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The Best Journey Takes You Home
It all starts somewhere.
Generations of immigrants came together to create the largest economy in human history. That’s America’s story. You don’t grow up in a city like Baltimore without understanding this.
You drive downtown, and you can’t help but notice how the smokestacks inform the city’s skyline. It’s living history. Yet, it is also a reminder that time has passed. And time was not always kind to one of America’s oldest major cities.
A lot of Baltimoreans today either remember or hear about the “old days.” The city used to hum as a hub of steel processing, shipping, and transportation. Growing up, many of us heard stories of how one could forego college to work at Bethlehem Steel. They had a shipyard and steel mill in Sparrow’s Point. Instead of attending university, one could go here and make a comfortable living. They could make it while counterparts struggled to operationalize their degrees. This was the late 1970s, a very different America.
Deindustrialization sucked a lot of life out of industrial hubs like Baltimore. Today, the city’s economy relies on the low-wage service sector. But at one point, it was almost the opposite. Low-skilled and high-wage jobs abounded. The blue-collar dream was in Baltimore City.
We need to appreciate this.
I grew up sometimes resentful of my hometown. It was an era of decline. One only saw shells of former greatness despite people saying it was still there. Sure, Francis Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” after the bombardment of Baltimore Harbor in the War of 1812. The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad is not only the third railroad on the standard Monopoly gameboard. It is also the nation’s oldest railroad. Today, the city can be proud that Johns Hopkins Hospital calls it home. Catholic Relief Services and The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have their headquarters in Baltimore.
Still, that sense of decline permeated.
And doesn’t that speak to a feeling many older parts of America are feeling? Where did the time go? What happened to this former greatness? Can’t we appreciate that?
I love this city with all of my heart. It raised me. My family (before I was even an idea) laid its roots after migrating from the Midwest and Delaware.
It’s been such a rough time for this country. Politicians use economic and social grievances to enrich themselves. Then they forget the communities they demagogued. It’s easy to go to international cities like Washington, New York City, and Los Angeles and forget Baltimore. We forget that the older cities arguably helped make this new economy possible. Over time, cities and towns like Baltimore brought populations together from across the globe. And the result was wonderous metropolises and further innovation. People may have left home to contribute to the rise of other hubs, like Hollywood and Silicon Valley. But the old industrial belts of this nation are where much of it started.
An American renewal means appreciating and healing places like Baltimore. It means recognizing the historical forces that haven’t been so kind rather than casting condescension on the decline. We can’t continue to let this happen. That is what aids in the creation of demagogues and toxic political incentives. That is how we get into divisive arguments of blue states and red states. Or clean suburbanites and dirty city dwellers.
It’s not flashy. It’s not glamorous. And it can be quiet at times (thankfully). But these places are home for many of us. And that’s exactly where our greatest journey leads us.
Photos are originals by me.