Got a Cigarette?

Baltimore. They call it “Charm City,” even though you won’t find one iota of charm in this depressing place. Actually the term Charm City was concocted in 1975 by a group of ad executives tasked by the then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer to come up with something to improve the city’s ugly image. Fail.

Like many East Coast cities, there is plenty of history in B-more.  Francis Scott Key was on a ship watching the British attack Fort McHenry in Baltimore when he wrote the words to the “Star Spangled Banner.” What would he write today if he was standing outside Lexington Market? I bet he’d forget all about that American flag and hightail it back to Georgetown.

But Baltimore does have the best crab cakes and steamed crabs, the Orioles, the Ravens, the Inner Harbor, and the shiny new Horseshoe Casino. The nice parts of the city require lots of disposable cash. And I hear you better keep that cash stashed in your undergarments in case you get robbed.

When I was a little girl, my father brought me to Baltimore to go to Orioles’ games. Sitting in the stadium eating hot dogs and watching the grown men down on the field play their game was the perfect way to spend an afternoon. But, my fond memories of Baltimore and baseball games have been blighted by the sight of blocks of abandoned row houses, combined with the constant “Can I buy a cigarette from you?” Maybe it’s karma from my days of bumming cigs, but it seems no matter where I light up, someone asks me for one. Here are a few examples of a six-hour period this past weekend:

Sunday afternoon:  I’m waiting for the bus and a girl walks up. She’s one of those girls who like to dress like boys; baggy jeans and Timberlands, doo-rag on her head, plaid lumberjack shirt, and boyish mannerisms. She asks me for a cigarette. I grab my pack out of my bag and she says, “What you got, Newports?” I said, “No, they’re Benson & Hedges.” She says, “What? I repeated, very slowly, “Benson & Hedges.” She said, “Aw, I never heard of that. Never mind.” Alrighty, then. See ya…wouldn’t wanna be ya.

A few hours later:  I’m walking home from the grocery store, carrying three bags in each hand and a car pulls up beside me, the window rolls down, and a young brother says, “Can I buy a cigarette from you?” “What!? No! Hell no!” He didn’t ask “Can I help you with your bags, Ma’am?” Or, “Can I give you a ride?” No, he stops the car that he’s driving to ask me, the one who’s walking, if I can give him a cigarette? And I wasn’t even smoking! Is he stopping to ask everyone he passes? Or do I look like R.J. fucking Reynolds?

Sunday night:  I’m walking to the gas station to buy a new pack. Two young guys are coming across the street and, as soon as I toss my spent cig, one says, “You got another cigarette.” I hand him one and say, “They’re not Newports. They’re Benson& Hedges.” He says, “They’re menthol, right?” I say, “Yeah.” He says, “Cool, thank you.” Then, his friend leans over and says, “Can I get one, too?” “Sure,” I say as I hand him my last one.

It seems that, in a city riddled with drugs and crime, you need not be ever-vigilant about getting mugged or shot. But, if you’re going to smoke in public, carry plenty of cigarettes to share with your fellow humans. There are innumerable poor smokers in B-more who can’t afford a pack.  Hell, I can barely afford a pack. My brand is $6.00 in Virginia but $8.00 in Baltimore. In DC, some places want $10!

Taxes and greed. They’re always over-taxing the smokers for the luxury of enjoying a smoke. Methinks they should figure out a way to tax the heroin addicts and crack heads and they’d really boost their revenue. But that would disturb an extremely lucrative underground market that is already padding city coffers.  I’ll leave that for another rant.