Rainy Day in Charm City | by Warren Goldie
Reflections on Baltimore, Boulder, Los Angeles
Outside, a warm rain sweeps down the sidewalk, carrying on it the promise of spring just around the corner. So, despite the damp sting, one flirts with optimism. And to think, two weeks ago I was smashing tennis balls shirtless in the bright sun of the San Fernando Valley. The whiplash of modern life.
Two Hopkins girls are camped out at the next table, a half-eaten blueberry muffin on a plate between them like a little Roman ruin. Erosion is happening very slowly. And two neglected mimosas. I’m impressed at how patiently they can eat and drink.
The tops of their laptop screens, which are nearly touching, tremble slightly as the girl’s fingernails dance on the Chiclet keys. The taller one, who is often tugging at the string of her hoodie, begrudgingly glances at the cement block of textbook to one side, but she’s far more interested in the updates scrolling down her Facebook page. You see this a lot. You do this a lot. Why?
Our need to broadcast all the details of our lives has become pathological. We communicate too much while living too little. The image of drunks at a still comes to mind. The thirst, of course, is for connection. But how deceptive and unsatisfying this kind seems. It’s so unfulfilling you have to do it again — and again.
I’m wearing my Boulder-bought clothes, which have traveled to meet me in several ways: crammed in suitcases, stuffed in postal boxes, wedged into the cavities of my car.
Indeed these threads have come a long way. Our relationship is strained. The threads are neither important nor noteworthy — shirts and pants I could have gotten anywhere. In fact, I did. They trail me like a lover who does not yet know the relationship is over.
Over at the bar, the stocky guy in army fatigues, who had been reading the Sun’s sports page when I arrived, has metamorphosed into a wiry fellow in faded jeans and Converse low tops. One World is the only cafe I’ve ever been in that’s a coffee shop, a bar and a vegetarian restaurant.
Two weeks ago people were slender and bronze-colored and believed that the makes and models of their automobiles were critical to their identity and prospects. Now, people are far more earthy. They are compleckted in shades of anemic white and bonemeal gray and wear flannel shirts and page through textbooks as forbidding as cold rock.
This is Maryland, of course, the Old Line State, the place my father brought us when I was six, where history oozes from the stone and brick of every building in far different ways than it had in the flimsy wood and stucco West. There it hardly mattered what had come before. Not here. Here the 19th and 20th centuries — and even the 18th and 17th — reach forward from the past to grab you and demand that you acknowledge them. It happens through the people, even if they are unaware of it. So, you do your best to comply, to acknowledge it, because then it may let up and allow something else to happen. But it doesn’t, at least not often, not really.
The thing about Boulder that I had not encountered elsewhere: no one wanted anything from you. In fact, quite the opposite. The well-to-do alpine folk of that squeaky clean town were content with their lives exactly they way they were and didn’t want them changed at all, thank you very much. So you never got the feeling of being pulled into anything. The REI clad people strolling the Pearl Street Mall didn’t send out tendrils of need, didn’t try to probe you the ways some Angelenos do (unbeknownst to them; I will give them that).
In Los Angeles, in public places you sometimes sensed a certain segment of the population reaching out with their eyes and minds and wills and desire, wanting something. What was it?
I wondered if those newly landed in LaLa land had that something that the jaded, jangled locals hungered for — optimism? hope? unjadedness? — and we were irresistible to them simply because we hadn’t been there very long, hadn’t lost it, and the time hadn’t yet arrived when we would start to need it and seek it in others, too.
Another morning at Peet’s Coffee & Tea, waiting for an assignment to come through, just observing: Two pregnant woman showing bare bulging midriffs, looking stunning in that tanned, fit L.A. way; a seventy-something woman in a charcoal-colored bathrobe staring unabashedly at them; a man and woman in full motorcycle leathers; and all the usual attention-getting faces and bodies — the plentiful blond, sunglass-wearing ones and the square jawed hunks from the Midwest. And the old guy, Bill, snoring gently in a deep leather chair, the Times on his chest rising and falling with each breath. And the sour faced fiftyish guy paging angrily through the classifieds.
Despite the diversity of exteriors, the differing situations and origins, there is a cooperation here that is surprising and wide-spread if you look for it. It’s as if these people instinctively understand there are just too many of them to live on the flat, dry plain, and the best course is just to, well, get along. The over-crowdedness creates a necessity of concession, a kind of community and a joining together that makes people who wouldn’t otherwise feel a part of a larger whole become just that. It’s not something you’d ever think if you were just breezing through.