Baltimore, I Love You. What Are We Doing?

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Committed To Baltimore

I live and work in Baltimore City and send our four children to Baltimore City Public Schools.  I am a cheerleader for the City, an unofficial self appointed ambassador. I still love going to Orioles games even in this climate. When we eat out, I prefer restaurants in the City.  If there is a retail location in both the county and the City, I try to spend money in the City. We support the arts in the City and our kids play in City sports leagues. I join the PTAs and I vote in every election.  I am doing my part. And so are so many of you. But as a City, what are we doing?

Not a Blog about Baltimore’s National Narrative

This blog has nothing to do with Baltimore’s high crime, bad public transportation system, racial injustices, failing schools, our lack of a Police Commissioner, and also now a Public Health Commissioner.  Though I am reminding readers that the first week of school, my son’s high school, one of about 70 City schools, closed early for four consecutive days because there is inadequate air conditioning.  At this rate, with the lack of political action, we should plan on early closings next summer, too.

Not a Blog about the Treasures of our City

This blog doesn’t address the awesome things that I love about our City.  There are many wonderful things about Baltimore including our diversity, some of our schools, and our worldwide medical institutions.  We are home to Babe Ruth, the Iron Man Cal Ripkin, former rapper Tupac Shakur, Hairspray and John Waters, two Super Bowl victories, crabs, the Star Spangled Banner, Olympiad Michael Phelps, Preakness, Berger cookies and the snowball.  This blog reflects upon just three hours spent in Baltimore City last night.  What are we doing as a City?  We want people to spent time and money in the City, and even by my enthusiasm, it’s quite challenging.

A Blog About Three Hours in Baltimore

Last night, Saturday night, we had dinner in Federal Hill and thought about going to the O’s game, free sweatshirts were enticing, and we planned to wrap up our night at the Sandlot Beach bar. I won’t out the restaurant by name, but it’s disappointing in Baltimore to order a crab cake, and learn that the restaurant doesn’t serve cocktail sauce.  I inquired if the restaurant had horseradish. The chef sent all of the ingredients to me: horseradish, ketchup and lemons. I made the cocktail sauce myself at the table. The waitress was impressed. First and last time dining there.

We decided to walk over to Camden Yards.  We arrived in the first inning. We saw several fans walking away from the stadium with their game swag giveaway sweatshirts in hand.  I walked up to the ticket booth and asked for the cheapest tickets. Sweatshirts got people back into the Yard, but at $27 per ticket, for the very last place team in the Major League, and many open seats, even I decided to keep walking.  I will buy a new sweatshirt in a retail store another day.

We walked to the Inner Harbor. It was dark. No entertainment in the amphitheater. None of the bars near Pier 4 had outside seating or entertainment.  It was 8 PM on a warm Saturday night. It was uncomfortable being there.  Our well known tourist attraction was empty.  I saw a psychic with a pop up tent in front of a relatively empty Pavilion and even she didn’t have business.  I have memories as a kid being at Harborplace on Saturday nights and the promenades were filled with music, crowds, and entertainment.  Not last night.

We walked past the Aquarium and through Harbor East.  It was difficult to find the entrance to the Sandlot Bar.  It’s a great concept, but the first thing I read on the entry sign to the Sandlot was that everything is card purchase only, cash is too dangerous. The venue had a very small gathering. When we left, our Uber driver canceled because she couldn’t find how to get to the bar.

Marketing, Reality and Potential

Baltimore City is geographically located in a great spot.  We have terrific tourist spots and great entities for the locals.  After last night, I can’t imagine reading about Baltimore on Tripadvisor, or whatever, and traveling here for a quick getaway, and finding a local bar without cocktail sauce, no cheap tickets left for the last place baseball team, and a dark, entertainment-less attraction, Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

Better lighting, street entertainers and visible security might make it appealing again to make the Inner Harbor on a Saturday night a destination spot like when I was a kid.

The Brody Bunch – Happy New Year

Tradition, Community & Rain

With heavy rain, it is understandable that the annual Rosh Hashanah services Under the Stars, an outdoor event ringing in the Jewish New Year, with a service alongside a picnic dinner, was moved inside. Since the inception of this spiritual, casual, community event, I do not believe that my family has ever missed one year.  Mother Nature broke our streak.

For many, this gathering, is a time to reconnect with former neighbors, old school friends, their parents, and their kids.  Old camp bunk mates attend. My kids’ teammates, preschool teachers and current teachers attend. We ring in the New Year as a community, about 5000 people from the Baltimore Jewish community. We gather to hear the first sound of the shofar.

Dinner is a big part of the Holiday

I am always amazed that for a three hour event, the outdoor Congregants drag lawn chairs, Bridge card tables, tarps, coolers, enough food for a banquet, and wine to celebrate the Jewish new year.  Even if the rained stopped, I can’t see our people dragging the gear and food through the mud.  Our cars wouldn’t survive getting out of the fields – we struggle with the parking lot on dry land.

Dinner is a big component of this evening.  Some people get carryout.  Some people partake in the food trucks.  Some families cook. For my family, my father often makes the main dish which varies from year to year: filet mignon, salmon, flank steak, deli, masculine green salad and more. I bring the traditional Jewish favorites including Dr. Brown’s diet black cherry and cream soda cans, rainbow cake, chocolate tops, and the balance of dinner.

Many families have three big dinners and luncheons over this holiday. My daughter and I cook for the second dinner. Because of the rain, this year, my family is swapping out the second dinner menu in lieu of the canceled picnic dinner. We will figure out tomorrow’s dinner later. I have heard that some of our friends will be eating their Royal Farms’ fried chicken intended picnic dinner in their dry and warm homes. I am racing against the clock and hoping that the traditional brisket, matzoh ball soup, kugel, and apple cake are cooked before for sundown. We already polished off the chopped liver.

Memories From Past Rosh Hashanahs

While I am disappointed that our family’s traditional evening will be different this year, and as I continue to procrastinate getting dinner ready, here are a few good stories from the past:

  • The year that the selfie emerged, my mother and I discovered we could not get our heads into one photo. We have photos filled with laughter and our heads are cut off.  We bought a selfie stick that week.
  • One time my father made an 8 pound flank steak and brought it into the park whole. He brought an industrial grade butcher’s knife and I had to slice it on the picnic blanket sitting on my knees.
  • My Mom couldn’t open her folding chair and kindly asked surrounding neighbors if they had KY Jelly while wishing them a good New Year.  We intervened after the third inquiry.
  • The year my dad prepared filet mignon. We were already to eat and it was discovered that my mom forgot to pack utensils. My dad and I walked around the park wishing everyone a Happy New Year and begged for a spare plastic fork here and an extra plastic knife there.  We may have had to share a spoon or two during dessert.
  • We went light one year with an extravagant deli spread. There must have been 8 different mustards. Mark asked my Dad if he brought any other condiments. My Dad who is generous and flexible responded with a tone, “Mark, I picked up all of the deli. We have a lot of options.  Can you figure out something else?”  Mark, “Sure, Freddie, but the mustard is expired. One expired about 12 years ago.”  Our first born son wasn’t born the year that mustard was manufactured.  We have never looked at mustard the same since.
  • Yes, my mother’s beautiful Jewish Apple Cake fell out of the container and rolled down a hill.  We pulled the grass off it, and ate it anyway.
  • My kids remember when they were little, that they used to receive apples and honey sticks on our way out for a sweet new year.  When our son was about 9, a relative didn’t come with us. My son asked the volunteer for an extra apple and honey stick to bring home.  I am still proud of my son years later for his empathy.

Music, Rain & Wishes for a Sweet Year

Music is always my favorite part of this service. I tear up each year when we all sing Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” in unison. This one event of the year is when I feel the most spiritual and community strong. It is incredible to hear your community, religious or not, sing the prayers of the high holidays together.  And Bob Marley just adds a little extra.
As the rain keeps us inside this year, and the menus abruptly change, it feels like Passover when the Jews were forced to flee and the bread didn’t rise, we got matzoh. I will look at the Rosh Hashanah matzoh balls with irony this year.
From our table to your table we wish you another sweet year filled with good health, peace, happiness and humor no matter what you are eating, and however you are celebrating. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Brody Bunch – The Bike, Teen Freedom & Adult Personal Growth

person riding a bicycle during rainy day

Reflections, Freedom, Personal Growth Because of a Bike

Labor Day is the universal date marking the end of summer. Our summer included great vacations abroad, the beach, New York, Philly, Pittsburgh, California and camps. Our memory buckets are overflowing.  And, I will look back on this particular summer as our oldest son’s “Summer of Freedom” combined with the byproduct of my “Summer of Personal Growth”.  

Our son turned 15 in July.  All he wanted was a bike. For his fifth birthday, I gift wrapped a tricycle for him.  His four-year-old sister saw the wrapped gift and excitedly announced: “You got a bike!” He was disappointed that she “ruined” the surprise. There was no doubt that under the Sesame Street wrapping paper a bike was in there.

Ten years later, he wanted a bike.  After bikes were stolen off our porch and there was a stretch of teens being knocked off their bikes by thieves in our neighborhood, we denied bike requests.  Our son’s friend shared an extra bike and the boys spent hours riding around the neighborhood. Yet, my son wanted his own bike. He offered to pay for it. So, I stood between the bike and my fears.  And, should the pendulum swing towards the bike, there would be a beautiful rite of passage for this teenager: independence and freedom.

A Birthday Wish, Agonized and Granted

A grandmother asked me what birthday wish she could fill.  I told her about the bike and asked if she wanted to contribute to that.  She called me back and offered a wonderful bike. My younger children went to see the bike and confirmed that this bike was the perfect size and he would love it. The siblings never mentioned the bike to their eager brother.  My concerns about past crimes and the issue that we live on the West side of a very busy street that needs to be crossed to get into the neighborhood of friends living East of the main road was well known. Now, I held the permission to the gift of freedom. After restless sleep and with tremendous trepidation, I graciously accepted the bike.

Days later after a family dinner, we stepped onto the patio.  The bike was revealed. Our reserved son beamed with happiness and his recessive dimple popped out. Grandparents, parents and siblings filled the porch to see this surprise. I imagine this moment was like someone receiving their first color television or their first car.  With much gratitude, my son held onto the bike handles and quickly shared the safest routes to bike around busy roads. He had a responsible plan already worked out for this magical moment.

The Gift of Freedom and Independence and Letting Go, Riding off into the World

My son, through the bike, was given the gift of freedom.  Throughout the rest of the summer “the guys” rode their bikes to various friends’ homes, the pool, the soccer field, the baseball diamond, the park, and on trails. I received photos of my happy son on his adventures. With a knot in my stomach, my heart was happy for him.  I recognize that I lived through this agonizing decision.

His friends’ parents maintained stocked fridges, a welcome place to sleep, and space to lock up all of the bikes.  It took an entire Village to lift my son, support his wishes to get a bike, and let him be a kid experiencing adventures and journeys.  Deep in my heart, I know this is about me letting go. The experience of getting a bike at age 15,  is very different than a 10-year-old getting a bike. From his parents’ point of view, the issues surrounding a bike at an older age feels much closer to getting a car – further travels in the City, navigating decisions, personal safety, unsupervised travels, and more. We still worry about him constantly, and I share in his happiness about his outings and experiences.  Now, he has the opportunity to ride off into the world, on his own bike.