Pop Culture
Oct 17, 2008, 05:35AM

Still the Border State

Maryland remains unclassifiable, even as the rest of the country gets split into easy divisions.

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Photo by Here in Van Nuys.

She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! She spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! She burns! She'll come! She'll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

Those are the last four lines of “Maryland, My Maryland.” For 364 days each year, no one really cares about the state’s official song. But during the Preakness, the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown and nadir of human society, the song makes its grand entrance, played before 100,000 inebriates too drunk or stoned to hear.

It’s a wonderful tradition, a nice addition to the topless women, pools of human excrement, men urinating on other human beings, underage drinking (like, really underage… I’m talking about 14-year-olds), brawls between Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants fans, and 30-minute-long betting lines that make the Preakness the glorious event it really is.

Bored at work a couple of summers ago, I was daydreaming about the horrible depths of the human condition, which led me to reminisce about my experiences at Preakness, and the state song wandered into my head. As a proud Marylander, I decided that I really ought to know all the words to our state’s anthem. So I looked up the lyrics. And, uh, first of all, there are way too many words to memorize (nine stanzas). Second of all, why on earth is the Maryland state song a rabble-rouser to oust Union troops from Baltimore?

Being from the glorious Old Line State allows me the privilege of meeting people from other parts of the country, telling them I’m from Maryland and seeing their reaction. I’ve been called a Yankee and a Confederate. People laugh at me for saying “y’all” and accuse me of talking like a Northerner. A girl once asked if I was from New Jersey and when I said I was from Maryland, she responded, “Oh. Same thing.” I’m still angry about it.

People just don’t know what to make of Maryland. Anywhere north and you are definitely in the North. Anywhere south and you are definitely in the South. Just a little west and you find yourself in the Midwest. From my town—smack dab in the middle of the state—you are closer to Cleveland than Boston (by two hours!), almost equidistant from Pittsburgh and New York, a little over two hours from Philadelphia and Richmond, 15 minutes from Baltimore and 40 from Washington. I live south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

According to the U.S. government, I am a Southerner. Every new study that comes out talking about how fat Southerners are includes Marylanders. Yet, culturally, I don’t know if I’d call us the South. It doesn’t pass the Facebook Test: I would never join a group like “University of Michigan Southerners” or anything like that. We think Southerners are self-righteous, self-aggrandizing, provincial yokels, despite the fact that we think we share their inherent outspokenness and willingness to chat with you. But we also like to distance ourselves from the North. I hate being called a Yankee. We typically think Northerners are unfriendly, snobby, and out of touch. We don’t want to be associated with them, either.

When I was a little kid in the Cub Scouts, we spent countless hours camping at Civil War battlegrounds and checking out Civil War memorials. I was raised to root for the Union in these stories, fully aware of Maryland’s status as both a slave state and a Union one. I was taught to embrace Maryland’s status as a northern state, a champion of freedom and equality, and I remember my heart racing during stories of Northern triumph over Rebel forces. I’d never heard of “The War of Northern Aggression” until I went further south.

Yet Baltimore has more Confederate memorials than Union. Seeing the old Confederate Stars and Bars flag flying in front of some old house isn’t so uncommon. On class field trips to places like Gettysburg, kids would always half-jokingly buy “THE SOUTH WILL RISE AGAIN” shirts, flags, and other paraphernalia. We have plantation mansions and tobacco fields littering the landscape. The sign for the new McMansion development up the street advertises “Fine Southern Living.”

By the time you read this, I’ll be gone, moved away, a Marylander in spirit only. Within a few weeks, I’ll probably have a new driver’s license and new license plates for the state of Michigan. Everyone has an idea of what it means to be from Michigan. You are Midwestern. You drive American cars. American Pie took place there. Michigan football is—uh, usually—some of the best. It’s a good old fashioned, All-America, small town-living, Jesus-loving, 80s music is still a little too popular, hockey-playing, down-to-earth state. That and it’s fucking cold in the winter.

As I prepared to leave, I realized that Maryland is just an unknown quantity to most. Despite the fact that more people have probably been to Maryland than Montana, everyone has an idea of what Montana is. It stands for something. It’s a surefire part of a region. Even if the judgments are wrong, people can still tell basic things about it. It’s sparsely populated. There are lots of mountains and cattle. It snows a lot there. You don’t need Wikipedia for that.

But people can’t even tell if it snows in Maryland (it does). Here, go through a list of states in the U.S. I guarantee you that each one will have stigmas for you. Nevada = gambling problem. California = liberal tree-hugging homosexual socialists. West Virginia = marrying your cousin. New Jersey = trash. You can at least guess what the weather is like.

I live on the edge of suburbia. I am a half-mile from rural farmland. I am two miles from a housing project. Thirty miles takes me to: the ocean, mountains, a city with a top-20 population larger than Boston and D.C., forests, marshes, exurbs, inner-ring suburbs, and our nation’s capital. One Maryland nickname is “America in Miniature,” and it’s actually pretty accurate.

As pleasant as all that sounds, sometimes I long for an identity. Americans love classifications, and I’m no different. But Marylanders have no base stereotypes to make light of or embrace. When people make a snap judgment about where I’m from, I never know what that judgment will be. When Sarah Palin rages against East Coast Elitists, I know she isn’t talking about South Carolina or Virginia, but is she talking about me?

  • I guess I don't know all that much about Maryland. This was an interesting article, and it made me think about Marylanders in a different way. I suppose I would classify it as the blue crab/old bay state. Even that seems unfair after I'd read about "Maryland...America in Miniature". I really like that quote, and it makes me want to take a trip down south.

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  • I've never been to Maryland, although I'd like to see Camden Yards. About the state being "America in Miniature." I think a lot of states could make that claim. California, for example.

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  • I learned that Maryland was "America in Miniature" back in fourth grade, but I never really bought it. I would think New York would have that title.

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  • From what I've seen from living in Maryland for ten years, there's a big "northern-southern character" split by the Chesapeake Bay. I live on the eastern shore, which is mostly rural, chock full of farms, pick-up trucks, camo jackets and people "Gitting-R-Done". I've gone to school in Baltimore for the past three years, been to Annapolis countless times, and visited several other towns in Western Maryland, and there's a very different character over here, more than just the rural-urban distinction.

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  • I know little about Maryland except for the riots at the start of the Civil War, H.L. Mencken, Babe Ruth, The Wire and, of course, John Waters, whose films make it seem like I'm an honorary Marylander. But, like most states that aren't tourist destinations, Maryland doesn't often pop up on my radar.

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  • I've never been to Maryland, but I'd love to visit Baltimore, or even Annapolis. I hear the crabs are great, and, though I'm not a huge baseball fan, I would like to check out Camden.

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  • I've also heard it's a great place to get spider bags and WMDs (Zagats says avoid the yellow caps).

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  • No, Maryland is really America in miniature. With a little bit of east coast liberalism, a little bit of a big city in Baltimore, lots of suburbs, areas with Midwestern sensibilities, and even a bit of Alabama (James Carville's version) Yes, I've even lived Frederick, MD for a couple of months...

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