For the Birds
The scents of ginseng and pine complement the faint sound of chimes as all manner of nature-lovers converge on the Baltimore Convention Center for the three-day Natural Products Expo.
More than 20,000 members of the natural products industry mill among 1,450 exhibits, staffed by people who have come from as far away as London, hawking everything from naturally made toothbrushes to organic baby food. There are ample samples of herbal tea and ginseng soda. On one stage, an eco-friendly bartender shows how to mix drinks using only raw ingredients, including fresh juices and egg whites.
Patch Adams, the doctor who prescribes humor as medicine and was portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1998 film bearing his name, is here, as is Laurie David, the environmentalist, author, and ex-wife of HBO funny man Larry David.
"Would you like to try some granola?" asks Dina Houser, the founder of Ola! granola. The Connecticut mother of three stands inside a booth displaying her three signature granola mixes. Nearby, two birds who somehow snuck into the Convention Center, offer their own testimonial, hungrily pecking up leftover samples of Houser's oaty wares.
The feathered freeloaders seem to have happened upon the most bird-friendly crowd in town, as no one seems intent in chasing them out. Even the four-legged proprietors of a service-animal booth a few yards away don't seem to mind. A golden Labrador passing by looks on with apparent acceptance, echoing the laid-back vibes of the attendees strolling by with tote bags in their hand and canvas lanyards dangling from their necks.
It's noon at McKeldin Square, the announced hour for Occupy Baltimore—a local offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests—to begin, but there is little sign of occupation.
A dozen police watch from the nearby Light Street Pavilion, and several reporters and TV news trucks loiter on Pratt waiting to see what develops. Soon, a man arrives on a bike with a baby seat on the back and giant peace flag—an occupier. Moments later, two men unfurl a banner that reads "Occupy Baltimore," with a pink triangle in place of the "a."
Soon, more activists arrive, toting placards, canvas, paint, and markers. Despite being swarmed by the media horde, they get to work on signs and banners, and it briefly seems more like an arts-and-crafts fair than anything having to do with income inequality and corporate corruption, as organizers say it does.
Then the signs take shape, with messages like "TAX the RICH" and "Revolt!" and the message becomes a bit clearer.
"The majority of Americans live below their means and the government is not doing anything about it," says Tyrone Jackson, an East Baltimore native who spent several days at the Occupy Wall Street protests. His sign reads "Cost of Living vs. Cost of Freedom."
Next to him is Teyona Davis, a West Baltimore resident and student at Baltimore City Community College. She was also at the New York protests and describes the experience as "life-changing."
"I'm 24 and I feel like I've been waiting for this forever, to have a whole group come together for one voice, one cause," she says. By 1 p.m., the crowd grows thicker and some of the recent arrivals have brought sleeping bags.
Now it's starting to look like an occupation.