Baltimore’s $15 and Hour Minimum Wage Bill Sent Back to Committee In Council

Ed. Note: Today’s post is by guest author and Baltimore resident Gabriel Sikowitz. You can follow him on Twitter @GabrielSikowitz.

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This past week the Baltimore City Council sent a bill authorizing a $15 minimum wage back to committee. It will almost surely be brought up with the new Council. At the current minimum wage of $8.25, a full time job at or on the minimum wage cannot feed a family and it cannot provide for rent in the vast majority of Baltimore’s neighborhoods.

Workers who make the minimum wage are not youths and college students looking to make extra money. Nearly 43% of minimum wage earners in Baltimore provide for kids or are married. Nearly 30% of minimum wage earners are parents. A fight for $15 an hour is a fight for families that can work with dignity and fewer hours.

One of the most consistent arguments against a minimum wage is that it will increase unemployment. This is false. Modest increases in the minimum wage boosts wages, while having little effect in the unemployment rate. There is always anecdotal evidence of businesses that close or move or claim they will. However, economists agree that increases in the minimum wage do not increase unemployment.

The Baltimore City Council recently sent the proposal for the $15 minimum wage back to committee, all but assuring that it will come up with the new council. The current minimum wage for Baltimore City is $8.25 an hour and the tipped wage is $3.63. This bill does not raise the wage overnight to $15 an hour but it will phase (in) over the course of four years. The bill also limits the amount of money that employers can withhold and strengthens the Wage Commission’s ability to fight wage theft.

As I stated earlier, the minimum wage wouldn’t immediately jump to $15 an hour, it would be phased in over the next four years. While the bill was sent back to committee, the new council is most likely to support bringing it up again for debate and it would look very similar. The present bill would phase the wage in like this:

July 1, 2016, $8.75;
January 1, 2017, $10.00;
July 1, 2017, $10.50;
July 1, 2018, $12.00;
July 1, 2019, $13.50;
July 1, 2020, $15.00;

After the fourth year (2020) the wage would be tied to the Consumer Price Index and any increases would be tied to increases in the index. Tipped wage earners would also benefit from a similar boost. Their current wage is $3.63 an hour. It would then slowly increase until it hits $15 an hour.

January 1, 2017, $4.50;
July 1, 2017, $5.25;
July 1, 2018, $6.00;
July 1, 2019, $7.50;
July 1, 2020, $9.00;
July 1, 2021, $10.50;
July 1, 2022, $12.00;
July 1, 2023, $14.00;
July 1, 2024, $15.00;

After the fourth year (2024) the tipped wage would be tied to the Consumer Price Index and any increases would be tied to increases in the index. It should be noted that the tipping is not a universal custom and in some countries it is frowned upon if not an alien custom.

As with all pieces of legislation different departments have the ability to comment on the bill. The Baltimore Development Corporation officially took no position, however it strongly implied its opposition. The BDC suggests that because Baltimore has a higher minimum wage, people from surrounding counties will seek work in Baltimore City in direct competition with Baltimore workers. The BDC also provided a survey of businesses. The survey found that there is not a strong opposition to raising the minimum wage in Baltimore amongst business owners. Roughly 39% of respondents are opposed to the minimum wage, 25% support the increase and 36% took no position. Below is what employers would say the impact of an increase would be on them.

The Case for $15 in Baltimore:

In 1964 Baltimore felt that neither the state nor the federal minimum wage was high enough for workers to enjoy a minimal standard of living, in doing so it became one of the first city minimum wage laws. Since then the state and federal government have increased the minimum wage, however workers have seen their wages stagnate.

The current minimum wage in Baltimore is the same as most of the rest of the state, which is $8.25 an hour. If one works eight hours a day, five days a week for 52 weeks a year that comes out to $17,160 a year pre-tax. That’s great news if you are a single person household, but bad if you are a family of three. The Federal poverty level for a family of three is $20,160 a year.

$15 Varies across the country and $15 can get you further in Ottumwa, Iowa than in Baltimore, indeed it will go further in Harford County than it will here in Baltimore City. It is more expensive to live here than it is in other jurisdictions. Our wages should reflect that. Last year it was estimated that while Maryland’s minimum wage was $8.25 the purchasing power of that was $7.44, slightly above what the minimum wage was last changed at the Federal level in 2009 to $7.25 an hour.

The Tax Foundation published a report earlier this month on how much $100 is worth across the country. This is a result in purchasing power differences. Cities and suburbs are more expensive places to live than rural and exurban areas. In the Baltimore metro area $100 has the purchasing power of $92.89, while in Cumberland $100 has the purchasing power of $113.10. It should be noted that the Tax Foundation describes itself as non-partisan but some view it as pro-business.

The Economic Policy Institute broke down what an increased minimum wage would mean in Baltimore. The demographics make it clear that minimum wage earners in Baltimore are working families and not part-time workers. An increase in the minimum wage would be a boost for almost 98,000 working people; almost 27% of all workers in Baltimore City. This would not be a boost for teenagers, 95.7% of all minimum wage workers are 20 or older and almost 80% are 25 and up. Women make up 55.3% of workers who earn the minimum wage almost a ¼ of working mothers and 1/3 of single mothers would get a bump in their paycheck. Any increase in the minimum wage would disproportionately benefit racial minorities, 54.2% of workers who earn the minimum wage are African-American, 8.3% are Hispanic, and 5.1% are Asian. Workers who would see gains in their incomes make up roughly 54.6% of their families’ income. 20% Of workers who earn the minimum wage are a family’s sole provider. This increase would have a disproportionate impact on people who work full time. 73.8% of those who’d benefit are full time workers, and only 7.7% are part time workers who work 20 hours or less.

The minimum wage is not a living wage in Baltimore City. The people who earn it aren’t teenagers looking for extra money or college students picking up a couple of shifts between classes. They are working men and women, many of whom have families. We cannot continue to have a wage that keeps people in poverty who work full time. We cannot have families who have one or both parents work full time and still just get by. A $15 minimum wage will lift people from earning poverty wages to earning closer to a living wage.

Orioles Attendance: The Airing of Grievances

Yesterday we heard, once again, for about the millionth time in our life as a baseball fan, that the attendance figures at Camden Yards just aren’t good enough. It’s not just yesterday. We’ve been hearing mumbles and groans to this effect for months. But yesterday it became louder than that when Dan Connolly published his latest piece calling Camden Yards a Red Sox haven. The piece got some traction on social media and was discussed more or less all day for two days on sports talk radio, with Connolly making an appearance on 105.7 Wednesday afternoon. As usual, he was wont to remind listeners exactly how much experience he has covering the Orioles (sixteen years, if you were blissfully unaware of that fact).

Like most people who are a little too close to the club, and like some of the team’s most vocal fans, Connolly pursues willful myopathy when searching for reasons why the Yard isn’t full to capacity more often. He also takes the lazy and wrong approach of simply blaming the fans for not showing up. The attendance numbers at Camden Yards are not the fault of general, casual fans, and today we’d like to explain why.

First of all, we’d like to dispense with the notion that Oriole fans are the ‘best fans in baseball’ or that such a thing even exists. This is a myth spread by nearly every MLB team for marketing purposes. Fandom is not an active, competitive sport and any attempt to rate and compare fan bases through ticket sales, jersey sales, ‘pride’ All-Star voting or any combination is just folly. No one team’s fans are better or more knowledgeable or more loyal than another’s. You can’t market your way into building a fanbase. It doesn’t work like that. It takes decades of custom and tradition to create a true fanbase.

Not altogether apart from, but certainly distinct from fanbases there are markets. It is also foolish to try to casually compare one MLB market to another. It should be obvious that Baltimore is a world apart from cities like New York, Chicago or San Francisco which have millions of people living within just a few miles of the ballpark. Nor are we Boston or Saint Louis or Atlanta, whose markets and fanbases cover giant swaths of territory over several states. Even if you do find another city to make an apt comparison, its wholly inadequate to look only at a few top-line factors like population, team record and ticket prices to make a comparison. To be of any real meaning, such a comparison would have to be comprehensive, and take into account more factors (number of plan holders, giveaways, sales promotions offered, historical attendance, schedule, etc) than could easily be considered in a blog post or a talk radio segment.

It is the lot of each MLB franchise that they must market to the market in which they play. The Orioles must do their best to sell tickets to Marylanders, and not sit around the warehouse wishing they had the fanbase of the Cubs or the Red Sox or anyone else. As it happens, they’re doing a very poor job of it in 2016.

Major League Baseball has made mistakes. Of course the commissioner’s office, with all its pomp and self-importance, will never admit that but certain of those mistakes are so obvious as to be a naked-emperor situation. The unbalanced schedule has shown itself to be in need of reform. Its whole raison d’être was to heighten the pitch and excitement of the pennant race in late August and September (thereby selling more tickets and drawing more TV viewers, of course). This never created a playoff race that was more exciting than one which occurred naturally, but since MLB changed the playoff structure and added the extra wild card, with the express purpose of getting more teams into the postseason, the unbalanced schedule has become even more absurd.

It’s common knowledge that the unbalanced schedule has hurt the Orioles on the field. What’s seldom discussed is that it also hurts the Orioles in the stands. The Orioles play almost half their season against the East, meaning almost half their home games are against the same four opponents. Half of those are against the Yankees and Red Sox.

The marketing minds at the Warehouse, and at the Commissioner’s office on Park Avenue subscribe to the theory that fans should fall all over themselves and pay a premium to see 1. An artificially induced pennant race and 2. Big name players like Jeter, ARod, Texiera, Mariano Rivera, Papi, Papelbon, etc etc. Well guess what? Those guys are all out of baseball or soon to be. The gravy train has left the station for the big markets. Even when the Yankees and Red Sox were at their peak, they were not particularly likable teams.

Their front offices, as the Dan Connollys of the world are often reminded, do a good enough job of marketing that they either induce fans to travel to see the team on the road, or reach/create enough fans down the east coast to sell a large number of tickets to our games year after year. It’s bad enough to ask Oriole fans to watch the same unlikable teams over and over again, but it becomes even more unpleasant when you’ve got to deal with 10,000 obnoxious opposing fans. These teams are just not a draw for Baltimore fans and the Warehouse still doesn’t get it. On top of that the Orioles think fans should pay more for the privilege, and charge a premium for Yankees/Sox games. This is why we personally haven’t bought single-game tickets to a NYY/BOS game in 10 years. It’s also why season ticket holders very often offer those tickets at resale to offset the price of plans.

So, having given up on seeing the Yankees and Red Sox live as a fan, we too often end up seeing the Blue Jays and Rays over and over and over again. In the long run it would help Orioles attendance greatly if there were more opportunities to see other teams, and to see live the rest of baseball’s big-name stars. This was the idea behind interleague play, but the MLB has botched that completely as well. However, that’s a topic for another day.

Another mistake MLB has made and will never admit is a mistake is running its television and blackout system the way it does. Once upon a time there were a decent amount of games broadcast on WJZ. Now there’s maybe one, two a year? The only way to watch the Orioles regularly now is to pay for cable. Like many fans, we do. In fact, watching the Orioles is the only reason we subscribe to cable in the Age of Streaming. So we’re already paying over $1000 a year to watch them before we even buy our first ticket. And the TV coverage is good. It’s among the very best in baseball. It’s a pleasure to stay at home in one’s own air-conditioned house and drink one’s own cheap beer and listen to Jim and Gary call a game. If we were given a viable and money-saving option for streaming games, we’d buy it from the league directly, and probably attend a couple more games a year. But since we’re already paying for cable, we’re going to enjoy watching it.

But the MLB isn’t the only entity making mistakes here. The Orioles’ front office has made more than a few, and continues to press on as if there were only one way to market baseball.

Perhaps the point we most want to make, one that cannot be overstated, is that fans do not owe loyalty to a club, especially when that loyalty takes the form of specific behaviors like buying tickets. Despite what Manny Machado or any self-appointed “superfan” may say, the fans aren’t obligated to buy tickets, and once they have (as with a season plan) they aren’t obligated to actually show up. It is the front office’s responsibility to continually, year-in and year-out do their best to make us want to come to games. They need to Always Be Closing and not take the fans’ support for granted which they often do, to their continual disappointment and bewilderment.

The price of tickets is just too goddamned high. Period.

When hack writers like Dan Connolly take pains to point out how O’s prices compare to other cities or how the most recent price hike is “only the third in 12 years” they’re merely parroting GM Dan Duquette who routinely uses these and other justifications for gouging fans. This misses the point entirely. A better approach would be to compare ticket prices to the local cost of living, to the recent rise in wages locally (which has been at or near zero for many years) and most importantly, how baseball stacks up against other entertainment options. After all, this is what you’re really competing for: each fan’s disposable income budgeted for entertainment. When it becomes much easier and more affordable to go see a concert or a movie or take a day trip, people are going to do that instead of coming to the ballpark.

Let’s say we have a family of four and want to plan a trip to the ballpark this weekend. We just looked on the orioles site and four tickets (middle/average seats, the yellow coded ones) to Saturday’s Astros game will run $236 with taxes and fees included. Add parking and call it $15 and you’re in for $250. $250!!! For one game!!! For that kind of money hundreds of thousands of people are going to pack up the kids and go somewhere like Gettysburg, or get weekend passes to a music festival or any number of other options. After all, they can still see the game on the cable they pay for. They don’t even have to miss the game.

(We are aware that the Ravens command hundreds of dollars for seats, but they host 8 games a year, which makes baseball and football an apples-to-oranges comparison. Admission to our other favorite sporting venue, Laurel Park, is free. Not coincidentally, we now attend more live racing dates than baseball games each year.)

Now, (and this is important) many people will point out that tickets can be had for less on Stubhub, but Stubhub is a cruelly efficient market and is not a solution to the problem of high ticket prices writ-large. First of all, the prices there correlate directly to what the team charges for seats including fees, which is too much. Second, Stubhub sucks for sellers, taking just enough in fees to maybe make it worth selling (season) tickets rather than exchanging them or giving them away. And of course, as use of Stubhub by buyers (demand) rises, so will prices of those tickets posted. Left field nosebleeds for Wednseday’s game started at $17, which is $2 OVER “face” value. There is also the problem of sellers selling tickets only in pairs or groups.)

The Orioles management and their defenders will also point to things like the Dugout Club which help with family affordability. This is true. The Dugout Club in particular is a very good value and they sell a lot of tickets through that promotion. The problem is that once a family has bought tickets to multiple games in advance, they are committed to going to those games, and are very, very unlikely to spring for additional tickets at $250 per game.) Between this, Sunday season plans, Kids Run the Bases Sunday, and some Sunday giveaways Sunday has basically become family day at the park, and the front office is kind of shooting itself in the foot if it wants to get those fans to show up on Thursday and Friday as well. This Sunday, for example, there is a shirt giveaway on top of the ongoing promotions. Why would you run so many promotions concurrently and then expect people to just show up to a full price Friday game with no giveaway?

Another promotional strategy which may have worked too well is the way the team incentivizes and pushes really fucking hard at the beginning of the year the 13 game plans and various mini-plans or flex plans of four or six games. In addition to being a significant savings on 6 games, these have become the only way to obtain Opening Day tickets, and as such sell very well. But again, if fans have already put down hundreds of dollars at the beginning of the season and have taken pains to plan ballpark trips around everything else they’ve got going on throughout the Summer, they’re unlikely to buy additional tickets on a whim because they’ve got an upcoming game to look forward to, for which they’ve paid significantly less than an additional game will cost them.

There’s also the way the team shot themselves in the foot with the playoffs in recent years. They pushed very hard to sell 13 game plans, and putting a deposit on one was virtually the only way to secure the privilege of paying hundreds more for playoff tickets. Many people did, and season ticket sales swelled. While it may have looked great on TV, being crowded in with 47,000 towel-waving, 7-Nation Army-chanting bandwagon fans was not totally enjoyable for us personally, and it wasn’t something we were keen to repeat. We know too that many people who did buy plans for the sole reason of securing playoff tickets were met with hassles, headaches and frustrations when trying to use the team’s online system to buy those tickets, and at least a few were shut out.

Raising prices right after you’ve attracted thousands of new mini-plan holders was a particularly stupid business decision. When we gave up our season plan at the beginning of this year we told our plan representative that it was a direct result of the price hike and his reaction was about what you’d expect.

Let’s now consider the position of those fans (and there are not as many of them as the Orioles think there are) who are in the market for single game tickets and want to buy them more than a week in advance and are willing to pay whatever they cost at the box office. Why in the world would they not pick a giveaway date? Of course they all do. Of course! Bobblehead or Floppy Hat or Fireworks is better than no Bobblehead or Floppy Hat or Fireworks. The team draws extremely well during popular promotions, but it does so at the expense of non-giveaway games, and it needs to find a way or ways to correct that.

Camden Yards is arguably the best ballpark in the MLB. With its favorable downtown location the club should be selling at least five or six thousand walk-up tickets to even the least desirable games. There’s no reason they couldn’t top 10k in walk up tickets for a good weather weekend game. But they’re nowhere near that. It’s almost as if they are trying to kill walk up sales. And succeeding.

When fans do decide to come to the park either as a walk-up or buying tickets online a few days in advance (or God forbid the same day) they are absolutely crushed with fees. The only way to avoid a fee is to show up more than 24 hours in advance at the ballpark in person to buy tickets, which is very impractical for even nearby fans. The Dan Duquettes of the world will point out how prices compare favorably around the league, but will never, ever mention that fees are a part of the price. The Orioles have become as sleazy as any airline when it comes to charging fees. We personally were planning to buy tickets to one of the games that Dan Connolly and talk radio have been bitching about, but a $15 left field nosebleed increases to $22.50 after fees are levied. That’s a 50% hidden markup and it’s fucking unacceptable on its face. It’s especially odious when we consider that the baseline to get in the park used to be $9, and you could actually get in for $9. On Tuesday bargain nights you even got a free T-shirt to boot.

What happened to bargain night? It was a long-standing and very popular and effective promotion that filled seats on tough-sell weeknights reliably. We’ll tell you what happened to it: Duquette decided that because the team has a few seasons of winning records behind it Bargain Night is now beneath the dignity of the club, and people should be expected to pay a premium because there’s a slightly higher chance they might see a win.

Strangely, Student Night is still not beneath the dignity of the club, and is still a giant mess of drunk kids making the LF uppers completely inhospitable to any fan wanting to watch without a Spring Break atmosphere surrounding them for 9 innings. Student night ought to be ended and replaced with a student-ID discount available for all games.

We want to explain this explicitly to Connolly, Duquette, talk radio and our fellow fans: Yes, we do want the team to attract and retain players like Machado and Jones BUT this also has very little effect on how often the average fan will decide to visit the park. They use phrases like ‘product on the field’ but the uniformed players are really only a tiny part of what keeps fans coming back loyally year in and year out. When we go to a baseball game, we’re not going merely to watch statistics be compiled in real time. To walk through the gates is, in a way, to escape time and place entirely. The city, the world outside becomes an afterthought and it’s only what’s inside the park that matters. Then too, when a fan watches a game they’re not watching only one particular game, Boston in August, as it were. We’re watching in our mind’s eye every game we’ve ever attended. When we watch from the stands, we can still see Ripken and Brian Roberts, Brady Anderson and every other player we’ve ever watched live. Everyone we’ve ever brought to a game is there with us; friends who’ve left the city, fathers who’ve passed on, kids we knew growing up… they’re all there with us when we come to the park.

The bible says “What has been will be again. What has been done will be done again. There is nothing new under the sun.” So it is in the game of baseball. This is the key to building a loyal fanbase over generations, and it is the entire difference between going to the ballpark and watching on television. The Oriole front office, to their credit, has done some very good work in this way, specifically with the kids run the bases and Fathers’ Day/Mothers’ Day promotions. But for every success they’ve had in helping fans to create new memories they’ve also been guilty of trotting out the same half dozen hall of famers a few times too many to sell nostalgia back to a new generation at inflated prices. We’re 36 years old middle aged! and we’re too young to have really seen the Robinsons and Palmer play. It means more to us to make the ballpark accessible and fun now, to make us want to come to as many perfectly ordinary games as we can attend right now than to get weepy and nostalgic for the legendary teams we never knew. By charging exorbitant premiums, forcing us to walk through metal detectors, and yes, the ongoing travails of the city’s government and crime the park is becoming less welcoming with each passing year.

Aside from the fees, we could easily write another 2500 words just on the Orioles’ newly introduced dynamic pricing, but we’re going to touch on it as briefly as possible. We’re often reminded that dynamic pricing is becoming the accepted norm around Baseball, but the Orioles are not the only team, and not the only +.500 team experiencing sluggish attendance. Like instant replay, dynamic pricing is a disgrace to all of baseball and a mistake the MLB will never admit.

The top two levels for O’s tickets are prohibitive to most fans, or are at least a disincentive. The middle two levels are about what fans expect to pay, but again, the fees are onerous. The value games, which the marketing department is quick to point to, are very few, and the games that are value games are bullshit; they’re all 12:35 weekday getaways or early-season freezing-rain specials… or are at the same time as Ravens away games. The club will do its level best to fill the opening weekend and then wonder why people don’t want to come back the very next day to watch the Rays in rainy 50 degree temps. Knocking $5 off an already exorbitant ticket isn’t going to entice fans to do that. It would be tough to give those tickets away.

Speaking of giving tickets away… ten years ago the club did it all the time. There were several promotions each season in which you could earn tickets by patronizing the team’s corporate sponsors. These are now apparently also beneath the dignity of a winning team. There’s been one this season, via Pizza Boli’s, but even that had some fans looking askance when the come-on offered four tickets but the promotion was actually good for two. Giving away between 25000 and 50000 tickets over the course of a season may look like lost profit, but when those seats are going unsold anyway, when the recipients of those tickets are going to buy hot dogs and beers, and when the Dan Connollys of the world are bemoaning empty seats ticket giveaways are a very effective way to fill those seats.

As we said, we were planning to go to one of those Boston games. We were going to pony up and pay the cost, but we didn’t. And we’re glad we didn’t! For one: as much as everyone likes to remind us that the Orioles are in first place, the Orioles are not in first place. They are, as of this writing, third in the AL East above only the fire-sale Yankees and the hapless Rays. They’re barely holding onto that bullshit second wild card. Chris Tillman missed his scheduled start. Davis got shuffled into right field. The Orioles lost both games miserably. The “product on the field” is not the premium first-class team that some keep insisting it is and the fans know this- we’re not stupid. If we’re going to pay a premium for tickets we want to do it when the team has a good chance to win.

It’s also important to note that rain was forecast for both days of the series, and Wednesday’s game was mercifully called in the sixth inning with the score at 8-1 as severe thunderstorms and flash flooding overtook downtown and even the Oriole Park concourse itself. The club can’t control the weather of course, but if we’re being asked to shell out $30, $50 $100 or more to go see a game, you better believe we’re going to check the goddamn forecast first. If this particular series was poorly attended then yeah… that might have had something to do with it. We don’t all get to sit in a nice dry press box like Dan Connolly, who among other writers will continue to call Orioles fans pathetic whether they turn up or not.

We’ve said a lot here, but we want to wrap up with a reminder to all of the talk-radio callers, Facebook homers and self-appointed superfans who call other fans pathetic when they don’t show up, then want to police every other fan’s behavior in minute detail when they do come to a game.

We’re talking about the people who excoriate other fans for leaving early with no concern for how early some others may have to work the next day. Who demand everyone stay through every rain delay. Or gripe that fans don’t stand with two out and 2 strikes. Too often Orioles fans will demand other fans wear only team gear or specific players’ gear and ridicule anyone in an out-of-date jersey. What the hell does it matter if other fans want to take selfies or play Pokemon Go at the park? You know who likes to do the Wave? Most fans, that’s who. Those same fans you complain about when they aren’t there, you bitch about when they show up and make an earnest effort to enjoy themselves. There’s no such thing as the Best Fans in Baseball, but if there was… Baltimore, we ain’t it.

The team, its ownership, the front office, and the fans need to figure out how to make Oriole Park as fun, affordable and accessible as possible over the course of the whole season, and until they do the team will reap what it’s sown as attendance continues to suffer.

Lor Scoota’s Murder and the ‘Imperfect Route’

The first time we ever heard the song Bird Flu was two summers ago out of the speakers of our neighbor’s radio 2 porches down. Even as someone who pays little to no attention to rap the song stood out for its particularly problematic chorus “we sellin’ scramble, coke and smack.” While some music writers and fans may wax poetic about how great the song made them feel we can recall exactly how we felt the first time we heard it: afraid.

It’s not that we scare easily. We’re not the guy on Nextdoor reporting ‘suspicious activity’ and we’re not fortifying our house with alarms and whatnot. We wouldn’t even say we’re afraid of our neighbors. But the song, and the fact that our neighbors identify so much with it is a clear reminder that if any neighborhood dispute ever arose these neighbors are, in fact, drug dealers, most likely with gang ties either formal or informal and very likely to be armed. Again, this is our home we’re talking about. If anything ever did go wrong, there’s nowhere to run or hide from here. We’re not sure where you live, but on our block the possibility of being terrorized by violent criminals is a very real concern. “Being in the game” has nothing to do with it. For a true life example of how bad these sorts of neighborhood dispute can get, check out this post from Prince of Petworth.

(We were not wrong in these assumptions. Recently the house in question has been raided twice by the warrant squad in full riot gear and battering rams, and drug arrests of two of our neighbors have been made.)

If Bird Flu was the sound of the streets, it is also an anthem of everything that is wrong with this city. It’s not possible to write a song like that without having lived the experience firsthand. Sure, you could try… but you’d end up sounding as corny and benign as the Beastie Boys did early in their career. It’s not possible to separate Lor Scoota’s life from his music. If he says in the song he was moving weight, he was moving weight. If he says he was carrying a gun, he was carrying a gun. The song’s appeal has everything to do with the singer’s street cred. There’s a reason the cleaned up ‘purple, orange and black’ version of that song never made a hit on its own.

And Scoota was carrying a gun, by the way. In this song he serves notice that he was in the habit of carrying a gun constantly. He was arrested with one at the airport a while back which had the serial number ground off. He also had a handful of domestic violence charges against him including a no-contact order. Personally, we don’t believe a serial woman-beater deserves much in the way of community support, catchy hooks notwithstanding. If you consider yourself a feminist, ally, or just someone who cares at all about the general well being of women, maybe sit quietly and think a while about whether or not you want to be the type of person willing to excuse violence against women because the perpetrator has earned some small measure of notoriety.

Indeed, Scoota was no stranger to the law, having racked up, by our count, 9 charges since he turned 18 in 2011, some of them drug charges. We can’t speak with certainty about the disposition of all those cases, but it hardly matters. The system is only as good as it is. You can’t plausibly claim that there’s no justice when a cop gets off, but when a rapper gets off it’s because he was squeaky clean. He wasn’t. Those 9 charges, which are a lot for any person to collect in 5 years and which are in addition to any possible juvenile charges Scoota may have had, are just the shit he got caught doing. It wouldn’t be very likely that these were the only 9 crimes he ever committed and happened to get caught every single time. This is someone to whom we think crime was a way of life. Of course this is just one writer’s opinion. We don’t need to meet the burden of proof of a court to make up our own mind, thank you very much.

And lest you think Scoota was maybe some kind of lovable outlaw, some latter-day Billy the Kid or something we kindly invite you to pull your head out of your ass. Billy the Kid was certainly an awful person to be around, just like our neighbors have been and just like we imagine Scoota himself probably was. He wasn’t selling your cousin heroin or beating up your sister or waving his gun at you, but if it had been you you might feel differently about it, no?

But in death as in life a lot of otherwise sensible people do seem to think Scoota was some kind of lovable outlaw. One of them is Nick Mosby.

Thirteen months ago in the aftermath of the riots Nick Mosby brought Scoota along with fellow street rapper Young Moose on a speaking tour of Baltimore High schools. In the resulting news article Mosby, a fool, is quoted as saying these guys aren’t role models but the fact is that they have been negative role models since the moment they broke out. Giving them a dais and the legitimacy of appearing with a sitting councilman is presenting them as a role model, whether you want to admit it on the record or not. Mosby asked these guys where they saw themselves in 5-10 years. We said at the time-to Mosby, on Twitter- that was laughable, and that in 5-10 years they would either be dead or in jail. He didn’t see it that way. One year later Scoota is dead and Young Moose is in jail. Another panelist, dirt bike rider Chino Braxton, was shot twice and survived and Mosby is (thankfully) on his way out of office. Young Moose’s brother, also, was recently murdered by the way.

The message that Chino Braxton has for kids now, namely Get the Fuck out of Baltimore, is one we can agree with.

The guy who wrote that Prince of Petworth post to which we linked above would have been a good example of someone to take on a high school speaking tour. We say again that we doubt Mosby would want his own young daughters absorbing the messages of Moose and Scoota. We doubt that you, Gentle Reader, would want that for your kids.

You can talk all you want about how Scoota was at a peace rally right before he was killed, or how he read a book to school kids once but are these reflective of the way he lived his life? Or are they public relations fodder because he knew he was in the public eye? Do you think Scoota, who once assaulted a high school teacher, was an avid reader in his life? Do you think he was committed to nonviolence and had put down his gun and come to Jesus? He wasn’t, and he didn’t.

There’s a wide gulf in Baltimore between people’s words and actions. That much is true of everyone; black and white, rich and poor. In the social media age everyone is hard at work spinning their own narrative every hour of every day but little of it has anything to do with the truth. In the Sun article about the speaking tour the author says Scoota and Moose ‘acknowledge an imperfect route’ to whatever ‘success’ they had achieved. Beg your pardon? What does that mean, exactly? An imperfect route? It means they were terrorizing their fucking neighborhoods and were dealing large quantities of narcotics. That’s not ‘an imperfect route’ it’s a goddamned life of crime. What’s more, it’s not clear that either Scoota or Moose have achieved real success by any measure. As far as we know they were self-releasing music, not exactly the fast lane on the road to riches. A little radio airplay in your hometown market and an Instagram of you with two or three actually famous rappers doesn’t amount to much in the great scheme of things.

Then there’s the question of Monday night’s vigil on Pennsylvania Avenue. There are many who are quick to draw comparisons between it and a recent vigil for the victims of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting. Why, they ask, was the police presence so much heavier on Monday?

Well, 2016 is a dangerous time to be a rapper in Baltimore. Besides Scoota and Moose’s brother, the last twelve months have also seen the killings of FMG Twizzle and G-Rock. Of course, we’ll never know all the details of what these guys were doing on a day to day basis in their personal lives, but to an outside observer there do seem to be some patterns present. There’s a difference in being struck by bullets and struck by lightning. We’d even wager that the police know quite a bit more than the Chop does- the Chop being merely a-guy-who-reads-the-news-often.

We weren’t there, and so we can’t say firsthand what happened. But here’s the thing: all the firsthand accounts we’ve seen so far have been either from cops or from activists who have demonstrated unreliability over the last year. Were bricks and bottles thrown at cops? We don’t know, but it seems reasonable to believe something was thrown, as we did see shit thrown last April at Mondawmin. That day, as now, neither side was really in the right. You can resent and criticize the police all you want but you cannot throw shit at them. Period. Did a cop raise a gun at a dirt bike rider? Maybe. But it seems more likely it was a beanbag gun. Why were the cops in riot gear at a peaceful vigil? Maybe because it’s the kind of peaceful vigil which includes dirt bikes, which the Orlando one probably did not.

But if you really want to know why the police came ready for trouble it’s because the likelihood of trouble starting was high. Grief does not preclude violence. After all, it was less than a month ago a West Baltimore man shot his father in a church at his own brother’s funeral. To assert that there were no drug dealers, no gang members, and no armed people in that crowd is either disingenuous or foolish. The police know, and the whole city should know that it only takes one half-assed gangster goddamned fool like Meech to turn up in a highly volatile crowd, discharge a gun, and cause utter chaos.

We would urge you strongly to read up on Meech if you haven’t. It seems to us that Sunday’s assembly had more in common with last May 4 than with either the Orlando vigil or Mondawmin. We even got to see the return of damn fool Catherine Pugh to the streets, this time with her puppet Kwame Rose in tow again. Thankfully, Scoota’s vigil ended with no one hurt and only three arrests.

After the vigil, once the police had left, the streets were not so safe. A few hours later and two blocks north a 16 year old kid was shot in the chest well after the city’s youth curfew. He was the second child shot on Pennsylvania avenue after midnight this month. Had he, his assailant or both been at the vigil earlier? We’d be surprised if they had not.

There are at least three official funeral related events scheduled to take place soon. All of them represent a volatile combination of grief, pain, hatred, resentment, ignorance and anger which could, if not very carefully managed, boil over into further chaos.

At this moment we still feel the same way we felt the first time we heard Bird Flu: afraid. We doubt that this is the last violence the city will see related to Scoota. We’re afraid his death will have little consequence other than to escalate the already out-of-control spiral of violence in our city.

The Chop Leaves the City

Last week we listed our house for sale.

It’s not that we’re leaving Maryland- not yet, anyway. It’s not that we’re struggling to meet the payments. It’s not that owning a house is too much to manage in terms of maintenance and we want to downsize. It’s not that we’re starting a family or anything like that. And it’s not, as we’d hoped when we bought it that we’re trading in our modest starter house for a much nicer one in a better neighborhood.

For us, the decision to sell is entirely a sociopolitical one. We don’t want to live in Baltimore City anymore. While identity politics were in full swing and the city was busy voting for Pugh, Young, Pratt and Mosby (who are bumbling incompetents at best and criminals at worst) we were busy voting with our wallet and our feet. We’re giving up home ownership in the city voluntarily to go rent an apartment in Towson, two miles above the city line and an entire world away.

This is the part of these kind of posts where we’re supposed to give a long list of reasons why Baltimore City is a civil and political disaster. We could give you in links the career highlights of the politicians we just mentioned, and there are some doozies in those highlights to be sure.

We could conjure a very long list of Baltimore’s social problems but we’re not going to do that. Anyone who’s lived in Baltimore City for more than a month is acutely aware of virtually all those problems, and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone anywhere who thinks things are going just great in Baltimore. Besides, a year ago- even before the rioting, we wrote extensively about the city’s problems and the difficulties we’ve faced living here on a permanent basis as a home-owning, middle aged, middle class adult. In more than twelve months since, the state of the city, and the state of our neighborhood in particular has declined even further.

This is the part where we’re meant to link extensively to recent news articles on various topics so that you can see it’s not just our imagination. The way these things work, we’d be sure to put the most horrific and impossible phrases in the hyperlink text, so that they jump out on the page in red and you can see piece by piece the violence and trauma and pathos that goes on in Baltimore every day. Off the top of our head maybe we’d mention the home invasions of the elderly, the bands of machete and shotgun wielding thieves (separate bands of thieves, you understand… one with machetes and another with shotguns!), the little girls under ten shot on their front porches a block or two away from our own porch, and the alarmingly high number of homeowners who have shitwater rising up out of toilets and flooding their basements regularly here. We’re not going to do that either. There’s a lot of violence, a lot of trauma, and a lot of very literal shit. Take our word for it.

Another necessary part of this essay is the one where we run the numbers. In a different set of hyperlinks we could show you the census data which say that Baltimore is still losing population. We could highlight the affordability crisis by comparing rents and home values to income, and we could do the old compare-and-contrast that certain media outlets love which show inequality increasing and all sorts of social and economic disparities in very tight quarters on a map. We could write reams on the property tax rate and how those taxes are pissed away freely on things like casinos and auto races and light festivals… And shiny new mini cities for the rich like Harbor Point and Port Covington. We could even cite some projections to back up our opinion that the way to fix inequality is not to add more cloistered rich people to go alongside the huge concentrations of poverty. But it’s tiresome. By this point in the essay you’re probably done clicking links anyway.

Even if we cited all those numbers they wouldn’t do much good. We’re just going to say it plainly: crime is up. We don’t want to hear what anyone has to say about national statistics on violent crime: we don’t live all over America- we live in Baltimore Maryland USA where crime is UP. We don’t want to hear about what crime was in the 1990′s either. We remember the 90′s thank you very much, and we are no longer living in them. We live in 2016 when crime is UP. And we definitely don’t want to parse out the differences between major and minor crimes or talk about arrest rates or any of that. The kinds of crimes that are really fucking scary and traumatic and serious are UP. Just today there were two separate domestic disputes that spilled into the street on our block. One went unreported. We called 911 on the other and no cops ever showed.

They’re even inventing new kinds of violent crime in Baltimore now. Our whole life we never heard of bump-and-rob carjackings. Now they’re commonplace. Phone snatches? Never happened until a few years ago. Besides, there’s just no way of knowing how much crime is out there. People only call the cops for a fraction of crimes, and the cops only bother to file reports in a fraction of those, just as we were reminded yet again today.

Finally there’s the part where we breathlessly list off all the positive qualities about Baltimore. Nope. Startups, Tech, luxury apartments, fancy restaurants, the JFX Farmers’ Market, Johns Hopkins & MICA, nightlife… these are all more trouble than they’re worth. We still like being able to bike to the ballpark, but honestly we liked it a lot more when a ticket cost half what it does now and bicycling was safer.

But before we end this post and start packing up boxes we want to tell you what the last straw was: it was the murder of Robert Ponsi.

Ponsi, 29, was riding his bicycle home from work in January when six kids ran up to his bike and stabbed him to death in a robbery. As a city resident, one who did not confine himself to the White L, Ponsi was street smart enough to recognize what was happening to him. He got off his bike and made a heroic attempt to fight off his attackers, but even at six on one these pieces of shit were too cowardly to fight and one pulled a knife and stabbed him. At nine o’clock. He laid bleeding in pain in a hospital until 4 am when he died.

This murder was right around the corner from our house. We had been chased by a gang of kids a block away from the spot where Ponsi was killed shortly before it happened. It’s not a stretch to say that could have been us. Two weeks ago we attended a public safety meeting specifically on the topic of gangs of teenagers attacking cyclists. It was highly discouraging to say the least. In the two years since we wrote about the problem in this post, it is safe to say it’s gotten worse. Not only could Ponsi have been us, but the same thing could yet happen to us at any time. After all, three of those very same attackers are still not arrested- still hanging around the neighborhood. Presumably they’re still enrolled in high schools, and are showing up to class and sitting next to good kids. Maybe your kids.

We’ve also heard it said more than a little in public that a murder like this should not garner more interest or concern than any other murder and that this one has been picked up by the media because of white Baltimoreans’ own racism. We call bullshit on that. The fact is that all murders are not created equal. Some victims are targeted because of choices they’ve made in life. Some victims, like McKenzie Elliott, are not targeted at all but are just a chaotic sort of tragedy. But Robert Ponsi was targeted because a bunch of violent scumbags thought he’d make a good victim. That’s both more terrifying and more outrageous than most murders and it’s not racism to say so.

There are also people in this town who would blame us personally for abandoning it, and for not fighting harder and doing more to make our neighborhood a better place. Perhaps they themselves should volunteer to head up the years long boondoggle it takes just to close one problem bar in this neighborhood, and personally risk the sort of threats and harassment one comes in for when one does volunteer for something like that.

Let’s pause to take a look inside some Waverly community meetings. CityPaper columnist Kate Drabinski did just that at a Waverly safety forum…

“The first 28 minutes (I timed it) were for the public officials to tell themselves and all of us what a great job they’ve been doing. [The mayor] SRB told us how hard she’s been listening and how much change she’s been making. She gently chided the City Council members in attendance about not yet calling for her vote to increase funding for rec centers, as if we were all going to quickly forget about the ones that have closed under her watch. There was some ego stroking for the lieutenants and commanders and lieutenant commanders, gentle laughs shared among these city officials as we all sat in our chairs, waiting for our turn to ask questions.

A man who called 911 to report a burglary in progress asked why no one every picked up the phone. A 79-year-old woman from Ednor Gardens asked if after three or four years of calling the Department of Public Works, the police, the mayor’s office, her city councilmember, could crews finally come clean up the mess on her street made after a repaving effort. A man from up York Road asked if, when the cops bring their tactical vehicle to the neighborhood, they could maybe think about the unsafety they bring to the blocks around said tactical vehicle. A woman complained about the time somebody in the city set up a floodlight outside her house that shined into her kid’s bedroom, and no city agency would agree that they’d done it, so it took days to find someone to turn it off. Won’t happen again, she was promised.”

In a subsequent column about a different Waverly meeting Drabinski paints a picture of a gathering that is equally exasperating and ineffective. It’s hard to get past eye rolling phrases like ‘enforced poverty,’ ‘mass incarceration’ or ‘the violence of civic abandonment.’ Look, this isn’t goddamn Gilmor Homes or the deepest ghetto. People choose to live here. We chose to live in this neighborhood, and presumably Drabinski did too. But anyway if you can get past her decrying Capitalism and harkening back to Slavery you get to the point of the meeting where attendees voice the opinion that we need to raise each others’ kids and cook each other spaghetti.

It’s entirely possible that one of the very same people voicing those opinions was Thomascine Greene, the mother of the kid charged with doing the stabbing in the Ponsi case. The Sun profiled Greene shortly after Ponsi was killed, and we had quite a few issues with the way the whole thing was portrayed.

First of all, Greene is described as an activist. We’re going to call bullshit on that, too. Attending a few community meetings only makes one an activist in the most general sense of the word. The article doesn’t cite anything she’s done beyond going to meetings, although we imagine it would’ve had there been any more substantial activism to cite. The Waverly Improvement Association is pretty ineffective, weak and small. Hell, we’ve been to civic meetings ourselves, haven’t we? Did we not march and protest too? If Greene is an activist she’s no more of one than the Chop or anyone else you’d care to name. We also want to say that especially in the last year there’s been a sort of holy righteousness associated with activism here in Baltimore. It’s all bullshit. Calling someone an activist doesn’t magically imbue them with grace and righteousness.

We also noticed that the article says Greene is 66. So if she’s actually the boy’s mother that would mean she was 50 when she had him. We think this is unlikely and we believe she’s probably his grandmother. So it seems likely that the boy’s mother/father are not present, possibly having some serious problems of their own. But even if Thomascine Greene didn’t fail as a parent with the boy’s mother/father she certainly failed with him. Her quotes in that article like “It’s not hard for me to wrap my head around it” and “My eyes don’t go around corners” make us hit the ceiling every time we read them. Here’s someone who shows up at meeting to bitch and moan about “why won’t they do anything for these kids?” but she herself is in charge of one of those kids and strikes us as a lazy failure of a parent.

If she or anyone else thinks we’re going to make the world a better place by volunteering to cook her spaghetti and raise her son, who’d just as soon kill us as look at us, she’s wrong.

Look, we live here in the neighborhood. That YMCA she mentions is pretty nice and there’s a brand new library nearby. Greene says that programs at the Y are too hard to access. That’s bullshit. We’ve been a member of that Y. It’s right there. The programs are scheduled and published well in advance. They do their level best to make it inclusive, especially during after-school hours. If her kid wasn’t using the Y it’s because she was too goddamn lazy to walk over there and enroll him in something. This neighborhood may not be the best, but again it’s not Gilmor Homes or something. You can walk to a lot of shit from here and what you can’t walk to is a short bus ride away. The whole city and large parts of the county are easy to access.

Ms Greene would have you believe that her son wanted to steal Ponsi’s bike because there’s nothing else for him to do. If Prince Greene had wanted a bicycle he should have walked himself down Guilford avenue to BYKE collective which exists solely to let kids earn free bikes and teach them how to maintain them. He could have looked into Jam Squad, Velocipede, or Baltimore Youth Cycling or any of several other groups. If Ms Greene wanted something for her kid to do she should have taken it on herself to go find these things which are out there and are accessible and are trying to reach kids exactly like hers.

There are plenty of families in Ednor Gardens and Waverly whose kids are not out robbing and murdering people so we really don’t want to hear about how she’s way down in the poverty hole. Another kid arrested in that attack lives in Ednor Gardens which means his house and block are probably nicer than our own, in Waverly.

There was much made at the time about Prince Greene’s former involvement in a debate club. He was generally portrayed in a way that, frankly, black children rarely are in crime stories. But we suspect that portrayal may have been misleading. We heard it said online by a kid who knew Greene that he was involved in debate only briefly, and lost interest in school around age 13 or 14. A 12 year old in a too-big tie and a shiny pair of hush puppies was not the same kid lying in wait for Ponsi at the corner of Venable Avenue. That article said he was in the sixth grade at Loyola Blakefield. Do you know what tuition is at Loyola Blakefield? It’s twenty thousand fucking dollars a year. The idea that this kid had no resources, lived in dire poverty and couldn’t have helped getting caught up by the streets just doesn’t hold water.

We don’t know what happened in Prince Greene’s life between the time he was in debate club at a fancy county private school and the night he killed Ponsi. We’re not going to speculate on the events of his life. But if Thomasine Greene had been a better parent, had forced her kid to stay involved in debate club at whatever school he attended last year, and checked his homework every night and known his friends and who he was running with he might be in school right now and not jail. Whatever it is that leads a kid to make these choices it is sad, but we don’t know or particularly care what was going on in Prince Greene’s life. We’re just glad he’s been arrested and charged.

We say all this because it’s too easy to believe the media narrative. It’s too easy take the blame off of criminals because they’re young. It’s too easy to shake your head and wring your hands and pretend a kid like that doesn’t know he’s doing wrong by stealing and stabbing and that he had no choice.

But when you’re on the ground in Waverly, when you’ve put your life’s savings into a house just off Greenmount, one of the hardest and oldest racial dividing lines in all of America, when you’re hyperaware of absolutely everything that goes on around you real life doesn’t always match the media narratives. We wish life weren’t that way but wishing doesn’t make it so.

We’ve been a crime victim multiple times in Baltimore City. We’ve had many friends who have been victims of crimes. It’s not all abstract statistics and it’s not all drug dealers getting what they had coming. In the last four years alone we’ve had half a dozen friends who were victims of serious violent crimes up to and including murder and attempted murder. Some of them were attacked by gangs of teenagers. Not a week goes by that we don’t scroll through our Twitter feed and see that someone we follow has been a crime victim… and we can think of at least 3 recent instances where the same people were victims of two separate crimes. When you live in this city it is not a question of whether you’ll be a crime victim, it’s a question of when and how severe your next victimization will be. We’ve had to watch our back every single time we step out of the house since the day we moved in here and we’re fucking tired of it.

Baltimore, and Waverly, could have given Prince Greene a better life than the one he ended up with. But it can’t give us the kind of life we’ve worked hard to build and know that we deserve for ourselves. We’re going to take the first step toward living that life in Baltimore County.

Baltimore’s Mac and Cheese Weekend a Stunning Success

If there is one thing at which this blog excels it is the grand unilateral declaration. We’ve got our finger in the wind of the Zeitgeist over here or something. The Chop is like the Shingy of Greenmount Avenue, you understand. So when we make a formal proclamation of current trends it is not done lightly, but in all the deliberate gravity you would expect from a part-time local blog.

With this in mind, we are here to tell you this Monday, the 22nd of February in the Year of Our Lord two thousand sixteen that Baltimore’s inane and vapid fascination with all things bacon is officially over. Gone are the days of the bacon bloody mary and the maple bacon ice cream and all the rest of it. As with sushi and pizza and nachos and pho and pickles and breakfast-for-dinner before it, every food trend must come to an end, and often that end is the result of an upstart dish coming at the king to vie for diners’ attention.

It’s become clear to us that the dish most in fashion at the moment is, much like Fashion itself, something both timeless and ever-changing. With only two basic ingredients but literally thousands of variations, the ability to be both wholesome and familiar as well as inventive and unique at once, it took a longtime favorite with universal appeal to knock bacon off its greasy throne. We’re talking, of course, about everyone’s old (new) favorite… Mac and Cheese.

On Saturday we headed over to PEP Foods’ Vegan Mac & Cheese Smackdown and perhaps smackdown is the right word because we were nothing less than gobsmacked by the turnout and enthusiasm of the crowd in attendance. Take a look at this line of people…


That’s not all of the people, mind you, it’s just what fits in the frame of this photo. In addition to this line which is two blocks long there are also a few hundred inside the building, and many more yet to join the back of the line. When we heard this event might draw 500 people we thought ‘How the hell are they going to get 500 people to come to West Baltimore to eat macaroni?’ But apparently vegans are better networkers and promoters than we’ve given them credit for because there were by our own estimation nearly 1000 people there to sample vegan mac.

The last time we personally attended a mac and cheese cook-off was at Honfest and if we’re being honest, that one left a lot to be desired. It only drew three or four entrants, and ten bucks didn’t get you much in the way of samples. Not so with Saturday’s event. PEP’s website had the count of entrants at a whopping 28 different recipes. Look at all this mac…


Both individual chefs and virtually all of Baltimore’s big names in Veg cooking like Red Emma’s, Land of Kush, One World Cafe, et al were on hand to compete, and mac fans who hung around all afternoon were rewarded with the encouragement to “eat until there’s no more mac left!” That’s how you run an event, ladies and gentlemen, and it stood in stark contrast to a festival for a certain salted and cured meat which went very poorly two years ago. Another contrast is that while that crummy bacon festival was run by a promoter for a profit, this one was a fundraiser to help PEP open their commercial kitchen in West Baltimore. We’ve got to say, there’s been a lot of talk of food hubs and food halls and what have you around town lately, but after coming out to this weekend’s event and seeing how well it went, and having a look at PEP Foods’ website we’re convinced they’re the real deal- the kind of folks who not only deserve community support, but also give it right back in an effort to create a virtuous circle. There’s been a lot of anxiety and disappointment in this city lately, and some good people serving up delicious comfort food is particularly welcome for 2016.

In the end it’s not important whose recipe was the best gluten free or the best oven-baked, or even the best overall. We came away from the Smackdown with a real sense of positivity and encouragement for a change, and as far as we’re concerned everyone involved is a winner.

But wait, there’s more! If 28 different versions of vegan mac and cheese isn’t good enough for you, there was even another mac and cheese cook-off last night to benefit Moveable Feast. We don’t know much about it beside what’s on the Facebook event page, but apparently it’s the third annual version of the event which has outgrown the confines of both Liam Flynn’s and Blue Pit, and was held this weekend at Peabody Heights Brewery with somewhere between 100-200 attendees.

Safe to say that in Baltimore 2016 is the year of the Mac.