More Than A Cup Of Coffee

More Than A Cup Of Coffee

About 15 years ago, in the pre-dawn darkness, I stood outside the brand new Starbucks in Dulaney Plaza and waited patiently for them to open their doors for the first time. I enjoyed being a part of the coffee store’s grand opening, and for years I frequented it often, learning the names of the new baristas and managers, getting to know our neighbors a little better over a cup of coffee, and being a part of the ambiance that defined the origins of that cafe.

Years later, we moved to Loch Raven Village, and I didn’t spend nearly as much time at the Dulaney Plaza location. I became lazy and used the drive-thrus in the Towson University and Timonium Fairgrounds locations. I lost touch with that community feeling that I had established at Dulaney Plaza. I forgot how important that was to share words with friends over freshly brewed coffee.

IMG_4038Well, today, our neighborhood Bel-Loc Starbucks opened just down the street from where we live. The outside of the building is unlike any other Starbucks that I have seen. It is retro, and it has retained some of the flavor of the old Bel-Loc Diner that it replaced, an iconic restaurant that had defined the corner of Loch Raven Boulevard and Joppa Road for decades.

The decision to place an internationally franchised coffee house on the same corner as a local landmark was met with some resistance. And even today, after its doors have opened, there is still push back from some residents who are completely against a chain cafe that serves “overpriced” coffee.

But Starbucks has to be acknowledged for creating a low-key cafe that really adds an aesthetic enhancement to our little “village.”

IMG_4039Once I entered the small store, I felt as if I were in Harry Potter’s Goblet of Fire at the Quidditch World Cup, when Harry steps inside the Weasley’s tent. It’s as if the store had magically expanded inside, offering a variety of tables and bars to work, commune, or just relax.

Immediately, I felt at home in our new, local cafe.

Even before I ordered my Grande Pike Place coffee, I noticed a friend in the southwest corner of the store, seated with his work spread out as if he had been here for weeks. As we placed our order and waited for our drinks to be made, we spent a few minutes chatting with Pat, and I felt the old habits returning ofIMG_4043 making and meeting good friends at the Dulaney Plaza location many years ago.

The interior is spacious, clean, and filled with natural light from two walls of windows facing south and west. Some of the chairs, in fact, were originals from the Bel-Loc Diner.

Both inside and out, there is a mingling of the old and the new, a respect for tradition with a touch of the 21st century coffeehouse encouraging a community to come together.

Maybe their coffee is a couple quarters more than its pre-fab competitor in orange a few blocks west, but I will gladly make the sacrifice for the opportunity to forge new friendships and share words with my neighbors, especially in a coffee house that has gone to great lengths to respect the legacy of Bel-Loc Diner, where our parents spent similar mornings communing with neighbors over a cup of coffee.

I look forward to spending my mornings at our neighborhood Starbucks, writing, reading, and conversing with my new and old friends. After all, it’s what we make of it. For generations, family members and neighbors did the very same at the Diner; let’s do our part to savor the spirit of the old as it merges with the new. IMG_4042

Officer Caprio Community Memorials Continue A Month After Her Death

Officer Caprio Community Memorials Continue A Month After Her Death

by Rus VanWestervelt
Exclusive for Baltimore News And Events
June 21, 2018

A month ago, Laura Joy Rode and Erinn Patrick, third-grade teachers at Seven Oaks Elementary and residents of Parkville, sat in their classrooms with their students until 9 p.m. as police wrapped up their initial investigation of the death of one of their own, Officer Amy Caprio.

In those dark hours, however, their students were thinking less about the fear of a lockdown and more about what they could do for the police officers in their precinct who were mourning the loss of their partner.

“The very next day,” wrote Rode in a Facebook post, “my third grade students asked if they could have some time to write thank you cards to the police officers who kept them safe. . . .Not one complaint of being tired or worried. . . just wanting to thank the brave men and women who serve.”

The desire to give back, to support the Parkville and surrounding precincts, has only strengthened since May 21 when Officer Caprio was killed in the line of duty.

Rob Williams, a resident of Rodgers Forge and Citizens on Patrol leader and volunteer for the last ten years, decided to create a memorial display in his front yard on Regester Avenue, honoring all ten Baltimore County officers who have died in the line of duty.

“I was deeply moved, said Williams. “I wanted to do something to remember her and her ultimate sacrifice.”

Williams contacted a company called Flagology that had the specific hero flag template he was looking for. He gathered the photos of the other officers and completed the display on June 10.

“The memorial will continually be in place,” said Williams. “Several neighbors have already commented to me about how moving the memorial is to them.”

Such memorials are on display in other neighborhood communities, including Carney and Loch Raven Village.

Other residents around the area have used their creativity to raise money for various funds.

Maria Greenwood has formed a group that makes police survival kits, which are delivered to police stations all over the state of Maryland. According to Lisa Westervelt, one of the members of the group, Greenwood has been awarded for her community-building efforts and recognizing officers for their hard work.

“When Parkville experienced its tragedy, Maria ran around getting donations needed for the kids and delivered a ton of them to the station in support of the officers who had lost their sister in blue,” said Westervelt.

According to Greenwood, they delivered 200 police survival kits after the death of Officer Caprio.

“Praying that it brings much joy to all the officers at Parkville Precinct!” wrote Greenwood in a Facebook post. “Your community loves and supports you!”

Kim Lyons, founder and owner of An Etch Above, created Memorial Cups in Officer Caprio’s honor. For each cup sold with the memorial design, Lyons is donating $10 to the FOP 4 Memorial Fund.

“As a graduate of Parkville High School, former resident in Parkville and Perry Hall, and business owner in Parkville, Maryland, I have felt a deep sadness over the recent loss of Officer Amy Caprio from the Parkville precinct,” wrote Lyons on her website. “After much discussion with local law enforcement and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4, I have decided to offer these Memorial Cups in her honor.”

According to Lyon’s website, they have raised over $750 in Caprio’s memory.

Others from around the state have created fundraisers built around their hobbies and organizations. One such effort to raise money was done by the Chesapeake Jeep Club, among others, who hosted a ride to honor Caprio.

The ride, which took place May 26, was organized by Prince George’s County K9 Officer Mike Cicale.

In the description of the event, Cicale wrote, “Join us as [we] pay our respects to Officer Caprio, her friends, family, and members of the Baltimore County Police Department . . .[for] a memorial ride to honor her life and sacrifice.”

Although Ellicott City resident and Jeep owner, Sunny Yoo, could not participate in the event, he is mindful of the work that Cicale and others do to honor fallen heroes.

“[Cicale] sets up most rides to honor the fallen officers throughout Maryland,” said Yoo. “I think it’s nice to see Jeep clubs participating in these events. It just shows how much respect they have for people who serve and enforce the law.”

Yoo witnessed the tribute of K9 vehicles lined up along 695 and was touched by the what he saw. “It was very emotional to see people come together to honor her,” said Yoo. “I felt chills and had to turn my music off and have a moment of silence. ”

The tributes and memorials will continue throughout the summer. Both Towson and Cockeysville organizers of their respective Citizens On Patrol (COP) programs will be honoring Officer Caprio on August 7, which is National Night Out and recognizes those who serve their communities to keep them safer.

“We are honoring her at this year’s National Night Out for the Cockeysville precinct,” shared resident Tracey Daniels. “I think more people will come support the police at this event because of her.”

According to Pat France, Vice President of the Towson-Area Citizens on Patrol (TACOP), they will hold a moment of silence for Officer Caprio at their event on Washington Ave. at 6:20 p.m.

Even with school being out, Seven Oaks Elementary teacher Laura Joy Rode is still touched by the actions of her third-grade students.

“It has been truly inspiring to see the kids react with love, concern, and empathy,” said Rode, reflecting back on her children’s desire to act. “These young children wanted to take action, to do something, to show the police officers and first responders not only that they are needed and appreciated, but that they are sad for their loss. We all can learn from these big hearts!”

Baltimore’s Nasty Press Holds Fundraiser, Provides Platform For Local Voices

It all started last summer with a cool sticker at Open Works in Baltimore.

For five consecutive Fridays, I had the good fortune of working with 25 teens in Baltimore City through the Bloomberg Arts Internship Program. We met at Open Works, a collaborative space for creatives. In the main lobby, between the classrooms and the Greenmount Coffee Lab (highly recommended), local literature rested on a small wooden table. Sipping the daily roast, I walked over to see what literary opportunities were happening in Baltimore.

A small sticker, with the words “NASTY PRESS,” stood out. I picked it up out of curiosity, stuck it in my pocket, and returned to the workshop.

That night, I did a quick search on Facebook, and there they were. I was immediately drawn to their quick surge in Baltimore providing what I call “Literary Advocacy.” In just a few short months, they had created a space for locals to share their stories that, until now, had no real platform to be heard.

How appropriate to discover them in a place called Open Works.

I reached out to the founders of Nasty Press and asked them three simple questions. Here are their responses, just as they supplied them. Any attempt on my part to paraphrase would be ridiculous and, quite frankly, rude.

They’ve got a fundraiser happening at the end of the week as well. See below for more details.

The need for these voices to be heard cannot be overstated. I support Zoey, Em, and XoChitl in the work they are doing for all of us.

The Baltimore Writer: Please tell us the origins of Nasty Press, the purpose for starting, and its current state.

Nasty Press: After the election last November, the three of us separately noticed a shift in Baltimore’s creative energy. It felt almost like a power-outage. There were expressions of rage, sadness, fear, and joy all over social media, but it seemed like the artistic communal hub that we’ve each grown from was at a stand still. We each separately concluded that artists needed a push to re-direct their energy; that maybe they needed an unbiased, open and inclusive place to showcase their emotions and artistic responses about what was happening socially and politically, instead of only ranting on the internet. There needed to be a place without labels that doesn’t exclude anyone, but which uplifts the creative voices of Baltimore, no matter who you are or how you feel. We wanted to generate constructive discussion, even if that meant pissing some people off.

We are in the throes of formatting our second issue which tackles mental health and mental illness in the Baltimore community. We were blown away by the submissions we received and we can’t wait to release this issue to the public. Our FundRager will help fund the printing of the zine along with raising donations for select local non-profits.

TBW: What kind of space are you providing Baltimore citizens, and how might publishing their works further your mission?

NP: Much like collectives before ours in Maryland, we are cultivating space and time for voices that feel and are unheard. We provide a space for visual art (illustration, painting, drawing, etc.), poetic and creative writing, film and photography, and live music and performances. Our collective exists in print format as well a literal venue for local artists. We cater events toward current socio-political issues aiming to benefit the people that are directly affected. This past September, as a result of the potential ban on trans people in the military, we hosted a mini art fair in which we showcased visual art, poetry, and music from our POC and trans/queer family in Baltimore. This event was entirely free to participate in and to attend, and the artists kept 100% of their earnings. We are planning a similar but larger event in April 2018.

TBW: Your work is important, even essential. But you are just one opportunity where we need many. How might you encourage others to do what you are doing to strengthen your larger mission?

NP: We are transparent and tangible. We are open about the way that we operate, and we are accessible to all communities. We never have a cover charge at our events and no artist is ever charged to submit work to the zine nor to participate in our events. We are showing people in our community that it isn’t difficult to get the ball rolling; all you need is passion, drive, and friendship. You don’t need a degree or money, you just gotta stand up and speak up, and people will listen. Recently, we’ve met with organizations, such as Planned Parenthood of Maryland, to discuss future collaborations in hopes to generate more active socio-political dialogue in our community. 

Their upcoming event, FundRager², will be held on Friday December 15, from 8pm to 1am. For more information, including the venue address, please visit their Instagram at @nastypress, email them at thenastypress@gmail.com, or find them on Facebook at Nasty Press.

 

 

Share More, Think Less

TBW writing spaceI spend a lot of time in my head, thinking and thinking and thinking about what to write about. Even though I keep a little Piccadilly notebook with me at all times, capturing little snippets of life that I find interesting, I don’t do enough with them.

In those moments, I am happy that I jotted them down. Good to make that thought concrete, I think to myself. And it is good. I believe there’s a lot of life that passes us by that is fascinating, especially the small things that we see between the bigger events.

Sitting at a table with a group of high school friends, listening to one tell a fascinating story of saving her small business, I glance across the crab cakes and buttered vegetables to see another friend pick up her napkin, dab the corner of her eye, and try to push a smile to support the success of her friend. Try to fit in. Try to not let the world see that she is elsewhere, caught in her own memory. I meant to mention something to her after the dinner, but by then she was — or seemed — totally fine. She moved on, and so did I.

Later, I remember and I jot these observations down in my little notebook, then go about my busy life. Months later I page through the old notes, and there it is:

Kelly’s tear when Tracy was sharing her business story. What memory composed that tear?

My notebook is filled with notes like this one, and many of them are left unexplored. While that little journal is capturing the immediate observations, I just don’t do enough to follow through with the deeper stories, whether they might be real or eventually fictional, as “Gretchie’s Gift” turned out to be.

There’s a reason for that. Simply put, I need to think less and share more.

I’ve always enjoyed coming here to the Baltimore Writer and sharing my ideas and observations with you, but I just haven’t done it enough this year.

In fact, when I take a quick glance at the stats, I’m pretty ashamed of what I see. The last five years have been ridiculously light, posting 40 or fewer pieces each year, with just 11 posted thus far in 2016:

published-posts

Now, these stats don’t mean that I haven’t been writing. When it comes to constructed fiction for the purpose of publishing with a larger audience (beyond this blog) in the 11 years since I started blogging regularly, I’ve written nearly 500,000 words. And my larger daybooks are filled with hundreds of thousands of more raw words that have never been shared with others.

But what I am sharing with all of you here at the Baltimore Writer… That needs to improve — not because I don’t think that I am writing enough. It’s because I don’t think I am sharing and publishing enough. What good are the thoughts if they never reach the hearts and the minds of my readers, both today and tomorrow?

That’s why I created the Baltimore Writer. I wanted to reach all of you more with my daily thoughts, even the mundane ones, about what life is like through these eyes. It would be easy for me to make this a goal for 2017, but I don’t want to wait until the new year begins to do that.

So, it is my intent to resume publishing posts here as daily as possible about writing, about living here in Baltimore, about being a dad, about being spiritual, about being a human being just trying to manage a complicated life that needs to be simplified.

I expect the entries will be a little less polished, but you will hear a genuine voice, uncensored, about life as observed through these eyes. What my readers wish to do with it… well, that is up to you. My hope is that it will leave you thinking a little about what you are observing (and maybe eventually writing and sharing). But even that’s pushing it. In truth, I am just throwing these thoughts into the Universe; may they be used as necessary, now and tomorrow.

I appreciate that so many of my friends do this via social media platforms. Those posts, stories, and pictures capture what I believe is becoming a more genuine reflection of their lives. I’m seeing less of the cherry-picked moments of joy and perfection and more of the authentic experiences, both good and challenging.

That’s all I want to do here: give you the good and the challenging, and more often.

I look forward to sharing them with you in the days, months, and — God willing — years to come.

—-
You can read more on my professional site, The LifeStory Lighthouse, where you can also download my latest collection of Christmas stories, essays, and reflections (featuring “Gretchie’s Gifts).

New Light, New Hope for Baltimore

New Light, New Hope for Baltimore
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All photos taken by Rus VanWestervelt. Copyright 2016.

IMG_5278April in Baltimore could very easily be remembered as one of the darkest times of the year for our Charm City, following the riots in 2015.

Oh, what a difference 12 months make.

It was nearly 600 years ago when Chaucer wrote the timeless saying, “As tyme hem hurt, a tyme doth hem cure.” We know it by its more common aphorism, “time heals all wounds.” It’s a phrase that is most aligned with wounds created by personal hurt, or a sudden void created by a loss or tragedy.

Certainly, after the riots began in Baltimore last year on April 12, we all thought that it would take a long time (maybe not 600 years, though) for Baltimore to heal from the wounds we felt during those tense hours and days in April. After all, the images and the acts were horrifying to see, and we all knew they represented a problem that was simmering for some time. We were raw, exposed, vulnerable; worse, we didn’t know what to do about it. We sought quick-fix solutions, but soon realized that the problems we have will take many years of hard, united work to solve.

IMG_5314I remember wondering in those weeks and even months that followed what it might take — and how we would even  begin — to recover.  Who would have thought that, in less than a year, Baltimore City would take such a short amount of time to make great strides in the process of beginning to heal their wounds. If this past week is any indication of Baltimore’s health, I would say this city is well on its way to a full recovery.

IMG_5292I write this having just returned from spending our Saturday evening in downtown Baltimore with tens of thousands of city residents and visitors, celebrating the sixth day of the first annual Light City: A Festival of Light, Music, and Innovation in Baltimore. The event, which ends today (Sunday), has provided Baltimore with seven days of hope, illumination, and possibility, just in time for the world to see how we respond to tragedy, how we bounce back and put on a first-class show that helps bring the city back to life.

IMG_5341My wife and I are not frequent visitors to downtown Baltimore, and to be honest, I was very hesitant to put ourselves and our two younger children in a public venue with thousands of people crowded around us. Yet, every aspect of this event sparkled and dazzled us. Police officers were laughing with visitors, taking selfies with them and posing for impromptu pictures. We didn’t witness a single incident the entire evening (and we covered a lot of ground). Even when we were caught in a bottleneck of thousands of individuals barely able to move along the front of Baltimore’s World Trade Center, nobody panicked, and we worked through the gridlock together.

That experience — seeing all of us work through those challenging, tense minutes — served as the symbolic hope representing who we really are, and what is truly possible.

IMG_5366Everybody demonstrated respect, kindness, and especially patience as we stood in line and waited for our chance to see or participate in a particular display or event. Genuinely, we were in this together, and everybody got along in a way that, frankly, I didn’t think was possible.

IMG_5382Now I do, though, and I extend that beyond the Light City experience we had Saturday night. If Baltimore can pull off such a monumental event like they just did, I believe that anything is possible to build on our year-long healing and establish a new, firm foundation epitomizing every positive aspect of this past week.

Focusing more on what brings us together (even as generic as the power of light and energy via an art installation) unites us all. Festivals emphasizing universal art, seasons, and our City’s history offer opportunities for us to realize what we share, and not necessarily what ways we are different.

In this light, may we all see that we can embrace our differences and still find common ground to celebrate who we are, just as importantly where we are. Baltimore IS a great city, and in this past week, we have shown the world that our proud and beautiful, collective light will always overcome our isolated moments in darkness.

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