Miles of Charm
Nervously hitting nearby port-o-potties, tightening shoelaces, and double-checking race belts and carb packets, 5,000 would-be marathoners squeeze onto Russell Street, behind Camden Yards’s leftfield wall.
On a crisp morning, thousands more line the sidewalks, shouting encouragement and wishing friends and loved ones well. The national anthem blares, the Bromo Seltzer Tower clock strikes 8 a.m., and a sudden “BANG” releases the penned herd. Confetti pours down, as Gov. Martin and Katie O’Malley enthusiastically wave to the now flowing mass of humanity.
It’s the 10th anniversary of the Baltimore marathon, a 26.2-mile jaunt up and down the city’s rocky pavement from the ballparks to Druid Hill, Federal Hill, Patterson Park, Lake Montebello, and Mt. Vernon.
“I’ve been training for three years,” says Baltimore City firefighter Robert Duckett Jr., 34, prior to the start up South Paca Street. “I missed the deadline two years ago. Last year, my training got interrupted and I did the half-marathon.”
Filling out his mesh jersey, the 5-foot-10, 230-pound former Edmondson High football player is like a mini version of Ravens fullback Le’Ron McClain.
Behind Duckett, an Elvis-impersonator jogs in a white jumpsuit, offering “Thank-you, thank-you very much,” to police officers on duty. Nearby, a tall guy juggles the whole way. Ahead, there’s a runner in a tuxedo, some women running in tutus and tiaras, and couples smooching at the finish line.
Along the route, runners pass students cheering outside schools, wise-guy signs line mile 18 and 19, reminding runners, “No One Made You Do This,” and asking, “Who Needs Toenails?” On the East Side, families cheer from porch steps. In Charles Village, a fan in a tiger suit dances to “Eye of the Tiger,” and a couple hands out 400 pounds of gummy bears. Through Lexington Market, crowds high-five and fist-bump ragged runners.
“You look at the city today, see all that history, and it’s beautiful, and it can be emotional,” Duckett says after finishing the race in just over six hours.
“The best thing is that you see all these different people, all the diversity—and everybody is cheering for everybody,” he says. “We are not good to each other every day like this. But, you know, we could be.” —Ron Cassie
Patrons of the American Visionary Art Museum mingle with media types at the preview party for the museum’s new exhibition, What Makes Us Smile?, co-curated by The Simpsons creator Matt Groening, illustrator Gary Panter, and AVAM founder/director Rebecca Hoffberger.
Groening and Panter are perusing the galleries when John Waters, whose own work is included in the exhibit, files in, filling out a veritable dream team of subversive humor.
In his talk, Groening declares his love for AVAM. He chats with a half-dozen kids in attendance and signs their books—instead of scribbling his name, he draws each one’s favorite Simpsons character.
Panter, who created the “Jimbo” comic books and won Emmys for creating the Pee Wee’s Playhouse set, has known Groening since before The Simpsons. “The attention and money haven’t changed Matt a bit,” he says. Asked what he and Groening will do in Baltimore, Panter says they’ll probably visit the new Frank Zappa statue. “We’re both big fans.”
Hoffberger looks like a proud parent. AVAM is 15 years old, now in its adolescence, and has earned the blessing of these pop culture deities. It’s enough to make you smile. —John Lewis