The Rita’s Italian Ice stand between the Science Center and the Light Street Harborplace Pavilion is a black eye in an otherwise beautiful Inner Harbor. The long lines that regularly stretch all the way to the water, blocking foot traffic, should be quite troublesome because any true Baltimorean knows that the best frozen summer treat is a snoball.
Snoballs are a Baltimore tradition. Flavors such as Skylite and Egg Custard defined our childhoods. The beginning of summer was always marked by the first crabs followed by the first snoball. No matter which side of the marshmallow debate you are on, everyone would be in line after memorial day ready to get that first taste of summer. We would be licking our lips as the college kids, home for the summer, would dodge each other and swarms of bees as they reached to dispense that sticky goodness all over the sparkling cold ice. I remember how shocked I was when I first found out that snoballs were a delicacy unique to Baltimore. How could the rest of the world not have snoballs? There are so good and so simple. The rest of the world had snocones. How miserable it must have been to spend one’s childhood outside of Baltimore. Eating a snocone is like eating a crab with no Old Bay. It is one solid cone shaped ice cube. Eating one will cost you at least one trip to the dentist as you try to bite down and find some type of flavoring. In the end you realize there was no flavoring, or at least nothing as good as Skylite. How lucky we were to grow up in Baltimore and not be subjected to this. So where along the way did we forget about these childhood moments such as displaying our tongues to each other after spooning down a bright red cherry or a juicy purple grape?
I remember when Rita’s first started popping up around the Baltimore area. I will admit it, I did try one, and it was not terrible. It was not a snowball, but it was not terrible. But as soon as I had my first bite of whatever forgettable flavor they were serving that day, I looked longingly across Padonia road to the Snoasis. I immediately regretted my decision. This foriegn invader did not hold a candle to a snoball. The next day after camp I hurried to the nearest snowball stand to wash out the terrible taste in my mouth that I had suffered through all day. As soon as I touched that finely crushed ice to my lips I once again felt one with Baltimore. The hot humid Baltimore air that had been sticking to my face all day long rushed away and oriole birds chirped gleefully around me.
The Rita’s in the Inner Harbor is an insult to Baltimore and her great tradition. Maybe some of the people waiting in those long lines for Rita’s are tourists who don’t know any better, but I fear that all too often they are Baltimoreans forsaking their childhood memories in favor of the corporate slop that they shovel out of those buckets. Baltimore needs to open up a snowball stand right next to the Rita’s and showcase our snoballs to the world. We can laugh at the Red Sox and Yankees fans in line when they ask for a straw. Or maybe Rita’s is a good thing. We will keep the snoball stands on the lesser traveled paths of Baltimore and keep it our little secret.