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Baltimore: Snack City • Saving School Lunch

november 2008 issue no. 53

The Food Issue

Looking for the Cure The Last Crab? w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


3rd Annual Mingle at the Mill Thursday, November 20, 5:30-8pm Art comes to life as Clipper Mill artists open their studios for demos, discussions and more! Following the studio tours, enjoy a holiday party with free live music. Food and drink available. $ Visit For more info.


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Page 3A

July 16, 2008 • Volume 119

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No fire sale on Charles St.


contained, but Underground blaze finally a slow day downtown businesses suffer The Karkis were devastated had when they realized that power

closing $1,000 of that in sales from and the early at 5 p.m. on Monday rush rest from missing the lunch from yesterday and spoiled food l k f f Sign up for free daily e-mail news alerts and get the news delivered to your inbox.


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november 2008 issue no. 53


The Food Issue

f e a t u r e s 36

keynote: groundbreaker interview by greg hanscom

macarthur fellow will allen on growing urban farmers



hard times in crab country by bill thompson

pollution, over-harvesting, and the rise of a cheaper foreign competitor have forever changed maryland’s relationship with the blue crab. what’s next for the imperiled state seafood?


welcome to snackopolis by michael anft

how can one small pennsylvania town feed the salty cravings of the entire mid-atlantic?

56 52

the lunchroom chronicles by rebecca messner

baltimore city schools’ new director of food and nutrition has a spicy local recipe for fixing the school lunch.

p l u s : 61

reviewed: iron bridge wine company and dukem ethiopian restaurant


wine & spirits: there’s no such thing as a thanksgiving wine


the feed: this month in eating

56 on the cover: photographer david harp took this image of a stubborn blue crab clinging to a dip net.

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


Issue 53: November 2008 Publisher Tracy Ward Creative Director Alex Castro Editor-in-Chief David Dudley Managing Editor Marianne K. Amoss Senior Editor Greg Hanscom Staff Writer Lionel Foster Literary Editor Susan McCallum-Smith Contributing Writers Michael Anft, Scott Carlson, Charles Cohen, Mat Edelson, Clinton Macsherry, Richard O’Mara, Martha Thomas, Sharon Tregaskis, Mary K. Zajac Editorial Interns Malene K. Bell, Salma Warshanna, Andrew Zaleski Design/Production Manager Lisa Macfarlane Traffic/Production Coordinator Belle Gossett Photography Interns Aisha Khan, Shelby Silvernell Staff Photographer La Kaye Mbah Web Coordinator/Videographer Chris Rebbert


urbanite november 08

november 2008 issue no. 53


d e p a r t m e n t s 11

editor’s note


what you’re saying


what you’re writing




the goods


baltimore observed


food fight

let’s dance

weight: heavy postage, an insatiable hunger, and the naked bar

this month: turkeys, geese, and flocking to the polls

the italian connection. plus: art scene newcomers and rolling out the welcome wagon

in between places what’s wrong with arbutus? by michael yockel


update: picking up the pieces after the crash of ’08


no fear making a sanctuary in the boughs of giant trees by greg hanscom

33 67

poetry sparrow and july by peter campion


space soundscape mi casa es su studio. by david dudley


the drawing board why not a new eastern transit hub?




brick and mortar baltimoreans pair up with their favorite buildings. by marianne k. amoss

plus: alice in adultland, sly like a fox, and it’s bigger than hip hop


the scene: this month’s cultural calendar


eye to eye urbanite’s creative director alex castro on jackie milad

this month online at

interview: poet peter campion reads and discusses his work video: out on a limb with tree climber bob mertes photos: more scenes from crab country by david harp

83 w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8



Issue 53: November 2008 Publisher Tracy Ward General Manager Jean Meconi Chief Financial Offi cer Carol Coughlin Senior Account Executives Catherine Bowen Susan R. Levy



9/11/08 10:20:49 AM




Bookkeeping/Marketing Assistant Iris Goldstein



’s A ho W For

• Happy Hour drink prices • Restaurant samplings • LIVE entertainment for November includes: » Gamelan Mitra Kusuma November 7 » The Real Geniuses November 14 » Com Voce November 21 » Sahffi November 28

Need a hand? Coming Next Month: Local heroes and antiheroes.


urbanite november 08

Founder Laurel Harris Durenberger Advertising/Editorial/Business Offi ces P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211 Phone: 410-243-2050; Fax: 410-243-2115 Editorial inquiries: Send queries to editor@urbanite (no phone calls, please). The magazine is not responsible for unsolicited manuscripts or artwork. Urbanite does not necessarily support the opinions of its authors. To subscribe or obtain assistance with a current subscription, call 410-243-2050. Subscription price: $18 per year. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission by Urbanite is prohibited. Copyright 2008, Urbanite LLC. All rights reserved.

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ia Woolf?

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Urbanite (ISSN 1556-8105) is a free publication distributed widely in the Baltimore metropolitan area. To suggest a drop location for the magazine, please contact us at 410-243-2050. Postmaster: Send address changes to Urbanite Subscriptions, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211.

photo by Aisha Khan

photo by Aisha Khan

courtesy of Bill Thompson

photo by Richard Anderson


Photographer David Harp and writer Bill Thompson collaborated on this month’s cover feature on Maryland’s imperiled crab culture (“Hard Times in Crab Country,” p. 40). Harp has been chronicling the people and wildlife of the Chesapeake Bay for nearly thirty years. During that time his work has appeared in Audubon, Sierra, Smithsonian, Natural History, the New York Times and Baltimore Sun magazines, and many regional publications. Harp’s latest book, The Nanticoke: Portrait of a Chesapeake River, is out this month from Johns Hopkins University Press. Maryland native Bill Thompson spent thirteen years as a reporter and editorial writer with the Baltimore Sun and has lived on the Eastern Shore since 1976. While reporting “Hard Times in Crab Country” (p. 40), he discovered how the rise of imported crabmeat that is consumed year-round has fundamentally changed the way Marylanders eat. “I was surprised at the extent Asian meat is served in restaurants around here,” he says. “I’m a traditionalist—I stop eating crab when the season ends. I suppose I’m in the minority.” Photography intern Shelby Silvernell is a senior at Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) pursuing a bachelor’s degree in photography. Her contributions to this month’s issue include the image for “What You’re Writing” (p. 19), a shot of Station North’s new Artist and Craftsman Supply store for “The Goods” (p. 25), and photos of Baltimore County neighborhood of Arbutus for “In Between Places” in “Baltimore Observed” (p. 29). “Arbutus has a very Baltimore feel to me,” says Silvernell, an observation that reflects the fact that Baltimore’s suburbs are now facing what were traditionally considered strictly urban problems. Editorial intern Salma Warshanna is a sophomore at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where she is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English and serves as assistant copy editor for Bartleby, UMBC’s creative arts journal. For this month’s issue, Warshanna rubbed elbows with what seemed like half of MICA’s student body in the aisles of the new Artist and Craftsman Supply store in Station North (“The Goods,” p. 25). “If I were an artist, I’d make it my second home,” Warshanna says.

editor’s note

Want to lose some weight? Page though some of the recent books

devoted to the unappetizing mechanics of modern eating. Start with Eric Schlosser’s 2001 Fast Food Nation, with its graphic descriptions of slaughterhouse kill floors and E. coliburgers. Make obligatory stops at Michael Pollan’s locavore bibles, The Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, which detail how food science and the free market have bodysnatched once-familiar eats and turned them into mass-produced food-like commodities. Then take a deep breath and gird yourself for the scary stuff: Paul Roberts’ The End of Food, Raj Patel’s Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System, and the new documentary Food, Inc., all of which advance variations of the same thesis: The business of feeding the six billion members of the human race has been transformed by global economic forces into an industrial theater of cruelty and waste, and we need to fundamentally rethink what we eat and where we get it, not for reasons of ethical or ideological fashion, but for survival. Or, go find the nearest farmer. A few months ago I spoke with an Anne Arundel County grower who runs one of the eco-friendly community agriculture outfits so beloved by anti-sprawl advocates—the kind that has such a hard time competing with the state’s major monocultures: Big Corn, Big Soy, and Big Chicken. This grower had tried to sell fresh basil to an upscale grocery chain. No deal: Turns out the store could get cheaper basil from another farm—in Israel, about six thousand miles away. It shouldn’t take a world economic collapse to tell us that flying pesto around the world is lunacy. But since we seem to be having one anyway, perhaps there’s a moment here to ponder the silver lining in what Roberts calls “the end of the golden age of food.” Making food consumes about 20 percent of energy use. “Put another way,” locavore-in-chief Pollan proclaimed in the New York Times Magazine recently, “when we eat from the industrial food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases”—not only in the form of the fossil-fuel-derived chemical fertilizers, but via the massive outlay in energy required to produce, process, and transport the final results. When gas prices rise, food costs soar, and the whole house of cards starts to wobble. Pollan prescribes a wholesale shift in agricultural production, one that involves coining some exciting new verbs—“resolarizing” American farms, “perennializing” grain commodities. But the bottom line is very simple and very dire: change or starve. Seen in this light, the cheery precept to eat local may soon become something altogether more morally serious than a bumper-sticker motto for farmers’ markets habitués. In these parts, the quintessential local food is—or was—the blue crab, harvested from nearby waters, consumed only in season, and, ideally, purchased still alive and clacking. As Bill Thompson discovers in his cover feature on Maryland’s crab industry (“Hard Times in Crab Country,” p. 40), the state’s crashing crab fishery and the rise of imported crabmeat have suddenly—and subtly—transformed the culture surrounding a once-distinctive regional foodstuff. Like the cheap chicken breasts and pork chops pumped out by factory farms, the crab cakes of tomorrow could bear little resemblance to the ones Marylanders grew up on. Should you care? Depends on whether you value preserving the region’s foodways— what we eat, how we eat it, and where it comes from. This month, we look closer at some of those who are trying to change the dinner conversation. The freshly minted MacArthur Foundation genius Will Allen talks to senior editor Greg Hanscom about inner-city urban agriculture and fresh food as a human right (“Groundbreaker,” p. 36). Contributor Rebecca Messner joins Tony Geraci, the Baltimore City Public Schools’ new food and nutrition director, as he embarks on an audacious rescue of the school lunch (“The Lunchroom Chronicles,” p. 56). And Michael Anft journeys to the deep-fried heart of the Mid-Atlantic’s junk-food soul (“Welcome to Snackopolis,” p. 52). To some, a major economic crisis might not seem like the ideal time to be making noise about the benefits of locally sourced artisanal chevre and seasonal greens. This is government-cheese season. But the meltdown of global financial system should also remind us that, for most of the world’s residents, food isn’t a lifestyle diversion, or an endless banquet of high-concept indulgences. If our current reckoning with economic reality represents anything, perhaps it’s the very urgent need to live, and to eat, within our means. —David Dudley w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8





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what you’re saying

A Civil Matter How good it is to know that graciousness and civility yet live in our world. Hats off to the people at the Delta Lambda chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity for sponsoring the “beautillion” for young people (“Boys to Men,” October). It’s not possible to overstate the importance of exposing young people to poise, manners, individual dignity, and this “best of the best.” It’s important and helpful for the young and not-so-young to “feel good about yourself because of the way you look and how you feel about yourself.” All I can say to the organizers of the beautillion is please continue with this wonderful event and your valuable foresight. —Clifton Bunin lives in Mt. Vernon. Culture of Care

in these offices, I think the clinics would not only be more aesthetically pleasing, but we would also see better health outcomes, more utilization of the clinics, and better satisfaction of the employees. I think we need to change the culture around health in Baltimore. The mayor’s new initiative is to create a greener and healthier city, but the first step should be to provide an infrastructure to support healthy living for those who cannot afford private clinics. To create this infrastructure I think the city should follow the path it has taken with charter schools and private/public partnerships for redevelopment. If the city could create partnerships with the local medical institutions, it would not only improve the appearance of the clinics, but also provide a greater access to tertiary care and new medical technologies. There would also be a vested interest in the performance and utilization of the clinics.

know how well she had dealt with her illness and its crushing treatments. This is a small community where people care about each other, even those they haven’t seen lately. In no way was it meant to trivialize her or her ordeal. If I didn’t live up to your much superior writing standard, so be it. The headline was written in the office and was slightly inaccurate. Kelly isn’t an island visitor; she’s a part-time resident. But “sensational”? Sensational would have been: “Island resident covered with herpes as she suns on the beach, victim of chemotherapy treatments.” I think your critique was angry and off base. Perhaps in Baltimore you write to the faceless masses, but here we write to inform each other. —Judy Tierney Correction

I volunteered in the Druid Health Center for a year. Druid, like the Eastern Health Clinic (“The Drawing Board,” October), is dilapidated; the equipment is outdated, the paint is peeling in many areas, etc. As the article said, the building has been pieced together instead of receiving a major redevelopment. I think the clinics will remain this way until more value is placed on the health of poor people. The average working class resident does not utilize these facilities; many times, it’s the people who don’t have other options. Have you ever been to the office of the housing department, police headquarters, or City Hall? These places are spectacular, especially the housing department. If the city were to invest in health the way they invest

—Adam J. Milam is a research assistant in the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

We misspelled Trai Dagucon’s name in the September feature “Marked Women.” Urbanite regrets the error.

Time Out As the writer of the Block Island Times article on Kelly Kane (referenced in “Sick Chic,” October), I am astonished at your criticisms. Kelly is a dear friend, as is her family. The piece was not written for the faceless masses, but for the many friends she and her family have here. Many of us watched Kelly grow up summer after summer. I thought the community would be interested, and pleased, to

We want to hear what you’re saying. E-mail us at or send your letter to Mail, Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211. Please include your name, address, and daytime phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity. You can also comment on our website (www.

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what you’re writing

based on how many times we could benchpress the bar. He called the first kid’s name. “Adams!” Geof Adams, another football player, popped out ten. “That’s enough,” Mr. Lattimer said, proud. The other boys went. After each one, Mr. Lattimer shouted a number: “Six!” for the heaviest bench and “One!” for the lightest, the bench with the naked bar. Soon, Tommy was up. He went at it hard, puffing out his cheeks, but all he could do was push. Nothing happened. “Almost had it,” he said, but I was standing right there and he did not almost have it. More boys went. Mr. Lattimer called my name. My face got hot. I was having a hard time breathing right. But just as I sat on the bench, the bell rang. I exhaled. Mr. Lattimer sighed and wiped his brow with a handkerchief. He looked old. Mr. Lattimer turned to those of us who hadn’t gotten a number yet. Somehow, it was just me, Tommy, and three or four others. “Well?” he said. Tommy and I looked at each other and then at the bench in the dark corner, the one with the bar that had no weights. Mr. Lattimer followed our gaze. “Fair enough,” he said, turning toward the locker room. As long as I’m not the only one, I thought. I puffed out my chest as best I could and walked back to the locker room, hoping that somehow the upcoming month might turn out to be miraculously shorter than any of the others that had come before it.

we i ght

photo by Shelby Silvernell

—Seth Sawyers lives in Mount Vernon and teaches a writing class at UMBC. He is working on a memoir called I Wanted, about growing up in the 1980s.

That first day of seventh-grade weightlifting, I knew right away I had a problem. Emerging from the locker room in my standard gray-and-red Washington Middle School gym uniform, I saw a basketball court that had been filled with orderly rows of benches, bars, and piles of enormous weights. My friend from soccer, Tommy Newman, stood beside me. In homeroom, we traded Encyclopedia Brown books. Tommy and I looked

at each other and shrugged. In twos and threes, the other boys trickled out. The football players gathered around the bench with the big weights. Ryan Shofer, a quarterback, lifted it once. The other boys cheered. At that, Mr. Lattimer charged out, bellyfirst and red-faced, blowing his whistle. “Boys, hold off.” But he was smiling. The retired football coach pointed at a bench in the middle. We were to divide ourselves into groups,

My father sends me postcards, but he is not on vacation. He is not at war or far away. He is going to the market and buying orchids. He is ordering takeout for dinner. The postcards may be his way of telling me he misses me or that I should not forget him. We are currently estranged. There is no other way to describe this terrible weight between us. I was wrong or he was wrong, but there is no way to learn who was right. The weight is too heavy. So he sends postcards. Back in college, I worked with this woman in a boutique. Her daughter had recently bought a house. My co-worker couldn’t

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The Red Line is a planned 14-mile, east-west transit corridor that would run from Woodlawn through downtown Baltimore to the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, improving transit connections and making it easier for Baltimore area residents to get to jobs, shopping, schools, doctors, entertainment and more.

COMMENT ON THE RED LINE CORRIDOR TRANSIT STUDY AA/DEIS (Alternatives Analysis/ Draft Environmental Impact Statement) The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is accepting comments on the Red Line Corridor Transit Study AA/DEIS through January 5, 2009. The Red Line AA/DEIS is available for public review at most Baltimore City and County libraries. There are also copies available for review at the MTA Planning Office in downtown Baltimore and at the Baltimore City andBaltimore County Offices of Planning. For a complete listing of the AA/DEIS locations, please visit or call 410-767-3754. Between now and January 5, 2009 you have four ways to share your comments on this project: 1. By completing an online comment form at 2. By sending an email to with “DEIS COMMENT” as the subject heading 3. By sending your written comments to Red Line c/o MTA Office of Planning, 6 St. Paul St. 9th Floor, Baltimore, MD 21202 4. By giving testimony – oral or written – at one of four Public Hearings that will be held in November 2008 For additional information, or to request ADA accommodations for the public hearings, please call 410-767-3754.


urbanite november 08

DATES AND LOCATIONS RED LINE AA/DEIS PUBLIC HEARINGS Thursday, November 6 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Lithuanian Hall 851 Hollins Street Baltimore, MD 21201 Served by Bus Routes: 10, 20, 35 Saturday, November 8 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Edmondson High School 501 N. Athol Avenue Baltimore, MD 21229 Served by Bus Routes: 6, 23, 40 Wednesday, November 12 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. United Autoworkers Hall (UAW) 1010 Oldham Street Baltimore, MD 21224 Served by Bus Routes: 10, 22, 23, 40 Thursday, November 13 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. Woodlawn High School 1801 Woodlawn Drive Baltimore, MD 21207 Served by Bus Routes: M6, 44

what you’re writing believe that her daughter had purchased a house without a husband. To her, it was as if her daughter had given up on men altogether. Her plan lay in postcards. There was a travel store down the street, and she bought postcards from every city she could find. She laid them out on the counter and practiced another person’s handwriting. On them she labored words like I Miss You and You Are Loved. Her plan was that her daughter might be intrigued enough to call an ex-boyfriend and meet him for dinner, where there would be candlelight and a new beginning. She tucked the stamped postcards into the shopping bags of traveling customers, who would then mail them from distant points. The daughter, alone in her house, began to question her past. Was it her boyfriend from college? That accountant she dated last month? She called her mother about it, but my co-worker didn’t say a word. Soon, the daughter found out about her mother’s scheme. She came to the store and angrily threw the postcards all over the floor. We all looked away. I picked them up after she left and admired the handiwork: the postmarks with their dates and locations, little clues to nowhere. When my father sends me postcards, they are postmarked with his zip code, but the pictures are deceiving. I never know quite where he’s been. The topics are light, but he knows how to make his words hold weight. He writes his signature in the right hand margin alongside miles of empty space. —Marie Abate is a writer and editor living in Baltimore.

He weighed more than 400

pounds. He ate when he was happy. He ate when he was sad. He ate when he was hungry and even not. He ate a large breakfast, lunch, supper, and evening snack. He used to order his clothes from a “Large Man” catalog or had them tailor-made. He was only comfortable driving an oversized car and steering it into the drive-through lane at fast food establishments. His feet and legs were always swollen. His breathing was always labored, he couldn’t walk too far, and he had sleep apnea and borderline diabetes. He survived a heart attack. Doctors tried to frighten him with certain

consequences. He went on numerous diets, all with good intentions. He lost and gained. He had a lapectomy to remove the overhanging stomach that sat on his lap; the incision took four months to heal. He had no sex life. Planes at one time accommodated him with two seat belts. He also found it more and more difficult to be in a movie, theater, or restaurant seat. As his girth became larger, his world and that of his family became smaller. At times there were feelings of enormous frustration, anger, and, yes, embarrassment from those in his inner circle. Jokes were made about how many it would take to support his extra-large coffin when the time came. Even the cancer that took him at the age of 55 failed to diminish the morbid obesity of the body he lived with. He was a beloved husband, father, and friend—if only we could have satisfied his hunger. —Myrna Silverstein Eiseman

The heavy metal door

swung open to reveal a middle-aged man, whistle around his neck, ball cap firmly planted on his salt-and-pepper-haired head. With a warm smile that intimated he thought I was lost, he said, “Hi. Can I help you?” Mustering up all my courage, I said, “I’m here to lift.” I was 14 years old, female, a mere 5 feet 3 inches in height and a size twenty-two. I loved both playing and watching sports, was on the drum line for marching band, and had always wanted to wrestle. What’s worse, I wasn’t even gay; I was just your average, homegrown tomboy, caught in a tug-of-war between my budding femininity and my extreme love of all things boy. Through that heavy metal door, past the nice man who turned out to be the JV football coach, stood a world untouched by my somewhat stubby hands. Once the onlookers got their fill of stares, once I found my feet that were still somehow attached to my wobbly, quaking knees, I found myself in a sort of paradise. It was peaceful, despite the boom box blasting a mix tape of rock and rap and the sporadic tinkling of weights clapping together after a rep. And there was something about the air in there—moist but not overpowering, stale but not closed off. It was

refreshing, redolent of courage and bravery. It smelled like strength. I lifted for years after that first experience. I took it as a class every year in school, twice a day my senior year. I lifted after school with the football players in the fall and the wrestlers in the spring. I went back every summer and lifted with “the boys,” who were actually quite nice, and Coach Layman, the coolest, most supportive coach I had ever met. He turned into a sort of personal trainer, always challenging me to give more, be better, and do greater than the last time. In the end, I wasn’t allowed to wrestle; my mom was desperately trying to convince me I wasn’t actually a boy. I did, however, find the strength to test out my newfound confidence—cheering for the boys on the sidelines, from my spot at the base of the pyramid. ■ —Johanna Hellman teaches middle-school English in Baltimore County. She still lifts, but not as obsessively.

“What You’re Writing” is the place for creative nonfiction from our readers. Each month, we pick a topic. Use the topic as a springboard into your own life and send us a true story inspired by that month’s theme. Only nonfiction submissions that include contact information can be considered. We reserve the right to edit heavily for space and clarity, but we will give you the opportunity to review the edits. You may submit under “name withheld” to keep your essay anonymous, but you do need to let us know how to contact you. If you’ve already changed the names of the people involved, please let us know. Submissions should be typed (and if you cannot type, please print clearly). Only one submission per topic, please. Send your essay to Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211 or e-mail it to WhatYoureWriting@urbanitebaltimore. com. Submissions should be less than four hundred words. Because of the number of essays we receive, we cannot respond individually to each writer. Please do not send originals; submissions cannot be returned.




Invention Migration My Partner

Nov 7, 2008 Jan 2009 Dec 8, 2008 Feb 2009 Jan 6, 2009 Mar 2009

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VISIT OUR NEW LOCATION In the Shops at Maple Lawn

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? By Edward Albee Directed by Ethan McSweeny The Head Theater Meet the host and hostess from hell in Albee’s wickedly funny, shamelessly in-yourface look at marital cold war turned hot. Oct 22–Nov 30, 2008 410.332.0033


Election 2008: Returns after Dark

Nov 4, 8 p.m.–midnight

Whatever your political affiliation, as the mother of all presidential races finally draws to a close on November 4, you may be too nervous to watch the results alone. If so, join occasional Urbanite contributor, professor emeritus, and former chair of Johns Hopkins University’s political science department Matthew Crenson for the election night play-by-play.

Towson Library 320 York Rd., Towson Free 410-887-6166

Baltimore Bioneers 2008

Nov 7–9

San Rafael, California’s Bioneers conference is a national gathering of artists, scientists, and environmental advocates sharing their best ideas on how to save the planet. Join Baltimore Bioneers for rebroadcast highlights from October’s national conference—such as a talk by Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau and founder of Blue Legacy—and live presentations on clean energy, green entrepreneurship, and more.

Maryland Institute College of Art’s Brown Center 1301 Mt. Royal Ave. See website for registration information 410-243-2488

High School Choir Invitational

Nov 12, 7:30 p.m.

The University of Maryland School of Music hosts twelve of the state’s most talented high school choirs in concert with the university’s ensembles for its seventh annual High School Choir Invitational. This year’s participants include representatives from Suitland High School’s prestigious Center for the Visual and Performing Arts in Prince George’s County.

Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center University of Maryland, College Park Free 301-405-ARTS

Rain Forest Sleepover

Nov 14, 6 p.m.–9 a.m.

Be a field researcher for one night at the National Aquarium in Baltimore’s Rain Forest Sleepover. You and your fellow explorers can observe the afterhours behavior of the rain forest and coral reef ’s inhabitants, camp out in sleeping bags, and help feed the animals in the morning.

National Aquarium in Baltimore 501 E. Pratt St. $79.95 per person (members $69.95) 410-576-3833

Waterfowl Festival

Nov 14–16

As flocks of Canada Geese fly south over the Eastern Shore, thousands of people migrate to Easton for its annual Waterfowl Festival. This year’s festival includes a gallery full of wildlife sculptures, paintings, and photography; calling contests; concerts; hunting gear; and more.

Easton $12 each Friday and Saturday, $10 Sunday; multi-day tickets $22 in advance, $24 at the door; some events require an additional fee 410-822-4567

Baltimore’s Thanksgiving Parade

Nov 22, 11 a.m.–1 p.m.

Although the straitlaced Pilgrims might have balked at all the giant balloons, floats, and colorfully clad marching bands, we are lucky to live in more festive times. Watch Baltimore’s Thanksgiving Parade as it makes its way past the Inner Harbor. Never one to be upstaged, Santa Claus will also be on hand to ring in the official start of the holiday season.

Pratt St. near Howard St. Free 410-752-8632

Photo credits from top to bottom: © Portiaremnant |; no credit; photo by Cory Weaver; courtesy of the National Aquarium in Baltimore; photo by David Bishop; courtesy of the Baltimore Offi ce of Promotion and the Arts

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Sign number eighty-seven that Station North is a serious arts district: the arrival of Artist and Craftsman Supply (137 W. North Ave.; 410-528-0003; Founder Larry Adlerstein opened the first location of this national chain in 1985 in Portland, Maine; this August, Baltimore became the home of its fourteenth franchise. The four-thousand-square-foot space is a maze of shelves carrying gouache and watercolors; prepared canvases up to 4 feet by 6 feet in size; framing, drafting, screenprinting, and sculpture materials; an extensive paper inventory; and more. This one-stop-shop for art supplies is located directly beneath the Hour Haus band performance space and next door to pizza joint Joe Squared. —Salma Warshanna

Southern Exposure Not long ago, Riverside neighborhood residents would stop at South Baltimore Supply and Hardware for nuts and bolts; now, they’ll find fine art. The sleek, 900-square-foot Gallery 211 (211 E. Fort Ave.; 410244-1340; has been open since February 2007. Co-founder Jason Goscha says he often exhibits abstract paintings, but doesn’t lean toward any one genre or medium of fine art to the exclusion of others. “I try to look for work that I think might speak to people,” he says. Works generally range from $500 to $1500. Next up: an exhibit of local photographer Andy Herbick’s work, from November 15 to January 3. Open Sat 2 p.m.–7 p.m. or by appointment. —Marianne K. Amoss

Diplomatic Solution Attention, local trivia buffs: In August, the Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association (410-659-7300; www. unveiled the Baltimore Tourism Ambassador Program, with the goal of providing an army of helpful, knowledgeable guides for visitors to the area. Applicants are dubbed “Certified Tourism Ambassadors” (CTAs) after successfully completing a bit of independent study, a half-day class session, and an open-book test on the city’s history, neighborhoods, development projects, and attractions. Although the program is geared toward front-line tourist industry employees such as cab drivers and hotel staff, anyone can take part. $25 registration fee with a $25 annual renewal. —Lionel Foster

courtesy of Gian Marco Menswear

That’s Italian! Gian Marco Menswear (517 N. Charles St.; 410-347-7974; www. is a virtual men’s fashion laboratory. By working directly with Italian designers, owners John Massey and Marc Sklar say that they can offer the latest styles sometimes years before they hit the mainstream. Where else in Baltimore can you find corduroy slacks interwoven with Lycra for the perfect fit, a Castelbajac sweater made of cashmere and silk, or pleated neckties with each fold sewn by hand? And the basics—suits, shirts, and blazers—are offered in a more sophisticated choice of colors and cuts than you’ll find in a chain store. Dress shirts start at $95, ready-to-wear suits at $695. —L.F. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8



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ALsO in B A Lt i M O r e OBserved:

baltimore observed

31 Update The financial crisis hits home.

33 No Fear A climber reaches for the sky.


The sleepy commercial drag that runs for a half-mile along East Drive through Arbutus begins at the smallish Superfresh grocery store on the east end and extends to the Hollywood movie theater on the west. In between sit a pair of convenience stores, a Cigarette Outlet, several restaurants (foremost, Leon’s, ground zero for supporters of former governor and ex-Arbutian Robert Ehrlich Jr.), two nail emporiums, a town hall, a volunteer fire station, a post office, a Baltimore County library branch, a clutch of attorneys’ offices, six pizzerias (six!), a dollar store, and sundry other establishments, including Wild Wolfs Beef Shack (so wild it eschews the possessive apostrophe), which is housed in a mobile trailer, and the Arbutus Poodle Salon. Vacant storefronts pop up intermittently. The stretch appears forlorn and flyblown, a wan reminder of the thriving hub that I remember growing up. Things have changed since I moved away thirty-five years ago: The Cigarette Outlet stands on the former site of the Driftwood Aquarium, where I bought teeny-weeny turtles; the once-expansive Hollywood has been quaded; and the house where avant-rocker David Byrne plugged in his first amplifier has made way for a metered parking lot. Since 1958, my mother has resided in Maiden Choice Village, a curiously named rowhouse development a half-mile north of downtown Arbutus. Fifty years ago, the neighborhood resembled Beaver Cleaver’s fictional Mayfield, entirely white. It’s still predominantly white, but now augmented by African Americans and, particularly, young South Asians who attend the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), which in the past forty-plus years has mushroomed from a handful of red brick buildings into a teeming academic megalith that glacially creeps closer and closer to Mom’s backyard. Thomas J. Vicino spent four years at UMBC, from 2002 to 2006, earning his master’s and doctorate degrees in public policy.

photo by Shelby Silvernell

In Between Places

First-tier troubles: UMBC grad Thomas Vicino diagnoses the midlife crisis of older Baltimore suburbs such as Arbutus.

For his dissertation topic, Vicino looked no further than the timeworn community just beyond campus and the others like it that ring the city. Published this June by Palgrave Macmillan, Vicino’s Transforming Race and Class in Suburbia: Decline in Metropolitan Baltimore dissects the region’s suburban woes from 1970 to 2000, chewing over census data to chart the disintegration of twenty-one “first-tier suburbs,” from Brooklyn Park on the south to Towson on the north, from Catonsville on the west to Dundalk on the east. The book joins the growing body of literature on the life and death of American suburbs. “I examined the process of suburbs getting older, and the impact it had on people and places,” Vicino, 28, says over the telephone from Norton, Massachusetts. A Baltimore native, he’s now an assistant professor of political science at Wheaton College. From 1970 to 2000, Vicino found, Baltimore’s first-tier suburban population shrank, aged dramatically, and diversified racially. Its median household income decreased, its pov-

erty rate doubled, its housing stock deteriorated, and its jobs sector shakily transitioned from manufacturing to services, resulting in soaring unemployment. “The wave of socioeconomic decline crashed in the suburbs like a tsunami,” he writes. “In the end, first-tier suburbs could not escape their apparent fate by the end of the twentieth century from the urban decay that afflicted the nation’s central cities during the 1960s and 1970s.” This first-tier suburban decline has been well-documented elsewhere, notably by former Indianapolis mayor William Hudnut in his 2003 book, Halfway to Everywhere. What distinguishes his study, Vicino says, is its exploration of what government can do about it. “Baltimore stands out from pretty much any other metropolitan area in the country in terms of what systematic revitalization can do on a large government scale,” says Vicino, who calls this a “midlife crisis point” for the city’s older bedroom communities. “First-tier suburbs can still capitalize on their location within the metropolitan area in terms of

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being ‘halfway to everywhere’—halfway to downtown and halfway to the edge cities.” Baltimore County is home to sixteen of the region’s twenty-one first-tier suburbs, and as such it enjoys something of a unique opportunity: Its centralized governmental structure means there are no incorporated municipalities slugging it out for financial resources. Vicino recounts the county’s efforts to reinvigorate the eastside suburbs of Dundalk, Essex, and Middle River, principally via new housing, beginning in 1995. “The approach, up to this date, has really focused on a physical planning aspect of the revitalization,” he tells me. “Most of these places look better. If you drive through downtown Dundalk, it looks a lot nicer than it did a decade ago. But when we look more on the social and economic sides—are people in Dundalk better off, are incomes going up?—there are a lot of other questions. I think that’s where we need to be a bit more critical.” To arrest, and possibly reverse, the suburban slump, Vicino recommends that, in addition to new housing, the county devote attention to education and public safety. Tellingly, the book doesn’t burrow into crime— census figures don’t track it—but Vicino notes that “anecdotally, most of the crime in Baltimore County is located within the Beltway”—i.e., in first-tier suburbs. “If the county continues to invest resources into fighting crime and failing schools in declining suburban areas—or uses a ‘triage’ approach and catches the decline before it spirals downward—then it can continue to move forward in confronting suburban decline in a systematic way.” In his research, Vicino spent time on the ground in all twenty-one first-tier suburbs, especially Dundalk, where he collaborated with the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation on a community revitalization plan as a graduate research assistant at UMBC’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education. His work led him to conclude that Hampton, a small first-tier suburb just north of Towson, best weathered the period from 1970 to 2000;

—Michael Yockel On November 14 at 2 p.m., Thomas Vicino will give a free seminar on “The Quest to Confront Suburban Decline” at UMBC’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education. For more information, go to

baltimore observed U p d At e

photo by Shelby Silvernell

Last picture show: Baltimore County could reinvigorate its aging suburbs, Vicino says, by focusing on issues familiar to city dwellers—crime and schools.

Dundalk and Essex—victims of “massive deindustrialization,” he says—fared the worst. The most startling transformation occurred in Woodlawn. “In just about a decade [the 1990s], it went from virtually an all-white suburb to virtually an all-black suburb,” he says. Other first-tier suburbs—Brooklyn Park, Linthicum, Edgemere—have largely resisted racial change, remaining more than 90 percent white. “Race is so ingrained in the social fabric of Baltimore City,” Vicino relates, “and it’s the same story in suburban Baltimore as well. Going into the project, I anticipated—or hypothesized—that that would be the case, but the degree to which it played out was really remarkable.” But Vicino is quick to point out that, unlike the “white flight” of Baltimore City in the 1950s and 1960s, first-tier suburbs underwent an entirely different racial-economic transformation after 1970. “Race is not as strongly correlated in the first-tier suburbs with decline [as in the city],” he says. “Bluecollar white suburbs like Essex and Dundalk and black suburbs like Lochearn both experienced substantial patterns of socioeconomic decline.” Why? Race-blind factors such as aging populations and housing stock, plus the demise of the manufacturing sector. So can first-tier suburbs be saved? Eventually, maybe: Vicino says he anticipates “another decade of continued decline. If we do not have more investment, then some places will not recover. I’m not really sure that we have the political capital to deal with this, particularly at the local level. It’s really going to take a large number of resources.” Such resources are now being marshaled in comparatively affluent Towson, where plans have emerged for a five-year, $700-million makeover. But what fate awaits, say, my native Arbutus, which cannot subsist forever on pizza shop revenues? The key, Vicino suggests, could be his alma mater, UMBC. “Arbutus is an interesting case because it is home to what has become a nationally ranked research university,” he says. “Tapping the UMBC campus as a resource to anchor and revitalize the Arbutus community would unleash many potential plans. UMBC hosts 12,000 students and over 630 full-time faculty. The surrounding area offers students few opportunities, and yet there is a huge demand for shopping, entertainment, coffee shops, and the like. This is one of the largest unmet demands in the market.” ■

Market to Market What does the Crash of ’08 mean for Baltimore? Depends on who you ask.

It’s a hazy fall weekday and the media are awhirl with the national-gone-global economic meltdown. The financial gods in Washington are hurling thunderbolts, trying to jolt the credit markets into action. Gov. O’Malley is threatening budget cuts. Mayor Dixon is muttering about layoffs. And as the lunchtime rush eases off at J.W. Faidley Seafood in Lexington Market, a group of patrons wonders when the economic storm will make landfall in the streets of Baltimore. Lu Fleming, who has been shucking bivalves at the raw bar for twenty-nine years, says business has quieted some, but he’s not sure yet if it’s going to get ugly. “I’m going to have to see November and December to give you an honest answer,” he says. “But if things keep going this way, there are going to be people who have to choose what they want to do for Christmas: eat, pay the mortgage, or buy gifts.” According to economic experts, hard times are indeed coming. “I think the nation is going into recession. That’s unambiguous,” says Richard Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute. “But the depth and breadth of this crisis make it hard to predict.” Maryland has been alternately lashed and skipped over by recent national economic downturns, thanks to its cozy relationship with the federal government, Clinch says. Military contracts make up a large part of the manufacturing sector, and many government employees live and pay taxes in the Free State. The recession of 1991 was “the perfect storm,” he says; the military downsized at the end of the Cold War and the federal government shrank, just as a regional housing bubble burst, battering local banks. A decade later, when the national economy soured following the dot-com bust and a manufacturing decline, the same factors shored up the state. “We avoided that one entirely because the government kept spending,” he says. Today, Maryland is vulnerable to another perfect storm, Clinch says, because of a regulatory and fiscal atmosphere that is “indifferent to business,” and continued continued on next page

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Man aloft: Bob Mertes sets up climbing equipment in a giant sycamore he calls “the Mother Tree.”


No Fear

On a starry August night in 1994, Bob Mertes traded in his motorcycle for a wheelchair. He was leading some buddies through the rolling back roads outside Ellicott City when, to help another rider avoid an oncoming car, he veered onto the soft shoulder, catapulting himself and a girl he was dating off his bike. The girl hit the pavement, slicing her skin raw; Mertes flew 50 feet, he says. He tried to get up, but he felt pinned down. “That’s when I looked over and saw my boot lying on the road next to my head,” he says. It was a Redwing Lineman boot—the kind that laces up to just below the knee. His leg was still in it, jackknifed up along his left side. It would take doctors thirteen hours to piece Mertes’ thigh back together. They grafted cadaver bone onto his shattered femur, bracing it with metal plates. A friend who has seen the X-rays says, simply, “Looks like somebody dropped a box of screws.” It didn’t work. It would take two more surgeries by a doctor who took Mertes on “as a project,” and years of healing, to finally make Mertes whole again. That, and the trees. Growing up in Laurel, Mertes was drawn to the woods. “I always had a weirdness with ropes, with rope craft and knots. I was always climbing,” he says. When he was 16, he borrowed some tools from a friend and took down a huge, dying Catalpa in his mother’s

On an early fall day, Mertes shoulders a pack of climbing gear and heads into the woods. Today, only a faint limp hints at the damage he once did to his body; when the weather gets bad, he says, his reconstructed femur aches. But Mertes has parlayed his talent with ropes and immunity to acrophobia into a job as a high access rigger—playing Spiderman on tall buildings and bridges, doing mechanical work and setting anchors and cables for window-washers and the like. After work, he gathers a few friends and takes to the trees. Not far from a paved bike path, Mertes stops to admire an old white oak, its trunk 6 feet across at the base. About 60 feet up, the trunk splits into five huge branches, each as big around as an oil drum, spreading like fingers from an upturned palm into a broad

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back yard, launching a life-long career as an arborist—a tree doctor. Mertes developed a “spiritual connection” with trees and an uncanny ability to find the giants hidden in the forest. (He once tried to work as a logger, but he wasn’t cut out for it. “I’d walk down into the woods and hug the trees and apologize before I cut them down,” he says.) Built like an oak—lanky and strong— Mertes speaks in low, measured words that sound like they’re coming from a hollow log. When he wasn’t doctoring trees, Mertes made marble and granite countertops and fireplaces, and worked as a machinist and a repo man. The day’s work done, he climbed into the canopy to unwind. It seemed a little strange—“I thought I was crazy,” he says— but it kept him sane through some hard times. Sitting in some centuries-old monster, he says, “reminds you that there’s something out there that’s bigger than you and bigger than your problems.” After the accident, suffering from chronic pain and restricted to crutches and a wheelchair, Mertes was despondent. He was on the outs with the mother of his three daughters, the youngest of whom, Natalie, was just 4 at the time. He describes sitting in front of his apartment in Ellicott City, “waiting for the vultures to pluck my eyes.” Occasionally, a friend would drive him to the top of a rail-trail that descends into Ellicott City. Mertes would roll back into town in his wheelchair. Once, he stopped to look into the woods. There, maybe a hundred feet from the trail, he could make out a dark form in the forest: the trunk of a massive tree. He named it the Witness, and he vowed to climb it some day. Mertes’ desire to climb again kept him going through the long recovery. Lacking insurance and money for physical therapy, he went back to work with stone, slowly building his strength. A year and a half after the crash, he finally got back into a tree—a big red oak in a friend’s front yard. “I sat up there for a long time and cried,” he says.

dependence on the government. But he isn’t forecasting catastrophe yet. “I tend to think we’ll muddle through,” he says. J. Kirby Fowler Jr., president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, is confident in the city’s business district. “We’ve got more than 4,000 employers within a mile of Pratt and Light streets. We have a very diversified downtown,” he says. Health care and biotech industries are likely to remain strong, and an influx of military personnel from closed bases should buoy up the housing market. But the financial district has already been hard hit. In mid-September, Constellation Energy, one of only two Fortune 500 companies in the Baltimore metropolitan area, was bought out after its stock values plummeted. Before the month was out, Wachovia, one of the country’s largest financial institutions and a major presence in the city, was bought out by a rival bank. In early October, the owners of the Baltimore brokerage firm Ferris, Baker Watts replaced two top executives after a money-market mutual fund used by some of its clients “broke the buck,” falling below one dollar per share, according to the Sun. The impact is already rippling outward from downtown. The developers of the Lexington Square “superblock,” a key West Side revitalization project, have downsized. “The original plan was based on getting a big-box anchor ... and we just haven’t found much market interest in that,” a spokesman told the Sun. “We do have some good interest in ‘junior’ box retail.” Meanwhile, homeowners continue to default on their mortgages at record rates. In Baltimore City, notices of loan default during the second quarter of 2008 were more than triple the same quarter in 2007. In Baltimore County, default numbers merely doubled. Experts predict that a wave of credit card defaults will follow. Back at Faidley’s, Olandas Gamble, who rounds up juvenile delinquents for the court system, still isn’t concerned about the storm that is laying waste to Wall Street. “Why would I worry about whether a rich man don’t have no money no more?” he says, sucking back an order of raw clams. But Darrin Jeter, working on a plate of oysters nearby, says it’s not so simple. Business has already dropped off at his downtown barbershop, he says. “Some of my clients, where they may have come every week, now they’re coming every two weeks,” he says. “When the big man eats, everybody eats.” ■ —Greg Hanscom

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baltimore observed

photo by JT Thomas

Sitting in some centuries-old monster tree, says Bob Mertes, “reminds you that there’s something out there that’s bigger than you and bigger than your problems.”

canopy 120 feet above the ground. It’s the Witness. Mertes is here because it’s healing time again. A romance has just fallen apart, and, adding to the heartache, he’s just dropped off Natalie, his youngest, at college in North Carolina. Natalie was the first person Mertes brought climbing in the Witness. It was three years after the accident, and she was 7 years old. “I didn’t share [the Witness] with anyone else at the time,” Mertes says. “She’s a really powerful tree.” He credits time in trees with building a strong father-daughter bond—and a tough, insightful young woman. Natalie’s college entrance essay was about climbing with her dad. To get into the tree, Mertes doesn’t use loggers’ spikes, which can do serious damage. Instead, he produces a slingshot mounted on an eight-foot fiberglass pole. With a warning call of “headache!” he shoots a sack full of lead shot trailing a thin cord through a notch in one of the higher branches. He uses the cord to pull a rope over the branch, using a leather sheath called a “friction saver” to prevent the rope from cutting into the tree. He steps into a heavy arborist’s harness clinking with carabiners. Then he ties in to one end of the rope and hauls himself up the other end using a sliding knot called a Blake’s hitch to hold his progress. Nine stories up, Mertes is all but invisible to dog walkers on the bike path. The leaves of saplings interlock in a patchwork of green below. A pair of barred owls sounds off in the dappled afternoon light. Mertes, usually laid back, is suddenly animated. Suspended by his rope, he dives from branch to branch, swinging like a pirate in the rigging. “Welcome to my church,” he says.

Back in town, at the bar at the Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, Mertes talks about his longtime dream of starting a tree climbing school, teaching people about the transformative power of the arboreal world. The dream helped him weather the accident and its aftermath; now he’s trying to puzzle out how to make it work as a business. He calls the school “Touch the Sky.” In recent years, recreational tree climbing has caught on with the REI crowd. To appeal to these affluent hobbyists, Mertes is thinking about hosting wine and cheese sessions, yoga classes, and sunset dates in trees. He even wants to do campouts, where people sleep in hammocks suspended in the branches. But he really warms up when he talks about teaching kids to climb. “I love what happens with kids, especially kids who are afraid of heights or reluctant to do it,” he says. He has promised himself that he’ll look up the doctor who rebuilt his leg and see if he has any young patients who would benefit from “spending a day outside of themselves.” Mertes has started networking with people in the outdoor education and recreation industries, and he’s working through the instructor training program at Tree Climbers International in Georgia, a national organization that promotes recreational climbing. Natalie helped put together a website, www., and friends have encouraged him to apply for funding to buy equipment. But progress is slow. Part of the problem is that Mertes spends every free moment swashbuckling about the treetops. “I’m my own worst enemy,” he says. “I’m a procrastinator.” Mertes also admits that he’s got a few

butterflies in his belly. When the website went live, he says, “That was scary shit. I felt really vulnerable. Suddenly my dream is out there for all the world to see.” A month later, Mertes is once again schlepping his backpack into the woods, this time to a forgotten corner of Druid Hill Park. It’s a chilly Friday afternoon, and the sky is spitting rain when he stops at the base of another massive red oak. Surrounded by smaller upstarts, it must have stood at the edge of a meadow decades ago. As Mertes sets up his gear, he talks about his school, which is starting to take shape. He has been getting calls from people who have seen his website, and he’s taken a few people up. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I think people are really scared of what’s going on with the planet. That’s why climbing trees really changes people. They come away with a deeper connection, that same thing that happened to me.” Mertes recently took a new lady friend’s nephews climbing. One of them was too terrified to try, but Mertes talked him into taking the first few steps up the rope. “Then there’s the flash in his eye—that ‘aha’ look,” Mertes says. “Yeah,” he says reassuringly, remembering the boy’s face as he reached for the sky. “You’ll be OK.” ■ —Greg Hanscom Web extra: Footage of Bob Mertes swinging through the trees at www.

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Groundbreaker MacArthur award winner Will Allen on raising food—and farmers—in the inner city I n t erv i e w P h oto g r a ph


by by

ill Allen is a tall drink of water. He stands 6 feet 7 inches tall. It’s no great surprise that the 59-year-old was once an all-American high school basketball player, and, later, a star at the University of Miami, where he was the school’s first African American athlete. Drafted by the Baltimore Bullets (now the Washington Wizards), he played professionally from 1971 to 1976 in the American Basketball Association and in Europe. It might surprise you, though, to know what Allen does now and where he does it: He’s a farmer. In inner-city Milwaukee. Allen is the founder of Growing Power, a nonprofit that produces about half a million dollars worth of fresh, organic vegetables and meat annually, distributing it to grocery stores, restaurants, and thousands of Milwaukee and Chicago residents. Many of those residents live in neighborhoods where groceries are otherwise limited to the paltry— and sugar-laden—offerings of corner convenience stores. Growing Power is at the forefront of a movement that has subsisted in the shadows of the “locavore” wave currently sweeping through more affluent areas. The organization has become a training ground for urban farmers from around the world and a job-skills incubator for city kids. Three dozen full-time employees work with volunteers to till the soil on five urban farms and one rural one. The organization offers training in everything from vermiculture (using worms to turn food leftovers and other waste into soil) to community supported agriculture operations, or CSAs (where consumers buy “shares” in a farming operation in return for a cut of the produce). Allen says Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett recently told him he was “below the grassroots—you’re underground.” In September, Allen, who says he prefers the “hands-on” work of farming to the business of running a nonprofit, won a $500,000 “genius grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. He says he plans to use the money to coax more sustenance from urban “food deserts.” His dreams include building a five-story, glass-walled “vertical garden” that will double as an urban farming academy. “That,” he says, “is what the future looks like to me.”


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g r eg

h a n sc o m

Ti m o t h y


h u g h es

How did you go from basketball star to urban farmer?

I grew up on a farm right on the border of Bethesda and Rockville. My father was a former sharecropper from South Carolina who moved to Rockville in the late ’30s. He brought all those skills with him and made me and my brothers grow a garden in the summer. That’s the basis of what I’m doing today. We grew every kind of vegetable you can think of. We grew corn, cucumbers, Southern peas. We grew peanuts in Maryland; a lot of people don’t know you can do that. My father actually grew some cotton just to show us how cotton grows.


Did you grow up dreaming of becoming a basketball star?

Not really. I didn’t play basketball until I was 13. My brother brought a basketball home one day. I put up one of those bushel baskets on an oak tree and flattened out an area of ground. I started throwing the ball at that basket. I had no skill at all. I was always bigger than everybody else, though. I could run like a deer, and I was really strong. I started playing with college players [while working at American University one summer], so I got good at it quickly. But I never played basketball [growing up]. It was all farm country. If you went there now, you wouldn’t believe me. Rockville and Bethesda—it’s very upscale now. It’s a concrete jungle.


Now you’re living in the concrete jungle, too—and farming.

The home base for Growing Power is a three-acre, 19th-century farm. It’s the last remaining registered farm in the city. I purchased it fifteen years ago, after my wife and I moved to Milwaukee. Her family had some land they weren’t using [on the family farm outside the city], and I had gotten the farming bug again. I thought that [the city property] would be a place for me to sell my produce.


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I got sucked into [urban agriculture] helping some youth grow a garden. A group of kids from the YWCA wanted to do an organic garden. They just had two little eight-by-eight plots. I said, ‘That’s too small. If you guys want to sell your stuff, you have to grow enough to sell.’ I had half an acre behind my greenhouse that I wasn’t using at the time, and by late June, they had a healthy crop. Somebody called the Journal Sentinel, and they did a big story. I talked to them about how the garden was teaching basic life skills: how to get up in the morning, how to be responsible for growing something. People really liked the idea. We took it to the schools. Eventually it became a nonprofit. Now it’s evolved into this international training center.


Does it really make sense to farm in the city?

Growing food inside cities is hot right now. The idea is not new. People have been growing food in their backyards forever. It’s just that people stopped. Now there’s a resurgence of side-yard gardens, backyard gardens, and community gardens. It’s really consumer-driven. Food scares have really moved the movement forward. There was the spinach scare last year, and the [E. coli-contaminated] lettuce where a lot of people got really sick. People are saying, ‘I want to know where my food comes from.’ Urban agriculture is connecting folks to their food. All over the world, people are moving into cities. They have this impression that life is better. It’s like the migration of African Americans from the South to the North for better jobs. But we have very unhealthy folks living in cities. It’s our whole food system: We’re just poisoning people, putting processed soybeans and corn into everything. Different ethnic groups—Native American and African American communities where people haven’t been eating this food very long—our bodies are still adjusting. We have this epidemic of obesity and diabetes that’s killing people. I know farmers that never go to the doctor unless there’s something really serious, like a broken leg or something. They just eat healthy and get enough exercise. I think we could cut our health care bills in half. We’re just going to have to get masses of people buying this kind of food. People say, ‘Well, that’s a long-term solution [to health problems].’ But I think it’s short-term. You can reverse your [poor] health very quickly by eating healthy.


To feed all those people, you need commercial farms, not just community gardens, right?


Going from a community garden to actual commercial production is a big jump. We’re training people to do it on a larger scale. It’s more intensive. Most farmers growing soybeans and corn, they’re lucky if they gross $500 [worth of crops per] acre. We’re growing $200,000 an acre. We grow about 159 different crops. We’re growing food yearround [using greenhouses]. We’re working with schools, starting CSAs, getting food to restaurants. We have a farmers’ co-op that includes three hundred farmers from all over the country. We’re delivering food all over the place. My thing is make sure that everybody, regardless of economic means, has access to the same really good, healthy foods. You talk about organic. It’s not just for Whole Foods and co-ops and so forth. Why can’t poor people eat really good food? I also want to make sure that our youth are eating healthy. Everybody knows we have an eco-

nomic crisis in this country. We also have a food crisis. The first thing families cut is good foods. They say, ‘Well, we can eat less and save this money to pay our mortgage, or pay off our credit cards.’


What is the biggest challenge for a farmer in the city?

The most important piece is getting embedded in the community. You have to engage the politicos, the people in the neighborhood, the schools, and the universities. If you don’t do that, you might as well not do anything. The next thing is soil. Soil in cities is contaminated. At Growing Power, we do vermicomposting. On the carbon side, we use waste paper and cardboard and leaves, hay, and straw. On the nitrogen side, we use pre-cooked food waste from wholesalers and grocery stores. We use brewery waste. This is a big brewing town. When they squeeze out the juices to make beer, all that waste is nitrogen waste. This year, we’ll compost six thousand pounds of food residue—that’s not counting the carbon side. And not only are we growing soil, we need to grow farmers. We don’t have enough farmers. Those [new] farmers will come from inside these cities. We have an urban ag training program. It takes at least five years to become a beginning farmer. You have to [experience] the hot days and the injuries and the bee stings, working after dark to get greens to the market. There’s no shortcut to this. But you have to get started. That’s what we do.


But city kids dream of becoming basketball stars, not farmers.


Everybody knows we have an economic crisis in this country. We also have a food crisis. The first thing families cut is good foods. They say, “Well, we can eat less and save this money to pay our mortgage, or pay off our credit cards.”

This idea that kids just want to be basketball players isn’t true. Inner-city kids are really responding. I wish you could see the transformation when we take a group of kids and send them through our program. The first week, you have maybe 25 percent of them interested. By the fourth week, you have 100 percent bought in, and the ones that were giving you the hardest time that first week are right in there getting their hands dirty.


So it all comes back to the dirt, then?

It’s all about the soil. We’re all connected to the soil; we just don’t know it. If you can’t grow healthy soil, you can’t grow healthy plants. If you can’t grow healthy plants, you can’t grow healthy people. And if you can’t grow healthy people, how are you going to grow healthy communities? We talk about sustainable communities. Without healthy food, you can’t have sustainable communities. ■

—Greg Hanscom is Urbanite’s senior editor. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


The state’s iconic seafood is more popular than ever. It’s also disappearing. Why things will never be the same for the Chesapeake blue.

Hard Times in

The Food Issue


y this time of the year, the Chesapeake Bay’s blue crabs have heeded their primordial siren and are swish-paddling to their winter quarters. It is a migration of incredible numbers—tens of millions of critters skittering sideways across 4,480 square miles of curlicued tidewater tributaries and the broad, murky underbelly of the bay. The female crab steers toward southern waters, where the higher salinity is more suitable for spawning. The male travels shorter distances, but dives deeper in search of sanctuary beneath a blanket of sand or mud until spring arrives. To say that it hibernates is technically correct, but that implies that a crab knows peace. Its coldweather respite is more a bivouac; a crab’s existence is mostly drama, shifting from one battleground to another in a lifelong struggle to avoid being eaten alive. Almost every living animal wants to consume crabs, no matter their age or size. Birds stalk them along the shoreline and seek them from the air. To ravenous fish, little crabs are like popcorn. Even crabs like to eat crabs: Given the chance, a crab

Crab Country B Y







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Vanishing industry: Waterman Elihu Abbott runs a trotline in the Honga River. Last year’s Chesapeake crab harvest was the lowest since the end of World War II.

will devour its own children. But perhaps no creature savors the Chesapeake’s most famous resident like the mallet-swinging bipeds for whom, during Maryland’s it’s-not-the-heat-it’s-thehumidity months, the four most beautiful words in the English language are “hot crabs, cold beer.” The Chesapeake Bay that we’ll never know again was a massive seafood factory: oyster bars so big that boats could run aground on mountains of bivalves, clam beds plentiful enough to keep New England seafood shacks afloat after the Yankees depleted their native waters. But after decades of over-harvesting, pollution, disease, poor management, and the ill effects of our recent infatuation with shoreline development, the bay’s inhabitants have been so battered that blue crabs are the Chesapeake’s last viable commercial fishery. And scientists and policy makers are warning—despite protests from the commercial crabbing industry—that the blue


urbanite november 08

crab population, even though it still numbers in the many millions, is in peril. Last year’s bay-wide catch of 43.5 million pounds of crabs was the lowest since the end of World War II. Most alarming, marine biologists say, is the downward trend in the population of spawningage blue crabs, the females whose vulnerable larvae are the bridge to the survival of Maryland’s most celebrated icon. Responding to cries of alarm from Maryland and Virginia politicians, the U.S. Commerce Department in September declared the crab fishery a federal disaster, marking a historic low point in the chronology of the Chesapeake blue. Precisely how the emergency declaration will affect crabs and the crabbers who catch them remains to be seen. Watermen could be put to work helping restore bay habitat and may be eligible for low-interest business loans. Historically, watermen loathe the idea of government handouts (many refused financial assistance when they were unable to catch oysters during one of the bay’s rare freeze-ups in 1977). Still, times have never been harder for the Chesapeake waterman, who, as a small businessman, can easily have a quarter million dollars invested in his boat and gear. But here’s the paradox: The crabs are disappearing, and with them an industry, a way of life, an irreplaceable regional culture. But, looking at menus and supermarkets around town, you would never know it. There’s fresh crabmeat in the seafood case year-round, and rare is the Mid-Atlantic restaurant that doesn’t have a crab cake on the menu. If the Maryland crab—long a backyard staple for the lunch bucket crowd, a resource once so common that it was fed to livestock—has become a rare delicacy, why is crabmeat as ubiquitous as lumps in gravy? The technical answer involves a seafood bait-and-switch: a doppelganger on the other side of the world, a bit of marketing sleight-ofhand. But, beyond the economics of supply and demand, something more troubling occurred. The Maryland blue crab could burrow deep into the Chesapeake mud, never to emerge again, and few of us— aside from the relative handful who still pry a living from the waters of the bay—would even notice.

At a restaurant in Annapolis, I recently sat down to have lunch with Ann P. Swanson. She’s the executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Commission, a group founded in 1980 to advise lawmakers in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania about how best to address issues facing the bay—including the troubled blue crab population. The commission is composed of state government cabinet members, fifteen legislators, and three “citizen representatives,” all thoughtful individuals whose nearly impossible mission is to come up with a plan acceptable to everyone who has a stake in the country’s largest estuary. It was summer, the peak of the commercial crabbing season on the bay. I opted for the traditional crab cake, and Swanson chose the crab melt. She also asked the server, a friendly woman about college age, if the crab was domestic. Yes, the server assured us, it was Maryland crab. Swanson politely asked if she wouldn’t mind double-checking with the chef. Minutes later, the young woman reappeared at our table with a stricken look on her face. “I was completely wrong,” she apologized. “It’s Asian meat.” Swanson had guessed as much. “It’s called blue swimming crab as opposed to blue crab,” she told the server. Asian crab meat, she explained, has less flavor than the native crab but is whiter, contains bigger lumps and fewer shell fragments, and is cheaper than meat from crabs caught in waters less than a mile from the restaurant. “Yeah, yeah,” said the server, nodding before she ran off to another table. “Why don’t they tell the staff?” I wondered aloud. “They never do,” Swanson whispered. This scene repeats itself every day in hundreds of dining rooms around the bay. It is the restaurant equivalent of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” although the phrase “Maryland-style” offers a clue that the

Troubled Waters Equipped with powerful pincers and a sturdy exoskeleton, an adult Maryland blue crab may be a feisty critter: Poke one and you’ll see how fast it rears on its hind legs to defend itself. But it’s no match for the confederacy of forces destroying its environment. As the condition of the Chesapeake Bay declines, so does the survivability of the crab and the other creatures that call it home. But wait: Scientists, policy makers, and billions of tax dollars have made great strides in putting the bay back on track, right? “The once-acclaimed program to restore the Chesapeake Bay, now in its 25th year, has failed.” So begins environmental journalist Tom Horton’s grim forty-seven page report “Growing! Growing! Gone,” published in

The chief ingredient comes from thousands of miles Food away. It is widely assumed these days that many longtime Marylanders and nearly all tourists cannot disIssue tinguish the flesh of Callinectes sapidus, the Maryland blue crab, from Portunus pelagicus, the imposter from the waters off Southeast Asia. But that this happened at a restaurant just a few blocks from the Maryland State House is not without a touch of irony. In 1989, state lawmakers passed a bill designating Callinectes sapidus as the official state crustacean. For those who find meaning in championing insects, birds, dinosaurs, and dogs as state symbols, the elevation of the common blue crab was not such a foolish notion. Just a few years earlier, the value of commercial crab catches had exceeded oysters—which had been crippled by disease, pollution, and overharvesting—for the first time in state history. And despite decent crab harvests throughout the 1980s (1985 saw bay-wide landings of hard crabs exceed 53 million pounds), crabbers and processing houses couldn’t keep up with a growing demand. Thanks in part to the marketing efforts of the state’s seafood industry, Americans had developed a taste for Maryland crab. And they wanted it all year. In 1989, while seafood marketers were celebrating the crab’s new status, Baltimore-based Phillips Foods was tackling the supply problem. Concluding that meat picked from crustaceans caught in the waters off Southeast Asia could mimic the crab served in its stateside restaurants, Phillips hired and trained Philippine workers to catch the blue swimming crab and built plants where the meat could be processed and shipped to the United States. It’s a well-known story: how the Phillips crab dynasty began humbly on Hoopers Island in Dorchester County, spreading from a summer restaurant in Ocean City to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and beyond. A lengthy 2005 account of the company’s dominance

It’s simple, says environmental reporter Tom Horton: more people equals fewer crabs August by the Baltimore-based Abell Foundation. Horton, a former Sun reporter and columnist (and an Urbanite contributor in May 2007), has written eight books about the bay, and he targets runaway growth in the bay watershed with undoing decades of conservation work. He’s at his most forceful—and controversial—when he takes on the conventional green orthodoxy that population growth is less important than smart environmental stewardship. Population size does matter, says Horton: More people means more roads, more buildings, more parking lots, more sewage treatment, and more loss of acreage to development. Had we adopted population stabilization standards urged during the Nixon

and Carter eras, he notes, the bay watershed would be on track to house 15 million people by 2030. “We’ve already surpassed that,” he says, “headed for 25 million or more by 2050.” And how does all this affect the crab trying to mind its own business at the bottom of the bay? For one, rising greenhouse gas emissions are related to growing population and development in Maryland and the rest of the world. Consequently, the bay is getting warmer, Horton says, and submerged plants such as eelgrass are dying off. “And that’s where the baby crabs live.” Horton’s article can be found on the Abell Foundation’s website at —B.T.

No place to hide: Bay grasses are dying off, and with them the baby crabs they once sheltered.

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ably creepy look, even when it is steamed and dumped onto a newspaper in front of you. Now, consider that you’re expected to rip the animal apart, sticking your fingers into its innards and extracting only the edible parts, leaving behind lungs, stomach, and heart. Once you’ve ravaged a hard crab, however, the reward is undeniable. Delicate. Mildly fishy. And definitely sweet. No saltwater denizen—not the lobster, the oyster, the rockfish, or the tenderbellied clam—sits in the same pew as the Chesapeake blue crab. I asked a few watermen, scientists, pickers, and policymakers why our blue crab tastes superior not only to the Indonesian species, but also to the blue crabs landed in the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic waters off North Carolina, the ones that Maryland crab houses rely on to augment the dwindling local catch. No one had a specific answer, although it is generally assumed that the blue crab’s flavor reflects its surroundings—the food it eats and the conditions of the water where it swims. As the crabs’ diet changes with the decline of some of its prey species, and as climatologists anticipate a warmer, saltier bay, Chesapeake blue crabs of the future could well lose some of in the imported crab trade in the Washington City Paper ran under the headline “Crab Imperialist.” These days, company officials are tight-lipped about their operations and, through a spokeswoman, declined to answer questions for this article. Almost all of the “Maryland-style” crabmeat served in the Phillips restaurants and sold through its food distributors comes from Asia. And while blue crab aficionados may look down their forks on Phillips’ saturation of the market with the swimming crab meat, the family-run business did not invent the practice of importing foreign seafood. In the early 1930s, Maryland officials noted that domestic crab processors faced competition with imports of a similar kind. In 1930 alone, the United States imported about 10 million pounds of crabmeat, mostly from Japan. At that time, this country produced more than 83 million pounds of crab, with nearly 69 million pounds coming from Chesapeake waters. This past June, Phillips Foods was awarded an exclusive patent for a method of packing loose pieces of crabmeat into a mold so that the end product resembles perfectly shaped alabaster jumbo lump crab. In other words, their Maryland-style crab could even contain faux lumps. It’s a technological breakthrough that may offer some comfort to fans of Chesapeake cuisine: Should marine scientists fail in their efforts to save the blue crab, food scientists will make sure that we’ll still get our jumbo-lump crab cakes, one way or another. Learning to love crabs—what poet and essayist Lance Morrow described as “lice monsters from the weeds”—is not an instinctive act. For a moment, suspend your familiarity with the animal and look upon it anew. Chadwick the storybook character and tourist-shop plush toys aside, a living crab is a repulsive and pugnacious creature, armored for battle and possessing a sour disposition, two menacing Popeye-sized claws, and a pair of stalked beady eyes the size of map pins. All in all, it has an undeni-


urbanite november 08

that distinctiveness. Currently, the dinner menu for a crab would have to list clams and oysters at the top; other crabs, of course; any fish (dead or alive); shrimp; eelgrass and other assorted aquatic plants; and almost every other organic matter in any stage of decomposition within claw reach. A crab is a scavenger, a dutiful housekeeper that performs yeoman service on the bottom of the bay. And that’s all most of us need to know. (It’s better not to know this story, for example. Two watermen were out one morning pulling their crab pots when one rope wouldn’t budge. After much tugging and swearing, both men managed to bring the wire pot close to the boat, only to discover that it had snagged a human corpse. “Gosh dast! Get on the radio and call the police,” gasped one of the crabbers. “Not so fast,” said the other. “If we drop ’im back in, we’ll get another bushel off ’im tomorrow.”) Considering how long the crab has been around and how important it is to us, we’ve only just begun to understand it. Marine biologists such as Dr. Yonathan Zohar of the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute in Baltimore and Anson “Tuck” Hines of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center in Edgewater are exploring the crab’s world, probing its life stages from tiny zoea to feisty adult and how it survives in a world of predators. Zohar is the director of UMBI’s Center of Marine Biotechnology, and he’s optimistic that crabs can be raised in large numbers in man-made hatcheries and ultimately released into the Chesapeake to enhance the threatened spawning stock. Not all scientists embrace the notion of mass-producing crabs in captivity, but Zohar’s team has already tagged and released three-quarters of a million baby crabs. If funding holds out, he thinks the program can be a powerful new tool for fisheries managers trying to reverse population decline. “The sky’s the limit,” Zohar says. “Or, actually, the water’s the limit.” The crab study was launched in the summer of 2000 with financial backing from state and federal agencies, the Maryland Water-

Hard to handle: Anna Jones picking crabs at J.M. Clayton Co. in Cambridge.

The Food Issue

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men’s Association, and Phillips Seafood. A more complete understanding of a crab’s basic biology and ecology, scientists believe, may be the last best hope One side effect of the rise of for keeping the Chesapeake populated Asian crab: Many crab lovers with enough crabs to keep the commercial fishery alive. have become convinced that One of Zohar’s most curious chalthe best crabmeat is solid lenges is to prevent crab-on-crab predation. To accomplish that, he’s looking for white in appearance. “Our ways to induce synchronized molting crabmeat is not snow white,” among crab populations so that the crabs that have not shed their shells says Jack Brooks. “It has a don’t devour the ones that have. Zohar beigey tint, and it’s sweet.” points out that by nature, crabs are combative throughout their lives—except when it’s time to turtledove. When the female decides to mate, she exudes pheromones that alert male crabs, who temporarily regard her not as potential food but as a means of propagating the species. While the crabs couple, says Zohar, the male is actually protective of Jack Brooks of J.M. Clayton Co. shows off a a tray of the female. “Baader meat”—finely ground “crab scrapple” left Coping with reduced harvests and competition from imported over after the bigger chunks of meat are picked. meat will require imagination if the local industry is to stay above water. In 1995, about forty or fifty seafood plants around the bay were licensed and equipped to pick crabs. Perhaps half that number remain in business today. With its niche market, J.M. Clayton may be better prepared than other processors to weather fluctuations in the crab harvest, but what has become an annual struggle to find enough crab pickIf any processing house is likely to survive, it may be J.M. ers leaves Brooks pessimistic about the future of the industry. The Clayton Co. in Cambridge. Billing itself as “the oldest crab house in days of depending upon local residents to fill seasonal slots in the the world,” it’s an operation that blends tradition and innovation. picking houses ended with the appearance of fast food and motel During the regular season, watermen bring their bushels of crabs chains and big box stores. Most of Clayton’s employees are Hispanic to Clayton’s by boat or truck. The still clattering, pinching cargoes workers brought to Dorchester County under the federal H2B proare separated into two groups. The large, heavy crabs will be sent gram that grants a limited number of temporary visas. Intended to restaurants to be steamed, probably that same night. The others, to help keep small businesses like Clayton’s operating, the H2B smaller or missing a limb or two, are dumped into steel steamers program has long been snarled in bureaucratic red tape and politithat cook at 250 degrees for twenty minutes. Once cooled, the crabs cal contretemps over illegal immigration and border security. The are wheeled into the picking room, where on a busy day as many as result is that Clayton’s employees often have difficulty securing visas fifty-five women sit at stainless steel tables and separate by hand the to return for the following season. meat from the shell. The work starts at 6 a.m. and, if there are enough In the meantime, Clayton’s maximizes its operations by seecrabs, continues for eight hours. A large sign reading SHELL FREE ing that nothing goes to waste. Discarded shells are shipped off to hangs from a far wall. Every ninety minutes or so, the pickers get up another business that turns the matter into compost and fertilizer. from their seats and weigh the meat they’ve stuffed into little plastic And most everything else gets poured into a grinding machine tubs. Jack Brooks, whose great-grandfather started the business, says called a Baader, after its German maker. What emerges from the an average picker can pack about twenty pounds of crab a day. The other end is a greenish paste the consistency of dough. This sobest pickers can reach forty pounds by quitting time. called “Baader meat”—the crab equivalent of scrapple—is squeezed Clayton’s used to sell its crabmeat to wholesalers and chain into heavy plastic bags, pasteurized for long shelf life, and distribfood stores, but was forced in the mid 1990s to scope out the highuted to restaurants, where it is used to flavor crab dishes and soup. end niche market because local processors could not compete with Standing beside the Baader machine, Brooks collects a small the imported crab flooding the country. One side effect of the rise of mound of the glop in the palm of his hand and sticks it in my direcAsian crab is that many crab lovers have become convinced that the tion. I dip in a finger and put the paste in my mouth. Aside from best crabmeat is solid white in appearance. If they wanted to, Clayits wretched appearance, the stuff isn’t bad. In fact, it prompts an ton’s could produce a product that more closely resembles imported unexpected frisson of recognition. Lo and behold, here is pure escrab by washing away all the natural yellowish fat—“clean the crab sence of Maryland blue crab, the real unadulterated thing. And, like down to its basic core” is how Brooks puts it. But they don’t. “Our scrapple (“Everything but the oink and the curl in the tail”), it has crab meat is not snow white,” Brooks explains. “It has a beigey tint, everything but the pinch of the claw. and it’s sweet.” w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8




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The road to Smith Island changes from asphalt to water at the dock—what some old-timers still call Janice Marshall has heard all the the barrel wharf—in Crisfield. A lot of seafood has been loaded into refrigerallegations that a Smith Islander ated freight cars and trucks at this spot is preternaturally inclined to overlooking Tangier Sound. The trains are gone now, but when they arrived in catch the last crab and the last the late 19th century, they put Crisfield oyster. But industry, farmers, on the map. Literally built out into the water on a foundation of empty oyster and developers are the ones for shells, this part of town was the compouring chemicals into the bay. mercial hub of a lucrative crab and oyster market that supplied restaurants in she says. “You will never see a Baltimore, Washington, D.C., PhiladelSmith Islander fertilize a lawn. phia, New York City, Boston, and even as far west as Chicago. Why would we want to destroy Post-Civil-War gourmands who our livelihood?” savored the delicious oddity of the soft crab created such a demand for the seasonal delicacy that hundreds of small boats clogged the creeks and shallow waters of Somerset County in search of crabs about to shed their shells. The crab, the oyster, and the locomotive turned what had been a mosquito-infested backwater into a boisThe dog, shivering and shaking in the arms of a young island terous town that sometimes more resembled the Wild West than girl, rode the boat across Tangier Sound and was carried onto the the genteel Chesapeake Bay. dock at Tylerton, one of three Smith Island towns and the only one Crisfield still prides itself as the “crab capital of the world,” not linked to the others by road. welcoming visitors with a giant red crab painted on the side of Janice Marshall agreed to meet me on the dock and lead me the town water tower. Most tourists are headed for Smith Island through Tylerton to the building housing the Smith Island Crabin Maryland waters or Tangier Island, just on the other side of the meat Co-op. For generations, island women had picked the crabs border in Virginia. Cars and vans are unloaded at the dock and all caught by their husbands and sold the meat to mainland buyers. kinds of gear are stowed onto the boats that make daily trips to and The meat was among the finest around the bay, but state regulators from the island villages. threatened in the early 1990s to shut down the cottage industry— Time doesn’t stop at the Crisfield dock, but it does seem to the women picked crabs inside weather-beaten outbuildings behind pause. It was here, settled onto one of the wooden “liars benches,” their houses—unless it could meet strict health guidelines. Comthat a Smithsonian Institution consultant named William W. Warplaints about the meat had not come from customers, but from ner eavesdropped as the locals swapped news and rumors about commercial packers in Crisfield who said they were being held to a crabs and other matters of local importance. Warner sat quietly, higher standard. So the islanders grudgingly banded together, took without notebook or tape recorder, and made copious mental notes, out bank loans, and built a spanking new facility equipped with which he turned into the book Beautiful Swimmers, awarded a Pustainless steel tables, sinks, and other equipment necessary to aplitzer Prize for nonfiction in 1977. Drawing his title from the English pease state health officers. translation of Callinectes, the book was and remains the seminal On our way to the co-op, Janice poked her head inside a shanty narrative of the bay crabber and the watermen’s culture. It might where a retired waterman showed off his latest project, a model also be the best historical document future Marylanders have of a workboat fashioned from a piece of plastic he rescued from a vanished industry. worn-out refrigerator. He sells his little boats to tourists, who have Much has happened along the Crisfield waterfront since Warbecome more and more important to Tylerton and its two sibling ner stopped by; condominiums cast unfamiliar shadows along the villages since the decline of the commercial seafood industry. With waterfront where crabbers used to unload their day’s catch. But its scarred boats, the one-room shanties-on-stilts, and the backdrop Warner would still find the dock an entertaining hangout. of lonely marshes, the island is an artist’s dream world, a panorama One recent day, the captain of one of the Smith Island ferries of soft colors and hard luck. watched as broad-backed men loaded his boat with boxes of canned In addition to the steamer room and the well-scrubbed picking goods and soft drinks destined for island cupboards. Nearby, an older and packing rooms, the co-op building boasts a small office where woman dressed in a white top and pink capris clutched a taut leash the women keep records by hand and a little hallway where visitors attached to a small dog with bulging eyes and a nervous attitude. can purchase T-shirts and other memorabilia. The women follow “What’s his name?” the captain asked. “Precious,” came the reply. continued on page 87 The captain turned to his mates and smiled. “Name’s Twitchy.” w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8

























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The Food Issue

Humble Hanover, Pennsylvania, home to Snyder’s and Utz, makes millions feeding the salty desires of their neighbors to the southeast and beyond.

t’s noon on a late-summer Wednesday when three leatherclad guys in their 60s walk into the foyer at the Utz Theater. Here—past the ancient potato peeler and the discontinued chip tins, up the steps from the old neon Utz sign—the tasty story of the potato chip is told at the start of the Utz Quality Foods Inc. “chip tour.” The multimedia theater entertains and amuses without the aid of a live human; tour-goers just stand around and wait for a disembodied voice from above to tell them what to do next. Before the recording starts, the three guys relate a story of their own, one that may be just a bit tall. They rode the fifty miles up from Baltimore on Harleys. Worried they’d get lost on the way, they caught sight of an Utz delivery truck on I-83, then parked themselves in its slipstream all the way to chip heaven. With detours. “He was zigzagging through parking lots and down these side roads, trying to ditch us,” explains a helmeted guy with a graying mustache. The other two, grayer still, jiggle with laughter. “He started throwing bags of chips out the window to throw us off the trail,” another says. “We finally get up here, and he parks in the lot and gets out and says, ‘Hell, I thought you guys were going to hijack me!’” A disembodied voice starts talking, and the trio lets out a whoop before walking through swinging doors to the first part of the tour: the story of the potato chip and of the family that has fried its way into the hearts—and stomachs—of millions. Since 1921, when Bill Utz quit his job in a shoe factory and, with his wife, Salie—“a fine cook in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition,” according to company lore—started marketing thin slivers of potato fried in kettles, the company has ridden a one-way economic escalator: Utz now makes 50 million pounds of chips per year, rakes in more than $400 million, and employs more than one thousand people. Utz can’t claim historical ownership of the potato chip— people in the Andes were making them more than a thousand years ago. A hotel chef in Saratoga Springs, New York, angry with a picky diner who complained his fried potatoes were too thick, w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8

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The Food Issue

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Once, during the 1970s, Turkey Joe Trabert mailed a slogan suggestion to the company— “Fill your gutz with Utz!”—that apparently fell on deaf ears.

Chips ahoy: Loading up on munchies at the Utz factory store

created the modern chip archetype in the 1850s by making them paper-thin. But Utz—along with Snyder’s of Hanover, its neighbor less than three miles away—has hijacked much of the snack shelf space in Baltimore. The Hanoverian contingent has succeeded in sending the local likes of Mrs. Ihrie’s into retirement, running regional challengers like Wise out of the big supermarkets, and putting a dent in the sales of Pepsi-owned Frito-Lay, which eats up as much as 68 percent of the $24 billion-a-year American snack food market. Add an assortment of smaller pretzel/chip players—Wege, Martin’s, Shultz, Revonah, Gibbles—and you can understand why Hanover bills itself as “the snack food capital” of the East Coast. The town’s relationship with Baltimore appetites is symbiotic: As Utz and Snyder’s can brag about a steady, decades-old line of growth, Baltimore can take credit for much of their success. In the olden days, as they say here, Bill Utz would hire people to fry chips fresh in Cross Street Market. (There’s still a stand there, as well as one at Lexington Market.) “Baltimore was essential to the beginning of Utz,” says Alec Sivel, Utz’s director of marketing. “Baltimore had lots of farmers’ markets during our formative years. That’s mostly how they sold chips back in the ’20s and ’30s. Utz could have just stayed in Hanover, but they thought that making the trips to Baltimore would grow their business.” The Baltimore-D.C. area remains a “core market” for Utz, which makes more than one hundred different snack products but relies on its forty or so types of chips to make up 70 percent of its sales. Utz now has thirty distribution centers up and down the East Coast, as its markets have grown both to the north and south over the years. The “Utz girl,” the once elegant young lady with a pageboy who turned into a cartoonish little girl during the ’60s, is a regional icon on par with Mr. Boh. (A jeweler’s billboard features the oneeyed beer company symbol proposing to her. “[Mr. Boh] isn’t what our normal little Utz girl would go for, but we thought it was such a good idea that we’d go along with it,” Sivel explains.) Back on the chip tour, the bikers settle in for a fifteen-minute film on the Utz saga, along with parts of a documentary on chips from the History Channel. To summarize: Utz chips are made from potatoes that are bred to be round and of consistent water content.

They’re grown locally and as far away as Florida and Idaho. Utz cuts them at between .045 and .065 inches per chip and sells the peelings to farmers for animal feed. It takes four pounds of spuds to make one pound of chips, which are ferried across long frying tables full of cottonseed oil at a constant temperature of 340 degrees Fahrenheit. If a chip has a brown spot on it, sensors underneath the conveyor belt single it out and blow it off the belt with a puff of air. Bags are flushed with nitrogen before they’re packed with chips to help them last up to eight weeks on the shelf. It goes on and on. Later, visitors can watch this process firsthand through a long window one floor above the action. It’s a well-oiled machine of belts, hairnets, and stainless steel. Salt falls in flurries. In this light, the potato chip isn’t so much a guilty pleasure as it is an object of modern industrial precision. After the tour, the Over the Hill Gang sits at a table. One of them puts his boots up on it, enjoying the small red-and-white bag of regular Utz that comes gratis at tour’s end, secure in the knowledge that frying chips sure ain’t like making sausage. The Frito Bandito never had it so good. If you, too, seek the cottonseed-oil-soaked soul of Baltimore snackiness, head north and look for the faded blue Hanover sign. Rural and small-town Pennsylvania may be suffering economically these days, but Hanover—with a regional population of about 90,000 and counting—hustles and bustles. Residents surround a brick-and-mortar downtown whose showy Bavarian architecture evokes the unmistakably broad shoulders of generations of German immigrants. There’s a castle-like hotel and several homegrown restaurants (the Famous Hot Weiner Lunch, among them) that recall a time when small towns along railroads and rivers were hives of activity, not hollowed-out places that have become quaint only when viewed through the gauze of memory. No one can say for sure why Hanover became Snack Central. Some theorize that, when the textile industry dried up in the early 20th century, local entrepreneurs started marketing some of things continued on page 89 w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8



lunchROOM Chronicles


Can an irrepressible New Orleans chef put the food back into Baltimore school lunch?

n hour ago, this room at City Neighbors Charter School in Northeast Baltimore was filled with sweaty, sneakered sixth-graders running laps in gym class. Now it’s noon, and children sit at folding tables contemplating their next meal. On today’s menu: cheeseburgers, tater tots, and peas, each in its own plastic-covered Styrofoam container. I, the intrepid journalist, am here to join in the school lunch experience. The meal is, frankly, awful. The containers are hard to break into: The plastic tops don’t peel off easily and have to be stabbed with the only utensil available, the ubiquitous “spork.” The wholewheat bun looks OK, but the burger is rubbery. When I fold the patty in half, it doesn’t break, and it tastes like it smells: salty, a little musty. The tater tots are the most appetizing feature of the meal, probably because they are little more than fried, salty starch. Did I really spork my way through such fare when I was in school, or have my standards just risen with age? My lunch-mates, eighth graders Ryan Becker and Latravious “Tra” Holley, assure me that I’m not alone. About a year ago, they earned some notoriety— and a story in the Sun—when they took their case against the food to the school board. Exhibit A: that day’s lunch. “It was fish nuggets,” Becker says. Holley groans. “Oh, God. Fish nuggets.” “We gave it to the board, and one of them started to eat it and he spit it out,” Becker says. “He said, ‘I don’t know how you guys have been doing this all year.’” Khadijah Wilson, a seventh-grader sitting nearby, offers this description of the mashed potatoes: “You could drink ’em.” But there is hope. There, on the corner of my tray, sits a glowing ball of pure food: a peach. I bite into it, and the cool, sweet juice trickles down my chin. During the first month of school, tens of thousands of Baltimore school kids ate Maryland peaches, grown at Baugher’s Farm in Carroll County. (See “The Ripe Stuff,” June '08 Urbanite.) The peaches represented a promise: In a school system flooded with pre-plated meals of questionable nutritional value, kids might soon be eating real food again. The promise came courtesy the Baltimore City Public Schools’ new director of food and nutrition, Tony Geraci.


urbanite november 08


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Geraci is from New Orleans, and he looks it: shapely red and grey goatee, gold chain, gold earring, generous belly. “I was born and raised in N’Awlins, baby,” he enthuses to me one day, standing aboard his sailboat anchored at the Tidewater Yacht Services Center. The vessel doubles as his apartment. “I’m all about the food!” The product of a Sicilian father and a mother who came from a family of “dirt-poor sharecroppers, Creoles from the Delta country,” Geraci spent his early years up in the Crescent City’s notorious Desire Street Projects. He learned cooking from his grandmothers. His father’s mother is celebrating her 100th birthday this year. “She still cooks,” Geraci says. In and out of trouble as a kid, Geraci left home at 15, found work cooking on cargo ships, then spent about a year and a half in the U.S. Army before an injury got him discharged. He received formal culinary and business training at Victor Valley Hospitality College in California and returned to New Orleans to manage nightclubs. In 1980, Geraci moved to Santa Cruz, California, and opened a series of six restaurants, including Antoine’s Inn New Orleans, his most successful. “I had the first Creole restaurant in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is much like having the only Chinese restaurant in a five-hundred-mile radius,” he says. “You’re guaranteed a certain amount of success.” It was in Santa Cruz that Geraci began using local food. Unlike his Bay Area contemporary Alice Waters—she of the pioneering locavore shrine Chez Panisse—he didn’t do it out of a moral obligation to save farmers or the planet. “It was about keeping my business going,” he says. “Local food is fresher food. Fresher food creates a better product. A better product keeps my customers coming back.” In 1988, Geraci sold his restaurants and followed his first wife back to her native New Hampshire to raise their three children. There, he got into food brokerage, turning his chef ’s mind to the business side of food, until the death of a childhood friend from alcohol and drug abuse led him to reevaluate his priorities. “I had to go identify the body,” he says. Geraci holds up his thumb and forefinger, as if measuring something small. “I realized this is how long we’re here, and this is what we get to do while we’re here. I thought, ‘From this moment on, my life is different.’

The Food Issue

Homegrown: Baltimore City Public Schools’ new food and nutition director, Tony Geraci, promises to shake up the much-maligned school lunch program: “This will become a model, a catalyst for change for every school district in the country.” w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


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“Some people talk about going quietly through life,” he says. “F that. I want to carve my initials on the place and say ‘I was here, and I made a difference.’” He started small, with the 2,800student Contoocook Valley School District. In 2003, he put New Hampshire apples and cider on lunch trays in district schools; by the end of 2005, more than 108,000 school kids from forty-four districts were eating apples grown in their state. Then came local lettuce and bagels. Elisabeth Farrell, program coordinator for the University of New Hampshire’s Office of Sustainability, worked closely with Geraci on the Contoocook project. “He went beyond the basics and integrated a lot of new things into the district there,” she says. “Going into the food service with his chef ’s background perspective gave him a different approach.” Geraci went on to do consulting for school districts nationwide, and he also started a program called First Course, a culinary training school in Keene, New Hampshire, for adults who are low income, developmentally disabled, or recovering from substance abuse or mental illness. Eventually, word spread south. In 2006, Jill Wrigley, a Baltimore advocate for school meal reform, called Geraci while doing an Abell-Foundation-funded study for BEEF: the Baltimore Efficiency and Economy Foundation. Wrigley brought Geraci to Baltimore and introduced him to then-schools CEO Eric Letsinger, who offered Geraci the job as school food chief. Geraci declined. He says the schools were in upheaval, and he didn’t feel that he would have the support he needed to create change. After a changing of the administrative guard, developer Ted Rouse, founder of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Alliance, got Geraci an audience with new Baltimore Schools CEO Andrés Alonso, who convinced him to apply for the job of director of food and nutrition. This time, Geraci accepted the gig, sailing south in July aboard his Pearson 365 ketch. (He came alone: His youngest child is now in college; his second wife is in law school in New Hampshire.) His mission, he says, is to make the food in the Baltimore schools “the best in the nation. I am hopeful this will become a model, a catalyst for change for every school district in the country.” It’s a significant undertaking. There are 82,000 students in the Baltimore City public schools—and not many are accustomed to fresh vegetables or whole grains. According to a 2007 report released by the Johns Hopkins Children’s Hospital, obesity among children ages 6 to 11 has more than tripled since 1980. Type 2 diabetes is now one of the most common child health problems in Baltimore.

Among Geraci’s first The challenges: teach school Food cooks how to cook again. Issue In 159 of 215 Baltimore public school kitchens, there is no real cooking going on at all; food is “preplated,” shipped frozen from a manufacturer in New Jersey, and re-heated by cafeteria workers. Many kitchens are no longer even equipped for cooking. The city is bound for another year by a contract with the New Jersey supplier, but down the road, Geraci envisions providing kids with fresh, locally produced food every day. Imagine, he says: chicken nuggets made from whole chickens rather than processed meat, breaded on-site and baked with Cajun spices; oven-roasted sweet potato fries; whole-grain sourdough pizza with fresh veggies. Geraci also wants kids to have a say in what’s on their trays— and a hand in cooking it. Beginning next spring, every school in the system will take part in a citywide contest. Kids will develop breakfast and lunch menus based on federal nutrition guidelines, earning extra points if they include a family recipe, source the ingredients locally, or make use of U.S. Department of Agriculture commodities—cheap staples provided by the government specifically to be used in school lunches. “The outcome I’m hoping to achieve is a cultural and culinary tapestry of our city,” he says. “All these neighborhoods are unique and diverse and have their own style and their own flavor.” Geraci is also creating an educational horticultural center at the old Bragg Nature Center, 33 acres of nearly abandoned backwoods off Route 40 next to Patapsco State Park. Ultimately, he hopes to turn the Bragg farm into the national center for the Farms to Schools organization, where kids can learn about farming and food services directors from around the country can train, using Baltimore as their model of a food education system that works.

photo by La Kaye Mbah

Khadijah Wilson, a seventh-grader, offers this description of the mashed potatoes served with school lunch: “You could drink ’em.”

All this represents the whirlwind arrival of a movement that got its start in 1995, when Alice Waters teamed up with the staff at Berkeley’s graffitiladen Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School to turn a vacant lot into a garden. The project spawned the Edible Schoolyard program, a nonprofit that encourages students to grow their own food and participate in cooking it. Despite the Baltimore school system’s lack of resources—especially relative to affluent Berkeley—Geraci insists that adopting locally sourced food doesn’t have to be prohibitively continued on page 95 w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


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urbanite november 08


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photo by La Kaye Mbah

Iron Bridge Wine Company

On the bottle: Iron Bridge co-owner Rob Wecker (left) with chef James Lewandowski

The Iron Bridge Wine Company occupies a former roadhouse on a rural stretch of Route 108 in Columbia, and it remains something of a lone watering hole—albeit one serving a clientele that drinks more Burgundy than Bud. Inside, two dining areas squeeze in among the inventory: bottles stacked in bins along the walls for purchase or on-site drinking (with a $10 corkage). Owners Steve and Rob Wecker (think the wine version of the Car Talk guys) are passionate oenophiles, and their restaurant reflects it. There are weekly wine classes and regular tasting dinners, pairing specials, and hand-picked flights. The formula has proved popular enough to spawn a new location in Warrenton, Virginia, and the brothers’ frequent absence sometimes leaves a gap in the home restaurant. Service can feel perfunctory, and the waitstaff doesn’t always manage to impart the enthusiasm of the jocular owners. If you didn’t have thousands of bottles glinting above your head, you might forget the point of the place: It’s all about love (for wine) and marriage (with food). The matchmaker is James Lewandowski, who took over the kitchen last summer, swapping the fussy French of his former employer, Petit Louis in Roland Park, for bright, fresh flavors that might inspire hook-ups with one of the many wines by the glass. There’s pizza

with duck confit and Gruyère in search of a Pinot Noir, and peaches on an arugula salad that call out for a crisp white. Small plates far outnumber entrées, and each has its own charm. Lewandowski ranges from Asia (rare ahi tuna atop soba noodles with peanut and wasabi aioli) to the Mediterranean (lightly fried calamari in a citrusy broth). Mahi-mahi rests in a creamy basil-tinged beurre blanc with sweet chopped vegetables, and the crispy roasted chicken has a Moroccan flair, with couscous, raisins, and grilled peaches. There’s a nod to France with a pepper-crusted steak and haricot vert, and a witty all-American “burger and fries”—an appetizer-scaled slider with herb aioli and hand-cut fries, served with a miniature strawberry shake. The dessert list is for the most part unsurprising: bread pudding, cheesecake, a selection of sorbets. More compelling is the dark, buttery (and aptly named) chocolate pâté—imagine eating the batter for really good brownies. Another welcome innovation: a reservation policy. Not that there’s anything wrong with standing up at the bar—this is a roadhouse, after all. (Lunch and dinner Mon–Sat; brunch Sun. 10435 State Route 108, Columbia; 410997-3456;


The Food Issue

—Martha Thomas

There’s a hospitable Ethiopian dining ritual called gursha, in which one guest hand-feeds a mouthful of food to a fellow diner. Freakily intimate, perhaps, to Western eaters, but such is the communal vibe of Ethiopian cuisine, and it’s not hard to imagine a mass gursha outbreak at Dukem, in part because the close-set tables and general exoticism of the fare have a way of bonding the patrons. A meal here might be uneven, with kind but sleepy service, but that’s part of the collective adventure. Dukem is the little sibling of a Washington, D.C., eatery of the same name that serves the huge Ethiopian community around the U Street corridor. The compact, trapezoidal dining room lacks the funky basket-weave tables and stools (not to mention the live entertainment) that the D.C. scene boasts, but the meal itself follows the same script. The individual “dishes”—an earth-toned assortment of fiery stews called wots, sautéed meat dishes called tibs, and mounds of vegetables—are dolloped on a platter lined with injera, the spongy, slightly sour pancake/bread with the plush appearance and absorbency of a nice Turkish hand towel. Tear off a hunk of injera,

grab a glob of wot (use your right hand!), and gobble away. In our era of multi-ethnic fusion fare, Ethiopian cuisine, which developed in comparative geographic isolation, remains gloriously uncanny: the foundation flavors of bebere (a complex chile-based spice mix) and the clarified spiced butter in which many dishes are cooked taste like nothing else. Dukem’s lamb wot—dark red shading into burnt umber—has a deep, primordial heat, but with tender lamb morsels still definable. Beef tibs is more like a stir-fry, with juicy rare meat just-cooked and tossed with shards of bright green jalapeño. Skip the sambusa appetizer—a fried meat or lentil-filled pastry, leaden and more chewy than crispy—and head straight to the big combination platters. To put out the fires, and perhaps lubricate the gursha scene, Dukem serves both Ethiopian beer and the flowery, bittersweet honey-wine called tej, which is stronger than it tastes. (Lunch and dinner daily. 1100 Maryland Ave.; 410-385-0318;

photo by La Kaye Mbah

Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant

Out of Africa: Digging in to Dukem’s Ethiopian eats demands an adventurous sensibility.

—David Dudley w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


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urbanite november 08

The best wine for Thanksgiving? Next question, please.

courtesy of Garden State Wine Growers Association

By Clinton Macsherry


n Canton, my neighborhood for the past fifteen years, families decorate windows and doors to mark the holidays. Not with overthe-top displays of Christmas lights. (That’s so Hampden.) When I say “the holidays,” I mean almost all of them—and paper cutouts are the medium of choice. Hearts and Cupids in February, shamrocks and shillelaghs in March—you get the idea. By now, many of my neighbors have swapped their goblins for gobblers and their pumpkins for Pilgrims. Let’s get this over with: Every November, wine shops and websites echo with the urgent question—what wine goes best with Thanksgiving dinner? The fact that there’s no answer doesn’t stop people from asking. Wine clearly deserves a place in any harvest celebration. The problem stems from the abounding schizophrenia of the Thanksgiving table. It’s bad enough that each turkey (or, God help us, turducken) combines white and dark meat, each with fiercely dedicated partisans. But what wine pairs with Aunt Harriet’s minimarshmallow-studded sweet-potato mash and Mom’s green-bean-and-mushroom-soup casserole topped with crunchy fried onions? Are we having oysters in the dressing, or sausage? Don’t forget your giblet gravy and cranberries. Want sauerkraut with that? First, acknowledge the futility of seeking one wine to suit all Thanksgiving tastes and tasters. Instead, look at the different family personalities gathered for the meal and see if they suggest a range of solutions to the dilemma. The “conflict, what conflict?” sibling might suggest mixing and matching. Aficionados of a white stripe can pour Riesling or Gewürztraminer, wines whose body and typically off-dry flavors give them the stuffing to stand up to the meal. Meanwhile, the Red Army can sip Pinot Noir, on the assumption that its light-footedness and earthy under-

The Food Issue

tones will complement some of the dishes without trampling the rest. A flashy (but shallow) cousin might Metroliner in from “The City” with a couple bottles of cran-grapey Beaujolais Nouveau, which always hits the shelves with fanfare earlier in November. Who wants to waste all that good marketing? Nuvo Bojo is neither an awesome nor awful Thanksgiving choice, and frankly, it’s not good for much else. You won’t remember your flashy cousin’s conversation the next day, either. The “what about my needs?” in-law might actually be onto something: celebrate with some nice bottles of wine you especially like, and save the pairing paranoia for a simpler meal. Everybody happy? With the quadrennial convergence of Thanksgiving and presidential election, it’s tempting to advocate a drink-American strategy. This raises the tricky question of what constitutes an American wine. Almost all of the wine grapes grown in this country (and everywhere else, for that matter) are varieties of the European vitis vinifera species. We tend to think of Zinfandel as America’s grape, and it makes a darn good Thanksgiving wine, but geneticists have proven that it’s an immigrant vinifera variety identical to Italian Primitivo and a Croatian grape whose name crashes my spell-checker. Most native American grapes, from such species as vitis labrusca and vitis riparia, impart excessively grapey or jelly-like flavors and are considered vastly inferior for wine production. French-American hybrids such as Seyval Blanc and Chambourcin allow for commercial production in areas inhospitable to vinifera, but their wines have found little popularity with critics or consumers. If you’re determined to think country first, there is one oft-cited, all-American exception: Norton (known as Cynthiana in some Midwestern states), of the native vitis aestivalis species. Fans of this grape find flavors that closely resemble red vinifera varieties, and note that it enjoyed some international success in the late 1800s. Well, maybe. The Horton Norton 2001 (13 percent alcohol; current 2003 release $12) from Virginia pours dark purple, with a violet rim. Its grapey, wet clay aroma benefits from subtle smoke, meat, and herb notes. Some thin, mildly appealing dark fruit on the palate gets lost in a wash of acids and tannins. For someone accustomed to vinifera wines, the mouthfeel is disorienting. Norton fails to liberate my inner jingoist. Come Thanksgiving, I’ll stick with Riesling— or maybe Zinfandel—and remember that the Pilgrims were immigrants, too. ■

w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8

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The Food Issue

This Month in Eating Compiled by Martha Thomas AIWF BENEFIT AUCTION The Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Wine and Food’s annual auction, “A 24 Carat (Carrot) Experience,” was inspired by the AIWF’s Days of Taste program for Baltimore City and County schools: When a volunteer showed children a carrot with greens attached, half believed the green part grew in the ground. The silent and live auctions will include trips (on the block last year: a week at a Paris apartment), cooking demos, and cases of wine. Food provided by AIWF board member Jerry Edwards’ Chef ’s Expressions catering. Tickets $125. 6 p.m.–10 p.m.

NOV 6 Grand Lodge at Bonnie Blink 300 International Circle, Hunt Valley 410-244-0044

MARYLAND IRISH FESTIVAL Ignoring Ireland’s emergence as an international center of cuisine, this festival’s fare sticks with tradition: Expect champ, fish and chips, and Irish soda bread, plus plenty of Guinness, Smithwick’s, and Irish coffee. Vicariously work it off by watching the traditional dance troupes and fiddle and harp competitions—the real focus of this 26-year-old event. Tickets $5–$10 (children younger than 12 free). Friday 6 p.m.–11 p.m., Saturday noon–11 p.m., Sunday 10:30 a.m.–7 p.m.

NOV 8 Maryland State Fairgrounds 2200 York Rd., Timonium

YOUNG ADULT NIGHT WINE TASTING Israeli wines get a showing at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, along with handful of short flicks from the Sam Spiegel film and TV school in Jerusalem. Parve snacks such as crunchy barbecueflavored bissli chips and bamba (imagine Cheetos that taste like peanut butter) round out the bill. Tickets $15, $5 for museum members. 7:30 p.m.–9:30 p.m.

NOV 13 Jewish Museum of Maryland 15 Lloyd St. 410-732-6400

“A TASTE OF TRADITION” CHIMAY TASTING Chimay, sold like wine in 750 milliliter bottles, is a beer at home in the rarified world of swirling, sipping, and food pairing. Three varieties brewed by Trappist monks in Belgium—Premier, Grand Reserve, and Cinq Cents (dark, darker, darkest)—will be served with petit filet mignon sandwiches, smoked salmon, and hot chocolate cake in Morton’s private boardroom. Tickets $45, with $5 going to the Make-a-Wish Foundation. 5:30 p.m.–7 p.m.

NOV 21 Morton’s Restaurant at the Sheraton Inner Harbor 300 S. Charles St. 410-547-8255

THANKSGIVING BUFFET Locavore Pilgrims may have eaten wild turkey and squash, but any similarity to Watertable’s turkey-day buffet probably ends there. The Inner Harbor hotel restaurant with a yen for local foods pulls out all the stops for a holiday feast with all-you-can-eat heritage fowl, locally farmed shrimp, venison sausage, and seasonal vegetables and desserts. Seatings noon to 8 p.m.; reservations recommended. $54.95 per person.

NOV 27 Watertable 202 E. Pratt St. (in the Renaissance Harborplace Hotel) 410-685-8439

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urbanite november 08


July Another summer in America. And again this sense that everything is large and clear

but also smothered: honeyed over

with a too languorous forgetfulness. Spritzing the trellised morning glories. Reading.


Driving the strip . . . . We’re fully here, engaged. Except the hours bleed to heat mirage.

With its swift

photo by Amy Campion

flick and plummet Along the bar last night, the usual clank

through the chrism

and chatter, for a second, pinged and echoed.

of these first hours

Up on the screens an amateur video panned

after the rain spraying droplets

whatever word they used for torture chamber. Peter Campion is the author of two collections of poems, Other People (University of

off its wingtips then scissoring past

Chicago Press, 2005) and the forthcoming The

Under the anchor’s voice (what I most remember)

the phone lines

Lions (University of Chicago Press, 2009), as well

seeming the deepest presence in the world:

into the blue

as a monograph on the painter Mitchell Johnson

distance of roofs

(Terrence Rogers Fine Art, 2004). He has held a George Starbuck Lectureship at Boston University and a Wallace Stegner Fellowship and a Jones Lectureship at Stanford University. His poems and prose have appeared in ArtNews, The Boston Globe, Modern Painters, The New Republic, Poetry, Raritan, Slate, The Yale Review, and elsewhere. He recently won a Pushcart Prize. Formerly an assistant professor of English at Washington College in Maryland, Campion now teaches at Auburn University and is editorin-chief of Literary Imagination: The Review of the Association of Literary Scholars and Critics (Oxford University Press).

the original, rhythmic wheeze of the cameraman.

and freeways how not see it as diving past all we slather onto the world diving past it                        the same way we survive our happiness and also: sorrow.

Web extra: Peter Campion reads and discusses his work at www.

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A L S O I N S PA C E : 75 The Drawing Board Is there a better use for Eastpoint Mall?

Down in the groove: Mat Leffler Schulman works the mixing board at Mobtown Studios.

Soundscape How do you transform a rowhouse into a recording studio? it’s all in the angles. The overflowing ashtrays. The sticky layer of beer residue. The humid funk of unwashed bandmates and hot vacuum tubes. If you’re a musician toiling in the city’s ever-more-vigorous indie rock and hiphop scenes, you may be familiar with the interior of the average local recording studio. These are functional spaces, typically: industrialflavored rooms carved out of basements or warehouses, bristling with black racks of gear and populated by musicians with an eye on the clock, not the decor. Creature comforts strictly optional. B Y D AV I D D U D L E Y PHOTOGRAPHY BY CHRISTOPHER SAUSTO

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Sound design: Bamboo flooring, space-age furniture, and cheerful wall colors make Mat and Emily Leffler Schulman’s converted rowhouse recording studio an unusually stylish environment for local musicians.

But when Takoma Park residents Mat and Emily Leffler Schulman decided to open their own recording facility, they wanted something a little more inviting, a studio where they could record bands and artists in living-room-like surrounds. “We wanted a place we could feel comfortable in,” says Emily, a Baltimore native who does website and graphic design. Plan A: Open a bucolic rural recording enclave somewhere in the Maryland countryside. The couple passed on a rundown 19thcentury general store in Montgomery County (too decrepit) and gave up on constructing their own home studio out past Hagerstown (too far from the city). Plan B: Relocate to Baltimore. In 2006 they sold their house, moved to Butcher’s Hill, and embarked on an ambitious renovation of a lower Charles Village rowhouse owned by Emily’s father, Bob Leffler, whose advertising and marketing firm is housed next door. The 1890s Victorian—a onetime methadone clinic—had seen better days, but after sixteen months of rehab, it’s been reborn as a sunny, state-of-the-art sound lab called Mobtown Studios. Mat, a trained sound engineer who plays drums with the brainy guitar-pop band the Seldon Plan, led the technical end of the renovation, with some assistant from his construction-savvy father and acoustical engineer Julien Robilliard, who masterminded

the conversion of the house’s living room into a sealed 19-by-11-foot studio—a “box within a box,” Mat says. To outwit runaway echoes, each corner angle is offset by several degrees, which helps deflect sound waves bouncing back and forth between parallel walls. The floor floats several inches above the home’s original hardwood on vibrationdampening acoustic “hockey pucks”; double walls and ceiling further isolate (or “decouple,” in recording lingo) the interior from the surrounding house—not to mention the buses rumbling by a few yards away on North Charles Street. Big noise-sucking acoustical panels mounted on ceiling rails can be adjusted to further tune the room’s sound. Stand inside the cheery space (or tootle on the Farfisa organ along one wall) and the room seems to swallow every decibel; you can record a heavy metal band in here and never disturb the neighbors. While Mat handled the technical end of the retrofit, Emily guided the aesthetic touches—bright, modern colors; funky fiberglass light fixtures; and an ever-changing selection of original artwork for sale on the walls. (On exhibit until the end of this month: portraits by artist Michael Owen.) The look fits well with the home’s vintage details, such as the original tin ceiling in a rear office, the former kitchen. “We’ve always loved old houses and bright colors,” says Em-

ily, who chose the same lemon-yellow shade of paint that they used for their apartment. “This is definitely an extension of our living space at home.” Even the control room, which houses the studio’s big Tascom console and the racks of recording equipment, is softened by homey touches—custom-made wood cabinets hide the miles of cables and tech gear, and a big late-60s red couch gives musicians a place to lounge while Mat mixes and masters. The overall effect is as much urban coffeehouse as professional studio: It’s a pleasant place to spend $60 an hour making music. Early Mobtown clients have ranged from hip-hop artist MC Top to local jangle-rockers the Honest Mistakes. Before opening in April, the couple toured several other recording facilities nationwide, including the legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, where Elvis Presley walked in off the street to record his first tracks. Acoustically, Mobtown’s a far more sophisticated space, but Mat says that he tried to borrow some of the populist mojo from Sam Phillips’ old joint. “We liked the idea of a storefront studio—there’s that feedback, that connection to the street,” Mat says. “There’s a little Sun in here.” ■ —David Dudley is Urbanite’s editor-in-chief.

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urbanite november 08

The Drawing Board



Got an idea about how to build a better city? Draw us a picture.








Rolling Mill Road

Back R





e Avenu

e Avenu


Point B o




th P oint



rendering by Anthony Murawski/Whistlejacket Creative

transforming a mall into a multi-system transit hub A huge number of automobiles originating in eastern Baltimore County, Harford County, and beyond carry commuters into Baltimore City and points south every day. Both those traveling for employment and for leisure oftentimes find they are caught up in heavy traffic that stresses our roadways, bridges, and tunnels. Also, visitors to the area from out of state contribute to the volume of automobiles that clog the major arteries leading into Baltimore and other parts of the region. My solution is to create a modern, multi-system transportation hub in eastern Baltimore County at the present site of Eastpoint Mall. Two options are possible: Obtain the entire property of the mall site and demolish the existing buildings, or incorporate the new transit center into the current layout (à la Mondawmin Mall’s transit hub, with MTA bus and Metro subway stops). Should the shopping center at Eastpoint be displaced, area residents and mall patrons could instead take advantage of the ample retail options that already exist at the Golden Ring/Route 40 corridor and at White Marsh. Both options should be considered for their positive and negative impacts on the community. This would need to be a regional effort, with the city and the adjoining county working to promote the concept of leaving your car at Eastpoint and sharing your commute the rest of the way. Signage could be erected, for example, near the Susquehanna River Bridge to alert long-distance travelers and commuters of this new safe and comfortable option.


The Eastpoint transportation hub would ideally include: • A large parking garage system • A bus system that works as a shuttle service, moving commuters to their desired destinations (for example, downtown Baltimore, Towson, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, Annapolis, Arundel Mills, Washington, D.C., etc.). A modern version of the “old time” trolley might be an attractive means of shuttling commuters from Eastpoint into the city via Eastern Avenue. • Connections to existing rail (MARC train and light rail), which could be incorporated by building a new “Rolling Mill Rail Station” on the shopping center property at Eastern Avenue and Rolling Mill Road. This would alleviate the need to drive to Baltimore’s Penn Station and could connect to Amtrak lines that already exist to the north.


photo by Barbara Rodzon Murawski


anthony r. murawski lives with his family in mount washington. a former reporter for Polish American Journal, he is currently employed at the u.s. government Printing office in washington, d.c. the native baltimorean and towson university graduate has recently been devoting his energy to the establishment of whistlejacket creative, a project support service.

• Associated commerce (food courts, travelers’ services, hotels, etc.) to ensure traveler comfort • Tributes to Baltimore’s industrial past, in the form of plaques or exhibits, to memorialize the region’s auto and steel workers, many of whom lived in East Baltimore and eastern Baltimore County

To submit an idea for The Drawing Board, e-mail editor@urbanite

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Photo Credit: Walter Iooss

On SAlE nOW!

December 2 - 14 • Hippodrome Theatre • 410.547.SEAT • Box Office (Mon-Sat 10a-5p) • Groups (20+) call 866.577.7469 To learn more visit Due to the nature of live entertainment; times, dates and performers are subject to change without notice. All patrons, regardless of age, must have a ticket. No refunds or exchanges. Tickets subject to service charges and handling fees.

Man about town: William “Bus” Chambers, the unofficial mayor of Pigtown, on the corner of Bayard and Ward streets. “Pigtown is all I know,” he says in Spirit of Place. “When my father passed, he’d been here 100 years.”

art/culture 79 THEATER Martha Thomas asks Alice


Richard Byrne on The Adventures of Sharp-Ears the Vixen


David Dudley on It’s Bigger than Hip Hop

83 THE SCENE This month’s cultural highlights

Brick and Mortar What do Baltimore’s favorite buildings say to us?


he epigraph that opens Spirit of Place: Baltimore’s Favorite Spaces is that familiar statement from Winston Churchill: “ We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.” The oft-invoked sentiment is at the heart of this new book, out last month from the fledgling publishing house and project group Charm City Publishing. It’s a joint effort from freelance writer Sarah Achenbach and photographer Bill McAllen, who first collaborated on an article in the December 2004 issue of Style magazine, where Achenbach is a contributing writer. Called “Me and My Building,” the piece paired black-and-white photographs of a person and his or her favorite building with short first-person essays about the building ’s significance. The article was received so enthusiastically that, with Style’s blessing, the duo decided to expand it into a book. b y m ar i anne k . a m oss P hoto g raph b y b i l l m ca l l en w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8


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Buy Tickets Online 78

urbanite november 08

and African-American Research at

Harvard University.

three sons. McAllen’s photo shows Bill planting a kiss on Mary’s cheek, her response a delighted, open-mouthed grin. “It’s not a scholarly book, not an academic book,” Achenbach says. “It’s part oral history, part art book. It’s memory, nostalgia, experience—so much more than just the architecture.” There’s architectural history here too, though, in the form of a brief summary of each building’s history, including architect, date of construction, and style. The research arm of the Baltimore Architecture Foundation, called the Historic Architects Roundtable (aka the Dead Architects Society), traced each structure’s style back as accurately as it could. Achenbach says that even within the circle of experts there were debates about classifications. Longer essays are sprinkled through the book. Architect Tom Gamper, pictured imitating Jonathan Borofsky’s muchmaligned “Male/Female” statue, gives a sensory-detail-filled portrait of Penn Station. Preservation Maryland’s Tyler Gearhart comments on the value of rehabbing rather than rebuilding the Hippodrome. And Wire impresario David Simon, pictured with the Gothic-style Pabst Castle in South Baltimore, passionately hearkens back to a time when Baltimore’s structures reflected its pride. This city and this country once made things … And if you think there was no pride in that, if you think that all the nameless working men held their heads low when they walked through the factory doors … then look for just a moment at what remains of those days … Once, in this city, we even built castles to our mass production of a working man’s draught. Even at this tiny edge of town, with a rail yard bracing it along the water’s edge, someone bottling cheap, affordable beer had pride or vanity enough to tell their architect, their stonecutters, their masons to go the extra mile and create a little shard of a Balmoral, a Windsor if you will, in the midst of two-story rowhouses and corner bars.

Achenbach and McAllen hope that readers will be spurred on to explore unfamiliar parts of Baltimore, and also suggest their own favorite places at www.charm They refer to themselves as story collectors, the “favorite building” construct a vessel for more tales. ■ —Marianne K. Amoss is Urbanite’s managing editor.

Standing tall: The late, great civic leader Walter Sondheim with Mies van der Rohe’s One Charles Center, which Sondheim called “the beginning of Baltimore’s Renaissance”

art/culture t H e At e r

Through the Looking Glass

Alice at the Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Nov 26–Dec 28

There are two schools of thought on Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. For some, Lewis Carroll’s 1865 tale is a fantastical journey through childhood, with wild escapades and quirky personalities. For others, it’s an assemblage of discombobulated images, free of plot and character, and an inducer of bad dreams. Mary Hall Surface isn’t taking sides. But the much-lauded children’s playwright and director, who is adapting the story for Bethesda’s Round House stage, is trying to give Alice context. “One of the great challenges is, yes, there is not a strong dramatic story in the material,” she concedes, noting that Round House’s producing artistic director, Blake Robison, came up with the idea of adapting the book. Surface’s solution is to make Alice a little older—12 or 13, twice the age of Alice in the book—and add a Jungian twist to her adventures. “She’s on the threshold of adulthood. And the adult world can be difficult, cruel, amusing, and delightful.” The theme of this Alice, Surface says, is “How do you navigate waters that are that puzzling?” Alice’s adventures—such as tumbling into a pool of her own tears—become metaphors: “In a story, any time you fall into a body of water, it’s about rebirth,” the playwright says. But hopefully that sort of stuff will be lost on the kids. “Most of all, we’re trying to make it a production for all ages.” It will be highly theatrical, she says, and take place in “a recognizably British world.” Surface’s past theatrical subjects have included more earth-bound figures such as baseball player Jackie Robinson and the artist Alexander Calder. But she and Alice go way back. “Apparently, I had an Alice in Wonderland birthday party when I was 6.” —Martha Thomas

For tickets, call 240-644-1100 or go to w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m n o v e m b e r 0 8

illustration by Gary Kelley, courtesy of Round House Theatre

photo by Bill McAllen

Spirit of Place includes fifty-eight structures, from the conventionally beautiful (the Peabody Library, Penn Station, the Howard Peters Rawlings Conservatory and Botanic Gardens) to the unexpected (the old neo-classical-revival-style facade on the back of 300 East Lombard Street, a forgotten BGE substation in industrial Canton, the entire neighborhood of Hamilton). “It’s certainly one big love letter to Baltimore, and Baltimore’s warts, too,” says Achenbach. “This is not a ‘best of ’ by any stretch of the imagination. We didn’t start out with a list. People could define what ‘favorite’ meant.” McAllen chose to shoot in black and white because he believes it makes the images less complicated, in a good way. “The simpler you keep the image, the more it speaks to people,” he says. In some images, the building is the focus—as in the shot of local TV and film production designer Vince Peranio, with the long-abandoned American Brewery stolidly standing behind him. Others capture the human subjects’ stories, as with Mary and Bill Bready. The long-married couple first met at the Govans branch of the Pratt Library on June 21, 1941, and one or both of them have visited the library every year during June to commemorate that meeting. They like to compare the three wrought-iron birds that sit above the windows on the building’s exterior to their


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urbanite november 08

art/culture OperA

Into the Woods

illustration by Roger Brunyate

The Adventures of Sharp-Ears the Vixen at Peabody Opera Theatre, Nov 20–23

Like a fox: Czech opera Vixen mixes human and animal characters.

The title of Czech composer Leos Janácek’s 1924 opera, Príhody Lišky Bystroušky, is usually translated as The Cunning Little Vixen, a rendering that could just as well fit a confection set in the Vienna of Johann Strauss as the setting chosen by Janácek—the woods and farmland of rural Moravia, where an often-sleepy Forester interacts with nature. As Peabody Opera Theatre prepares its production of the Janácek’s opera, the title has been re-translated to the more literal The Adventures of Sharp-Ears the Vixen. It is a choice that foregrounds the world of animal cunning—where foxes, roosters, badgers, woodpeckers, and even mosquitoes sing, dance, and quarrel—over the stylized world of the operatic stage. Janácek culled his opera from a series of folksy illustrated tales that Czech writer Rudolf Tesnohlídek penned for a newspaper in Moravia’s capital, Brno. Tesnohlídek’s life was marred by deep tragedies that eventually led him to take his own life in 1928. But his stories of the woods and the consolation of inevitable

cycles of birth and death in nature struck a chord with the elderly Janácek. “My view of Vixen is one of a mirror in which the human world is reflected in the natural one, leading to a wry self-understanding on the part of the Forester character, certainly the composer, and I hope also the audience,” says Roger Brunyate, artistic director of Peabody Opera Theatre. Slovak costume designer Kristina Lucka and Russian set designer Misha Kachman helped render the Czech countryside of Janácek’s very Slavic opera, but Brunyate says that his partners’ youthful energy is just as important as their ethnicity in conveying the vigor and fecundity of the animal world. “We are going with a decidedly postmodern approach, in which the animals are presented in an eclectic assortment of human clothes,” he says. “As Misha says, it’s as though they were going to a rave.” —Richard Byrne Advance tickets are available at the box office at 17 E. Mount Vernon Place or via 4100659-8100 ext. 2. Tickets are also available at the door one hour before the event.


Rap Sheet

photo by Clem Murray

It’s Bigger than Hip Hop: The Rise of the PostHip-Hop Generation by M.K. Asante Jr. (St. Martin’s Press, 2008)

Comeback kid: M.K. Asante calls for hip hop to save itself.

Poet/filmmaker/scholar M.K. Asante Jr., who landed a professorship at Morgan State University when he was 23, needed a textbook for a cultural studies class he was teaching called “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop.” So he wrote one. The son of Temple University professor Molefi Kete Asante, the younger Asante suffers from a certain “creative ADD,” he says— he’s already published two books of poetry and has developed a pair of documentary films. His latest project, an account of hiphop culture in American life, reflects that restlessness. The book is part history lesson, part music criticism, and part cri de coeur— a loose but rousing manifesto on the squandered promise of commercial rap. “Many young people ... who were born into the hiphop generation feel misrepresented by it and have begun to see the dangers and limitations of being collectively identified by a genre of music that we don’t even own,” he writes. Like a hyperkinetic lecturer with a sleepy class, Asante tosses a lot of enjoyable distractions into his argument, weaving personal anecdote and straight-up political activism with piles of quotes from rap icons. Two chapters

are written in the form of imagined conversations, one with “the African-American ghetto,” the other with hip hop itself, and there’s also a real interview with the underground hip-hop duo Dead Prez. The result is a bit of a crazy quilt—an average page might juggle observations from bell hooks, H.R. Haldeman, Bill Cosby, and Tupac Shakur—but that’s Asante’s game. “In African American culture we have this tradition of collage,” he says. “Even [hip-hop] music is a collage. What you have here are elements that might appear disconnected, but when you put them all together, you have this one cohesive piece.” Asante is at his best when he’s invoking the historic lessons of jazz, the blues, and the Harlem Renaissance. Ultimately, it’s a conservative appeal—he calls for a return to hip hop’s pre-gangsta golden age, when fiery polemicists such as Public Enemy ruled the airwaves. “In so many ways, the music and the culture was co-opted and made into something else,” he says. “But we don’t have to look to Viacom and Vivendi to define what hip hop is. There are still groups who are writing rhymes that are empowering. That’s just not what we hear on the radio. The thing that was crazy about the ’80s was that that stuff was actually on the radio.” —David Dudley

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urbanite november 08

the scene: NOVEMBER ART

Oral History Former Contemporary Museum artistin-residence Kianga Ford continues her exploration of storytelling in My Life in Fiction, four new sound and video works at the Contemporary. With this comes the final installment of The Story of this Place: Charm City Remix, a series of fictional stories based in Mount Vernon that accompany a walking tour of the neighborhood. Download audio files from or listen at the museum. Through Nov 23. (100 W. Centre St.; 410-783-5720)


information on other simulcasts. (140 W. Mt. Royal Ave.; 410-727-6000; www.


15 at 8 p.m. Tickets available at the door or in advance via or 410-236-1245. (45 W. Preston St.; www.


Happy Songs Local kids’ rock band Milkshake may have expanded from a duo to a full-fledged band, but their brand of thoughtful music for young ones remains. To herald the release of their first DVD, Screen Play!, the group performs at Kennedy Krieger’s annual Festival of Trees on Nov 28 at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. (Maryland State Fairgrounds, 2200 York Rd.;

Big Screen

Jam Session

This fall, the Met comes to Baltimore through live opera simulcasts, complete with subtitles and popcorn. On Nov 8 at 1 p.m., John Adams’ contemporary opera Doctor Atomic, about the creation of the atom bomb, is beamed onto a huge screen at the Lyric Opera House. See website for

Night of the Blackbird is a call-andresponse performance of poetry and music at the Theatre Project. Local writers Joseph Young and Steve Matanle will read poems that respond to the music of doomy altcountry rockers Red Sammy, who take their name from a Flannery O’Connor story. Nov

Just in time for election season is the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s Richard Avedon: Portraits of Power, featuring more than two hundred of the renowned photographer’s revealing images of political figures, including the Chicago Seven (above), Malcolm X, and former Alabama governor George Wallace. Some photographs are being exhibited for the first time. Through Jan 25, 2009. (500 17th St. NW, Washington, D.C.; 202-639-1700; www.

legendary 1987 flop Hearts of Fire and Todd Haynes’ 2007 I’m Not There. Nov 4, 11, 18, and 25, 3:30 p.m. (1525 Greenspring Valley Rd., Room 12 of the Academic Center; www3.


Partners Chris & Don: A Love Story is the tender 2007 documentary about the thirty-fouryear relationship between the late writer Christopher Isherwood, who penned The Berlin Stories, the basis for Cabaret, and the much-younger artist Don Bachardy. Johns Hopkins University screens the film for free, with a post-film Q&A with the filmmakers and Bachardy himself. Nov 14, 7 p.m. (3400 N. Charles St., Room 110 of Hodson Hall; 410-516-5048;

What About Bob? Stevenson University’s Bob Dylan film festival, This Movie I Seen One Time, accompanies a class on Dylan but is open to the public. The remaining films include the

Meeting of the Minds Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) launches their new Center for Race and Culture by hosting the third annual African American Art Conference. The five-day event, titled “Transformations,” includes exhibitions, panel discussions, screenings, and parties at cultural institutions such as Creative Alliance, C. Grimaldis Gallery, the BMA, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Hip-hop artist DJ Spooky delivers the keynote, and local mixed-media provocateur Joyce Scott is among the many prominent artists, scholars, critics, and activists on hand. Nov 12–16. (

The Chicago Seven: Lee Weiner, John Froines, Abbie Hoffman, Rennie Davis, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden, Dave Dellinger, Chicago, September 25, 1969, © 2008 The Richard Avedon Foundation

Compiled by Marianne K. Amoss

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A Druid Priestess contracts Roman fever after stepping under the mistletoe with a Centurion, then goes out in a blaze of glory with love in her heart and a song on her lips.

AT T H E LY R I C W I T H E N G L I S H T R A N S L AT I O N S Tickets from $39. • • 410-727-6000 DECEMBER 13: A WINTER CONCERT OF OPERATIC FAVORITES Metropolitan Opera Simulcasts at the Lyric: Doctor Atomic, Nov. 8; La Damnation de Faust, Nov. 22.

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Hard Times in Crab Country continued from page 49 the honor system, keeping track of how many bushels of crabs they steam, how much meat they pack, and how many plastic tubs they use. In addition to an annual $200 fee to belong to the co-op, the members pay for the use of the steamer and contribute $2 to a general fund for every pound of meat they extract from the hard crabs. When it opened in 1996, a dozen or so women joined the co-op. Only half remain active today. Some decided they could not afford the fees and returned to illicit picking in their shanties. Others left because they just preferred to pick crabs alone. “You had to adjust to personalities and temperatures,” explained longtime member Dora Corbin—sometimes the air conditioner was set too high or too low to suit everyone. It’s a poorly kept secret that not all the crab meat picked and shipped off Smith Island comes from the licensed co-op. It’s also widely known that lately, with the cost of hand-picked Chesapeake blue crab high even on the island, a few venturesome business owners are importing—yes, importing—foreign crab meat. This coals-toNewcastle development is based purely on the market. The tourists who come to the island expect an indigenous meal, and they get it, kind of. But a Smith Island crab cake made from local meat would cost as much as $10—too high for many visitors, many of whom are retirees on fixed incomes. A $5 crab cake is more in line. And the only $5 crab cake on Smith Island is made from Asian crab. Marshall splits her time between her native Smith Island, where her husband, Bobby, is a waterman, and Crisfield. She was lucky enough to find a job up the road at the Eastern Correctional Institution and does not have to rely entirely upon picking crabs for income. Most of the Smith Island pickers are not as fortunate. Like their husbands and brothers and sons who still work the water, they expect tough times this fall. Beginning September 1, new state regulations set lower bushel limits on the number of female crabs (or “sooks”) that could be harvested. A total ban on catching females kicked in on October 23. In something of a milestone for crab preservation, Maryland and Virginia agreed early this year to reduce the harvest of females by 34 percent. The goal is simple enough to understand: The more female crabs not caught in pots and scrapes, the more left in the bay to spawn and to boost the overall crab population. Islanders don’t argue the premise, but they and others in the lower Chesapeake complain that they are unfairly bearing the brunt of the new regulations. Traditionally, it’s been their windfall to harvest sooks migrating south at summer’s end. There is a rule of thumb on the water that commercial crabbers earn their expenses in summer and make their profits in the fall. By restricting the take of females, the state is cutting into the profits of watermen—and pickers—in Dorchester and Somerset counties. The Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association, a nonprofit in Eastport that speaks for seafood processors and watermen, claims that the new regulations could cost crabbers and picking houses more than $21.6 million in lost revenues. It’s an old tune with new lyrics: Islanders have long felt like they are being singled out by the policymakers up the bay. They’ve all heard the allegations that a Smith Islander is preternaturally inclined to catch the last crab and the last oyster in the bay. It’s not a characterization they like. And they can point fingers right back. Industry, crop and chicken farmers, and waterfront developers are the ones pouring chemicals and excess nutrients into the bay and

Bay morning: Bill James plies his trade on the Choptank River near Cambridge.

doing more harm than the watermen, said Marshall, leaning against a stainless steel picking table. “You will never see a Smith Islander fertilize a lawn,” she said emphatically. “Why would we want to destroy our livelihood?” In any case, the co-op members have a backup plan: They will turn to another state symbol to help earn a living. Earlier this year lawmakers adopted the Smith Island cake—a multilayered concoction baked on the island for years—as the official state dessert. If they can get the health department approval, the women’s organization may become the Smith Island Crabmeat and Cake Co-op. Billy Clayton, his face weathered from years on the water, had finished steaming two bushels of crabs caught earlier by Marshall’s husband and walked into the picking room where the women talked about how scientists with college degrees and nice jobs were always telling the islanders about crabs. Clayton said his father had one of the biggest crab houses on the island and kept daily records of where and how many crabs were caught. Crabbers have always had good times and bad times, the notes show. And, despite all the speculation, no one really knows why. “One thing I learned from my father,” Clayton said, “is soon as you think you got a crab figured out, he’ll prove you wrong.” n —Bill Thompson lives in Easton, Maryland. This is his first story for Urbanite. Web extra: More photos of crab country at www.urbanite

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Welcome to Snackopolis continued from page 55 they had long made at home. Others say that the water around here is just right for food manufacturing. Or the special kind of potatoes grown by the Pennsylvania Dutch turned the southern part of the state into the “potato chip belt.” Or: It was all those German settlers, who came here with the knowledge of how to produce lots of good, cheap stuff to cram in der mund while drinking beer. If you had an overlay of the potato chip belt, you’d find overlap with the Mid-Atlantic “pretzel belt” that covers much of Maryland, New York, and especially Pennsylvania. (According to the organizers of National Pretzel Month—which was October—the average MidAtlantic resident consumes four pounds of pretzels annually.) Ditto the sprawling “hot dog belt” that spans Milwaukee to New York. This seemingly limitless capacity for making munchies perhaps explains why, as you drive around Hanover, you’ll see a lot of people whose belts are pretty stretched out. Hanover hosts the country’s largest standardbred horse breeding operation, as well as companies that manipulate metal, make bearings, and put together truck and welding equipment. Next door to the Snyder’s plant, the giant Hanover Foods processes vegetables (the two companies are owned by the same family). But much of the town’s fiscal robustness is owed to the snack biz. “It’s pretty phenomenal the impact they bring to that area,” says Darrell Auterson, president of the York County Economic Development Corporation, a quasi-public up-with-business group that includes Hanover as its turf. Not even economic doomsdays can stop the endless roll of carb-covered conveyors. “Even when things are on the downslide, people still want their snacks. Business never

really seems to go down,” he says. And that cerThe tainly includes times, like now, when Americans are Food growing, um, larger. People who worry about such things Issue might call Hanover’s major export “junk food.” Baltimoreans have flocked to the area (as have Hispanic immigrants) in recent years in search of decent-paying jobs, good schools, and rural splendor. “You can get a really nice house and a couple of acres for $300,000 and only be an hour from the city,” says Sivel, a Hanover native who once lived in Federal Hill. The town now boasts a pair of Starbucks. “I’m sure Baltimoreans have a lot to do with Starbucks being here,” Sivel says. A few expats and some fancy coffeehouses versus regularly delivered mounds of salty treats? Baltimore’s Turkey Joe Trabert thinks that we get the better end of the deal. A former Fells Point tavern owner noted for his expertise in all matters gustatory, Trabert says Utz and Snyder’s had won over the hearts of Baltimoreans long before the two companies became the dueling dandies of local snack aisles—even back in the 1940s and ’50s, when the Hanover companies competed with Cohen’s coddies (a nickel each, with mustard and crackers), Tastykakes, Panzer’s sauerkraut in a cone, pickled onions, and Mrs. Ihrie’s chips for Baltimore’s empty-calorie dollar. “Utz had the best products,” Trabert says. “They always made the freshest-tasting chip.” In later years, Trabert’s appreciation for them has branched out along with the product lines. “I love the Grandma Utz’s Handcooked ones—they’re made with lard,” he enthuses. Once, during the 1970s, Trabert mailed a slogan suggestion to the company— “Fill your gutz with Utz!”—that apparently fell on deaf ears. On the pretzel front, Trabert prefers the Snyder’s product to

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Utz’s hard pretzels, known in Hanover and in much of the trade as “beer pretzels.” While Utz’s pretzels are pretty much uniform and have a nice initial crunch, Snyder’s are a little more free-form and heartier. “They have more salt and more crunch,” he adds. While Utz has long maintained a strong regional presence up and down the coast, Snyder’s, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, went national with its pretzel lines back in the 1980s. The Baltimore-Washington and Philadelphia markets (Snyder’s maintains a 46 percent share of Baltimore pretzel sales) set the stage for a national breakout that has since gone global, says Claude O’Connor, Snyder’s vice president for marketing. “In the 1960s, we went to Giant Food, where it was always difficult to get an account, and sold them on our sourdough hard pretzels,” he says. “To this day, the 16-ounce bag of them is our leading seller there. That kind of success gave us an idea that we could roll them out nationally.” In the United States, Snyder’s holds a 5 percent share of the total snacks market, a distant second to Frito-Lay. But it sells twice as many pretzels as its giant rival. Its pretzels are carried in fifty states and forty-three countries. “We’re strong in Germany,” O’Connor notes. Visiting the Snyder’s plant is more of a personal experience than the automated Utz tour. You have to make an appointment and then be led through a windowed walkway above the plant by a guide. The trio of bikers is already there, and the ladies behind the counter of the Snyder’s outlet store are laughing: Clearly, they’ve heard the story about the Utz truck. Amid the irresistible smell of baking sourdough, tour guide Kathy explains to tour-goers how flour is shipped in from a twenty-

five-mile radius around the plant. More than 100 Food million pounds of pretzels are made each year at Issue the plant here and another in Goodyear, Arizona, with the help of about 1,500 tons of salt from Texas. Pretzel dough is pushed through a template and cut at the rate of forty pretzels a second, which are then bathed in caustic soda to make them turn dark brown. (“Otherwise, they’d have the color of a saltine,” Kathy says.) Then they’re salted and baked in four of the largest pretzel ovens in the world. Half of the Hanover capacity is for pretzels, with potato chips, tortilla chips, and other lines making up the difference. It all happens 24-7 in a building bigger than a 747 hangar. So, do Snyder’s and Utz consider themselves rivals? Do the employees take softball games too seriously? “No, we get along,” Kathy says. “We concentrate on different things. With them, it’s the potato chip. Us—we’re all about the pretzels. Even if we lost our other lines, we’d be fine because we’d still have pretzels.” At the end of the tour, at least one visitor takes leave of Hanover with a trunk full of fresh-fried snack products from the Snyder’s and Utz factory stores, with a small free bag of Snyder’s pretzel sandwiches riding shotgun. Heading south along Middletown Road, back toward the core market, the driver keeps one eye on the rearview mirror, looking for a trio of motorcycling geezers cresting a hill, on the hunt for salty booty. ■ —Michael Anft wrote about downsizing at the Baltimore Sun in the September 2008 Urbanite.

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The Lunchroom Chronicles continued from page 59 expensive. Throughout September, cafeteria facilities supervisor Jeff Wilson brought in six hundred cases of Baugher’s Farm peaches each week. Fruit from a wholesaler would have cost $5 more per case, Wilson says. Geraci claims that buying bulk ingredients will be cheaper than purchasing the pre-prepared meals that kids are eating now. “The only people who benefit from the ‘pre-plate’ system are the companies themselves,” he says. But there’s another hurdle, says Dr. Antonia Demas, president of the Food Studies Institute, a nonprofit based in Trumansburg, New York: getting kids to eat what he serves. “Kids eat what they’re used to,” Demas says. And what they’re used to is Styrofoampackaged nuggets and burgers. Arugula can be scary—and there’s where Demas comes in. She created a food education program called “Food Is Elementary” that takes kids through two semesters of nutritional education, beginning with an introduction to the food pyramid and ending with a culinary tour of world cultures. Demas has brought the program to eight schools in Baltimore, mainly charter schools, and she and Geraci are working to spread the curriculum citywide. Demas conducted a study on Baltimore, which she’ll present at the conference “Nutrition: The Missing Link in Education” at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health on November 6. According to the study, the Food Is Elementary curriculum costs $229 per student per year. The average cost of a year’s treatment for diabetes is $6,650. Geraci has his own ideas about getting kids to eat better. “You have to out-McDonald’s McDonald’s,” he says. “Kids understand Happy Meals—they get Happy Meals because they want the crap in-

side.” He’s created boxed “Breakfast Breaks” to encourThe age more kids to take advantage of the public schools’ free breakfast program. The boxes feature nutritional Food word searches and neighborhood maps on the outside, and, Issue on the inside, the chance to win baseball cards and music downloads. Oh, and a balanced meal. But if Ryan Becker and Tra Holley are any indication, healthy food may not be too tough a sell. At the end of our meal at City Neighbors, I ask my new friends what they think about the changes afoot in the lunchroom. “I’m happy with Dr. Alonso,” Becker says of the schools CEO. “I think he did a great job getting Tony [Geraci] in here. He listened to us.” “The thing that sucked me into this town is that whole ‘Believe’ thing,” Geraci says. “And I know it sounds hokey, but on my car I’ve got, ‘B’lieve, Hon.’ And I believe, hon, that you can do this stuff. You just need to stop having meetings about meetings about meetings to form action plans to make subcommittees. You need to get off your ass and do it.” ■ —Rebecca Messner wrote about the Open Society Institute’s community fellows program in the August issue. On November 6, Tony Geraci will be a participating speaker at “Nutrients: The Missing Link in Education,” a conference on food literacy in public schools at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, co-sponsored by the Food Studies Institute and the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. For more information, go to index.htm.



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eye to ey e

We humans communicate in so many ways. We talk, grunt, whistle, move, contort, gesture, and seem at times to project our thoughts on some unknown level. A study of this odd world of gesticulation and sound lies at the heart of part of Baltimore artist Jackie Milad’s work. She spent the past winter in Guadalajara and Mazatlán, Mexico, devoting six weeks to recording communicative whistling between men. This soon turned into a series of drawings. The one shown here is not one of her more finished drawings in the Couple Whistling series, but rather the very first drawing, done as she was working her way into the subject. It seems tentative, probing, filled with erasures and half-starts. What is that field of lines surrounding the mouth? What is the splotch coming out of it? And are the black forms actually voids, holes in the communication between artist and viewer? What is hidden from us, what yet to be developed? She loves to showcase our awkwardness: “When we look ugly and vulnerable. Putting us all at the same base level.” In her work she gives us creatures struggling to communicate; she gives us a condition common to us all. —Alex Castro


urbanite november 08

Jackie milad Untitled (Couples Whistling Series) 2008 14 x 12 inches mixed media on paper

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urbanite november 08

November 2008 Issue  

The Food Issue: The Last Crab?; Baltimore: Snack City; Saving School Lunch

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