Mixed Reactions to NY Times Baltimore Story

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Image by Victor Kerlow via the New York Times
Image by Victor Kerlow via the New York Times

Everyone wants a Baltimore story these days–particularly the New York Times, it seems. This Sunday’s example wasn’t a profile of Sandtown or an excoriation of the city’s history of racist housing policies. Instead, it was an essay by former City Paper cartoonist Tim Kreider, about his nostalgia for the lazy drunks of Baltimore. Reaction, as you may expect, has been mixed.

Kreider, who moved from Baltimore to New York a decade ago, paints a picture of the city that — well, perhaps these few choice phrases taken from the article will give you a sense:


punched in the face for no reason at all

(at least) one prostitute

Like Sodom and Hiroshima, it is a city best known for its destruction

hungry and disenfranchised and heavily armed

Baltimore is more like a permanent hangover

motivational sinkhole

a woman whose long hair had fused into a single filthy dreadlock, like a thick spout of vomit that had been bronzed

Kevin got felt up by an old lady

a man unexpectedly soiled himself

like revisiting my old high school — too small, deserted and dead

Kreider’s main point is that Baltimore’s beauty and blight come from the same place: “all the ambitious people are siphoned off…leaving the lazier, saner remainder in peace to enjoy low rents, cheap beers and a life undisturbed by the clamorous egos of the driven.” He has a point. But if you know a few of Baltimore’s urban farmers, start-up founders, artists, activists, lawyers, and/or musicians, you know some people who disprove that statement every day. Perhaps Kreider is just projecting his own dissolute, aimless youth onto the city as a whole?

Reaction from Baltimoreans on social media has been mixed:

That said, there is something rough and weird and glorious about Baltimore. Since I read Kreider’s piece, I’ve been trying to figure out why this piece got on my nerves while I also feel that John Waters can talk about Baltimore’s beautiful grotesque and not seem exploitative or condescending? First, he still lives here, at least part of the time. Second, Waters seems to pay real attention to the city’s racial and economic divisions, rather than just turning them into excuses for set pieces about Baltimore’s grittiness. Finally, Waters seems to speak about the city with a genuine affection–and he doesn’t set himself apart from the category of Baltimore Strange, as Kreider does. Instead, you get the sense that Waters only feels like himself when he’s here–while Kreider, for better or for worse, had to move to good old New York City to find himself.

Readers, what did you think about Kreider’s essay?

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  1. Did not like it at all. Talk about snarky. His ideas of ambition are not everyone’s idea, and ambition is not always the foremost definition of happiness.

  2. I had pretty mixed feelings about the essay. Some of it rings very true to me, as I, too, partied much of youth away in this town. However, I know plenty of ambitious folks who live here and have no desire or need to leave Baltimore in order to make their dreams come true. Some people, like me, find solace in the weird and dirty parts of this city which I’ve called home for over 25 years now. I now have a child of mine (born at Hopkins) and I’m happy to live in such a diverse city with her. There is a lot of beauty in this town, too. It just seems like Kreider closed his eyes to all of it. Shame for him. Not for those of us who remain and bask in it every day.

  3. I am not born and bred in Baltimore- I spent all of my formative years in NYC- I moved here 26 years ago as a baby architect with a family and have worked as an architect in Baltimore for those years. I have for the last 15 years worked for a firm that has always put design first and Baltimore first- we are responsible for wonderful buildings all around town and more to the point i have had the pleasure of working with talented, hard driving “un-lazy” people who have all cared about making their projects and therefore Baltimore better.
    Tim Kreider doesn’t have a clue about how hard everyone is working in Baltimore to make it a place that all kinds of people want to live. I agree that the “greatest city on earth” was ill-serving hyperbole but I admire the chutzpah of whoever it was that made all those benches get stenciled with that logo. We can aspire!
    Baltimore is so many things but one of the great things which Kreider did allude to is “that there is a there there” (to paraphrase Gertrude Stein)- we are filled with contradictions; great food, art and music and great soul wrenching poverty. Baltimore will figure out how to deal with these contradictions and will end up showing others the way.

  4. The writers goal is simply to get paid for a story by NYT. You could cut and paste any city in place of Baltimore for the story. Don’t take to heart.

  5. I really felt the NYT was short on anything to print this past Sunday and that is how the article ended up where it did. To me the writer missed the mark.

  6. Too arrogant. He suggests that no one in Baltimore is ambitious (He says that with Johns Hopkins and other heavy hitters in town)!

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