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Can’t go home again? Glad we don’t have to

People say, “You can’t go home again.”

The simple meaning is you can’t relive fond memories or times, as everything changes and evolves.

I’ve used the phrase myself, being a bit tongue-in-cheek in casual conversations.

But I never felt those words fully.

I’ve always lived in northeastern Pennsylvania, and lived through its multiple evolutions over the years.

Change happens before your eyes when you live in a place, but you often don’t recognize the subtleties.

A business closes, and another opens - or doesn’t. Traffic patterns change - for better or worse. And neighborhoods change with new people moving in, bringing their own ways and customs.

And we generally accept these slow, gradual changes to the places we call home.

Seldom do we have the opportunity to see rapid change and evolution, as I did on a recent trip.

My husband and I lived for a short time in Baltimore, as I underwent cancer treatments at John Hopkins.

We found corporate housing in Harbor East, a high-rise neighborhood with high-end businesses situated between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

We looked at other housing options, including an American Cancer Society Hope Lodge on the busy, city campus of the University of Maryland and another downtown high-rise with a view of Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.

But Harbor East felt right.

You literally drive right into the neighborhood off Interstate 83 for those familiar with the city. Most traffic, however, diverts to the downtown and Inner Harbor attractions before reaching Aliceanna Street.

Two of Baltimore’s luxury hotels, the Marriott Waterfront and Four Seasons, were just two blocks away and featured water views.

The only water view our apartment had was the occasional puddle in the intersection of Aliceanna and Exeter streets.

But we could walk a block and watch boats in the small marina or people jogging along the promenade, or if I felt up to it, venture a little farther to piers of the Inner Harbor, a little more than a mile away.

We could also walk a block to the pharmacy and grocery store, and the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center was also nearby - just under a mile and a half and no dealing with downtown traffic to get there.

The neighborhood felt safe - well, a lot safer than other areas in the sometimes not-so charming Charm City, which was after all the setting for the HBO crime drama, The Wire.

That was not lost on us, as we watched a police helicopter circling the neighborhoods near ours on a daily basis - really.

Police and security patrols were frequent in our neighborhood, so it was always a measure of safety in the up-and-coming neighborhood.

But just a few blocks away, the city reared its ugliness. Homeless sleeping against empty buildings, lines at methadone clinics, and low-rent housing that could only be described as, “the hood.”

We didn’t walk in these areas, or the old, worn business district that bridged them - well, maybe not often and definitely not after dark.

Following my six weeks of daily radiation treatments, we returned to Baltimore for follow-up appointments which became less frequent as my oncologist felt I was past any reoccurrence.

My last follow was literally days before the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, and the appointment before that a year earlier.

I can honestly say, I don’t remember any big changes in the city between my treatments in 2011 and those last appointments.

I do remember that our old neighborhood was changing, and there was road construction and different traffic patterns, and we couldn’t stop, street park and take a short walk along the promenade as we once could.

But we had other places to revisit, such as Vaccaro’s bakeries in Little Italy or Canton, Moe’s seafood market for takeout crabcake dinners on the cheap; or to explore changes in the Canton riverfront area.

The changes to the Canton/Brewers Hill area were hard to miss with more housing, shopping and restaurants springing up in new buildings or glorious old brick structures.

We didn’t see the changes coming to Harbor East. I have to say I was shocked as I drove from Canton’s waterfront to the old neighborhood.

Nothing seemed the same.

I knew I made the right turn coming from Canton - we went by the Sip & Bite, a restaurant visited by Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-in and Dives. This was Aliceanna Street. Or was it?

Is that seemingly small white building, our old high-rise? Where did that multi-lane bridge and huge intersection come from? Where’s the marina? Where did the boats go?

And how in the world did those huge, mirrored skyscrapers rise up in just a few years since we last visited?

I drove around and around the old neighborhood trying to take it all in, and orient myself. My husband said to me, “That’s not our building,” and I replied, “Yes, it is.”

I turned onto a side street, where the heavy gate to our building’s garage remained unchanged and we got our bearings again - not that we were lost, just disoriented amid so much change.

Slowly, things became familiar again. The CVS drugstore was still on the same corner, a block from our building. But a huge Sephora opened in what was our neighborhood grocery store.

The grocery store, a Whole Foods, had moved over and down a block into a brand-new 50,000 square-foot space on the ground floor of a sparkling, new apartment building.

I’m not even sure what was in that block. Was it an empty lot, parking for trailers, or an old brick warehouse with large bay doors, a familiar sight in a neighborhood where H&S Bakery delivery trucks were common?

H&S was still there, but there were new hotels, restaurants and a general gentrification to the once rundown neighborhood immediately east of ours.

Our small, up and coming neighborhood grew and expanded, taking with it blocks and blocks of old structures.

Everything I loved about the neighborhood was gone. Our building was still there, but I could only wonder for how long.

It was built in the 1990s. Could it really survive with such valuable real estate going up all around it?

We saw other adjacent areas between Central Avenue and Broadway in Fells Point blocked off and once vibrant buildings, including schools, abandoned.

More progress, more growth.

Our neighborhood had morphed into everything I hated about city living. The streets busier, more congested, parking harder. Could rush hour gridlock be far behind with so many more towering buildings?

And no view, not that we had one. But we once walked along a tree and bench lined promenade that skirted a marina, just around the corner. Now, just more gleaming buildings.

They say you can’t go home again, and in this case, maybe they’re right.

And maybe I’m glad we don’t have to.

Twelve years and still cancer free.