November 6, 2012 - Market Place
“If we pass gambling and not this, I’m moving to D.C.,” someone jokes, or maybe half-jokes, inside the Marylanders for Marriage Equality election night party at the Baltimore Soundstage.
At 10:25 p.m., news on the large-projection TV reports, that with almost 70 percent of the precincts still out, the margin supporting same-sex marriage has slipped to 51-49 percent. Nearby, Dawn Trotter claps to boost her spirits. Others search Facebook and Twitter for updates. At 10:40 p.m., “50-50” on Question 6 scrolls across the screen. Trotter, elbows on the table, hands covering her mouth, leans into her friend Colleen Pleasant Kline: “Fifty-fifty,” she whispers.
Wearing her lucky purple Ravens T-shirt—partly in homage to linebacker Brendan Ayanbadejo, who publicly supports gay marriage rights—Trotter sips a Coors Light. Her partner, Diana Bennett, two seats away, reacts more stoically. Kline, the couple’s married, heterosexual, Hunting Ridge neighbor, seems most anxious of all. “They said if it passes, I can officiate,” she says.
At 11:17 p.m., the crowd leaps to its feet as Barack Obama, who came out in favor of gay marriage this spring, is reelected. “Whatever happens,” says Bennett quietly, referring to Question 6 and hugging Trotter, “it’s validation.” A few moments later, it’s 51 percent in favor again, now with nearly three-fourths of the state’s results in. Finally, at 12:16 a.m., although WBAL still hasn’t “called” Question 6, Del. Maggie McIntosh, Del. Mary Washington, Del. Luke Clippinger, state Sen. Richard Mandaleno, and Del. Heather Mizeur—five openly gay legislators—as well as Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Gov. Martin O’Malley, jump on stage to announce the passage of Question 6 beneath balloons that have been waiting all night to be released.
Dawn embraces Diana, and, at the same time, tries to record the celebration on stage with little success. Her iPhone is shaking in her hand. Tears are running down her cheeks.
Out on a Limb
November 9, 2012 - Warren Avenue
A smattering of red, orange, and gold leaves hang on the branches atop Federal Hill, but more have already fallen to the ground, as officials inspect Junior Fowler’s harness, hooks, and gear.
A 23-year-old Brooklynite enrolled in a Jobs Corps program in Vermont, Fowler addresses his rope. At the click of a stopwatch, he quickly lifts himself up the center of the tree, efficiently placing his boots across limbs while hooking his arms around higher branches until he’s in a skyward sprint—think Spider-Man in Timberlands, jeans, and a hoodie. Fowler stretches for a cowbell near the treetop, perhaps 40 feet off the ground. Time: Thirty-three seconds.
The tree climb is part of an arborist-in-training competition, organized by the Tree Care Industry Association Expo at the Baltimore Convention Center. Elsewhere on Federal Hill, students compete in simulated “work” climbs and a line-throwing event. But the tree race generates the most anticipation—and unpredictability. Allissa Montgomery, of Milwaukee Area Technical College, follows Fowler and rings the cowbell in just over two minutes. A strong climb. Then, a boot comes loose.
“Clear below,” she yells, managing a laugh as her footwear hits the grass.
Pants on Fire
November 17, 2012 - S. Eutaw Street
A young woman tells a funny story about an older relative revealing a secret—that Louisiana leeches are the special ingredient in her famous homemade gumbo—which reminds Mitchell Capel, aka “Gran’daddy Junebug,” of something that happened the last time he was home.
“Last time I was home I went for a walk to catch up with a good friend of mine, Ronnie, who we call ‘the Mailman’ because he’s a mailman,” Capel begins. “Well, we walk and eventually come up to the corner of a park where this young boy’s standing next to this big ol’ dog. Big, mean, ol’ dog,” Capel emphasizes, “and he growls at Ronnie something awful.” The creature naturally gives the men pause, Capel explains, and so his friend asks the boy if his dog bites. “No,” the boy says. So, Ronnie attempts to reach out to pet the dog, but gets badly bitten instead—so badly that his hand is bleeding. “You said your dog doesn’t bite,” Capel recalls admonishing the boy. “What’s wrong with you, son? Why did you say that?”
“That’s not my dog,” the boy replies.
The packed East Ballroom at Inner Harbor Marriott, here for the National Association of Black Storytellers’ annual Liars’ Contest, bursts into laughter.
Tall tales—some quirky, others elaborate, revolving around Satchel Page, a nosy aunt, moonshine, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and one including an empty chair standing in for Mitt Romney—continue for another hour. Capel, the host, fibs that the winner will have his or her name engraved in gold on the traditional Aesop Cup, displayed at the Smithsonian until next year. “The only downside,” Capel informs the contestants, “is no one will ever believe anything you say ever again.”