Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore! COVER

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Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore
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Excerpt from Smile, Hon, You're in Baltimore!


             "'Scuse me, sir," the passing stranger said to me as I cut through the hospital lobby around lunchtime. "I was wonderin' if I could ask you a question."
             "Sure," I replied. "What is it, man?"
             "First of all, I want to say 'thank you' for taking the time an' acknowledgin' me and not behavin' like a snob like all these other people, pretendin' I'm not even here. I'm just tryin' to get back home, is all. By the way," he added, extending his hand, "name's Paul."
             "Pleased to meet ya," I said over a quick a handshake. "Where's home?"
             "Pittsburgh," he answered. "I've been around Baltimore, tryin' to find a job. An' ya know what? Can't find a one anywhere. Now I'm just tryin' to get back home."
             "Yeah. I tried all the restaurants and places like that around downtown. None of 'em had nothin'."
             "Restaurants?" I mused. "Did you try Fells Point?"
             "Fells Point, yeah, I tried all around there. Nothin' ."
             "Yeah, that's what I mean. I can't find nothin', an' that's why I'm tryin' to get back home.There's a Greyhound that leaves in about 45 minutes from the depot over on Fayette, but I still need a few bucks to afford a ticket. Tell me, have you ever been to Pittsburgh?"
             "Oh, yeah?" he said. "It's a nice place, huh? I love it. That's why I'm tryin' to get back there. Like I said, I'm a couple bucks shy of the bus fare, though, and it's leavin' in 45 minutes."
             What the hell, I thought. Truth or not, it's a good story, at least.
             "Here's a buck," I said, handing him one of the last three from my pocket. "Good luck, man."
             "Thank you," he said. "I really appreciate it. If ya wanna give me your address, I can send it back to ya when I get there."
             "For a dollar, don't worry about it."
             I didn't.
             Neither, I'm sure, did he.

             The other day, I sat reading in the heat of Penn Station, waiting for the Light Rail to make its appearance at the cold and dirty concrete platform below.
             "'Scuse me, sir," a voice approached from a few feet away.
             "Hmmmm?" I looked up.
             "First of all," he said, taking a seat beside me on the hard wooden bench, "I want to thank you for takin' the time to acknowledge me and not behavin' like a snob like the rest of these people. Pretendin' I'm not even here. Ya see, I'm from..."
             "Yeah," he replied with a nod of recognition. "I talked to you before, didn't I?"
             "Down around the hospital, right?"
             "That was it."
             "You work down there?"
             "In the vicinity. You were trying to get back home to Pittsburgh."
             The silence that followed was too organic to be awkward.
             "Yeah," he said, finally. Then, with a trace of disgust, "And can you believe it? I'm still here!"
             I looked off in the opposite direction, toward the morning mass of people flowing through the heart of the station -some just arriving, some just leaving, some just going around and around, unsure of either.
             "You know what time it is?" he asked.
             "About twenty to eight," I said from routine, without looking at my watch.
             "Hmmmm. Well, you have a good day."
             "You, too."
             Then came the ringing bell of the Light Rail, arriving at the station; we stood up, bound in different directions, and headed for work.


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