Reflecting on four years of living in Charm City

By RENEE SCAVONE | May 3, 2018

I’ve written just over 30 articles about Baltimore for the Your Weekend section in the past couple years, and as my senior year winds down to a close (But does anything at Hopkins really “wind down” as opposed to screeching to an academically exhausting halt?) I’ve thought a lot about what this last one should be like. 

How do I sum up four years worth of exploring a city I really, really love? That I think everyone should love? That doesn’t get nearly enough credit?

The truth is, when people outside of the Hopkins bubble ask me where I’m from, I now have to stop myself from saying Baltimore. 

Of course I can’t ever really claim to be a local. There are tons of neighborhoods, venues and (of course) restaurants that I’ve yet to explore. Here, however, mostly in the chronological order in which I’ve explored them, are some of my favorites spots and events in Charm City so far. 

Freshman year my two biggest off-campus ventures were to Hampden (of course) and Red Emma’s. Both of these locations are pretty well-known to Hopkins students, but I still meet people who’ve never walked along the Avenue or eaten a vegan burger while listening to an impassioned talk about housing rights. 

What’s more than that, I think that exploring the neighborhoods themselves (Station North, in the case of Red Emma’s) beyond the shops and restaurants are what really makes the experience. Take a walk around North Avenue to explore historic theaters, check out an event in the Ynot Lot, and view incredible works of art. 

One of my favorites is Graffiti Alley, just beyond North Howard Street. Sophomore year, when I was just beginning to explore the city for real, I used to spend the time before my classes at the Film Centre by trying to decode all the graffiti. I didn’t succeed (obviously) but I still think of the Alley as something profoundly, wonderfully Baltimore.

Longtime readers of my columns (Here’s to you, Woman at Pete’s Grille who’s always reading the B Section.) may recall that I have a love affair with museums, which really took off during my sophomore year. 

One of my favorites in Baltimore is the American Visionary Arts Museum, which features annual, wildly themed exhibitions and pieces by artists who have no formal art training. 

Less high-profile is the Lillie Carroll Jackson Civil Rights Museum in Madison Park, which pays tribute to the renowned civil rights leader of the same name. This museum isn’t flashy — it’s inside Jackson’s former home. It is, however, an incredible look into the history of protest in Baltimore, and it ought to be a must-see for everyone who’s just moved here.

It was in my junior year, however, that I actually began to explore Baltimore. I cut my teeth on the local arts scene — Four Hours of Funk at the Windup Space, indie performances at random cafes (of which there are too many for me to actually explain in detail here) and, of course, the film festivals.

Baltimore isn’t New York City or Hollywood, but it truly has one of the most precious film scenes I’ve ever experienced. One of my favorite festivals is in Little Italy, where you watch movies in a parking lot, projected onto the side of a restaurant. 

I’ll never forget watching The Godfather with total strangers that my friends and I met after asking to borrow one of their lawn chairs, all of us together humming along to the guitar theme.

I also began to explore the flora and fauna — I took many a long walk through Druid Hill Park and started attending Bike Parties. I began to appreciate just traveling through the City, taking in the sights and sounds with no particular goal or end destination.

In the midst of an incredibly stressful third year of college, I found Baltimore to be a city of secret alcoves, hole-in-the-wall bars and restaurants and underrepresented culture. 

Perhaps the most important decision I made during my college experience was to carve out a space for myself as a real resident instead of retreating to the library and Hopkins bubble. When senior year came around, I felt as though I had to save all of my friends from spending four years here and seeing nothing more of Baltimore than Charles Village and the Inner Harbor. 

So I started to take people to places I knew were easy sells: getting fresh breakfast at Jack & Zach’s in Mount Vernon and then wandering through the Walters Art Museum, catching a show at Single Carrot Theater in Remington, or visiting the new location of The Book Thing in Waverly. 

What they say is true: Baltimore really is a city of neighborhoods, and it is so, so worth it to take the time to explore. If you don’t have some place you really, really love here, that means you just haven’t found the right one. 

Some of the most perfect memories I have are of riding my bike down Guilford Avenue to Little Italy in the summer and just watching the neighborhoods go by, of meeting people by chance while waiting for the Charm City Circulator in unfamiliar parts of town, of building up rapports with local vendors at farmers’ markets all over the City. 

Ultimately I think that my experience at Hopkins was made better — much better — by virtue of living in Baltimore. The City has become my safe haven, my study break and my home. I don’t know where I’m headed after graduation or whether I’ll ever live here again. But I already can’t wait to come back and experience even more of all that Charm City has to offer.

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