My two week trip to explore the city went well. I walked myself silly and lucked into a nice apartment. The simplest description of Baltimore is: rows and rows of rowhouses. And yes, there are two Baltimores – one with rows and rows of rehabbed rowhouses and the other Baltimore with broken rows of battered houses. But the overall impression of Baltimore is of a vibrant, booming city with tides of money flooding the Harbor.
Before my trip I checked livebaltimore.com and selected a few neighborhoods based on their transit and walkability scores. Mount Vernon, Downtown, Canton, Federal Hill, Fells Point. Baltimore has a good public transit system: 4 free Circulator bus routes, light rail, subway, and city buses. There are also lots of cabs and a watertaxi to points around the harbor. People I chatted with said they don’t own a car but if they need one zip cars are plentiful and cheap.
I stayed at an airbnb room in a rowhouse in Upper Fells Point about a mile from the touristy Inner Harbor area. The house had its own charm and eccentricities, a bidet in the bathroom, and a rooftop deck that looked North to Johns Hopkins and South to the Harbor. The owner, Suzanne, a freelance writer and dedicated city dweller, was a great resource for all things Baltimore. The day after I arrived, Suzanne asked if I’d mind accompanying her other airbnb guest, a young Polish doctor who wanted to explore the city but was reluctant to do so on his own. So, the young doctor and I walked and walked, and I learned about medical education in Poland. Polish doctors make about $10 US per hour, and their medical education is free. We walked through Fells Point – historic homes with sidewalk cafes – around the Harbor with its historic ships and glitzy tourists shops and into Federal Hill and past the Visionary Art Museum and then a stop for post cards and a long trek to the only post office opened on Saturday. There was a small park near the post office and the doctor asked why so many people were sitting there. I said they were probably homeless.
Baltimore reminds me a lot of Newark, where I used to live: great transit system, nearby airport and harbor, art museum, performing arts, colleges and universities – all the things that make a great city but weighed down by a reputation for discord and impoverishment. And Baltimore like any large US city has its poor and its panhandlers. One afternoon in the harbor area, a skinny young kid asked me for fifty cents. I didn’t have any change and gave him a dollar. He turned around and gave me fifty cents in change. Early Sunday morning I walked to Fells Point for breakfast. A very weathered looking woman in worn clothes asked me for money – I kept walking. She yelled at me and said I was stingy. A bit later we crossed paths again. She seemed embarrassed and said she was sorry for yelling at me. I said I was sorry for ignoring her and gave her whatever change I had. It made me think that as more and more of us use plastic instead of cash that there will be no change for the beggars.
My first week in Baltimore, I walked through neighborhoods based on transit scores and grocery stores. I spent my last few days concentrating on Mount Vernon because it’s the one most accessible to transit, and restaurants, museums and theaters. I saw a nice building and went in to take a look. The leasing agent said there were no vacancies but he’d show me an apartment that the tenant hadn’t moved into yet. Very nice. Building is a renovated warehouse with a hotel style lobby and all the perks that go with new buildings.
That evening I was browsing Craigslist and saw a ad from a current tenant looking for someone to take over his lease – and so I did.
Small world story: My niece who lives outside the city, knows someone who knows the guy whose apartment I’m taking.