“Baltimore, Offline” (The Rumpus)

A personal essay by Amanda Montell

When I tell people I’m from Baltimore, they always have two questions for me. “Have you seen The Wire?” and “How do you feel about the Freddie Gray thing?” People are still posting about it online, they tell me, an invitation to comment.

One doesn’t meet a lot of Baltimoreans in Los Angeles, and these are the only two pieces of culture they have to offer. Of course, I didn’t ask them to ask me where I grew up, and I don’t need them to try to relate. But I understand why they do. It’s human nature to reach for connections, no matter how faint.

I always have two responses for them: “Yes, great show,” and, “Oh man, it’s terrible.” The truth is I’ve only seen the pilot, and my experience with racism in Baltimore is thornier than that. But it’s not what the Lyft drivers and account managers by the snack table want to hear.

If truth were the goal, I could tell them I haven’t been to my hometown in three years—that I found out about Freddie Gray and the protests just like they did: on Facebook. I could tell them that even if I lived in the house where I grew up, I’d probably still have found out about it online. I wouldn’t hear the cries; I wouldn’t see the fires. I’d feel just as flustered and unhelpful as I do right now in California, silently flicking through a feed of fury, fingers typing, then deleting. Typing, then deleting. I could tell them that Baltimore is designed that way. I could tell them about a version of Baltimore they can’t see from their screen. I could tell them about Damon.

But I don’t.

“Where are you from?” I say.

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