Not long ago, I would avoid coming to Towson. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a college town and have a deep distaste for competitive parking and beer halls with sticky floors. Possibly it was the rumbling of crime rumors that Towson was somehow not safe. I would like to apologize to Towson for my errors, whatever they were.
I have been getting acquainted with her, slowly and surely. I have walked much of the city in the past few months, puzzled by the lack of sidewalks in stretches and pleased by the post-viral vibe of the inhabitants. This has been a great time to be a flâneuse, except to snack along the way–any snack had to be carry-out.
The Mall may re-open soon and it may look more like other empty malls than it has before. I know when I visited at Christmas it was nothing like previous years. It wasn’t hard to find a parking spot, and no one had that after-hours homicide energy I had come to expect on December 20.
If the Mall were sentient, this one would be annoyed. If it were haunted, it would be haunted by 18th century miners who are also eternally annoyed. They would look at the gigantic concrete horse at the corner and scoff. “Bullshit,” the ghosts would cough before shuffling off in the direction of Crate and Barrel to mock some faux wood structure or other. (Yes, the mall is supervised by some 18th century graves, high on the hill above it. Are there graves under it, too? I choose to think so).
During the minutes I studied design in college, we were told that perambulating people love to wonder what is around the corner. With that in mind, designers are taught to elicit pedestrian curiosity by curving walkways and creating a gradual reveal of the landscape.
Towson feels as if she has taken this edict of perpetual peek-a-boo to heart, but only by accident. The misshapen roundabout in the original center of town, flings one onto a long, straight stretch of road that shrugs toward Baltimore on one end and toward York on the other. I haven’t studied the history of the roundabout, but I like to imagine that it was placed there by 18th century pranksters. If anybody was going to march up from Baltimore to sack York, they were going to get confused along the way, by design. Wait. Does every York get sacked? Probably. The one in England got sacked every few years. I am not suggesting that anyone sack anything. We’ve had just about enough of that.
In Towson, there are many, many corners to peek around. Sometimes there is a garden to find, sometimes just a dumpster. Unexpected alleys remind one that this is officially a city, even though it is easy to forget.
Parking meters are another signal that seem out of place during a pandemic. Is anyone checking them? Are the towing companies okay? The bypass seems extraneous and far too pedestrian-friendly these days.
Very old stone walls with pointed mortar remind me of childhood walks during which I was 100% sure I could be a stone mason if I such a profession still existed. Fabulous old churches loom in some places and cuddle the neighborhood in others. I haven’t counted because I don’t have to, but I have encountered at least six of these churches within one mile.
The Episcopal church was constructed before the Civil War, by enslaved residents, and I suspect most of the others have similar stories. There might have been quite a faith competition around town, stealing one another’s carpenters and supplies. The Catholics won, naturally. Their Immaculate tower is on one of the the highest points in town (This is not verified, but if I’m wrong somebody sited the cell towers incorrectly, too).
The lack of parks is my main quibble with Towson. Sure, you may encounter nice ladies doing Tai Chi next to the courthouse, since its garden is the most park-like spot other than the cemeteries. There is a small, tasteful set of war memorials, commemorating our most distasteful wars, and a fountain that may or may not be operating. I have yet to learn whose whim runs the fountain. In my mental monologue, he is a man called Irv, whose trousers have stretched pockets. Irv is an extremely patient guy, until he’s not.
The Post Office closes for lunch, which feels a lot like a country move for such a city office. It sports some lovely antique trim inside and a mural that declares itself, “The History of Transportation.” It is incomplete, having no rockets.
The Library is another experience. It has a recovering brutalist aesthetic. I’m absolutely certain that is the incorrect style description, but I like it. The structure has a certain kind of seventies whimsy (Yep! Completed 1974). I remember when round buildings were popping up everywhere and we all felt very future about them. It’s indifferently maintained, because the budget seems to go to the contents of the building, which is great. It’s a well-stocked library with lots of meeting rooms and a large children’s area made up like a castle.
A huge painted dragon (also very seventies) curls up and around the ramp to reach the main floor from an uninviting below-grade entrance on the street. It’s a fitting way to arrive at the weathered facility, knowing it holds clean shelves full of clean books, put up like treasures.
During a flaneur exercise here, one can encounter every sort of person and one could document every sort of pothole, if that’s your preferred hobby. I love the variation of humans so much that I don’t mind the potholes, even when I step in them for the second time.
There are far too many smoke shops, and if I were truly intrepid, I’d try to figure out which ones are real and which ones are something else. Why would any place have a three to one ratio of hookah to liquor stores? Colleges are not enough of a reason, I bet.
It’s nice to see people dining outside again, although most of them seem intense and concerned about something. It could be anything, really. When I ask people what they are perturbed about, half the time they say, “I don’t know!” It could be justice or viruses or rude skaters. A few of them may be troubled by 5G and microwaves mingling in the air, but I would bet a burrito that at least one of them has had it up to here with a housemate.
Here’s to a lovely summer of hubble bubble syllabus in the little city.
If you enjoy these posts, there are several ways you can encourage their continuing appearance. Free content ain’t free when you have to pay for electricity and coffee here in the little city. There is a whole book you can buy. Three new reviews popped up recently, all five stars!! Real people say the nicest things about it. 16/17 Wishing Shelf readers said they would recommend my book to a friend, so it’s being enjoyed by people who like their friends or who have friends who like 19th century hijinks. I can only imagine Mr. Seventeen would put it in a pot hole. Jawohl!!
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They still get plenty to eat these days, even the things they should never eat, like tape and underwear.