WELCOME TO BALTIMORE, HON
from Wish You Were Here
He was a man with a mission. Armed with three large laminated letters, he braved the traffic on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. His target: "The Welcome to Baltimore" sign. Motorists honked their horns and shouted encouragement as he walked the center median and stapled his precious letters to the wooden board. H-O-N. He stood back and admired his handiwork: Welcome to Baltimore, Hon.
Anyone who's ever cracked a jimmy in a Baltimore crab house, eaten in a deli on Corned Beef Row, or downed a Natty Boh has met up with the proverbial Baltimore waitress who says, "What can I getcha, Hon?" It doesn't matter what your age, gender, or color--in Baltimore's folksier establishments, you are "Hon." So naturally, the intrepid one-man "Bawlmer" Welcome Wagon became "The Hon Man."
Alas, the State Highway Administration did not see the humor. A road crew was dispatched to tear down the illegal lettering only to have The Hon Man strike again and again. Indeed, Baltimore's secret admirer had a trunk full of Hs, Os and Ns.
The identity of the man who dared to pin Baltimore's term of endearment to the staid wooden sign remains a mystery. But maybe that's just as well. The Hon Man symbolized all of us who view this port city with affection.
The Hon Man is only one of Baltimore's wacky and endearing institutions. What other city could have grown bizarro movie auteur John Waters and his 300-pound drag queen leading lady, Divine? What other city annually commemorates the death of one of the strangest writers that ever put pen to paper--Edgar Allan Poe?
And we've got culture. The serious stuff: The Peabody Institute with its renowned classical music curriculum. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Opera. The Walters Art Gallery and the Baltimore Museum of Art with their Old Masters counterbalanced by The American Visionary Arts Museum with its mavericks who view the world through their own strange lenses. Top-notch research departments at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland. And captains of industry who created great commercial empires during the Gilded Age.
And the colorful: Blaze Starr and the Two O'clock Club. Barry Levinson and Homicide. Anne Tyler and her quirky characters. Wild Bill Hagy. Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, and Jim Palmer. Johnny Unitas. James Rouse, city revitalizer and developer of Harborplace. Former mayor William Donald Schaefer--touted as best mayor in the country by his peers and Esquire magazine.
For background music: Cab Calloway, Ethel Ennis, Billie Holiday, Eubie Blake. For sustenance: pierogies, pasta, schnitzel, barbecue, and moussaka from the city's ethnic neighborhoods.
So come with us on a roller coaster ride through Baltimore's fascinating, and sometimes very peculiar, history, and culture. Where else but Baltimore, Hon?
Writer & Photographer