Friday, January 7, 2011

Can't buy me "Hon"....

For most Baltimoreans with blue-collar roots (and even some without), we grew up with a common pet name. If you are anything like me(and perhaps you are a tad more observant), you never even noticed it. It seemed completely normal to me that my grandmother and great-aunt, most waitresses, bank tellers, and yes, even a familiar convenience store clerk referred to me not by name but rather called me 'Hon.'

Hon is short for Honey. And yes, it's a very Baltimore thing no matter where else in the continental U.S. it happens to show up. Hon travels well. It's a term of endearment that is at once disarming, familiar, and even a little cheeky. 'Hon' has also been used to describe the go-to style of presenting oneself that John Waters made famous in "Hairspray." Yes, they have big hair in Texas but the bee-hive with an entire can of Aqua-net? Leopard print year round? And cat-eye glasses? That was all Baltimore. And that style, together with a welcoming disposition and a sprinkle of charm, is what has become known as a "Baltimore Hon."

Back in the early 1990s, Baltimore got its own little monument to this iconic style when a "greasy-spoon" with home-cooking and purposefully tacky decor opened its doors. The original name - It's a Cafe, Hon - shortened almost immediately to Cafe Hon. For years, Cafe Hon slowly made a name for itself with friendly service, reasonable prices, and menu items like meatloaf. It became synonomous pink yard flamingos that shamelessly graced the surrounding neighborhood lawns and before you knew it, people almost couldn't help giving directions to, in, or around Hampden (the lovely little hamlet it calls home) without mentioning the Cafe.

Now instead of giving you a history lesson on the evolution of the modern affection for Hon-ness, suffice it to say that there is now a Hon-fest. A memorabilia shop called Hontown. A bar - you guessed it - HonBar. There is even a (very popular) contest each year to crown Baltimore's Best Hon. Most of the reason for Hon's success is that "HON" is something with which we all identify and some that seems to identify our city(thank you, Mr. Waters.) You might wear J.Crew but I'd bet dollars to donuts that you know/knew/met someone who wore a "house dress (read: MuMu)" in the 60s and it wasn't on Halloween. Hon is as Baltimore as steamed crabs or Edgar Allen Poe (shut it, Philly, he's OURS) or The Inner Harbor. It belongs to each of its residents equally though maybe we all celebrate it differently. So you can imagine the uproar recently when the Baltimore Sun (in an uncharicteristically journalistic effort) uncovered that HON had been trademarked about a month ago by the owner of that same Cafe originally propelled by the nostalgia for the days when everyone was a Hon.

(Breathe, now, don't get all worked up. It's wrong, it is. But we're getting to the good part.) Of course, trademarking "Hon" is like trademarking "Charm City" or "The Big Apple." It's vernacular now and technically, you can't trademark that. But Cafe Hon's owner, Ms. Whiting, was bent out of shape that someone had the audacity to (gasp) put "Hon" inside one of those black-outlined-white ovals that were once only used for European country abreviations. SOMEONE! HAD! TRIED! TO! PROFIT! FROM! HON! Well, someone other than her. And so it begins. Hon is trademarked - the Sun finds out - Baltimore (yes, almost the entire city) errupts in a fireball of fury over someone taking ownership of our communal property.

A professor once told me that a trademark is only as good as the money you intend to spend defending it. Indeed, it's fairly affordable to own one's own trademark. The legal fees that come in to play when someone challenges it? Well that's all you - and those hidden costs add up quickly (trust me, I know - my father's a lawyer!) Most of us in Baltimore wouldn't spend our hard-earned money to challenge Ms. Whiting in a court of law - nor would we waste the court's time. Baltimore is, afterall, a pretty violent city (despite the assurances of the police commissioner to the contrary). I'd would personally rather see our judicial system be used to prosecute violent criminals - not intellectual criminals. One man in our city has already decided he'd rather fight the good fight and is apparently challenging the trademark. Roll up your sleeves, Ms. Whiting - you made this pie, time to try to sell it.

So if you're wondering why it was so critical to wait this long to tell you about the maddness that temporarily made the folks of Charm City a little less charming - afterall, the story broke just before the holiday seasons - its because I, too, had to cool off. And yes, it has taken this long. I love all things "Hon." I have 4 (two purple - two pink) yard flamingos that I wouldn't dream of removing and up until recently, I spent a good bit of money on Sunday mornings at that neighborhood Cafe. Now that I've cooled off - and now that most of Baltimore has likewise done the same - we can brush off this act of total lunacy and keep using Hon in our daily lives as we always have done. If I want to open a store called "Cupcakes, Hon" well - you'd better believe I'm not going to let her stop me (for the record though, I like commercial real estate!) Hey, if she wants to own it and stop us from using her word, she's going to have to write another check to her legal team.

In the immortal words of Clint Eastwood - go ahead, make my day.

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