Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sidewalk Sitting in March

Baltimore was beautiful yesterday. The sun shone, birds chirped, cyclists whizzed through the streets, windows were opened, and restaurants dusted off their outside dining tables and chairs and placed them on the sidewalk. A brave invitation for Spring to come and stay. When I saw those tables resting outside in the sun, I had to sit at one. So I did. 

Last night, my husband and I walked to Marie Louise Bistro, a chic little restaurant close to our apartment for a drink and outdoor date. Even though it was getting windy and chilly by the time we left, I couldn't resist the novelty of sitting outside at a restaurant, in March. Like an invisible fishing line, the fresh air hooked me and reeled me towards a small iron table with two chairs.  

There are many things I love about eating outside at a city restaurant. First of all, I love hearing the city go by. Horns honking, bits of conversation, always shouting, a runner's heavy breath, dogs' barking, and if you're lucky, someone's unabashed laughter. I love hearing deep bass pulsing out of a Jeep with the top down as it stops at a traffic light. I love hearing friends slap each other on the back as they greet on the street. Sometimes in Baltimore I will hear a ship's horn way down in the Harbor and I wonder where it's sailing to or from. All these city sounds together create a sound that you'll miss hearing when you eat indoors. Yes, it might be quieter inside or there might be a band playing (which I love), but don't forget there's music outside too. 

Another thing I love about eating outside at a city restaurant is the chance you get to study the architecture around you. I walk on North Charles Street almost everyday as I dash out to buy lettuce or grab a newspaper, but I'm usually in too much of a rush to really notice the buildings around me. I notice the buildings around me with flags or flashy signs, the ones that really standout, but it takes more than a quick glance to really notice the subtleties of the architecture in any city.

As I sat outside at Marie Louise, I had the welcome opportunity to observe the buildings around me from a different angle. It's not brain science, but looking at a street from a chair is very different from looking at it while walking by. Sitting outside on North Charles, I noticed a small alleyway across the street I had never seen and a small apartment above a restaurant. I noticed how the buildings around me were largely unrenovated and still in their original state. I appreciated how the huge apartment building across the street had been repurposed into four restaurants all attached to each other. I noticed how tall the buildings in Baltimore are with their blackened chimneys reaching to the sky. I observed the many, many different shades of brick that define and separate each other. All these small architectural details flesh out my picture and understanding of Baltimore and I would have missed them if I had sat inside. 

I enjoyed noticing the architecture of the city, yet more than that, I enjoyed noticing the people of the city. The sidewalk table provides the perfect venue for this. I noticed the purposefully ripped T-shirts of the art school students walking together in packs looking for somewhere inexpensive to eat. I observed the business executive as he got out his car to buy wine from the shop next to us. He was in and out of the shop in a few minutes, no doubt relieved that his day at the office was over so he could head back to his family. I smiled at the mother helping three girls in tutus and ballet shoes cram into her small car, so reminiscent of my childhood dance classes. I laughed as a group of girlfriends sat down at the table next to us exclaiming "It is such a gorgeous day!!" with dizzy excitement, exactly as I had a few minutes earlier. So many beautiful human moments out in the open, free to be appreciated from the sidewalk table.  

Sitting outside on this March day was an incredible gift. Too often responsibilities make it impossible to be outside, or better yet, to pause outside. Pausing outside. By sitting at a sidewalk table, I gave myself the chance to pause outside and notice the life around me without distraction. Exhilaration swirled through the streets as Baltimorians ventured outside without their coats and boots. As the warm spring air brushed my face and I sipped my drink, I felt I was truly part of the city. 

Sidewalk sitting? Yes please! I'll happily give you the corner booth. 

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