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Scenes from City Springs Elementary, Hard Rock Cafe, and the Highlandtown Wine Festival.

Numbers Game

South Caroline Street
April 20, 2017

In the auditorium of City Springs Elementary/Middle School, four fifth-graders are set to take the stage for a battle of wits against four “celebrity” adults. The annual quiz show knock off—Are You Smarter Than a Baltimore Public Schools Fifth Grader?—serves as both a fundraiser for the Baltimore Curriculum Project, which operates several neighborhood charter schools in the city, and usually, a source of some embarrassment for the adult team.

The format is straightforward: The two teams alternate answering questions in every imaginable academic field, including geometry, ratios, musical composition, the American Revolution, French literature, Greek poetry, and the science of cells. Thus far, the fifth-graders remain undefeated.

This year’s students—Bryan Burroughs, Miyonna Johnson, Soraya Johnson, and Luis Matzul from Govans Elementary, City Springs, Hampstead Hill Academy, and Wolfe Street Academy, respectively—jump out to a 3-0 lead initially, successfully tackling questions about metaphors, photosynthesis, and the formula for measuring the volume of a rectangular prism.

Eventually, Fox 45 meteorologist Vytas Reid, WYPR’s Gil Sandler, CareFirst vice president Maria Tildon, and notably, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises, rally. “I may have to resign if I miss this,” Santelises jokes before nailing a tough astronomy question. Later, the kids drop a geography query, opening the door for an adult-team comeback and some trash-talking by Reid, who cracks that he “needs a moment to massage his medulla oblongata,” which is actually part of the brain stem that deals with automatic functioning such as breathing, not thinking.

After several rounds of back-and-forth volleys, including final correct answers from Luis about a French literary device and one from Reid about the solar system, the score ends in a tie at 9-9 when Santelises misses (or maybe throws) a final question on fractions.

“I’m 90 years old,” Sandler says afterward. “As soon as I saw the math questions coming, I wanted to hide under the table.”

Almost Famous

Pratt Street
April 11, 2017

On the packed deck outside the Hard Rock Café, the original members of Baltimore’s popular one-hit rockers—The Ravyns—are playing their single, “Raised on the Radio,” which found its way onto the soundtrack of the 1980s teenage classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. (The enthusiastic jeans and T-shirt crowd appears just old enough to recall all of the above.)

“Everybody remembers that movie and that song,” says Tim Tilghman, 54, host of Radio RockonTour on WLOY, with a smile. “And everybody remembers Phoebe Cates”—the young actress who had a memorable bathing suit scene in the film.

The Ravyns’ six-song set is meant as a kickoff for a bigger reunion show in 12 days in Annapolis. But the band is clearly happy to be together again this evening. Guitarist and singer Rob Fahey, who wrote their signature song, explains he was simply transcribing his own teenage years when he discovered rock ’n’ roll, which became his lifelong obsession—lasting stardom or not.

Raised on the radio
Just an all-American boy
I found my favorite toy

“Being a musician, I’m just still trying to get better,” says Fahey.

In their heyday, the band opened for Billy Idol, the B-52s, and on their biggest night, Styx at the Baltimore Civic Center.

“The phone rang at 10:30 in the morning and I was the one who woke up and answered it,” recalls keyboardist Kyf Brewer. “It’s Styx’s promoter and he says their opening act can’t make it, is there a chance that we can play? I tell him we’re booked for a late gig at the Dulaney Inn, which was true.

“Anyhow, we open and we’ve never been on a stage anywhere near that size. After we finish playing, the event staff tells us to throw some guitar picks and drumsticks into the front row—which we can’t even see because it’s so dark and the stage is so big. Long story short, the picks and drumsticks barely roll off the end of the stage and end up landing on the security team.

“Then we went and played the Dulaney Inn.”

Grape Friends

Claremont Street
April 30, 2017

On a warm Sunday, in the street alongside Our Lady of Pompei, the 14th Annual Highlandtown Wine Festival is well underway when someone refers to the neighborhood here as “little, Little Italy.” Joe DiPasquale, whose grandfather opened the original DiPasquale’s Marketplace on this block more than a century ago, gently corrects the visitor. “Oh no, this is big Little Italy. Not the other one,” DiPasquale says, referring to the popular Italian restaurant destination near the Inner Harbor. “Always was.”

For decades, the Rev. Robert Petti of Our Lady of Pompei organized a local wine and food get-together, which the festival has supplanted as a community fundraiser. Petti used to collect grape orders—trucking them in from California—for those in his congregation who toiled as basement winegrowers, similar to those in the festival’s competition this afternoon. DiPasquale assumed that task after the beloved priest passed away in 1984. 

“We get a tractor-trailer delivery every October,” DiPasquale explains. “There’s still about three-dozen basement winemakers in this neighborhood.”

For the first time ever this year, the same basement winemaker—Dominic Petrucci—sweeps first-place honors in the red and white categories. Petrucci’s chief competitor, Dominic Parravano, won top honors in the festival’s first year and, ever since, the two men—both stonemasons by trade, both immigrants from the same small town south of Rome—have become rivals not just in business but in winemaking after arriving separately in Highlandtown in the ’70s.

Parravano, who still lives on this street, dug his basement down an extra 7 feet to make room for larger fermentation tanks years ago. Petrucci eventually moved his operation to a bigger cellar in Cockeysville. Although the guest judges choose Petrucci’s wines in both categories this year, it’s not as if it settles the issue of which stonemason is the better winemaker once and for all.

“We usually have about 30 entries,” says DiPasquale. “But it’s pretty much the battle of the Dominics every year.”