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February 15, 2007: My Baltimore -- Potholes, Pain Are Charm

Charm City. I never understood what's so charming about it. Driving in on I-95, the first thing you see is a charming smokestack spewing charming pollution into the air. As I turn off the Clinton Street exit on my way to my Canton rowhouse, the signs of industry -- defunct industry -- are all around. 

Near the water are an abandoned shipyard, mountainous piles of onyx-colored coal and cargo containers waiting to be shipped out to foreign countries. Then, just as I'm admiring the view, BOOM! A pothole the size of a small country takes out my front tire. Real charming! 

This was the Baltimore I returned to three years ago. It hadn't changed much since my childhood. Excuse me while vivid memories of my mother saying, "Roll 'em up," as we left Orioles games at Memorial Stadium come rushing back. 

Beyond the Inner Harbor, Baltimore is about as aesthetically pleasing as Bill Parcells with his shirt off. But just as Parcells is a hell of a coach, Baltimore is a hell of a city. It's a revelation that didn't hit me until I considered leaving.

When my contract at Fox 45 ended, I decided not to re-sign, opting instead to entertain offers from "big city" stations. Since I was 12 years old I thought "making it" in sports reporting meant leaving my Maryland roots in the dust and jetting off to live the glamorous life in New York or Los Angeles. The only problem is, I'm not glamorous.

Behind the makeup and the microphone is a still a tomboy from Frederick whose world began and ended with a ball signed by Eddie Murray or Cal Ripken. Deep down I'm still that star-struck kid who idolizes Baltimore sports heroes. I now realize that's exactly what makes me a passionate sports reporter.

I remember the exact moment I was charmed by this city. It had nothing to do with scenery, great shopping or fancy restaurants. Outside the Ravens' locker room, seconds after their playoff loss to Indianapolis on Jan. 13, my disappointment went beyond that of a reporter's. It was a disappointment felt by a fan. 

My heart broke for the whole city. This was supposed to be the Ravens' year. I'm talking destiny, 13-3, all the way, baby! Prince was supposed to play "Purple Rain" at the Super Bowl, for crying out loud. It all ended too quickly. The stars seemed out of line and, just like 70,000 other people trickling out of M&T Bank Stadium that evening, all I could think was, "I can't believe it's over." 

My disappointment must have showed as I walked to the parking lot with my head down, because out of nowhere an arm wrapped around my shoulders. It was a woman dressed in head-to-toe purple and black. From the gaudy colored beads to the purple camouflage pants, this lady had no shame in her love for the Ravens. When I looked at her I knew we had never met before, but in a tried and true Baltimore accent she said, "Don't worry, Amber. We've been through worse, hon." Then she walked away. 

I knew exactly what she meant. It was going to take more than one loss to kill the spirit of these fans. After all, this is the city that lost the beloved Colts on a cold, snowy night in 1984. Despite the bitterness that still lingers more than 20 years later, the city's passion for football has never died.

In 1996, with open arms, fans adopted the Ravens as if they were some long-lost child that finally had returned home. This is the city in which the Orioles’ nine consecutive losing seasons have been upstaged by the absence of the “Baltimore” on the O's away jerseys. Talk about pride.

I want to thank that lady at the stadium, wherever she is. Without knowing it, she helped me make one of the biggest decisions of my life. By saying "We've been through worse," she included me. 

She made me realize who I am, who I've always been. I'm a part of this city, one of those unwavering fans. I share in its history. I lived it as a kid and by staying put I can have front row seats as I report on historical moments yet to take shape. Now that's what I call a "charmed life." 

There's nowhere I'd rather live it than in Charm City.    

Issue 2.7: February 15, 2007