Favorite Things about Summer Time in a Black Neighborhood

The sun is out but it’s 5pm. The vrrmm of the dirt bikes are passing by and sound of Lor Scoota is blasting from a car radio. It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s the best of times and it’s the worst of times. It’s the summer in Baltimore City. The weather has broke in the Black neighborhood and it’s the best feeling. I look forward to this time of year, when school is out and the nights are longer on the block. The only unfortunate thing are the bugs and the police circling the neighborhood. But there are so many things about summer time ova West that make me love my city and my neighborhood.

We all know the allure of the harbor and everything else downtown but it’s the little things that make me feel happiness and nostalgia. There is literally almost something for every one of the five senses. It’s how I know I am home and no matter how pretty or enjoyable other places are, home is always my favorite.

Best things about summer time in Baltimore:

The Smells

I won’t lie, the smells in the city can have you feeling nostalgic or feeling queasy. I live in West Baltimore and I have smelled everything from piss to fresh cut grass. But we won’t dwell on the pissy alleys. The smell that defines the season is the aroma of a chicken box with saltpeppaketchup- one word. It’s something about the way the grease combines with the fries and the ketchup. If you don’t smell that, you not in the true Baltimore. Somewhere someone is drinking a beer, no matter the time of day or place. The summer time heat will lead your nose to the scent of too much chlorine poured in a public pool. The kids jumping out with the smell of wet hair grease and old pipes from the pool. Of course, you can’t forget the one that makes your mother have bath water waiting for you as soon as you get in the house. Outside- “you smell like outside.” It’s like a combination of grass, dirt and metal. It’s hard to describe but everyone knows it as soon as they smell it.

The Sounds

The almost lullaby of a dirt bike followed by a police siren or helicopter. The sound of the bus pulling up or pulling off and someone cussing at the bus driver for leaving them.  The kids laughing and yelling obscenities about the shape of each other’s head. The snow ball machine grinding damn near solid blocks of ice or the sizzle of whatever on the grill. Summer wouldn’t be the same without hearing, “loud-out,” “diesel,” “body-oils,” or “CD’s or movies.” The cat calls and mating call of the average man in the city.  The “aye sweetheart,” or “’scuse me, can I talk to you for a minute?” The “How you doin’ ms. Lady?” or my other personal favorite, “I ain’t tryna waste ya time. I’m just tryna get to know you.” Hearing, “dummy, head-ass, whore,” maybe all in one sentence. It’s cook-out season which means cookout playlists. Music from our local rappers and K Swift club music. Summer time is cook-out time which means somewhere you will hear, “Before I Let Go,” “Follow me,” or a recent addition to the cook-out playlist. When the cook-out ends you can look forward to the pop of gunshots and the half launch of a firework.

The Taste

Obviously, we are in Baltimore, which means crabs. Crab cakes. Old bay! That’s a given. Chicken boxes- a given. Grilled to a crisp (with the blistering, crunchy black skin) hot dogs and hamburgers. The over sweet syrup of a sky blue snowball or the egg custard frozen cups.

The Sights

The murals on the walls from Pulaski, Payson, and Presbury. Baltimore has several artistic masterpieces on obscure buildings. If you riding too fast or blink at green light you might miss them. The parks full of kids on the rusty swings or playing tag. The sweat dripping off the brow of man caught up in an intense basketball game. A random dice game with crumbled dollars on the ground. A dancing yet lovable crackhead who attracts the laughs of pre-teens popping wheelies on mountain bikes. Kids are outside doing whatever for how ever long because there is no school tomorrow and they don’t have anything else to do. Rats, water bugs, and yes even the eye sore of a vacant house. Yes, an eyesore but it’s home.

The Feels

Summer time Baltimore is a whole vibe. The windows down; the music blasting; the sun out. Summer is where most of your laughs are made and a good portion of memories are created. Summer time brings out the best of Baltimore culture. The sights, sounds, and smells of the city all create a feeling that happens every summer. It’s nostalgic and fun. It’s sunsets at 7 pm and slapping mosquitoes away from you. It’s summer time in Baltimore.

 

 

A Little Jab at Gentrification …

Eventually every big city faces the sad reality of change. The question becomes who does change effect the most. For the “inner city” citizens and the urban dwellers, aka Black people and poor people, who are usually forgotten (until property and infrastructure are involved) it’s usually us with furrowed brows. We wonder what is going to come next. This is not just a simple matter of change construction-site-2858310__340but the buzzword of the century: gentrification. Everyone has some definition in one form or another of what this means. In layman’s terms, gentrification is when wealthier, mostly white people see something they want, and they take it. They take it, restructure it and manufacture it for white audiences. For example, the small cafes and restaurants popping up in what is called “Station North.”

Station North is blocks away from what would be considered dangerous or “ghetto” even, but “redevelopment” has started in the area. Redevelopment that allows white academics and art students to benefit from poverty (having lower rent) while being close enough away to feel safe but close enough to say they care about the plight of Black people and issues of poverty in Baltimore city. The gradual change in Baltimore has been happening for quite some time. The big universities started their bidding wars on properties on East North Avenue. The results are things like Parkway theater and (sorry folks) the notorious anti-establishment Red Emmas (which has left its North Avenue location). As nice as these places are, they both have an unspoken, “we only welcome certain types,” kind of vibe. You should be somewhere between wanting to free the nipples and having a Sinead O’Connor look with a septum piercing and tattoos of a dream catcher, geometric shapes, or the lunar cycle. They have the “I’m a cultured artist who is down with a revolution, some days, and I bike to save the environment” kind of vibe.

Look up the word in the dictionary and its synonyms are refurbishment, restoration, renovation, urban renewal, and even improvement. There is a constant question of what is being improved and who asked for the improvements. The problem with the “urban renewal” becomes losing the people who built the infrastructures around what is being “improved.” The problem becomes white people start moving in and pushing Black people out. When the hipster liberals come in, preaching peace, love, and all lives matter while taking your row home to hang ropes of paper lanterns from Target.

Gentrification becomes so important, especially to Black people in Baltimore city because it is more than a word or a synonym of “restoration.” So much culture has been built and erased in the city. From club music to style of dress and even the way we talk. You know someone is from Baltimore when you hear them! Higher rent and destruction of once were homes make life a lot harder for those relocating and reminiscing on “the good old days.” Gentrification is having your childhood memories become a portion of history because Johns Hopkins needs homes for residents and of course expansion of its famed facility. The Hippo, most of East Baltimore, Hammerjacks- places like these are no longer apart of the breath of the city. Instead when people think of Baltimore, they think of Natty Boh and Camden yards – which is a part of Baltimore but every neighborhood is not Canton or Camden yards.

East Baltimore should now be called “Hopkins Town.” Hopkins has changed most of it and is trying to mold it into a uniform, almost carbon copy of other cities. Baltimore once had a flair that is bitterly hanging on. That’s a problem with “urban redevelopment.” Gentrification is not just a textbook synopsis of the many inequalities Black & poor people face. It is the feelings, soul, and authenticity of a place being diffused brick by brick. It is almost as if Thanos snapped his fingers in much of East Baltimore, devouring the city. Higher rent and fancier grub makes nice for tourists and people who can’t afford New York and don’t want to stare D.C in the face, so we meet here in the middle, in Baltimore.