Despite its new soign,e image, the essential pulse of Baltimore remains the rhythmic tic-toc of a stripteaser's tassels. As any ecdysiast can tell you, the trick is in knowing how to cast off, with flair, the inconsequential while keeping the very pith of the promise a secret -- an art form perhaps emulated by the Maryland General Assembly when it cast off the bit of swampland that became the District of Columbia and kept Baltimore with its secret charms -- charms as varied as the acerbic bite of Mencken's prose and the bittersweet memory of Blaze Starr's rose. Charms that Washington just doesn't have. Such as:

BAWLEMORESE. Idnit strange how people from Bawlemer understand each other while those who visit Bawlemer Merlin from Washington don't understand us any better than tarred toorsts from Yerp? Trans: Isn't it strange how people from Baltimore understand each other while those who visit Baltimore, Maryland, from Washington don't understand us any better than tired tourists from Europe? Philologists who have studied the glottal stops of Baltimore conclude that the dialect is at once a curious mixture of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Jimmie the Greek, a linguistic potpourri, in fact, totally devoid of syntax yet pregnant with meaning. Bawlemorese, nor anything like it, is never heard in Washington.

WAITRESSES WHO CALL YOU "HON." You got bunions on your feet and troubles on your mind? Go find a waitress who will call you "Hon." The soles of her shoes will have ribs as plain as those poking through a hound dog's coat and she'll serve you coffee in a cup as thick as a swollen upper lip. She'll be working in a place that serves breakfast 24 hours a day -- no questions asked -- and never in a place that serves quiche. That's why there's more of them in Baltimore than Washington PREPS. Declass,e though such comparisons may be, it must be noted that Baltimore rates five mentions in the official Preppy Handbook while Washington gets a scant two. In Baltimore, it would appear, khaki abides like the patina on Grandmother's silver, and in Washington it's merely another shade. Not to worry, Greater Washington. You, too, have a really excellent Talbot's. Right, Skip? For sure, Bif.

ANONYMITY. Everybody has those moments when they want to be somebody else. Being somebody else means you can be a nobody and order a beer just like anybody without having everybody in the place turn and say, "Hey, that's somebody." In Washington these days it's downright American to think that no body has to stay a nobody and that anybody can be somebody. In Baltimore nobody cares.

SEASONS. Baltimore has the usual four, plus, last year at least, an extra one, baseball's second season. The game is a template for time, shaping its minutes and hours to its own purpose, holding the clock at bay until the playing is done. Such is the game's power. One that for all the authority residing there eludes Washington, where a second season, like a second chance, never comes. Ask any redistricted Congressman.

CORNED BEEF. To be sure, Washington serves up its share of this morsel, but only Baltimore has a street named after it. Corned Beef Row is the 1000 and 1100 blocks of East Lombard Street, where the delis are not for the timid. The brusque service derives, perhaps, from an agitation caused by the ripe nudes painted on black velvet that decorate some of the walls -- art as lush as a quarter-pound with slaw on seeded rye. Cognoscenti also frequent the Row for its cheese dogs.

NEWSPAPERS. Baltimore's hunger for newsprint is sated by three major dailies. But then, Baltimore was the hom vegetables. Undercapitalized and overworked, these entrepreneurs plod the streets and alleys singing about the perfection of their plums, oranges and strawberries. In Washington, when A-rabs sing, Congressmen quake and sometimes videotapes ferret out rotten apples.

POETS AND PORPOISES. In the days of Sidney Lanier and Edgar Allan Poe, clipper ships berthed at the pier where the National Acquarium now stands. That seals, sharks and seahorses swim where hemp and coconuts were stacked testifies to Baltimore's grand durability, to the steady pulse of the Lady of the Bay.