"Our Country!
In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right;
but right or wrong, our country!"

    --Commodore Stephen Decatur

Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Raven and the Jumping Frog

Quoth the Raven, "We're the Underdogs"

Sports writers have spilled more than enough ink writing about the strange coincidence that regardless of which team wins Super Bowl XLVII this weekend, it will be coached by a man named Harbaugh. Instead of dwelling on this piece of sports trivia, we will instead turn our attention to some other strange similarities between the two cities that the competing teams call home.

Both Baltimore and San Francisco are historic seaports due to their prime locations on a natural harbor. Baltimore is just upriver from the Chesapeake Bay in the East while San Francisco is forms one side of the mouth of the eponymous San Francisco Bay. As a result of their proximity to the two largest estuaries in the country, both cities have excellent seafood. The specialty in Baltimore is of course the crab cake while San Francisco is known as the birthplace of cioppino which was created by the large numbers of Italian fishermen who settled in San Francisco during the 19th Century. Speaking of Italians, it is also notable that former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was born in Baltimore where her father was Mayor but now represents San Francisco in Congress and is the first woman and the first Italian-American to serve as Speaker of the House.

Depending on where you're from, the term "Bay Bridge" may have a different meaning. In California, the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge is infamous for having partially collapsed during game three of the 1989 World Series and is in the process of being replaced to avoid a repeat performance. In the Mid-Atlantic region, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge is equally infamous as a constant source of traffic delays, numerous fatal accidents, and persistent structural problems. Both are suspension bridges and prior to 1964, both bridges carried U.S. Route 50 from sea to shining sea, although today Route 50's western terminus is now in Sacramento. The wise should avoid both bridges during the big game, just to be safe.

In addition to these geographic similarities, the cities are associated two of America's greatest men of letters. Edgar Allan Poe, who has been called the father of detective fiction and the master of the macabre, died in 1849 at the age of 40 under strange circumstances in Baltimore. The Balitmore Ravens are of course named after Poe's most famous poem. In keeping with the pervasive succession of tragedies in Poe's short life, he was paid only $9 for its publication. The year of Poe's death was also the height of the gold rush that gives the "Forty-niners" their name and some 15 years later, a young journalist and jack-of-all-trades named Samuel Clemens moved to San Francisco after having failed as a gold prospector. It was during this time that Clemens wrote a short story titled, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" under his pen name, "Mark Twain." This was his first major success and marked the start of a very long and brilliant career.

Despite these many similarities, "The City by the Bay" has always been more appealing in the public imagination than the so-called "Charm City." San Francisco conjures up images of flower-clad hippies, quaint cable cars, and the yeasty aroma of fresh-baked sourdough bread. Meanwhile, the biggest claims to fame for the city of Baltimore are a crime melodrama called "The Wire" and a show about cakes that don't look like cake. Even though it has been nicknamed "Fog City," most outsiders think of San Francisco as a sunny and cheerful place--which is most certainly is not. As Mark Twain famously never said, "The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." On the other hand, Baltimore's reputation as a gritty post-industrial wasteland is thoroughly well-deserved.

Perhaps this explains the map above. A survey of Facebook users' personal preferences shows that the San Francisco Forty-niners are the clear fan favorite this weekend while the Ravens enjoy only slim support along the Eastern Seaboard. Indeed, the only states which are solidly rooting for the Ravens are Maryland and Delaware. Every other state has at least one county rooting for the 'Niners and in all but a handful, San Francisco fans are in the majority, although most are admittedly of the fair-weather variety. Fortunately the Super Bowl is being held at an indoor stadium this year.

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