Baltimore’s Alright If You like Saxophones

Posted by johnkobeck on March 14, 2014as , , , , ,

This year I attended the SPE Annual Conference which was held in Baltimore MD. I am looking for a job in academia (Did you hear me? I’m looking for a teaching job In case anyone has any leads. Just wanted to put that out there) and the SPE Annual Conference is a great source for this! The interview sessions are great. In fact the conference is literally 3 days of job interviews.

The conference this year was outstanding with many great lectures and talks. Zoe Strauss was one if the keynote speakers. I really enjoyed her talk! She was probably my favorite. I have been Facebook friends with her for many years, but it was nice to actually see and hear her in person. I found her to be refreshingly genuine and sincere. There isn’t a pretentious bone in her body. There were so many great speakers there this year. Some of the ones that stood out for me were Susan Kae Grant, Joan Fontcuberta, Michelle Bogre, Emily Myerscough,, Leonard Suryajaya (really loved him) and John Keedy. Many universities and colleges that offer art degrees had a presence at the conference. However I was disappointed that my alma mater; Academy of Art University had no representation this year at SPE. I have personally seen AAU at the College Art Association conferences in prior years. If anyone from the photo department at AAU is reading this please take notice.

This rant however is not a review of the conference. I really hate Baltimore. Yes I said it. There. It needed to be said. I have never really been to Baltimore as a destination before. It’s the kind of place you pass through going somewhere else. For one thing, its only about 3 hours from New York. New York City is so great that it cancels out anything within 300 miles. Yes Im a native New Yorker so excuse the arrogance. I rode the Amtrak into Baltimore’s Penn Station. When I got off the train I immediatly feared for my life. Well, maybe it wasn’t that bad. But it was no Disneyland. Being unemployed I decided to take Baltimore’s version of the subway into the downtown area to the Hilton. Well, their subway is more like one trolly that goes back and forth all day. Kind of like the Grand Central Shuttle but slower. The first thing that got me thinking was the the fact that the driver is totally locked and isolated in a bullet proof box. That was a bad sign I thought to myself. The train proceeded to traverse through some of the most sketchy neighborhoods I have ever seen. Im a native New Yorker mind you, so I don’t scare easily. Baltimore scared me!

The Baltimore Hilton is by far the crummiest Hilton I have ever stayed in. There was only one restaurant in the hotel; The American Grille. It was always about 20% full (another bad sign for a restaurant). My friend ordered a burger that took 50 minutes to arrive. When it finally did arrive it was raw in the center. Not rare, but ice cold-raw. He complained to the manager who did nothing but apologize but still charge him.

The next morning we had breakfast which was $22.00. So you may ask why we went there if the food was so bad. The answer is, there wasn’t any other place to eat. There is absolutly nothing in the area, with the exception of a sandwich shop. Can you believe there is not even a Starbucks within close proximity of the Hilton Baltimore? I have never been to a Hilton that didn’t have a Starbucks in the lobby. The hotel room air was terribly dry. My roommate develped a rash from the dry air and I began to have nosebleeds. The bathtub water had a strange yellow glow to it which resembled urine, and the bathroom was under-equiped with soap.

To get to anyplace decent to eat we had to walk a half-mile down Pratt Street to the harbor area. The best dinner we had was at Cheesecake Factory. I live 4 blocks from a Cheesecake Factory in NY. During that half mile walk to Cheesecake factory we were approached many times by homeless people panhandling for money. In fact, Baltimore seems to have a huge homeless population. We also spotted our fair share of crack heads, meth fiends and heroin addicts. Yes it was that bad. I truly did not want to leave the safety of the hotel. The window from my hotel room looked out upon a Holiday Inn and the famous ClockTower. By the way, the clock in the tower was broken and didn’t keep the correct time. IMG_1653In many ways Baltimore is similar to Detroit; A dead city with no economy and riddled with crime. Now I know I am going to get hundreds of emails from people in Baltimore about this post. Yes, it is true that I did not see the entire city in the short time I was there and yes, my initial impression is probably wrong and a little exaggerated. I am just calling it the way I see it, right or wrong.

Aside from the hotel and city, the conference was wonderful. I”m already looking forward to next years conference in Louisiana.

Oh, in case you are wondering about the title of this post; “Baltimore is alright, if you like saxophones” – Some of you may remember a west coast punk band called FEAR. They made a song called “New York’s Alright, if You Like Saxophones”. Baltimore makes me think of that song.