by Libby Malin
I can't get it out of my head: Oh, oh, oh/Woke up today/Feeling the way I always do. . .
Yup, the first lines to "Good Morning, Baltimore!" from Hairspray.
Tonight, hubby and I head to Lancaster's American Music Theater to see a touring production of this musical, the tickets a Christmas gift from our son.
Going to see this show means we'll miss watching the Baltimore Ravens face off against the Baltimore, er, no, the Indianapolis Colts.
As a Baltimore native, it hurts to write "Indianapolis" in front of that sports team's name (sorry, all you Hoosiers!). I remember the heartache the city's residents experienced when, in the middle of the night, March 29, 1984, Mayflower vans moved the Colts from Charm City to the Midwest.
That pain cuts deep. At my father's funeral two years ago, a cousin reminisced about that day, the bitterness still in his voice. It was a fitting tribute. My father had been a big Colts fan, idolizing Johnny Unitas. He would have enjoyed the conversation and joined in the indignation.
The Colts are gone, but I have no trouble rooting for the Ravens, the only NFL team I know that's named after a character in a poem! That poem's author, Edgar Allan Poe, is buried in Baltimore, and for a half century, a "mysterious stranger" has left a partial bottle of cognac and three roses at the gravesite on the anniversary of Poe's birth.
When I grew up there, Baltimore was a real smokestack town, with a Bethlehem Steel plant near the harbor at Sparrow's Point (if someone mentioned they worked at Sparrow's Point, you knew they were a Beth Steel employee) and all sorts of industry crowding up against its waterways, including the always-fragrant McCormick Spice company (once located where the glittering Harborplace stands, now moved to the north of town).
A lot of those businesses have left, but a drive through the city to the south toward DC still takes you through areas crammed with trucks, containers, and light industry. Baltimore is a working man's town, a tough little city with its own architecture--street after street of rowhomes with marble steps and religious paintings on window screens--and even its own accent (John Travolta does a pretty good job of it in the movie version of "Hairspray.")
People who speak Bawlmerese say "hon" a lot -- "I'm goin' dannie ocean for vacation, hon" -- and there's even a diner-like Cafe Hon in the old mill section of the city called Hampden. Cafe Hon recently was at the center of a signage controversy over huge pink flamingos adorning its building. Hampden itself is host to an annual "HonFest" where big hair, lycra, bowling shirts, and leopard prints are encouraged.
That's not the whole story the city has to tell, though. Baltimore is also home to high culture and great intellectual endeavors and philanthropy -- Peabody Conservatory of Music and the world-famous Johns Hopkins Hospital and University.
The University nestles against a couple of the city's oldest and finest neighborhoods, where once Baltimore's high society could find their names listed in an exclusive "blue book."
To bring this back to writing, my affection for Baltimore leads me often to putting the city into my novels. Three of my young adult novels are set there, as is my very first humorous women's fiction. Fire Me is set just a hop, skip, and jump down I-95 in DC, with the hero's family located in Baltimore. The protagonist in My Own Personal Soap Opera was raised there. And the hero of my work-in-progress is a professor at a university in Bal'mer.
Robin Kaye blogged about special places earlier this week. Are there any special places you find yourself writing about often? How do you choose where to set your stories? And do you like to get a sense of a place from the novels you read?