Working at a city agency seems like it would involve a lot of thankless tasks and bureaucratic nonsense. But there are surely times when it is fun, like when it's time to organize an event for citizens to enjoy themselves or an opportunity to educate kids. And sometimes such events or initiatives need an anthropomorphic mascot—a lovable animal or thing with human qualities—to add that certain je ne sais quoi that conveys "Oh yes, this will be fun." We are all bombarded by such mascots every day, whether they represent our sports teams or call out to us on our boxes of cereal, but there's something a little more pure about these characters when they are used to hold together our continually fraying civic life. With that in mind, we scoured the websites and social media footprints of various agencies and the numerous departments withing the Baltimore City government to rank and praise the very best mascots.
6. Smokey and Leaf - Baltimore City Department of Human Resources
Hey kids, smoking is definitely bad for you and you shouldn't do it. But is the best way to relay this message a cigarette butt and super pissed off tobacco leaf? The basic idea behind these characters is a good one, but Smokey and Leaf feel kind of unapproachable or standoffish. Leaf's arched eyebrows are all like: "Don't you dare cross me and start smoking, kids. There will be hell to pay." The Auto-Tune filled electro-funk song about them only ups the weirdness. Not that we've got any better ideas about making smoking cessation cute and cuddly.
5. The Dam Jam Band - Department of Public Works
The bassist in the middle is laying down a pretty dank groove, as evidenced by the way he's really leaning into the note and the fact his rhythm has attracted an owl to the neck of his guitar. His animal bandmates, a saxophone-honking fish and a snapping frog, who's also a painter (see the brush?), exude a bohemian cool. That frog has seen some stuff, man. The Dam Jam, a festival of music and art that celebrates the clean drinking water from the Loch Raven Reservoir, is Saturday Aug. 26 at Cromwell Valley Park from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., by the way. The Cold Spring Jazz Quartet and Panama Band will perform.
4. Turtle - Office of Sustainability
"I moved to Baltimore in 2014 and I was so impressed by the community, I joined efforts to help Baltimore become more sustainable and resilient." So says Turtle's biography on the Office of Sustainability's website. Turtle hasn't reached that angsty teenage mutant stage just yet. It's more like Franklin: huggable and cute. And Turtle helps remind us to throw out our litter and to recycle and hey, go out for a bike ride or walk in the park. A city is lots of brick, steel, and glass, but there's plenty of nature too, and we all have to take care of it.
3. Yeti - Baltimore City Health Department
An apparent one-off from the winter of 2015, Yeti is the friendliest-looking snow monster ever, with wide eyes and a welcoming grin on its ginormous head that overshadow its relatively small body. All Yeti wants to do is offer tips to get through the low temperatures, like "Look guys, I've been through this and I'm here to help." More Yeti, please.
2. Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel - Healthy Harbor Initiative (technically a separate nonprofit entity, but it gets funding from the city)
Propelled by their enormously popular social media accounts, Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel have become beloved figures, happily chronicling their adventures sucking up all the trash before it enters the Inner Harbor—Turtle is probably bummed, though—and showing a knack for memes and social media lingo. The big googly eyes make both the Trash Wheels look like goofy-looking clams come to life, zany characters that love gobbling up refuse and hanging out with pythons. Even though they are only made up of a pair of eyes, a mouth, and a shell-like body with a wheel, Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash Wheel have more than enough character.
1. The Fridays at the Firehouse Dogs - Baltimore City Fire Department
Just look at these dogs, man. The shades-wearing brown dog just put out that fire like it was not a big deal at all. "No problem, y'all, I got this." But it's not that arrogant kind of cool. It's a super chill dog and a good dog. And look at the Dalmatian rocking only fireman's pants. That doggy is having a grand old time, throwing its hands up in the air without a care in the world. Try and tell me these are not adorable. The last Friday at the Firehouse is Sept. 1, from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Truck 5 (2120 Eastern Ave.) and Squad 40 (3906 Liberty Heights Ave.) firehouses. There will be free lunch, a tour, fire safety activities, and more.