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One Saturday night, as I was strolling down Columbia Road in Adams Morgan with my Silver Spring girlfriend, we decided to take a look at music in a trendy little CD store. As I walked past the free weeklies stand I was surprised to see the Washington City Paper with what looked like a John Waters character on the front cover (“Romancing the Crab,” 9/10 ). I was instantly intrigued and insulted all at once. After making the drive back up “the parkway,” I eagerly threw down my keys and read all four authors’ perspectives on my beloved hometown.
Being a young African-American professional and graduate student aged 25, with a B.S. in environmental science from the University of Maryland Eastern Shore and in pursuit of an advanced degree, now attending Morgan State, I found the view I could relate to the most was that of Ta-Nehisi Coates (“B’More Careful”). The early-childhood field trips didn’t do much to shape my feelings about D.C. I first became acquainted with real D.C. flavor when my sister went to school in College Park and came home with a Southeast D.C. native. He would eventually become her husband and the father of my two beautiful nieces. I couldn’t have been any more than 6 years old at the time, so it was hard for me to understand the “friendly” jokes he and his friends used to make about gold teeth and big hair. After all, no one in my family had gold teeth or big hair. In fact, I never even thought about it anymore until I went away to school at UMES. There, it was not uncommon at weekend parties to see a full, out-and-out brawl between groups of guys from Baltimore and D.C. Is it really that deep? I thought. I soon came to find out that indeed it was and still is.
Unlike Coates, however, I do have places that bring back fond memories of my teenage years: the days I cut school to visit all the head shops in Fells Point and Mount Vernon… Odell’s on the weekends and the liquor store right down the street from there that never carded…and, of course, I can never forget the Paradox! Here’s some advice, Mr. Coates: Ask any D.C. native to say “Taco Bell,” and it will undoubtedly come out as “Taco Bale.” Or even a simple task like counting to four becomes a feat when you have a D.C. accent. “One…two…three…fo’.” Excuse me, do you mean “four”? Or just listen to one of their silly go-go songs: “Go ‘head and bounce, Kurn…” The name is Karen. Just a trip to a McDonald’s in a mostly native-D.C. neighborhood has many times made me wonder: Exactly how far south did I travel on 295? I could’ve sworn I got off in D.C.
I always wondered why my brother-in-law talked like that. The only explanation I could come up with is that D.C. really stands for “Down the Country.” At least that’s the consensus in B-more. Bottom line: Baltimore is a great city. Where else can a public high school student get the option to take Chinese, Russian, or Japanese? I opted for Chinese, and after three years of studying the language got a fully funded trip to spend the summer in Xiamen, Baltimore’s sister city in China. There are a lot of opportunities in Baltimore, although many here don’t take advantage of them. Think of all the top-notch public universities right here—something D.C. doesn’t have. The only public university there is the University of the District of Columbia (too bad). If you don’t believe me, just walk down Perring Parkway near Morgan State on any given weekday. Count the number of D.C. tags you see. Especially those with Howard University alumni stickers.