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Humans of the Waterfront: Lee Thompson, Safety Guide

Often referred to as the Inner Harbor’s “Walking GPSs”, the Harbor’s Safety Guides are far more than location finders—they’re Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Ambassadors. Whether it’s helping to take a family photo or helping a mother find the best spots to take her kids for the day, Waterfront Guides are positioned all around The Inner Harbor with one main goal in mind: to assist anyone in the Harbor with whatever they might need.

Lee Thompson became a Safety Guide by way of Living Classrooms; each week he patrols the Harbor, on foot, ready to assist anyone with whatever question or concern that may arise.

I met Lee smack between the two areas he walks the most in Pierce’s Park.

“You’ve got two sides of the Harbor, that side of the Harbor I call the Shark Tank,” he explains, pointing off towards the buildings that tower over in Harbor East — he refers to this as the “business district”. “And this side of the Harbor is called Wonderland,” Lee finishes, his voice drawing out his last word in a vaudeville-way, before he continues to explain the magic of the main attraction side of the Harbor that includes places like the Science Center, Ripley’s, and the main shopping attractions.

“I walk it all,” he smiles, “I don’t like to stop.”

Within five minutes Lee was already offering me advice on how to hold my bag in order to deter theft, but the way he approached the subject was one that didn’t instill fear, but rather inspired confidence for walking around downtown. His tip wasn’t about being afraid of what might happen, but rather from his years of experience of how to be smart and enjoy yourself at the same time. This welcoming advice is part of the Safety Guides’ unwritten reputation — sure, they can help you find Pier 6 or the best crab cake in the Harbor, but they also provide a sense of safety to the area.

Lee’s always ready for anything, during our conversation his eyes were constantly scanning his surroundings half making sure things were in order, the other half of his brain making sure everyone in the area was safe and having a good time.

“You can’t duck and dodge down here,” Lee says, continuing to scan the area and nod at passersby while talking about the locals he’s come to know in the area, to all the various people from all walks of life he’s met in between. Full of stories from meeting a prince to making sure a woman didn’t get her phone stolen, it’s clear that Lee is far from just a walking GPS: he’s the eyes and ears of The Harbor.

“My job is to Observe, Record, & Report,” Lee explains. It’s obvious Lee doesn’t simplify his job to just that; Lee patrols the area with one main goal in mind: help whoever he can with whatever assistance they may need. Of course that comes across broad, but after talking with Lee it was evident within just our first encounter that this goal is entirely genuine.

“Where I come from in life to now, instead of taking from this world I’m giving to it. Every time I engage with a person, they’re going to walk away smiling,” he explains, “If I get a reading on you that you’re approachable I’m going to do whatever I can to leave a smile on your face.”

Before meeting Lee I hadn’t really considered how as a local I could benefit from talking to a Waterfront Guide outside of meeting someone new. As Lee walked me to my car parked over in “The Shark Tank,” (walking escorts being yet another resource I had no idea Safety Guides provided) — the sense of community and safety that the Guides have created, taking from their own experiences and putting all of that into their work, was inspiring.

“Everything I gave away I got back,” Lee smiles before heading off towards the heart of Harbor East, just as it began to rain, “everyday I come here I look forward to coming here.”

By Kelly Louise Barton