Love on the Line: Stories of a Baltimore Worth Living For by Madeline Scharff
“You can get lived in Baltimore,” proclaims the woman standing under a large orange and yellow Single Loader poster hanging from the ceiling. I’m sitting amongst a crowd of Baltimoreans, who aren’t necessarily natives but claim Baltimore to be their home. Single mothers, librarians, teachers, musicians, college students, babies, a man wearing a Burberry scarf, and another wearing five layers because he is a street sleeper are all comfortably gathered around her, eager for the evening to begin. We’re at the Spin Cycle Laundromat listening to each other’s love stories, as the smell of dryer sheets permeates the room and random beeping signifying the end of a cycle sets a punctuated rhythmic pace for their words.
This one night, community pop-up event, Love on the Line: Stories of a Baltimore Worth Living For, is hosted by The Family Arts Museum and Melani Douglass, Curator of Engagement, along with the MICA Office of Community Engagement. Inspired by February, the single month of the year that celebrates love nationally, Melani invited the general public to come together as a community to recognize and celebrate the love we share for Baltimore.
But why a Laundromat? Spin Cycle is common ground for many of the evening’s attendees. Whether pouring detergent into the washer or folding articles of clothing back into hampers serves as time to relax and reflect or acts as a distraction from daily worries, people inevitably look to one another for a bit of small talk or pick me up. It’s where community problems are talked about, posters for local events pinned, neighborhood issues addressed, and where consoling conversations take place. It connects individuals to the community.
The speaker continues to share with us how she came to fall in love with Baltimore, “It was the streets,” she says. “It was the people. It was the pain. It was real.” As she says this, all of the heads in the crowd nod along in agreement. She pauses for a moment, then says with an Aretha Franklin bellow, “But the people in Baltimore… oh my g-d.” She draws out the words “people” and “oh my g-d” to emphasize the connections where individuals come together to make the city stronger. More importantly, that we can do this through the arts.
Love on the Line is proof that the arts send positivity throughout the neighborhood and help to establish tight-knight communities. Whether your art is folding laundry, singing, dancing, photography, playing an instrument, or practicing karate, you are participating in an act that promotes the ideals Baltimore strives to stand for. That is, strengthening community ties with individuals who are accountable, aware of the neighborhood’s needs, law-abiding, politically active, have a sense of purpose, and support the arts.
The man providing background music from a laptop and speaker system during short breaks gives a shout out to his teacher in the crowd, who taught him the skills necessary for public speaking. He says it’s the reason he is able to stand here now and talk to all of us. Also in the crowd is the woman who gave him his first job. Now his teacher and employer know each other from meeting at this event— through the arts.
As more people continue to share, you notice they the same words in their stories such as “community,” “talent,” “traditions,” “neighborhood,” “arts.” Everyone has a different story of how they came to live here but each person agrees that is the people of Baltimore that make you fall in love, and make you want to stay here.
Jahiti of Brown FISH, an acoustic guitar player, who performed a number of songs throughout the evening, emphasizes the importance of Baltimore’s art scene. “It gives people something to talk about other than scenes you see on The Wire.” He reminds us to “talk up” our community in a good light so people come here and stay here. “We need those people, “ he says.
Speakers included Ms. Penny, who has worked at Spin Cycle for years now. She shared with us folding techniques, which she learned from her mother, highlighting the importance of family ties. Stephanie ‘Safiyatou’ Edwards, who spoke about her project, Baltimore Girls, discussed the movement that aims to show the “realness” of Baltimore women, not just their perceived personas, creating a strong presence of female leadership in the community. Reuben “Dubscience” Greene, a photographer who has been capturing the sights and sounds of Baltimore for four years, talked about helping to spread the local, organic talent of citizens. He reinforced Jahiti’s speech about promoting Baltimore in a positive light.
The same woman, who first stood under the Single Loader poster, wraps up the event with a call and response sing along, common in the Sub-Saharan African cultures. There are no words, just a warm melody formed in the bottom of our bellies, carried out through our lips, mmmmm’s ranging in low to high pitches. She sings first then we answer with the same exact sound. Once again, emphasizing how community efforts connect people, and that doing it through the arts is a direct way to do so.
As she closes with a solo, we can feel what it means to “get lived in Baltimore.” Tonight we have learned so much about one another by choosing not to be afraid to share our stories. We were able to open up to each other because each person proved to be inspiring and motivating with their words. I was completely surprised by all the people I met tonight and humbled to have been able to be a part of it.
Spin Cycle Laundromat
2020 Maryland Ave
Baltimore, MD 21218
Author Madeline Scharff has a love for pencils and notebooks with scribbles and crossed out lines. She’s happiest when playing with her pup, Lily, and eating apples with peanut butter and honey. You can read more of her writing on Brine Blog.