The Streets of Baltimore
With the website now live and Baltimore Bouchercon a mere two years away, it seemed like a good time to answer some FAQs about Charm City.
Who coined the nickname Charm City?
No one knows. I've heard H.L. Mencken and William Donald Schaefer (right), while he was mayor. But who am I to argue with Gilbert Sandler?
How do I pronounce Baltimore so I sound like a native?
Honey, no one wants to sound like a Bawlmer native. But if you must, try to this website.
Is it safe?
Yes, as long as you don't attempt to purchase crack while you're here. That will take you into the neighborhoods where 80 percent of the homicides occur. Downtown is pretty safe, as long as you use normal precautions.
True story: Anthony Bourdain, according to Kitchen Confidential and a conversation at Dead on Deansgate in 2000, did not like Baltimore because he was a heroin junkie when he lived here and found it hard to score. "No offense," another Baltimorean said to him then, "but that makes you the most incompetent heroin addict who ever lived."
Why does it hurt when I pee?
Probably because you've contracted one of the STDs for which Baltimore is famous. To be fair, we've also been dubbed America's fittest city. Must be the influx of Washingtonians.
Is there a Starbucks within walking distance of the hotel?
Yes, and we're oh-so-proud. Our current mayor thinks that Starbucks is a quality-of-life marker, and was worried when the city didn't have any. But Baltimore has excellent local coffeehouses as well, including not only my beloved Spoons, but the Daily Grind, Evergreen and Common Grounds. Starbucks is the closest to the hotel, however, just two blocks away.
Will there be a restaurant guide?
Yes, closer to the event. I'm taking this VERY seriously.
How's public transportation?
The good news is that you can take Light Rail from BWI to a location very near the hotel. Otherwise... it's not so great. If you want to leave the downtown area, you'll need a taxi. Even if you go some place walkable, such as Federal Hill, I'd suggest taking a cab back if you return after 10 p.m.
A cab from the airport to downtown currently costs about $25. (The airport is less than eleven miles from the hotel.)
What should I make a point of seeing?
Look, I know Bouchercon. This fall marks my 11th Bouchercon, and I understand that very few people get outside the convention hotel. But here are a couple of things to consider:
Edgar Allan Poe's grave. Duh.
The Continental Building, where Dashiell Hammett worked as a Pinkerton. Double-duh.
Lexington Market: Best crabcakes, city division. (Faidley's). They also have muskrat. No, seriously.
Within walking distance, if you can walk a 20-minute mile and don't mind walking for up to forty minutes, although some of these places are no more than ten minutes away:
The National Aquarium
The Enoch Pratt Central Library, a beautiful and glorious public space.
The American Visionary Art Museum.
Spoons. Best latte in the city, and I have tried them all. FYI -- Tuesday and Friday are ROMEO day (Retired Old Men Eating Out), so it's hard to get a seat on the banquette in the rear, which is the best place to sit and don't even think about sitting in the two-top next to the kids' play area, as most regulars know who sits there every day.
The Peabody Library: Simply gorgeous.
The Owl Bar, ditto, plus F. Scott Fitzgerald drank here.
Requires a taxi, but worth it:
The BMA, the Cone exhibit in particular, and the sculpture garden.
"Police Headquarters" from Homicide: A Year on the Streets, assuming it's still there. (It's valuable real estate. Someone's always jonesing for it.) En route, try the Blue Moon for breakfast, but only if it's a weekday.
Fort McHenry: A must for our British guests. I plan to take Mark Billingham there personally.
John Wilkes Booth's grave in Greenmount Cemetery -- if you can find it.
Hattie Carroll's home, ditto. (The Emerson Hotel, where William Zantzinger struck her with his cane, is long gone.)
Worth renting a car, blowing a day, and driving about an hour west:
Gathland. I may have used it in a novel by then, but it's so cool, I'm not even going to tell you what it is.
Postcards from the End
The tour is over. Sort of. More or less. I will be at Barnes and Noble in White Marsh on Sept. 13th, armed with Otterbein Cookies for those forgiving souls who thought I was going to be there July 26th. I still have a few regional appearances and I will be in Madison, Wis., for Bouchercon, where To The Power of Three is up for Best Novel. But, mainly, I'm hunkering down and trying to finish book #12. Thanks to everyone who came out, from Albuquerque to Fargo and all points in-between. It was the best tour ever.
I gave away a lot of books on the road -- THE LAST OF HER KIND, MISS AMERICAN PIE, FIELD OF BLOOD. But, of course, I replaced almost every book I gave away. Any pig lovers out there? I'm finishing up THE GOOD GOOD PIG, which, like its title swine, needs a home.