sash, a flowing leopard-print cape, and, for toppers, a black wide-brimmed hat--captured the audience's attention almost as much as her moves: that of a rhythm-impaired Flamenco dancer who, mini and all, easily weighed 275 pounds.

I don't know about you, but I've been at a few outdoor musical events where such a distraction to smooth jazzy sounds would've caused a nasty stir among Budweiser Boys Gone Wild. But members of this crowd--hoodlum to highbrow--either ignored the visual intrusion or smiled at the woman politely if not encouragingly.

When the band took a break, I noticed how the mellow mood among many apparent locals contrasted against that of some visitors. Granted, there was no telling what waves my folks were making on the paddle boats, but surely they weren't as uptight as some tourists--huffing when a slew of passers-by delayed the perfect Kodak moment in front of the U.S.S. Constellation, harrumphing when somebody cut them in line at the Auntie Anne's pretzel kiosk. That said, I tensed alongside visitors at some folk roaming the crowd--like one disheveled guy, pacing back and forth near the docked ships, who flapped his arms and complained loudly, in between expletives, "Them damn people just coming here to stare at me!"

Not true. Many among the mass of people had come to chow down, like dozens of pregnant women who knew that, besides polluted water, you can always count on finding a hearty meal at the Inner Harbor. I couldn't keep up with all the snippets of talk among pairs or groups about he-said-she-said-where-to-next's--but I did note how business was brisk at restaurants, judging from the number of folks carrying plastic doggy bags filled with uneaten portions of meals destined, most likely, for the trash can.

Which brings me to an incident I observed that literally stopped me in my tracks. At the (professional and personal) risk of admitting to feeling at a loss to explain the depth and range of racial polarity in this city, I gotta own up to sometimes buying into commonly held beliefs about what types of people live in which neighborhoods and who doesn't mix with who (like the time a potential landlord told me he'd be concerned for my safety in Hampden). But at the harbor, one of those public spots where--touristy or not--we all intersect, I glimpsed a loophole in the matrix.

Outside the Discovery Channel Store, an obviously homeless black man was sifting through a garbage can, opening Styrofoam containers left behind in what must have been, on this holiday, with this crowd, a day for decent finds. About 20 feet away, two white guys sporting tank tops and arms full of tattoos were chilling out on a small motorboat they'd temporarily docked. "Hey, hey there!" one of them barked, and inside I had the sick premonition of some crude remark being thrown at the homeless man.

"Hey, man!" one of the tank tops continued, now walking along a thin wooden plank toward the guy who rummaged, still oblivious, in the trash. The homeless man looked up from his task to see a bucket of Hooters chicken wings being extended. "Thanks," he mumbled, visibly startled by the unexpected largess. "No problem, man," said the guy. "You take care now."

Maybe it was a small thing that, on my empty and growling stomach, seemed large and full of meaning. Or maybe it was my subconscious trying to avoid another scene taking shape just ahead: Mystic Warriors were back from their break--and so was the lady dancer.

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More from Afefe Tyehimba

Here's Looking at You (5/19/2004)
...I've gradually discovered that my heart's got issues when it comes to whatever place I call home.

Sappy Anniversary (5/12/2004)
Suburban flight isn't the only reason many schools have resegregated almost organically, especially in cities, like Baltimore, with vast "minority" populations.

Om (5/5/2004)
Efforts to snuggle closer to the Big Dawg seem more doable--not to mention, if heaven awaits, more worthwhile.

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