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Oct. 15, 2013 10:30 am

The City That Breeds: on podcasting, the mayor and the Walking Taco [Q&A]

Evan Siple and Dennis McIver are the minds behind the weekly podcasts hosted by The City That Breeds blog. We talked with them about what they'd like Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to do differently, Baltimore's stereotypes and David Simon.

The City That Breeds: Dennis McIver, left, and Evan Siple. Honorary member: Beamer, one of McIver's dogs.

Dedicated readers of The City That Breeds blog are familiar for its no-holds-barred take on Baltimore city, its people and its politics. It’s snarky but substantive, irreverent but informed. The site, not sleek or beautiful but quirky and enthusiastically local in its content, is a blog that truly does not care if it pisses you off. Call it shock jock radio with a city news bent.

Fortunately for people who want to go beyond the written word, there’s The City That Breeds podcast, launched at the end of March by blog founder Evan Siple, 34, and Dennis McIver, 31, better known by his Twitter handle @DennisTheCynic. As of this interview, 27 episodes have been recorded. On average these podcasts

  • are about an hour long.
  • are recorded at Siple’s house in Riverside.
  • bring in about 300 listeners.

Guests have included Baltimore Sun crime reporter Justin FentonSun education reporter Erica Green (who recorded a two-part special on education reform), idfive creative director Matt McDermott and housing activist and Baltimore Slumlord Watch blogger Carol Ott.

Listen to episode one here. Find all City That Breeds podcasts here.

Both have lived in and around Baltimore their whole lives: Siple grew up in Catonsville, while McIver was raised in Northeast Baltimore. Technical.ly Baltimore spent an hour with the pair in July at McIver’s Hamilton home. We talked about their most hated Baltimore city stereotypes (Natty Boh and the Utz pretzel girl among them), what they wish politicians on Twitter would say, their feelings about David Simon, and how they’d change Baltimore if they ran the show (as opposed to just recording one). We also cover the podcast itself and their take on local politicians.

TB: Let’s begin with the mayor. If you two could take Stephanie Rawlings-Blake out to dinner and pick her mind about anything, where would you go and what would you talk about?

ES: I would take her to Golden Corral, and put a full rack of ribs in front of her. Uh, Dennis, what would we talk about?

DM: (laughing) Well, it depends on whether or not we’re having a friendly conversation about Baltimore or if we’re talking serious issues. Because to me the first question I would ask is —

ES: “What is your fucking problem?”

DM: ... what are you thinking? I would just start there and see where the conversation went. I’m sure that it would go into 10,000 families, blah blah blah, and I’d say, well, you know, what about the people here? Let’s talk about what you’re doing for the folks.

TB: All right, but what’s your ask? What do you want the mayor to do differently?

ES: Please, please stop with this rigid politicking constantly. For as large geographically as Baltimore is, it’s still a very small city in terms of its people. They want someone to talk to them like a regular person, not an idiot or a child or someone who has not a clue in their head. And she’s up there talking as if she’s a future president speaking. … Drop the façade for a moment and just get real.

Who is Evan Siple?

  • A 2001 graduate of St. Mary’s College who studied biology.
  • After getting a master’s in biotechnology, he worked 7 years at the Carnegie Institution Department of Embryology.
  • Right now, he blogs at The City That Breeds full-time.

TB: Who’s a local politician you think does this sort of real talk well?

DM: I would give compliments to Keiffer Mitchell in that, when I first started doing whatever it is I do, I remember I made some statement [on Twitter] about making dumb policy decisions and he was the first person — out of the blue — to come in and say [on Twitter] you know, that’s not true, here’s what I think. I don’t necessarily agree with him on everything — in fact on a lot of stuff I vehemently disagree — but I at least appreciate the fact that if I’m talking to him, he’ll respond.

ES: That’s the most important thing of all. You know, I really like Brandon Scott. He’s full of enthusiasm, he’s engaged, but then he takes the helm of the bag tax policy and I just roll my eyes to the back of my head. That’s with any politician. He chooses something like that to pay attention to, things that seem, I don’t know, not as important as the things that he does do like go out to the communities and hang out with kids and teach them good values.

TB: Like what he did by organizing the 300 Man March.

ES: Yeah, THAT’S the stuff that he needs to stick to and not bag taxes and things that don’t build up our communities.

TB: Let’s talk about Baltimore city stereotypes. Which ones do you hate most?

ES: I’m getting a little tired of just the tropes. The constant, constant pictures of “I’m drinking a Natty Boh. I’m drinking a Natty Boh. I’m eating a crab. I’m eating a crab. Berger cookies, Berger cookies, Berger cookies. Utz girl, Utz girl, Utz girl.” It gets tired, because you just see it so much, but that’s just because with the size of the audience, you’re going to see it way too much.

DM: The whole depiction of Baltimore as being this sort of violent, chaotic setting and I think in a lot of ways — and it’s not necessarily the most popular thing to say — a lot of the shows that have been done in Baltimore have really sort of caused that perception to remain.

TB: So how do you two feel about David Simon?

ES: He’s obviously very smart. Very good writer. But he’s a hothead. I mean, whatever, I think he has every right to be a hothead, especially about this city. But in the rare times I’ll see a video or hear him talk about Baltimore in a very loving fashion, I really like that stuff, but it’s just kind of sparse.

TB: Then what would be the different depiction of Baltimore you guys would create?

ES: Well people don’t give a shit about the more complex cultural tapestry things. They want to simplify it all. It’s like: crabs, Orioles, accent, “The Wire.”

DM: I think about the fact that we have so much just diversity in terms of our neighborhoods. I think we have such a strong base when it comes to our universities, and the different things that have come out of that. I think that if you look hard enough in Baltimore, you can find what you’re looking for.

TB: How do you decide on topics to cover on the podcast?

ES: I generally don’t at all. So much of that stuff is just off the cuff. Dennis has a whole list of things we usually do in the second half about the city.

Who is Dennis McIver?

  • A 2004 graduate of Loyola University Maryland who studied history.
  • He also has master’s degrees from UMBC and the University of Baltimore.
  • He works full-time at UMBC.

TB: So that’s how the Walking Taco gets into a podcast, then. What is that, just a bag of Fritos with nacho cheese poured in?

ES: It’s also a nonprofit agency.

DM: (more laughing, bordering on uncontrollable giggling)

ES: Before the show a few weeks ago, my girlfriend sent me a text that she was at a baseball game, and she was like, I’m eating a taco in a bag, or a Walking Taco. And I was like, what the hell is that? So we started talking about it on the show and then it became a joke and then I registered the URL, and it’s now a thing.

DM: And even on Twitter: AT Taco in a bag. (both break out laughing)

TB: To reel it back in for a second. How do you get journalists like Justin Fenton to come on the podcast?

ES: Well, Justin’s a friend of mine, I’ve known him for a number of years. He’s the only one that’s been on the show that I’m friends with. I think the strange assumption is that reporters aren’t accessible. All of the other people, Dennis just asked them, and they all just came on.

TB: To me the podcasts seem to be a way to say the stuff that journalists wish they could say. It’s obvious you’re looking to make listeners angry, but do you think you’re saying stuff that needs to be said?

DM: I think it’s definitely a little bit of both. I was born and raised here. I’ve seen a lot of stuff that’s happened in Baltimore. And just sort of having that level of knowledge, knowing these things that happen, I feel like we just have to get them out there. And honestly, a lot of that inspires me with what I say on Twitter.

ES: I can’t tell you how many times people have told me: you’re saying the stuff we’re not allowed — I mean people who work for Visit Baltimore, the Baltimore Sun, on and on and on. All these people that have these thoughts but they’re restricted by their employers from saying anything that might pop into their heads. And since I don’t have an employer anymore — it’s on.

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Andrew Zaleski

Andrew Zaleski is a freelance journalist in Philadelphia and the former lead reporter for Technical.ly Baltimore. Before moving to Philadelphia in June 2014, he was a contributing writer to Baltimore City Paper and a Tech Check commentator for WYPR 88.1 FM, Baltimore city’s National Public Radio affiliate. He has written for The Atlantic, Outside, Richmond magazine, Washington City Paper, Baltimore magazine, Baltimore Style magazine, Next City, Grist.org, The Atlantic Cities, and elsewhere.

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