“Things Will Never Improve Unless We Improve Them”

Toward a Personal Politics of Equity and Historicity

This website, as I currently use it, has a long and peculiar history. When I was 18 or so, I started a website called The Pamphleteer, which mostly sat unused for a couple of years. I had a Livejournal account (technically still active!) that I did actually use. Then I had the food-and-culture blog Eat Together with my now-wife, the URL for which has since been taken over by foreign pornographers and is effectively dead. Then I had this website, or at least its URL, on Tumblr for several years, occasionally using it to blog thoughtfully, mostly using it to interact with the small but active Tumblr-based community of New Orleans Saints fans. In the years since moving to California, I’ve wanted to re-launch a new food-and-culture blog, once going so far as to settle on a name and begin mocking up logos*.

I also went so far as to begin drafting up a mission statement for that website, a statement that articulated the values that I wished to communicate through the site’s exploration of the food and culture of Northern California in particular, the United States more generally, and the broad spectrum of other cultures most broadly. I wanted the site to reflect and subtly communicate my personal values and so, by necessity, that mission statement also expressed a number of values that (I hope) guide my personal, social, and political activities.

These values had a common theme, a theme that I hoped would be evident on my food-and-culture blog and that I am confident is apparent on this one. That theme is equity. In the food world specifically, a concern for equity must (I believe, though others may thoughtfully disagree) begin with a recognition of the power differentials that define our restaurants and foodways. I’ve discussed the presence of sexism in the food world before — sexism that is, by definition, rooted in the power differential between men and women. Other power differentials to consider in the food world (ones that were to be explicitly stated in my blog’s mission statement) include the differentials between patron and server, between the front of house and the kitchen, and between white Anglo-Americans and racial/cultural/linguistic minorities. Others exist, too, including the often-obscure relationship between farmers and the general public, or between farmers and distributors, or between farmers and pretty much anybody who isn’t a farmer.

In the end**, I didn’t have time or money to  commit to the website about which I was fantasizing — at least not to get it to the polished level I wanted — so I’ve funneled my creative energies into this site, taking it off of Tumblr and devoting real work to it. This is my outlet for communicating my values, inasmuch as I want those values to pervade my discussions of the world around me. Sometimes, though, those values need to be communicated less subtly, more directly.

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The Long Con, or: What Not to Do in a Good Relationship

“What about you and Alex?” our friend Tiffany asked Franny just a day or two before we left New York City for good.

“I don’t know,” Franny responded. “I mean, I love him, but I don’t think he’s ever going to propose.”

At least, I’m sure she said something to that effect. That’s how that conversation was related to me by my groomsman John — Tiff’s boyfriend — on the day Franny and I got married nearly two years after moving from New York to California. John and I were around for that conversation, but we both missed it. We were probably talking about something more important, like the New Orleans Saints or the Indiana Pacers or whether or not we should order the three-liter boot of beer again.

The exact words are probably slightly different, because that’s just how memories work. But the idea is the same: yeah, she loved me, but was there a future? She wasn’t so sure.

This was intentional. I was playing a dangerous game. It was the Long Con. Unsurprisingly, it very nearly backfired on me.

Just a day or two after she apparently had that conversation, I proposed. It was, in a very traditional sort of way, a surprise to her*. This, too, was intentional.

The only way I knew I could ensure that it would be a surprise would be to make her think it was never going to happen. Franny’s desires, needs, and hopes were clear. We would have very open and honest conversations about marriage and proposing and how she wanted it to happen. I knew she didn’t want to wait forever to get married, but  that she also wanted a longer engagement**. I believed she wanted it with me.

When we had these conversations, or similar conversations about having children, I would be honest as well. But then I would always add — because I’m sort of an asshole this way — that I wanted to wait five to eight years. Or four to six. It always changed, but it was always a long time. Always in the future. Never imminent. Never real.

Those claims weren’t far-fetched, and sometimes I really meant them. After all, I’m divorced, after a very short and ill-advised marriage in my early 20s. (Something so short and so far in my past that approximately half of my friends today don’t even know about it.) I’m more than a little unstable, too, having moved at least once a year since I graduated high school. In the last 11 years I’ve lived in 12 different apartments in five different cities and four different states. People like me are hard to pin down.

But deep down inside, I believed we were together for the long haul. I wanted to get married, and I wanted to propose. I talked about this with John several times over the course of that spring.

Meanwhile, we were having our roughest year personally and professionally. I was unhappy and underpaid at the fancy New York media job that we left New Orleans for. Franny was unhappy at her fancy New York corporate job — until she was laid off and, absent other options, returned to her job as hostess at an East Village restaurant. (Admittedly, an amazing restaurant — now closed — that was at the time among New York’s coolest restaurants.) I, more than Franny, was sinking. I had very quickly gone from a person she considered to have unlimited upside, boundless potential, the brightest future, to somebody who basically just walked around grumbling the F-word under my breath constantly. In New Orleans we knew all the scoops before they were public, and we were invited to all the cool industry events. We — not just me, but we — were cool. Now, I had a cool, fancy New York media job, but I was a wreck.

Not only was I no longer full of potential and exciting prospects, but also, I was kind of an asshole. I’ve always had that streak in me, where a little bit of discomfort can make me lash out at good people. (This was also an issue early in our relationship, when I would get entirely too drunk and say nasty things about people we were with. Not because I didn’t like her friends, but because I felt uncomfortable with the fact that I didn’t have my own***, and that her scene was different from what I was used to.) But now, in New York, I was turning into a bad partner.

Of course, nobody ever sees this in themselves. When you’re deeply unhappy, you also lose all self-awareness. Your actions — and their effects on the people around you — seem normal to you, while everything happening around you is the worst, and everyone is such a jerk, and this city smells like trash and everything’s terrible.

So this is the context in which I was playing my dangerous game. Is it any wonder that at the same time I was thinking about proposing, she was honestly and frankly assessing whether or not she should continue to allow me to hitch my wagon to her star?

In the end we stayed together, we made plans to move together****, and when I proposed she said yes. That last sentence suggests something very important: that things were not nearly as bad as the preceding 850 words made them seem. But that’s a better story, I think.

The real point, then, is simple. Last weekend I married the best person, and I’m deeply grateful that she’s continued to roll her dice on this bizarre unit we call “us.”

*There are important things to say about these tropes, and the way the proposal-engagement-wedding-marriage processes explicitly and implicitly negate women’s agency. In the proposal process, the man is the capacious agent, the woman is a passive recipient of his plans. It’s problematic for sure, and while my wife and I like how we did things, one must recognize how deeply it’s rooted in patriarchy and (let’s be real) sexism.

**In the end, we were engaged for just under two years. I proposed at the beginning of August 2013, in Baltimore, as we stayed there with my parents for a few days before moving west. We were married last week, in mid-June 2015. As we got to the end, we both agreed that maybe a shorter engagement would have been nice. It’s a funny, slightly awkward middle ground. It is, by definition, a transitory phase. And we sat in that transitory phase for quite a while.

*** Not having my own friends in New Orleans, and not really being allowed to, was a big reason my first marriage was so short-lived.

**** Our second cross-country move together, in as many years.

From Sea to Shining Sea

I get married in 16 days. In itself that’s exciting, but it also means that in 13-14 days much of my friends and family will be making the big trek across the country to California, the Golden State. I realized today (thanks to some stellar Instagram action) that this will be the first time to the West Coast for my favorite full-blooded sister*. It will be the same for my mother. I’ve known this about my mother since we first started planning the wedding — she’s afraid to fly, so I’m fairly certain she has only been west of the Mississippi once or twice, maybe just as far as the West Bank of New Orleans. But somehow the news about my sister was a surprise.

Upon making this realization, my first thought was: oh, I need to make sure she touches the Pacific Ocean.

When you think about it, that’s an odd first thought. She’s coming to California for the first time ever — there are so many natural and man-made wonders in this part of the country. The scenery is so stunning, the history and culture of the Bay Area is so rich, but the only thing I really need her to do while here is touch the ocean? Touching the Pacific was one of my big “bucket list” activities upon moving to California. It was a big deal when I finally did, some nine months after moving here**.

Water plays an important role in my life. My soul just reacts positively to water. Growing up near it, in a region whose identity and culture contain endless nods to the sea, perhaps this is just a function of being a Marylander. Maybe it’s more a result of my parents’ lifestyles, particularly my sailing, seafaring, occasionally-swashbucklin’ father. Whatever the reason, I’ve always felt a special connection to the water, in whatever form I find it: River, sea, ocean, or otherwise. When I’m stumped on a project or a piece of writing, I take a shower and I get clarity. It’s just deep within my veins.

But back to oceans. Coming from the East Coast, I do and always will think of the Atlantic as the Original Ocean. It’s the first American ocean, the one that people crossed to create our country. It’s the one we drove an hour or two to play in. It’s the one upon whose tributaries we lived. Every gutter in my mother’s neighborhood says “CHESAPEAKE BAY DRAINAGE DO NOT DUMP.” Everything runs to the Chesapeake,  and the Chesapeake is a big, blue and beautiful arm of the Atlantic. But it wasn’t the Atlantic, it was just the ocean. The Ocean.

If the Atlantic is the original American ocean, the Pacific is the new ocean. For better or worse (often for worse), much of American history was defined by the push west. The Pacific Ocean was the endgame. Manifest Destiny told us Anglo-Americans that we had the right to everything from sea to shining sea, from east to west, and so westward we marched. Who cares what people were there already, if the French or the Spanish or the new Mexican Republic or, heaven forbid, indigenous people had preexisting claims on those lands. We marched west, and even still this is considered good and normal. There is, after all, very little nuance in the old Oregon Trail games.

There’s also the migrations from the Gold Rush, the Dust Bowl, and the San Francisco-centric counter culture. American history, it sometimes seems, has two overarching trends: wars with Europe and movement towards the Pacific Ocean.

Even today, going west is what one does. As an East Coaster (and former Gulf Coaster) living on the West Coast, there is something regressive-seeming about going back East (unless you’re going to try to make it in New York.) It’s a rhetorical trick — there isn’t anything regressive about it. It’s over 100 years since the last of the contiguous 48 states were added. The continental US, as it is today, has been set for a long while. This is your country. Move about as you please.

Still: it’s a Great American Thing to go west. It’s a $500 flight to go east.

(Related: my favorite West Coast thing is the way people here — including those who have never lived a day outside of California — refer to the East Coast as “back East.” Back there: that’s where we began***.)

Water is the lifeblood of a society. It explains why we live where we do. It feeds our economy, from transportation to agriculture to industry to tourism. It creates defining cultural symbols. It feeds and nourishes us, literally and figuratively. As a nation borne out of Anglo-European colonies, the Atlantic nurtured and raised us. But we grew up with — and toward — the Pacific. It made us who we are.

So if your sister is about to be on the Pacific coast for the first time, of course she has to put her feet in it.

*I have three sisters. Technically one is a half, one is a step, and one is a full, but they’re all just great.

**I may have had my feet in the Pacific once before, one a brief trip to San Diego in 2008. I can’t recall.

***I recognize that this discussion of the Pacific coast as defined by migration from east to west ignores all movements from Asia to the United States across the Pacific, or to the Western US from Mexico and south. I am intentionally regurgitating the understanding of the West Coast as understood by a middle class white kid growing up “back East.”

To Preserve Is to Kill, or: a Probably-Obtuse Discussion of Gentrification

I once said something that seemed insightful, and whomever I said it to reacted in such a way that I started to really think maybe it was insightful, and it has stuck with me ever since. I’m certain it came in the context of a conversation about gentrification, because as a frequent gentrifier that’s a conversation I often have*. At any rate it definitely came in the context of a conversation about cultural preservation, because this is what I said:

To preserve is to kill. Once you start talking about “preservation” as such, that thing that you wish to preserve — as an organic product of the culture in question — is already gone.

My reasoning for that (intentionally controversial) statement is rooted in food, as most of my most important thoughts are. Think about preservation as a cooking method. When you eat a cucumber, it is pretty much the same vegetable it was when it was a living, growing thing on the vine. You pull it off the vine, you slice it up, you have a cucumber. But as an organic thing, that cucumber exists only on the vine, and for a short period after being removed. So what do you do if you love that cucumber and want to have it with you for months to come? You preserve it, by pickling.

But then it’s not a cucumber. It’s a pickle, reminiscent of the cucumber it was on the vine, but no longer the same thing.

The same thought experiment works for berries, preserved as, well, preserves. Or red meat, which when you cook it properly is bloody like the red-blooded mammal it came from, but which when preserved becomes jerky. You’re able to keep the food product with you, protect it from the ravages of spoilage and waste. You’re being respectful to the resources that were used to feed and water the plant or animal. But you’re changing its nature, definitively.

When you’re talking about historic preservation, of historic homes or battlegrounds or whatever, this is assumed, and it’s not a negative thing. It’s actually good. That home is no longer the residence of whichever rich and/or famous person once lived there, so it’s lost the vibrant, organic presence it had when it was in use, but still we want to preserve that for future generations to observe. Or the battleground, upon which battle is no longer taking place, is preserved for future generations to see and learn from. This is not a bad thing.

This applies to other cultural relics too, like, say, music or clothing from a bygone era. Because relics are, by definition, remainders of yesteryear**. Preserving them is less like pickling a cucumber or making blackberry preserves, and more like petrified wood. But petrified wood you made. (I don’t know, my simile is getting a little muddled. Like berries in a blackberry mojito. Oh lord, similes upon similes. Somebody save me.)

But when you start talking about preserving neighborhoods, protecting them from change, that’s when preservation, to me, becomes nonsense. Once you start talking about preservation, you’ve already lost. Because cultures are dynamic, organic things, constantly changing and evolving and progressing and regressing. Neighborhoods, as the buzzing physical embodiments of culture, necessarily change and evolve and progress and regress, too. Preservation implies you’re stopping that change, retaining what exists now and removing it from its context for good.

I’m venturing into Privilege Town here, I know. It’s easy for me to sit here and listen to music made by white guys appropriating other cultures and ramble about how we shouldn’t try to preserve neighborhoods or other cultural institutions. But I don’t mean to say that, instead, let’s just gentrify and displace and destroy, without any care for the people whose cultures we’re destroying. That’s like digging up the cucumber vine and leaving all the vegetables to rot, and is sort of like what often happens now anyway. Right before some well-intentioned but tone-deaf white twentysomethings say, hey, before you finish that let’s grab a couple of those veggies and preserve ’em.

My point is that we should be more proactive. We need to start caring about people and neighborhoods and cultures and everything else, before we get to the point of talking about “preservation.” Let them change and evolve and improve, but let it happen naturally. Once you start talking about preservation, you’ve already lost it.

*As a committed urbanite I’m not super-psyched about living in the lily white suburbs at the moment, but I guess one benefit is that this is the first time in the last 10 years I haven’t stressed about my role in broader patterns of social inequality and displacement. (Which is one of the purposes of the suburbs, probably: to not notice the broader patterns of social inequality.)

** Sincere apologies for using both “a bygone era” and “yesteryear” in a single paragraph. Every editor and employer I’ve ever had would slap me over the head for that.

Whatever, I’ll Eat What I Want

Lately I’ve been trying to live a little more healthily. I like to have a drink or two or three or four, and I like to eat pizza in excess, and burritos upon burritos upon burritos, and basically just whatever else I can get my hands on. I’m a pretty fit dude, but lately it’s seemed like I could be a little kinder to myself. My body, mind and soul could all benefit.

But sometimes, that’s no fun. Especially when the lady is out of town — as she does sometimes, staying at her parents’ house because they’re closer to her work. Basically I just eat pizza and gummy bears and drink beer when she’s gone.

Today, out of curiosity I tallied all the calories I take in on a normal day. Today, a very typical day, I ate a very normal amount of food. I’ve recently started training for my next race, but I’m still in the early stages where I’m going on short, relatively slow runs. But still, today’s four miler, at a 7:20 pace, is close to 600 calories burned.

Tallying this today started with idle curiosity, but it led to a very active, happy thought: I’m going to eat a bag of gummy bears, and they’re going to be great.

What Can a Person Do While Their Hometown Burns?

“This is one of our darkest days,” Baltimore mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said this afternoon, perhaps understating things a bit as the city burned — and continues to burn. The thing that’s happening in Baltimore is so impossibly difficult for me to process. The question, for me, is not, “Why did this happen?” It’s the result of an obvious and intricate web of factors. The question isn’t really even a question. It’s a feeling, a nagging feeling like somebody trying to pull my heart and my stomach out of my body, and me being powerless to do anything about it.

First, I should note that I do not believe that the effect of today’s events on my life are noteworthy at all. Baltimore is dealing with extreme violence, the explosion of generations upon generations of resentment and pain resulting from inequality and racism and violence perpetrated by those in power. It’s very real, and terrifying, and heart-wrenching, and I can’t imagine what people living through this event are actually going through. But this is my stupid blog on my own damn domain, and this is where I need to work these thoughts out.

The thing is, this is my city, but I abandoned it almost exactly eight years ago, and today I feel distinctly shitty for that. What could I do if I were still there? Not a damn thing. But I abandoned Baltimore. I abandoned my hometown. And today, the city’s raw, festering wound has exploded, and its need for love and commitment are very real. Did I give it love and commitment? Nope.

I take pride in how much I’ve moved around. It’s part of who I am. I fell in love with New Orleans and adopted many parts of its culture, including (but certainly not limited to) coming to obsess over their football team when I previously had never even liked the sport. I’ve also brought bits and pieces of North Carolina and New York with me to California. But Baltimore is where I grew up, and though in many ways I’ve run from it for eight years, it’s who I am. Baltimore is my blood.

Today my city became a hashtag, a flash point for thoughtful people discussing legacies of inequality and the results of militarized municipal police, and for less thoughtful people to be lazily racist. (“You know who’s doing this?” I heard someone say today. “It’s those Baltimore thugs. They’re animals.”) The best people I know are concerned and — for lack of a better word — prayerful. The smartest people I read on the internet are pointing out the many complicated things that need to be understood about this situation.

Meanwhile, I’ve cried multiple times today and I still don’t really know why.

Being a white person from just outside the city*, who has left, there’s a weird sort of pride you take when someone asks, “Oh, you’re from Baltimore? Is it really like The Wire?” “Yeah,” you say. “Obviously I didn’t grow up with that, but that’s really what parts of the city are like.” You know who’s the most like Jimmy McNulty of anyone I’ve ever met? My ex-wife’s dad**.

It’s pretty obvious who does not take pride in The Wire references: those who actually live it. The city’s poor black folk, and its middle- and upper-middle-class black folk, and its cops, and its drug users and drug dealers and all those other “characters” that populate cities with Baltimore’s sort of tangled web of socio-political fuck-ups.

The theorist in me is always driven to be normative. I don’t want to be a sociologist or a journalist, simply describing the world around me. Those descriptions are being made, by dozens of thoughtful and incredible and dedicated journalists, politicians, preachers, and thinkers. The people on the ground are the ones living this, and I’m just a Baltimorean living in California writing on his blog at 11 p.m. (Follow them on Twitter, I’ll put links in a comment on this in the morning.) But I can’t be normative. I can’t talk about what should be or what needs to be or what we should strive for or what anybody should have done differently. All I can do is wear my Orioles cap and my Baltimore Bohemians jersey and obsessively check Twitter and, probably, cry again. And feel big and terrible feelings and not know what to do about them.

I guess the one normative thing I can suggest is for people on the outside of this, like me, to keep a sense of perspective and scale and nuance. Remember that you can be appalled by the violence but you can’t remove its context***. Remember that your experience is not the only American experience, and that resentment boiling over can create the nastiest burns. And remember that while the police are now in a position there they need to restore order, none of this would have happened if police officers — supposed stewards of law and order — would simply not kill people who are either unarmed or already in their custody.

But above all, remember to love. Love Baltimore, love your fellow human beings, and hope this ends soon.

* Yeah, I said it. I’m from the County. But I’m from Baltimore, and screw the narrow-mindedness that would argue otherwise.     

** I guess, technically, not really. But yeah.

*** Necessary disclaimer, here, I guess, for anyone getting worked up that I’m somehow excusing the violence. Tonight I’m sitting on Twitter watching news updates, and it’s just burning pawn shop after burning Rite-Aid after burning liquor store. Violence for violence’s sake — which defines much of today’s events — is needless and awful. But some of this is not that. Some of it is very much a reaction to violence, and that needs to be remembered.  Perhaps my biggest worry is that the former sort of violence is overshadowing the rest of this (both violent and non-violent) and is going to kill any chance for real justice to rise above the mess.

Sundays in the Greatest City in the Land of Pleasant Living

This is a Baltimore story. Which in a way makes it an America story, because Baltimore is The Greatest City in America. But it’s more a generic America story because it involves so many things that characterize our country — industry and religion and spending time in cars with your family and fantasizing about the lives of people you’ve never met.

But above all, this is a Sunday morning story.

Growing up, we went to church every week. (Well, my family went to church every week. I went every other week because that’s what happens when your parents are divorced. One week here with this routine; one week there with another routine.) Early on, my step-father began taking classes  at a bible college out in the country a ways northeast of our home in Baltimore. He was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church when I was maybe in middle school. As often happens, the timeline is fuzzy. I think I was 12 or 13, but I’m an unreliable narrator.

By this time we were no longer going to the gigantic church on Mountain Road in Harford County that we’d briefly attended when I was very young. Nor were we attending the much smaller church on the Baltimore-Harford county line that we attended for most of my elementary school life*. By the time he was ordained we were attending a newer church down by the airport, which is south of Baltimore. The church now has a real building — I think — but for as long as I attended, in middle and high school, it was housed first in a conference room at a Holiday Inn near the airport and, later, in a refurbished warehouse. I’m sure it was actually further, but that latter location felt like it was only 300 yards short of one of the airport’s runways.

That’s also where I spent most of my Sundays in high school, when I wasn’t at my dad’s house and didn’t have a soccer game. Because of my parents’ involvement in the church, and because it was so much farther away from home than our previous churches, we’d stay there all day. Sometimes we’d bring bagels and pimento cheese and make little sandwiches.** Sometimes we’d go to Golden Corral with a big group from church. Sometimes we’d go to another family’s house and have lunch there. But inevitably we’d end up back at the warehouse complex. Sometimes my step-dad and I would throw around a lacrosse ball. Maybe I’d do homework, but usually we’d all hang out, us kids who were stranded there. We were in middle/high school, after all.

But that’s not the point of this story, actually. This story is from when we first started going to that church, when I was a little bit younger and didn’t play lacrosse and wasn’t really interested in girls yet. Usually when we drove down we would listen to WPOC, Baltimore’s country station. On Sunday mornings the station would play gospel. Generally white gospel,  usually a cappella stuff, the music of Appalachia and Tennessee and Kentucky (or at least the white parts of Tennessee, considering Memphis and its surroundings are the source of much of the great black gospel).

I’d be in the back seat of the car with my sister, fully immersed in my own head. We spent a lot of time in the car growing up, between church and driving between my mom’s and dad’s houses. I spent a lot of time thinking, and a lot of time playing little games. I’d tap my left foot every time a car passed driving the other direction on the highway, and my right foot every time we passed a car going the same direction. I’d try to keep time with the gospel playing on WPOC and see how many of my foot taps lined up both with passing cars and with the radio.

There’s an area we’d pass most mornings, as I-895 took us from Northeast Baltimore through Southeast Baltimore towards the Harbor and, eventually, Anne Arundel County. This area was particularly industrial. This was before the warehouse-park days at the church, and was far and away the most industrial area we’d pass all day. It struck me as somehow wonderful and foreign and terribly intriguing — the strangest industrial area I’d ever seen. This, even though every other weekend, twice a weekend, we’d drive past Sparrows Point and Bethlehem Steel and all of Baltimore’s harbor-related industry going to and from my dad’s house.

Something about this area struck me as different. We’d pass a big old cemetery on a hill, then the Baltimore Travel Plex, and then these long, straight roads and warehouses so tall they were in line with the elevated highway. One of those long, straight roads had a weird-looking bar, and all the roads looked like they were constructed for the biggest trucks ever built. It all seemed to secret and I wondered how people got down there and what they did. And the gospel played and I’d tap my feet imagining how many different strange roads we’d have to go on to get down there, and what we’d do once we were there. But we never went — why would we? Instead we drove to church, where I’d spend my Sunday, and then we’d drive past it again at night. But by that point I’d be tired and the gospel would be over and my imagination had no interest in exploring down there.

But every now and then, I’ll hear a song like Sierra Hull’s version of The Land of Living***:

And it will take me right back to that car flying down the raised highway, looking out at those massive warehouses, fantasizing about those terrifying and wonderful places. I listen to a lot of bluegrass and gospel, basically all day every day while I’m at work, and I wonder how much that’s influenced by those Sunday mornings.

As some closure to this story, when I was a junior and a senior in high school, I dated a girl from Dundalk, in Southeast Baltimore. To get from her house to my dad’s, I’d drive down those very same industrial streets I’d fantasized about when I was in middle school. Turns out, to get down there all you had to do was date a girl from Dundalk.

*In Northeast Baltimore, one can go from the inner city — scenes straight out of The Wire — to the country in about a 25 minute drive. It goes from decaying post-industrial American city to nice outer reaches of the city to older suburbs to newer suburbs to exurbs to rural, in a very short distance. We lived just about halfway out, where older suburbs meet the newer.

**This is part of why I find it so hilarious that pimento cheese is — or was, at least a couple of years ago — so trendy. It’s cheap food! It’s what you eat when your parents don’t want to go out to lunch between services at church!

***This song has a double-meaning for this story. For one, when I heard it on Spotify earlier this week, it planted the seeds of this essay. But my hometown is also known as The Land of Pleasant Living.