I have had the chance this summer to visit a number of my old neighborhoods across the country. Early in July, I made a quick detour from a consulting gig in Milwaukee to visit my old haunts in Appleton Wisconsin and visit old friends. I will save the story from the local butcher shop for another essay, but to say the least it felt great to be “home.” Just last week I made a quick weekend trip back to my boyhood home of Murrysville Pennsylvania, seeing some old pals and telling old stories at some of our favorite spots including The Pond (in Latrobe) and Dicks Diner. Another great trip! This essay comes from a poignant moment on the third of these “homecoming trips,” from a visit with my family back to Baltimore Maryland.
At a mid-point in my career at Coke, I was sent up to Baltimore to take over a key role “in the field.” It was there that I met Cathy (featured in the previous essay on this blog) among a number of other friends that I hold dear to this day. Jennie and I made our home in the city of Baltimore, where our son Bryson was born, and grew to love the quirky, blue-collar nature of the city. Regardless of the cities significant challenges, dramatically and violently portrayed in the riots earlier this year, I continue to have a very soft spot in my heart for “B’More!”
During our visit, we spent a better part of a day in our old neighborhood, seeing the hospital where Bryson was born, stopping in at an old market where we used to shop, once again feeling “back at home.” Later in the visit, Marie and I had a few hours to ourselves when Jen and Bryson were on a college tour, so we hit the water taxi and made our way to the Inner Harbor. For those not familiar with Baltimore, there is a lot happening in the Inner Harbor/Harbor East/Fells Point/Canton sections of Baltimore. Certainly since we lived there in the mid-nineties, there has been a massive transformation with new hotels, buildings, condos, etc. being built all along the waterfront. When we visited, the area was alive with visitors, residents and business people making it an exciting time to be in Baltimore.
Marie and I made our way towards Camden Yards into the Otterbein neighborhood to see our first apartment on Welcome Alley. When Jen and I first moved to Baltimore, we rented a narrow row house that was literally on an alley between the Inner Harbor and Camden Yards. Marie and I found the old row house and alley in good repair, and the visit brought back vivid memories for me from the fall of 1996. As we wound our way back towards the harbor, with my mind filled with images from almost two decades past, we came to a street corner and met Inger.
There are a number of busy street corners between Camden yards and the Inner Harbor and at one of these corners, we found ourselves standing next to a middle aged blind woman with a long white cane. I asked if she needed any help at the crossing and without a hesitation she took my forearm into her strong grip and we crossed as the light changed. After we crossed, she shared her name, Inger, and asked mine. I introduced Marie and she shared that she had a son, and not knowing exactly where Inger was going, we started walking towards the water arm in arm. As I mentioned, Inger’s grip was very strong, and at times it felt like she had the lead. She know the neighborhood well and was heading to the bus station, a well known route to her, and she was describing the different corners, the tall curbs where you needed to be careful, the busy hotel driveway where cars came and went… in many ways Inger was walking us to the bus station, not vice versa! A few blocks later, we parted ways at her bus stop, each thanking the other for the time and the help.
Marie and I didn't say much at first, both being pretty blown away by the encounter. It was poignant, unplanned and totally unexpected! We had no idea when we went looking for a memory from Welcome Alley that we would return musing about Inger, her poise, her confidence, her humor and her grip. I think back to that walk today as I am writing this essay, wondering how Inger is today, confident that she may be leading others across busy Baltimore intersections, safely guided by her strong steady grip!!