the baltimore blues
December 6, 2002 3:16 PM   Subscribe

At least this guy’s not giving up. "I can't quite figure out what's going on at 1704. From the landlord on down, they seem to have a pact with the devil. Other than the roof over there, every other aspect of that building is wrong. Everything. 1704 is a malignancy killing this whole block." Amazing documentation of someone not afraid to take a stand in Baltimore. (more inside)
posted by _sirmissalot_ (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Baltimore is a city that will break your heart. Although I recently moved away, I lived there for many years and always felt there was something gloriously beautiful and tragic about the place. It’s like one huge dysfunctional family living in a broken-down palace. You feel like you belong. I survived muggings, break-ins, transvestite prostitutes and drug dealers taking over my Mount Vernon block, even shootings on my doorstep—and never wanted to leave. Eventually I had to.

This guy is fighting back, though, and I wish I could say I had had the same guts. It’s worth noting that the Bolton Hill neighborhood where he lives is renowned for it’s beautiful 19th century row houses and was once home to Baltimore’s elite, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Woodrow Wilson. (Front page link comes via the great Mobtown Shank, a Baltimore-centric weekly e-zine.)
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 3:20 PM on December 6, 2002 [1 favorite]

I used to live on Madison Ave. in the 1400 block. We had an open-air drug market down the corner. I was always too afraid of retaliation and never did anything about it--they didn't bother me, I didn't bother them. I have a lot of respect for what this guy's doing, wish I'd had the cojones.
posted by Tholian at 3:36 PM on December 6, 2002

Absolutely incredible. This guy has got real courage.

They still need money to pay for the substation parking pad. Seems like a great opportunity to give a little back. I'll be sending a check for a few bucks back east...

Please make your check payable to Charles Palmer Paving and send it along to us at 1708 Madison Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21217. We'll forward it to him directly.

- stigg
posted by stigg at 3:56 PM on December 6, 2002

(Holy crap, that was a big page. Opera says 2.3MB and it's still loading.) </snark>

I live in Baltimore, where I study at MICA, on the fringe of Bolton Hill. The neigborhood is right along North Ave., which is generally regarded as Baltimore's "tracks." (As in, "wrong side of the-") Being so close to the less-than-reputable neighborhoods on the other side of North Ave., muggings, break-ins, and drug dealing are regarded as not-uncommon occurrences in the area.

It's really sad to see a city with so much history going down the drain the way it is. Baltimore needs more people like this.
posted by brownpau at 4:00 PM on December 6, 2002

Happy homers at the piano craft guild in Boston tell some more stories of horrid living in the big city.
posted by whatzit at 4:03 PM on December 6, 2002

Real life version of The Wire. Scary!
posted by billsaysthis at 4:39 PM on December 6, 2002

Maybe someone can donate him some proper blogging manager software. Most of the entries should be on an archive page leaving just the most recent entries up front to load faster and save bandwidth.
posted by Eyegore at 8:20 PM on December 6, 2002

Hey! I used to rent a garage right there - in the alley between Eutaw and Madison. Apparently, it had a name (?!) - "Otis street". I fixed and rebuilt volkswagons there and, during the evening, swarms of rats would run from abandoned garages on one side of the alley ("Otis street") to abandoned garages on the other. Sometimes people would do target practice on those rats with air pistols.

I knew a comic who lived on the Eutaw side of the alley, who became a crackhead and used to rent his car out by the hour to dealers...

I hired, and became friends with a Maryland Institute student - a bouncer at the local heroin den bar - who made huge violent kinetic sculptures which did things like flail giant scythe blades in violent arcs. He did welding projects for me.

Sometimes, a malevolent, precociously hatefull kid of about 9, son of interracial (though "races" don't really exist according to biologists, I use that word as a convenience) couple on Madison would climb up on the abandoned garage roofs and taunt me and my volkswagon friends: "hippy boy...hippy boy...why don't you go back to your white trash homes..."

I would work, pointlessly, on fruitless Volkswagon restoration projects in the sweltering Baltimore heat while my landlords' henchman would dump garbage in the abandonded garages. A friend of mine, one summer, called him on this, one summer day, as the temperature topped 110 degrees or so in the alley. The henchman returned from his nextdoor apartment waving a Samurai sword around, saying "come fucker...come on". My friend was incredulous - "What? you want me to charge you so you can cut my head off with a sword?"...they worked it out: heat madness.

I had various "employees" at that garage (poorly paid), made love to a couple of different women there (door shut), and once did a clutch job on a Volkswagon bus and drove it home for a customer at 1 AM through an ice storm - succesfully, until I hit an unexpectedly unsalted downhill and slid down a side street, bus bouncing surrealistically s-l-o-w-l-y off parked cars in a row one by one until I jumped out, threw myself in front to try and stop the damn thing from sliding...finally a storm drain stopped it and I found myself observing, with curiosity, a woman leaving a taxi cab after a night out, heels and all, and attempting to crawl up the ice covered street. She would get ten feet up, then slide fifteen feet back...

I left that garage when I got held up back a half dozen kids at midnight, shotgun stuck in my mouth. Good thing they didn't check the wallet they stole - $4.

That was my Baltimore.
posted by troutfishing at 8:54 PM on December 6, 2002

My Baltimore of Madison Ave (near the gate to the park) was one of John Waters sightings (he lived up the block), the distinctive crunching of vials under one's feet in the morning, buses that would not stop for you (for fear of robbery), ladies of the night hanging out at the North Avenue Motel, the dead-zone between the JFX and Madison, police helicopters blasting the floodlights in the alleys and countless stories of children celebrating their 18th birthdays with an Enteman's cake, a candle and then a trip to the welfare office to renew their status as adults.

Hat's off to this guy. I'm gonna send him something.
posted by lampshade at 9:25 PM on December 6, 2002

I'm gonna stop complaining about where I live now.

I am always flabbergasted when I hear about how bad things have gotten in some cities, in America and elsewhere.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:26 PM on December 6, 2002

My parents just got through a year of waiting for a drug house to be closed down up the block from them, in the "worst" neighborhood in their small midwestern city -- surely a haven by comparison. But that city has legal means to go after landlords who let their properties be abused like this. In the end the only reason it took so long was the need for repeated visits by agents of a drug task force to gather evidence about as many of the crew as possible to make convictions.

But Baltimore, boy -- I wouldn't know where to begin.
posted by dhartung at 11:52 PM on December 6, 2002

Well, Blatimore has been working on ways to take back derelict buildings from neglectful absentee landlords, but they are having a tough time of it. Bolton Hill is actually a relatively nice neighborhood overall, which should tell you something about Baltimore as a whole. It is only so tragic because it is much more beautiful and historic than most of the other crappy parts of Baltimore. I used to live down Mt. Royal a little bit towards the Meyerhoff, but left a few years ago for the relative protection provided by the Johns Hopkins University safety patrols in Charles Villiage. Even so my apartment had been broken into twice in two years. I suppose in a 10% heroin addiction rate, it is hard to expect much more. It is good to know that some people are trying anyway.
posted by donkeymon at 2:15 AM on December 7, 2002

Great read troutfishing. I was born in and lived around Baltimore my whole life but somehow avoided those kinds of experience I guess you have to willfully put yourself there to experience it otherwise it might as well be a million miles away. Perhaps therein lies the problem.
posted by stbalbach at 5:58 AM on December 7, 2002

Great link, great thread. I lived in Baltimore until about 12 years ago, when I moved to Chicago. I still miss Baltimore a lot. _sirmissalot_ has captured the notion well-- I would bet most people who lived there feel the same way:

I lived there for many years and always felt there was something gloriously beautiful and tragic about the place.

posted by footballrabi at 6:41 AM on December 7, 2002

For the last week, I've been reading an amazing book about the Baltimore drug scene, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood. If you'd like to learn more about the de-evolution of a region because of the influence of the drug trade, I recommend it. One of the authors, David Simon, also wrote a book called Homicide about time spent with the Baltimore Homicide police officers, which was later adapted to the award-winning television series.
posted by poseur at 11:31 AM on December 7, 2002

I recently moved to Baltimore from Denver. I cannot even begin to list the ways in which the two differ. As I get acclimated, it's nice to see a something like this.

Actually, the sentiments most frequently echoed by ex-Baltimoreans that I have spoken with run along exactly these lines: "Heart-breaking and tragic." There seems to be the an air of decrepit grandeur. I can't help but think of the benches that proclaim Baltimore the "Greatest City in America."

What I really like about Baltimore is that it is honest about its problems. Unlike other cities that won't admit such difficulties, this town makes no bones about having a 10% incidence of heroin addiction and staggering poverty. Here, you can't ignore the problems that drug traffic and its consequent violence cause.

I guess the most horrific example of the issues facing Baltimore City's neighborhoods came with the fire that killed the Dawson Family. I was still in Denver at the time. I began to think there was no more difficult job than that of a Baltimore Cop.

It's terrible, because you can drive around and imagine how beautiful some of these neighborhoods could fact were. _sirmissalot_ is right - it's beautiful and it breaks your heart.
posted by Verdant at 2:15 PM on December 7, 2002

Baltimore is defiantly tragic, heart-breaking and fascinating all at the same time. I moved here from Portland Oregon, so the differences are quite pronounced. I spent four months on the Baltimore City Grand Jury, and let me tell you this place has problems. When I'm home, I realize what a luxury it is to be complaining about things like salmon runs being depleted instead of the fact that one out of every ten people are junkies.
posted by dipolemoment at 3:17 PM on December 9, 2002

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