Conflicts of Interest: Rise up with joy

Baltimore City Paper

We've reached a point where people—especially from elsewhere—talk about April's uprising with the same kind of tones they use to talk about 9/11. We ran a blurb in Best of Baltimore called "Best Workout" that commented on the amount of exercise thousands of people in the city got during those weeks. Of course exercise wasn't the purpose, but I was shocked to see people upset by this. One person wondered how we could "make light" of something as serious as the uprising as if it was a tragedy. I'd guess those people weren't there.

To be clear, Freddie Gray's death was a tragedy. But the fact that the city rose up to protest Gray's death is not tragic, it is fucking beautiful. Remember, Anthony Anderson, Tyrone West, and Tyree Woodson all died in police custody. And while West's family has proven indefatigable in their search for justice, the city as a whole did not respond in the same way.

That the oppressed rose up against the oppression was not only beautiful, it was quite often fun both for those rising up and for me, a member of the press covering it. Yes, people were arrested, tear-gassed, shot with bean bags, beaten, and arrested by police. And yes, some police were hit with rocks or bottles or bricks and yes, businesses were damaged and cars were burned. But people also came together, laughed, talked, helped each other, chanted, sang, ate, and marched. People showed courage. People developed courage. People talked back to the power that had required their silence previously.

If you were there, you know there is a certain joy in uprising. Academics and historically minded radicals still talk about May '68 in Paris as if it were the second coming or something. But because people in Baltimore—many of them black—rise up in the same way, we have to act like it was some kind of tragedy.

Many of the businesses damaged were very close to my house and are owned by people I also know and care about. Trinacria, Cozy Corner, Mick O'Shea's—I go to these places as often as I go anywhere else and I know and love those people and I know they were scared and angry, and that they lost money—just as hundreds of local businesses lost money due to the curfew. The law-and-order types who harp on the destruction of property are right when they say it was a problem, but they are too quick to ascribe the blame solely to the teenagers who actually broke the windows. The actions of the MTA and the schools and the police department on that Monday created a situation where it is hard to see how the kids could have acted otherwise. We can't have it both ways and say that high school kids are not rational and not responsible—and then want to hold them responsible for decisions that they did not make. They stepped off of those buses into a war zone prepared and created by police. And yet they're responsible for every business that lost money? What if every bar in town started a class-action suit against the city for the money they lost in the curfew?

No matter how much the law-and-order types want to talk about how the "riots" keep business away, it seems to be booming precisely in the corridor around those places I just mentioned. The Mount Vernon Marketplace has opened at 520 Park Ave. and the old Midtown Yacht Club (which became the terrible Midtown BBQ & Brew and had big white dudes posted outside with baseball bats during the uprising) has become Flavor, and even the crazily designed grocery store space up at Charles Center right by O'Shea's has been filled with Streets Market and Café, which I went into for the first time yesterday. It was infinitely better than Fresh and Green and Super Fresh or whatever the previous tenant in that space was called, but it was still kind of insane. Whereas the previous stores always felt like a couple of convenience stores set next to each other—it always baffled me that you could find cheese in three different places, depending on the brand—now it is as if it is three ethnic markets sat beside each other. It has Korean condiments that are in three different spots. But it kind of works now.

Likewise the Mount Vernon Marketplace. I was really suspicious. I love Lexington Market more deeply than anywhere in town and I don't like this other model of the entirely private, bougie-ass market coming in and destroying their business or forcing them to go more upscale (though it will probably happen).

But the first two places that opened in the new market serve great Chinese dumplings (Pinch) and fill growlers of beer, wine, olive oil, and cold-pressed coffee (Taps Fill Station), which is pretty great. I really like beer and I really hate how fucking full my recycling is every week. So walking across the street to refill brown glass bottles is pleasant—and the prices are good. I often sit and drink one while Will, the owner, fills it. He gave me a beer for free the other day when I was there meeting with new CP Editor (and old friend) Karen Houppert. I wanted to argue with him and tell him that I couldn't accept the beer. But I really can't write about these places in my neighborhood in any objective way and sometimes the fight to make sure you don't get a beer is such a pain in the ass that I just give a tip equal to the value of the beer (or, as in the case with the OTM hat that Young Moose's manager Teron wanted to give me at the OTM store, I just accepted it and slipped the money to the guy working behind the counter, and it was well worth it—I dig the hat and wore it to our Best of Baltimore party). I was going to do the extra tip at Taps but when I went to fill my growlers, it wasn't open. The damn place has only had a soft opening and been there less than a week and I was already starting to rely on it. That is the problem with gentrification (although Mount Vernon has long been gentrified). As long as it doesn't make your rent go up—and mine hasn't yet and hopefully with all the new apartments being built it won't—you like to have the option to get nice and fancy shit.

And just a couple of days before, I thought the market would ruin my neighborhood. But what actually seems to be happening is that the energy of Mount Vernon seems to be moving slightly south and west and bordering on Seton Hill, which is, I think, a good thing.

But it's hard to say. I love the businesses in Station North and none of them individually fucks shit up. It's just that the cumulative effect is that the universities move in and then the practice spaces get shut down (I'm still pissed about Hour Haus, sorry).

But who knows. I am still slightly suspicious of Ceremony Coffee Roasters, the coffee joint/zendo on the back side of the market. With $10 poached egg on toast, the joint feels a bit too spiffy for Park Avenue. But it seems packed every time and their coffee is good, so who knows. Martin Kasey came down from the much-missed Canteen and he is a good guy so I'm inclined to give it a chance.

But, anyway, the point is that all that shit has happened since the uprising. And they all have fuck-loads of windows. So they're not too scared to do business.

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