Your happy place: Get in on it
A signature event of the “Find Your Happy Place in Baltimore” campaign is the attempt to “set a Guinness World Record by gathering more than 250 members in orange and black ponchos outside the Maryland Science Center in an attempt to create the world's largest human smiley face.”
[A brief pause to permit you to shudder.]
For my part, I would not have picked as a slogan the cant phrase “find your happy place,” already so worn that it is now heard largely in ironic or event sarcastic inflections. And so, it follows that I would not have pocketed half a million dollars for dreaming it up and staging this inane stunt. I wasn’t even aware that the excitement of “Baltimore: Get in on it!” had subsided. That one also, I think, fetched half a million. I went into the wrong trade.
It seems likelier that David Simon’s Homicide and Wire may have embedded in the public mind a more enduring image of the city than any series of advertising agencies’ campaigns can supplant. And it is troubling to imagine, because it raises all manner of unpleasant class issues, what people are going to be lured to the city by the “Happy Place” campaign. (Not that we will be shy about taking their money)
But I take to heart the advice of the ever-revered Warren Gamaliel Harding, “Don’t knock, boost!”
I am a Baltimorean by choice, not by accident of birth. That choice came about in part because at age eighteen I read H.L. Mencken’s various writings about his beloved city and was intrigued by his claim that Baltimore was a place where a civilized man can live more comfortably than nearly anywhere else.
It still is. I live in a modest house in a neighborhood that has had only one homicide in the past twenty-two years. I’ve eaten Big Bad Wolf’s excellent barbecue and quaffed pints at the Hamilton Tavern. I’ve acted in a musical on a stage constructed in an Episcopal church. My son and I have bought produce at the Waverly farmers’ market. My wife and I have watched War of 1812 re-enactors fire their muskets as the breeze came off the harbor at Fort McHenry on Defenders’ Day. We were a founding family in the cooperative that has grown into the GreenMount School. I borrow books from the Pratt Library and have bought books from the Kelmscott and Ivy bookstores. I’ve dined at the Prime Rib and Dogwood and Woodberry Kitchen. Kathleen and I have attended symphony concerts and plays, gone to films at the Senator, drunk coffee at Donna’s, and strolled through Mount Vernon and Federal Hill and Fells Point. I work for a serious newspaper.*
Yes, it has been a happy place, despite the crime and poverty that nobody needs to gloss over and personal vicissitudes. I expect it to continue to be a happy place beyond the span of any sappy tourism campaign. You could do worse than to get in on it.
*Before you start to complain about The Sun’s currently diminished condition, let me offer some perspective. I learned from the history of the paper’s first hundred and fifty years by the late Harold Williams that Baltimoreans in the 1880s were describing The Sun as “a once-great newspaper.”