Baltimore Spring Memories
Written By By Simone Ellin Photographed By Justin Tsucalas
“Spring is nature’s way of saying, ‘Let’s Party!’”
— Robin Williams
Isn’t it the truth? Although this winter has been mild, now that April is here, many of us are as giddy as ever over the arrival of spring. Not only does the season inspire feelings of hope for the future, it also conjures up sweet memories of springs past.
Baltimore in spring offers numerous occasions for partying. We asked some natives to reflect on some quintessentially Baltimore offerings.
In the spring, Baltimore native Jason Cohen’s fancy turns to thoughts of outdoor festivals. “I love how as soon as the weather breaks there are so many outdoor festivals, with so much live music,” says Cohen, who owns Rockit Digital Marketing in Reisterstown.
Cohen, who lives in Owings Mills with his wife Beth and children Jonas, 8, and Grace, 7, frequents many festivals each spring. But, it’s the “Hopkins Fair” in particular that is near and dear to Cohen’s heart, since that’s where he and Beth first met in 1995.
“I was at the fair with a friend and Beth was with a mutual friend. We bumped into each other at the fair and I knew I wanted to get her number. I asked our mutual friend to ask Beth if I could call her, and she said ‘yes.’ So I called and we started going out. We’ve been married for 13 years and have two beautiful kids. Come to think of it, we haven’t gone to the Hopkins Fair in the last couple of years. We’ll make it a point to do it this spring.”
Cohen, 42, is also vocalist and guitar player for Shinola, one of Baltimore’s local rock and blues bands. Cohen cites Baltimore as a city with a fantastic but under-recognized live music scene, where Jewish musicians are well represented.
“We love to get back out and into the community to see what’s going on. There’s always a good crowd, and it always delivers a good time,” says Cohen. “This being Baltimore, you are likely to run into friends you haven’t seen in a while.”
It’s all the hype leading up to the prom that Maia Hoffman remembers most. A 1984 graduate of Pikesville High School, Hoffman admits she still has her prom dress. “My father took me shoping and we went down to Eastern Avenue, because that’s where you went. I got a long white dress with spaghetti straps and a ruffle across the front.”
“I made my mother take me to New York for the shoes. I think I got them at a store called Strawberry. I got my hair and makeup done at this place called Esthetique Ina. That was the place to go back then. I remember trying to take a shower before the prom without ruining the hair and makeup”
For her date, Hoffman looked beyond her Pikesville High classmates. “I had a job working for a catering place, and there was this waiter there — Charles, and he was cute. He was older and had this mustache, really cute. So I decided to invite Charles to the prom.”
Cute Charles accepted, and Hoffman and her three closest friends and their dates met at her house for drinks with her parents before setting off for dinner.
“We ate at Pierce’s Plantation. It was fancy schmancy and someone had a seafood allergy,” she says.
The prom took place at Towson University, (then called Towson State), and there was a band called “Benny and the Believers.” Otherwise, that part of the evening wasn’t especially memorable, Hoffman admits.
After the prom was over, she and her friends (including Charles) headed to Ocean City for the weekend. “I remember thinking, who is this guy?” laughs Hoffman.
In fact, once she departed to spend her summer working at the beach, she never saw Charles again.
Almost nothing says springtime in Baltimore like the Preakness. For most young adults who grew up here, partying with friends at the Pimlico Race Course’s infield on the third Saturday of every May is a rite of passage.
Ari Rosen of Owings Mills has fond memories of attending the event with friends from Pikesville High School. Unlike many of the young adults we spoke with, he is not afraid to tell it like it was.
“We started preparing for the race weeks before,” Rosen remembers. “Who’s going to bring the alcohol? Who’s bringing the food? How are we getting there?”
All these things, he says, had to be figured out, because, Rosen, now 41 and a divorced father of two, recalls the event as “one massive party.”
He and his group of about 15 friends met up with other groups of teens from the Randallstown and Pikesville areas. Rosen remembers people passed out from the combination of alcohol and sun, and that others would write on their faces.
“We always had one big guy with us to carry those guys out,” he says. “One time, a friend of mine hit on this really attractive girl. She invited him to come sunbathing with her, but when she took off her top, she turned out to be a man! He was totally freaking out. That was really funny!”
Rosen’s role was being the “wingman,” of the group, he says. “I was always telling jokes and creating action. If one of my friends wanted to meet a girl, I would break the ice with her, because I wasn’t shy. I would talk to anyone.”
Rosen says his last time at the infield was probably his senior year at Towson University. “Sometimes I think I’d like to go at least one more time, but then I think I’d be the oldest one there,” he says. “Sometimes, I tell my kids, ‘I used to go to the Preakness,’ and they say, ‘Dad, you’re so old!’ Those were sure some fun times, I can tell you that.”
“Going to games at Memorial Stadium was a huge part of my childhood,” recalls 30-year-old Ashley Smith of Owings Mills. Smith especially loved spring games because of the perfect weather and that “sweet, springy smell.”
“I think I saw my first game when I was about 4,” she says.
Smith’s parents had season tickets with seats right behind home plate. She liked to arrive early so she could go down to the dugout and see the players. “It was always super-exciting waiting to see who was going to come out,” she remembers. With the help of her father, Smith collected over 100 autographs.
Out of the 81 home games held during the season, Smith estimates she attended at least 50 of them. Her favorite players? Cal Ripken Jr., of course, as well as Brady Anderson, Mike Devereaux and Rafael Palmeiro.
“We’d wear all our Orioles gear, and I wanted everything they were selling — all the hoopla,” she says. “Sometimes, afterwards we would go to the Harbor to eat. It was the best!”
Especially memorable were the times when her father’s friend Stan Charles (who had seats behind Smith’s family) would bring his nephew, actor Josh Charles, to the games. “In those days, Josh was in movies like ‘Go Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.’ I was a teenager and totally smitten. It was a dream come true.”
Smith recalls when Memorial Stadium was torn down. “It was a big deal, and I remember we went to the stadium and collected dirt from the field. I still have it somewhere.”
She also remembers attending the first All-Star Game at Camden Yards. Although it was a change, the transition was less dramatic because Smith’s family retained their seats behind home plate in the new stadium.
Although she goes to games less regularly than she used to, Smith remains a true Orioles fan. “Nowadays, when I wear my Orioles shirt, people look at me and say ‘Really?’“
Smith says that no matter how the Orioles play, she can’t wait until she and her husband Jermaine can take their 3-year-old daughter Dakota to the games.
“It’s such a great time — such a family thing,” she says.