You know how at the end of “The Dark Knight,” Lt. Gordon (Gary Oldman) describes Batman as “the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now”?
In the case of Baltimore, I believe that Jeremy Henry is both.
In just a few moments of radio airtime, he cheerfully defended our beleaguered but beloved city to a national audience, bravely withstanding surprise and some good-natured light scoffing. Heroic, indeed.
“I really like Baltimore!” confirms Henry, 36, a Bolton Hill resident who works for Johns Hopkins Medicine. Listeners of “Wait, Wait … Don’t Tell Me,” NPR’s long-running news comedy quiz show, got to hear the Annapolis native’s enthusiasm for his adopted home when he called into the Oct. 21 broadcast. He introduced himself as “Jeremy from Baltimore, the greatest city in America,” inducing a chuckle from host Peter Sagal.
“You’re just laying it out there!” Sagal said. “This guy, this guy, he is saying that in the face of Hartford! That is bold, sir!”
“It’s not just me. All the city benches say that as well,” Henry confirmed, as the live crowd at Hartford, Connecticut’s Bushnell Center, where the show was being recorded live, emitted something between a laugh, a scoff and and an, “Oh no, you didn’t.”
“Really, the benches? That’s very nice. That’s how you can remember that it is,” Sagal answered.
I am a rabid fan of the city — probably because I was born here — but I love hearing about staunch cheerleaders who are Baltimoreans by choice. I found out about the NPR interaction on the Facebook thread of a high school friend bemoaning the response that natives get when we tell people where we’re from, and someone mentioned a guy named Jeremy who stuck up for us. I found him on X, the site formerly known as Twitter, and asked if he would talk to me. He immediately said yes.
Like I said, the hero we need.
Henry said he’d been “meaning to move” here for years, having grown up visiting with his family. Eventually, “the opportunity presented itself, and I’ve been here ever since. I was ready to move into a city after living in Annapolis, which was a bit small. There’s so much to do here — there’s decent, if underrated, public transport. It’s convenient to the airport,” he said.
The airport was key for Henry, who used to travel once a week for work. “People would see me boarding for Baltimore and I’d always get, ‘Oh, Baltimore. Are you sure?’ I had to convince people that we’re not just ‘The Wire’ and the 2015 uprising. We don’t have the best reputation. So I’d say, ‘You should visit sometime!’ A lot of it [backlash] is [from] people who’ve never been here.”
I feel this deeply. When I relocated to Baltimore from South Florida, a friend was aghast that I was moving back to “that cesspool,” a place where he had never set foot. I reminded him that he was from a Northeastern city with its own murder-y situation, and he basically responded, “Well, but Baltimore!”
I’m over it. I know my city is not perfect. I know we have problems. Henry and I spent a few minutes talking about the sentencing in the case of the squeegee kid who killed a motorist who’d charged at him with a baseball bat, and last weekend’s spate of carjackings.
But I am here because I want to be, and I aim to be part of the solution, which is why my job involves writing stories like this. Even a big Baltimore fan like Henry is very clear about the downsides. “You say, ‘Baltimore is the greatest city in America,’ but by any metric, it’s not. Really, no city is,” he explained. “But it starts a conversation. People roll their eyes and you say, ‘Why are you laughing?’”
He noted that Hartford “is also not the greatest city in the world,” but its residents defended its honor during the NPR taping. That’s all he was trying to do for his home, too.
So what else does Henry like about Baltimore? “The neighborhoods. They’re not a monolith. Each one has its own character and charm,” Henry said. “There’s a lot to see, tons of great museums and lots of great food if you look for it. And there’s the proximity. You can get to a lot of great places from Baltimore.”
Henry remained a sunny, Charm City-positive light throughout his delightful appearance on “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me.” He answered three questions about recent news headlines with the encouragement of that week’s panelists, comedians Alzo Slade, Matthew Rogers and CBS “Sunday Morning” contributor Faith Salie, who greeted Henry with “Love your Orioles!” (So do we.)
The results were, well, lovely. Henry answered all three questions correctly, about the fraught race for speaker of the House, the comeback of the Barnes and Noble chain (which, of course, has a new store in White Marsh) and Netflix’s new live cam show of baby animals at the Cleveland Zoo.
“Yes, the actors’ strike has gone on for so long that a baby otter is the closest we can get to Timothée Chalamet,” Sagal quipped.
After Henry aced the quiz, self-described “mellifluous” announcer Bill Kurtis pronounced that “Jeremy did so well, we should have a Baby Jeremy cam!”
I don’t know about all that, but it’s clear that if you see Henry in real life, it’ll likely be here in Baltimore.
“As I’ve grown as a person, I’ve been able to find my community in the city,” he said.