A giant once, now a January sort of city even in summer, spring and autumn. An anonymous city even to those who live there, a city that draws a laugh even from Philadelphia, a sneer from Washington, with a hundred tag lines that draw neither smile nor sneer from the city. Baltimore: Nickel Town, Washington's Brooklyn, A Loser's Town, The Last Frontier, Yesterday Town.
"I'll take a sleeping pill, just in case," said a Briton, preparing to visit the city. "I want to make sure I can keep up with the pace."
So it is October, and the town, which CORE made a target city in the summer gone (and failed to whip up one good, solid riot), is a World Series town, attracting attention it really does not enjoy, feeling a piston-like beat of the heart it has so seldom fell, and provoking—by just being what it is—more cackling from all those who came and found January in October.
All right, Jack, but don't knock it as a sports town, say the blue collars who are always in the side-street bars when shadows start climbing up factory walls. They say it next to a draft beer and a sports section opened to the racing page. From which the eyes never veer. Looking for a number or looking for an edge, looking for a chance to make tomorrow different from today, or just looking. By bar light or kitchen light, by neon or track light, with racing page or scratch sheet, with money or no money.
"Make sure," a publisher of one newspaper told his secretary, "I see the handle from the tracks every day. It gives me a good picture of the economy of the city."
"I've dreamed and I've schemed and I ain't never found any cream." the uncle used to tell his nephew. "Sonny, pray you grow up to be a bookmaker in this here town."
A racing town, then, but you can forget about charm and tradition, Old Hilltop and the Preakness, rolling acreage with dancing Thoroughbreds. That's for the Establishment, the Valley and Elkridge and all those who think they are a part of it, for the ones in good tweed with the F. Scott Fitzgerald rich-boy faces lined with exquisite dissipation who, 48 years old, are known within the circle as Skippy or Junior. Take the charm, the tradition, if you want it, because it's there; but deal around the other ones, the mobs that bust out of the steel mills, shipyards and can factories and try to reach the frozen face behind the window for the last two at Pimlico.
"In this here town, Sonny," said Uncle, who could talk about the loveliness of Saratoga even after getting wiped out, "only suckers and short arms and those with no arms [check evaders and nonspenders] go for the charm, and they ain't fillin' the closet of any track owner's wife with mink."
Racing, as even the bankrupt, dreamless ghosts of Pratt Street can see, is the silent giant of sports in this dudeless town, but the street-corner bigmouth is pro football. College guys who wish they were back, high-school types who wish they had been, Valley dandy and Highlandtown scuffler—everybody has a piece of the Colts. Never try talking to a bartender after the Colts get busted up on television. Never scoff at the sophomoric cheering, from old ones who have never been young and young ones who don't want to grow old, that floods barrooms and lounges during a television game. Never knock the club, or you'll be knocked.
"Remember the big one with the Giants?" says one knocker. "Well, I had been putting the club down all year in this place where I hang, just to get a rise in the joint. So the Colts take the Giants, and that night I get nasty telegrams and a dozen phone calls telling mc what a creep I am."