A Coloradan Transplant in Humid, Humid Baltimore

By Buck Jabaily

As anyone who has ever emigrated can attest, dropping into a new place is like learning to swim. It takes you a while to figure out a) what this water “thing” is, b) how to not drown, c) how to transport yourself through the water, and finally d) how to thrive in the water like Michael Phelps.   After you’ve earned your eight gold medals, you suddenly learn you’re not in a swimming pool at all, you’re actually in a great lake, and you repeat the cycle from the beginning.  Then, years after that, when you think you’re reaching the lake’s shore, it becomes apparent that you’re actually swimming in an ocean.

In 2006, when I arrived in humid, humid Baltimore from dry, dry Colorado, I was very aware of one thing: I was a transplant.

Luckily, I had a purpose in Baltimore; to set up shop for Single Carrot Theatre.  I also had a teammate–my then-girlfriend and now-wife, Giti; and I had a sister who lived in Fells Point with a futon available at low rent.

Every city has its treasures and its problems. The problems in Baltimore were far different than those I’d left behind in Colorado. Or perhaps they felt bigger. Or maybe since I was becoming an adult, having successfully escaped intact from the insular bubble of college, the problems were just more immediate. My first week in Baltimore, someone drew a map for me and said, “within these lines, you’ll be safe”. I drew that identical map many more times over the next two years as my compatriots in Single Carrot moved to Baltimore. However, it was soon apparent to me that I’d left the bubble of college for a similar bubble of the Charles Street corridor. How was I going to expand my map?

After years of living in this very difficult-to-define city (to those in the north, it is the south; and to those in the south, it is the north), I have begun to appreciate the many layers of Baltimore and the place I occupy as a transplant. Learning Baltimore is a long process that I am far from completing.

Sometimes I’ll spend months at a stretch in the company of other transplants, and then I’ll meet artists who were born and raised in Baltimore. The Baltimore-born often carry hometown pride, but there’s sometimes a chip on the shoulder, too. To me, it feels like I live in an entirely different Baltimore than Baltimore-born folks.  Drop the “B” and you’re left with your own private “altimore”. But how many “altimores” can there be?

I hear transplants praising other transplants with statements like, “They come in with energy and a desire to make things happen.” How do Baltimore-born people feel about transplants?  In my own case, I feel a little bit like a carpetbagger.  Baltimore, a place where many residents experience a daily struggle for the basics, is a place of great potential for me.  The non-monetary resources are here–there’s a welcoming arts community, there are a few seed grants to get artists going, there is an abundance of space, and people won’t typically oppose unusual ideas–in fact, they may even go out of their way to support those ideas.

I used to say that the American dream was alive and well in Baltimore, but then I realized that perhaps the American dream is more easily achieved by a white male from Colorado who was given a car by his parents when he graduated debt-free (thanks again, parents) from his state university.

One thing is clear.  Almost six years later, I am still solidly a transplant.

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