When he was a newspaper editor in Baltimore, H.L. Mencken used to take the train to Washington, D.C. and back so he could have enough peace to eat his dinner. I felt like that this weekend, when I took the train—amazingly, a century later, it still takes a fucking hour—down to see a friend who was in town and remembered how much reading, and peace, I used to have on the train between here and D.C.
A decade ago, I taught at a high school there and it was impossible not to be overwhelmed by how much the city has changed. We talk about gentrification in Station North, but nothing has happened here like the change there (Columbia Heights is generally considered, along with the Mission in San Francisco, among the most gentrified neighborhoods in the country); 14th Street is unrecognizable.
I was also going because they had just legalized weed and I wanted to check it out. You can have up to two ounces, grow six plants, and give away—but not sell—up to an ounce. It is crazy how sensible that is, despite the crazy drama playing out around it. Dick-hole Maryland Rep. Andy Harris has been putting up a stink about it, writing anti-pot policy into the district’s funding rider and suggesting that the new mayor and the city council be arrested when they decided to follow the will of the people—who overwhelmingly voted to legalize—instead of that of Dick-hole Harris and the other Republicans who love state’s rights and freedom and small government until it doesn’t work out for their agendas.
I didn’t bring any weed with me—I left early on a Saturday morning and simply forgot—and I never saw a single person using it. In fact, I didn’t see any homeless people, or drunks, or addicts of any sort (though I admittedly stayed away from Congress). And the gentrification was still happening at a galloping clip. Dick-hole, there is still a Trader Joe’s on 14th Street, you know what I mean? You think that Trader Joe’s doesn’t want a bunch of stoners? Remember on “Broad City” how much money Abbi spends at Whole Foods, when Bingo Bronson, her animated stuffed animal, leads her through the store while she’s super high?
When I saw that episode, I thought it would be great to make a parody where $RB was Abbi, being led around Harbor East by a blue Beatterakis monster. “Tax breaks, tax breaks” it says as it points at every building.
But I would never have guessed that the mayor would find her own dramatic role, making cameos on the musical “Chicago” when it comes to town. (Check out the lyrics to ‘If You’re Good to Mayor, Mayor’s Good to You’ at citypaper.com.) But I saw on some Sun reporter’s Twitter that she is playing a reporter and I’m really hoping she bases her character on me (when I walked into brunch at Mick O’Shea’s on Sunday, someone said, “Did you hear your other girlfriend is making her theatrical debut?”).
Speaking of dramatic roles, some people have assumed that an actor/extra in a very minor role in episode three of the new “House of Cards” is me. It isn’t, but when we first saw the character when the trailer was released, everyone in the office started talking about it. He was wearing my exact hat and glasses and he was yelling. I thought they may have introduced a character who looked like me so he could be violently killed off, because I revealed that two members of Pussy Riot were going to be on the show. But it turns out it is Nathan Bell, who is friends with my friend Holly Kay Horst, who also works on the show (though neither of them was my source for the Pussy Riot story). I really didn’t want to give anything away on the show, but when I learn something and can prove it, it is my job to tell you about it, too, whether the subject of it likes it or not.
But I know it’s confusing because a lot of the press these days feels like P.R. Like last week’s story by Natalie Sherman on Light City Baltimore, an arts and technology festival scheduled for 2016. Evidently she could not find anyone to question the claims of the sponsors of the event. The planned event is hosted by What Works—whose aesthetic sensibility, I must fully disclose, I find extraordinarily crass and distasteful, seeming to me to be the horrible mixture of techno-utopianism and the advertising-is-art variety of “creatives,” and I’ve had, and disclosed, numerous fallings-out with its founders to the point where they get huffy when I see them on the street—and Baltimore Office of Promotion & the Arts (BOPA). Sherman let them say whatever they wanted about it and didn’t ask any difficult questions or check with anyone else about it. It’s in the Inner Harbor? That’s exactly where more money needs to go, right? Artists such as Animal Collective, Future Islands, or Beach House might play it? You can’t really just drop those names if they aren’t actually involved. And they compare it to South By Southwest—does anyone else think it might have that kind of impact? Is there any reason to think it might? Well, one reason is: The organizers say that it is like South By Southwest and The Sun prints that, magically turning P.R. into fact. The real-esate beat should be one of the hottest in town, but between Sherman and Jacques Kelly it’s about the closest thing to “native advertising” The Sun has seen yet. They are all in for the “re-branding” of Baltimore.
Sometimes we’ll run a blow-job piece too—as such P.R.-ish stories are sometimes called—but we try to question people who tell us that what they’re doing is the greatest thing in the world. We try to bring a critical eye, and sometimes a smart-ass voice, because it can’t be all good news all the time (the What Works people also run What Weekly webzine, from whom The Sun seemed to take a page here).
So, we’ll keep an open mind and do some diggin’ on Light City, but unless you manage to bring artists such as James Turrell or Robert Irwin, it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than a Disney World/Pink Floyd laser show in the Inner Harbor mixed with the TED-brand techno-utopianism where gee-whiz the future is great.