Monday, March 16, 2009

Overheard in Baltiless II

I'm waiting in a lobby with a heavily pregnant young lady, her two children- both very loud, both under seven- and her mother. Though at first, I try to chill out and focus on my book, between the antics of the family across from me and CNN blaring on the TV, I quickly give up. Evidently, the mother and grandmother are avid followers of current events, because when Obama appears on TV, both begin excitedly hollerin' "There's Obammy! There's Obammy!" The children eagerly join in the chant and, in his glee, the boy knocks over a chair and rolls around on the floor. When they show a shot of Biden, the mother astutely notices the cross marked on his forehead for Ash Wednesday. After puzzling over this for a few minutes, she and the grandmother eventually determine that it's probably a birthmark, but maybe a burn.

As her daughter industriously rips the leaves off of a potted plant and throws them onto the floor, mere et fils begin discussing one of the youngsters in his class, a young man named Eggnog. Her son is intrigued by this name (as am I) and wants to know what it means; fortunately his mother has the inside scoop. "Eggnog is a drink, and his mom named him that because that's what she was drinking when he was born."

By way of answer, her son notices something floating in his cup of soda, and upends the entire thing onto the carpet.

Confidential to the literate population: I don't care what your thoughts are on zero population growth. Please reproduce. We need you.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

File under: Pictures that I will hate myself for the rest of my life for not taking; Baltiless entrepreneurship

For several weeks, every day on the way to work, I passed by a certain telephone pole with an unusual professionally-printed sign attached to it. Every day, I swore I'd remember my camera and take a picture tomorrow. Alas, one day the sign was removed before I got a picture. Here is a re-creation, text verbatim:

No title needed! Wow! How convenient! This will be totally sweet for all those times I impulsively decide to sell my car and don't feel like going home to get the title!

Is there a legit application that I'm missing?

NB: The phone number is a fabrication, apologies to any interested parties.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Baltimore: The city that needs to be burnt to the ground

...don't forget to salt the earth.

With thanks to Mac for the hot tip!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A reminder: Today is JB's birthday bash at Melba's place

At a store in The Greatest Shopping District in America, not too far from Melba's place actually, a woman and I stood side by side browsing a display. She picked up a pair of earrings off the $0.85 rack and turned towards me.

"I always buy real jewelry for everything else, but not earrings." I just nodded. Not to be mean-spirited, but I had never seen more hair on a woman's face in my life, and it was really quite distracting.

She continued, "My grandson, every time he comes over, he eats one, guaranteed." I noticed that her bristly mustache half obscured her upper lip.

Either she didn't notice my involuntary staring or she was used to it and just kept speaking "He don't touch nothing else, but the first thing he does whenever he comes over is run straight into my room and eat an earring. And always only one out of a pair, just one!"

The hair on her cheeks was long enough that it almost looked soft. I forced my eyes away.

"So now I get gold on the rest of my jewelry and such, but I given up on nice earrings."

With that, she grabbed a handful of earrings and headed towards the register, leaving me wondering just how old her grandson is.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Overheard in Baltiless

So, uh, you got any plans for, like, a month from now?

How do you measure the spirit of a city? What metric is there that can record the collective temperament and mood? To my knowledge, there is none better than overheard conversations. Especially in Baltiless, the insight these afford into the human condition.. and hygiene.. is both profound and uncanny.

These four vignettes reveal more about life in Baltiless than any statistic.

Three women meandered across a busy street together. The ear-splitting volume coupled with the rapid-fire pace of the conversation made it nearly impossible to understand, but that may have been for the best. One of the women, prepared to make her point. Three feet from the median, she stopped dead in her tracks for emphasis and shouted "Sometime big girls, they don't know how to wash they pussy! And that shit get naaaaaaasty!"

The bus driver stubbed out his cigarette and headed towards the bus to begin his route. People started to stand up and amble over but one of the passengers-to-be, an antsy, excitable, be-ponytailed man, lunged right to the door, pushed the driver aside, and managed to be first onto the bus. The driver muttered "You're so excited, maybe I oughta just let you drive." Shouting over his shoulder as he raced to the back of the bus, the man answered "I WOULD, except they took away my license!"

Little girls, they grow up so fast! From a conversation about parenting: "My daughter, she wanna get nails longer'n mine, and i says 'you don't even wipe your cootie right half the time, what you want nails for?' Know what I'm sayin'?"

Driving through a neighborhood one night, I found myself in the midst of the very definition of hootin' and hollerin' and carryin' on. A young lady of the night pranced back in forth in the street, blowing kisses to and shaking her thang at every man she passed. The people sitting on their stoops were all yelling at her, and she just smiled and waved right back. I sat at a traffic light, watching, and finally I understood what they were shouting. "Hey pretty lady! Hey pretty lady!" A tiny gray-haired old woman elaborated, hollering "Hey pretty lady! I want you to come over here but I ain't got no money!" before collapsing in laughter.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

More from the people who brought you "Safe and Reliable"

This city has many, many problems, but it also has a bright spot: the metro. Some preliminary research reveals that many Baltilessors were surprised to learn that there even is a metro here, let alone a world-class system. Prepare to be stunned, because right beneath your feet sprawls a truly remarkable transit system, running from Columbia Town Center to Hunt Valley, from I-70 to Martin State Airport, etc etc.

The schema, approved in 2002, coincidentally bears a striking resemblance to DC's, the final leg of which was completed in 2001.

That's where the similarities end. The Washington DC Metro serves two states and our nation's capital with a combined population of 4.4 million, all with 5 puny lines and 106.3 miles of track. On the other hand, the population of Baltiless is 600,000, shrinking with every murder. Even the crabs are bailing out. With stats like that, it's plainly obvious that this is a bustling metropolis full of sophisticated, industrious commuters who clearly need a vast underground mass transit system, one that's superior to DC, Chicago and Philadelphia.

Wait, what?

Turns out this is just the proposed metro line, approved by the Maryland Department of Transportation. These are the same people who endeavor to build a train station around some actively running Amtrak tracks next to the extant Travel Plaza*. By 2050. Does the local government intentionally cultivate this kind of cognitive dissonance or is it due to the tainted water?

No, I'm afraid the metro system here begins and ends with a single line. A lifetime Baltiless resident told me that they built the single line with the intention of building more if people rode it, but unfortunately I've been unable to source that. The metro features 15.5 miles of track with 14 stops, and is an excellent mode of transit as long as you're planning on going somewhere between Owings Mills and Johns Hopkins Hospital. Also, as long as you're planning on going Monday-Saturday, because the Greatest Metro in America doesn't run on Sunday.

Obviously I needed to experience this for myself. With the intention of seeing as many passengers as possible, I chose to visit on a beautiful warm Saturday afternoon and hopped on at the Charles Center stop- near the Inner Harbor, the popular Gallery Shopping Center and several other attractions.

You see only person in the station? My assistant. Looks like those other lines won't be built anytime soon.

After buying my ticket, I tried to enter the station. Every single turnstile had a red "do not enter/out of order" sign on it. There was no one in the attendant booth. The place was abandoned. With no other option, I just gave an apathetic Baltiless shrug and entered.

There were actually three or four people waiting on the platform downstairs. Who knows how long they'd been there. Suddenly, blue police lights flashed on the walls. An alarm sounded. If you've ever seen a prison movie, you've heard this alarm. When you hear it, your instincts plunge you right into the action. There's a riot in cell block G and the warden is out of his league. Lockdown! But it's too late! The warden has no choice but to entomb the whole thing with 900 tons of concrete**. That's what this kind of alarm tells you. I tried to come to terms with my impending death.

I was at about the 4th stage of the Kubler-Ross model (I was able to accelerate the process due to nearly two years of the daily grief caused by life in Baltiless) when a train pulled into the station. Totally sans concrete. Evidently, Baltiless City had some lights left over after installation of the BELIEVE cameras on the streets and some alarms left over after construction of the prison and they decided they might as well just slap 'em on into the metro.

And then train ride.... wasn't actually that bad. True, my standards were very, very low - I'd been expecting feral children with flaming brands fighting rabid dogs in the tunnels, with the occasional unidentifiable corpse being gnawed on by giant mutant rats - but none of that happened! I could have been on any sub-par unused metro anywhere. I rode it to Owings Mills and back, waiting for the other shoe to drop, but if (when) it did, it happened after I'd left.

To get out of the station, you have to swipe your card again, just like in DC. Except it makes sense in DC because the fare varies by distance traveled, whereas it's a flat rate in Baltiless. Hey, why the hell not? Makes sense to me. Confidential to Baltiless and MDOT: Next time you copy off DC's paper, at least be a little more discrete.

Want to go?
There are 13 convenient stations to choose from! Note: there are no connections to light rail, Amtrak, MARC, BWI Airport, or the bus depot. Give it another 42 years and try again.

*AKA the "TR L PL Z ", as the sign actually reads
**Actually, that's a pretty good plan for Baltiless too.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Let Freedom Ring

The 4th of July. Cook-outs. Patriotism. Long summer nights. And of course, fireworks. For over 200 years, citizens of all ages have celebrated the Declaration of Independence with spectacular displays of pyrotechnics. Or in Baltiless, a fusillade of bullets.

As we sipped coffee on the sidewalk, we overheard a young woman on her cell phone and realized that not everyone had enjoyed the same lavish city-sponsored entertainment that we did.

She nonchalantly said that she'd wanted to see the fireworks, but hadn't been able to. In the same tone of voice you or I would reserve for talking about neighbors having a loud party or a pizza delivery that never arrived, she complained that everyone on her street had been shooting guns out of the houses all night, so she hadn't been able to see anything.

"Idiots" she muttered.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Friday, May 9, 2008

Baltiless Crime Map

The last 6 months have seen a precipitous drop in the murder rate, and it seems like everyone's patting themselves on the back over it. But do those stats actually impress anyone outside of city hall and The Baltimore Sun? Sure, officially, murders to date have decreased by 1/3 compared to 2007 (67 now vs 105 at this time last year). If one's in a charitable mood, the best that can be said about these numbers is that they seem a bit.. um.. optimistic. The sad reality is that's it's probably just business as usual in good ol' Bodymore, Murdaland.

As prophetic as The Wire has proven to be again and again and again, isn't it about time they started kicking in the doors of the vacants?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Hypothesis

In the better part of three decades of teeth ownership, I hadn't had a single cavity. Almost exactly a year after moving here, I developed two. Now, seven more months down the road, I'm up to five!

I ain't saying it's something in the water, but then again I ain't saying it ain't.

PS: I initially went to the Greatest Dentist in America, who just-so-happens to have a practice in Baltimore. He treated me to a horrific Baltiless-style ordeal involving Novocaine injections that paralyzed my eyelids without numbing my mouth and fillings that fell out less than a week later. I now attend to all serious business, including dental work, outside city limits.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Truth in Advertising

"BELIEVE". "The greatest city in America". "Get in on it". They couldn't pick just one slogan, so they got the valu-pak. City council's tipsy with blind optimism, but that's not reflected in the business climate. People are much more pragmatic when it's their own money on the line.

Advertising is a great example. Billboards are a reflection of the perceived worth, interests and purchasing power of their viewers. In
order to characterize the perceived
worth of the Baltiless consumer (black market excluded), I paid attention to the billboards I see on my 14 mile round-trip commute through the heart of Baldamer city on a given day.

Instead of replacing the damaged ad for food stamps, they just put a new one up next to it. This is what the pros call "market saturation".

They fell into four general categories. n=26.

PSAs: 38%
Posting a PSA means the ad agency has just given up. Trying to rent the space out isn't even worth their while. Baltiless advertising companies have found advertising in Baltiless isn't worth their while 38% of the time. Instead, the area's blanketed with messages about everything from abstinence to donate-a-boat-to-charity campaigns. And thus, the people are educated, minds are opened, citizens are empowered and lives are changed. Right?

Gambling and alcohol: 11.5%
On the date surveyed, coverage of these hobbies was unusually light. Odd, when you consider it's one of the few products that might actually interest the residents.

Funeral homes: 15%
In any other city, this would be bizarre. I'd never seen a funeral home billboard before moving here. Nevertheless, they've been springing up lately and on 14 miles of road, there are four (4!) of them. What with the recent down-tick in murders, they must really be struggling to stay afloat

Commercial: 34%
Actual commercial websites, for actual goods and services (unrelated to death or intoxication). Only 34%. Even of these, two of them are leftover from events that happened months ago. Evidently, there's not much demand for that real estate.

She looks on, mildly surprised, as half her head is torn off.

Content is only one symptom. It's the signs themselves that clinch the nomination for Greatest Outdoor Advertising in America. Perhaps they make the paper out of hilariously substandard material. Maybe it's due to the toxic haze permeating the city. Maybe it's a combination of the two. Either way, that shit don't stay up.

Soon after being posted, sometimes even within the week, the paper begins to crease and tear,
finally peeling off in strips. As it sloughs off, it reveals and adds to the ghostly decoupage left behind by all the other billboards that peeled off before their time. It's like removing old wallpaper, except wallpaper is more durable.

My goodness, what an eyesore! Surely the company who posted the billboard cares? Or maybe the company featured on the billboard? Perhaps the owner of the billboard space? Local merchants and residents? Civic boosters? The answer is No. No one cares. The end.

The message: the only way to get a low rate on car insurance in Baltiless is to not have a car.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Return of the Revenge of the Son of Lord of the Flies

Shorties takin' over.

One of Baltimore's largest employers values the safety and security of the employees. They do this by aggressively opening offices outside of Baltimore. Unfortunately, most of the employees are still condemned to living a half-life of toil and terror, earning their paycheck in Charm City. All they get is a lousy crime bulletin in their email.

In the span of 30 hours, security sent out three bulletins about three separate robberies involving youths of 8 to 14 years of age. All occurred after school hours- good to know that elementary and middle-schoolers in Bawlmer City are applying themselves both as scholars and entrepreneurs.

The alerts (slightly anonymized):

Attempt Armed Robbery

WHERE: 800 block of Rutland Ave.

WHEN: Monday, February 4, 2008; approximately 5:40 p.m.

HOW: An employee was walking to his vehicle (which was parked on
the 900 block of Rutland Ave.) and talking on the cell phone when he
was approached by six African-American male juveniles, two of which
were armed with knives and demanded his cell phone. A Public Safety Officer observed
what was happening, responded and shouted to the juveniles which
caused them to run without obtaining the cell phone. The juveniles ran
into the Target City development.

WANTED: 6 African American Males, between 8-14 years of age. No
further description.

Attempted Armed Robbery

WHERE: 1600 Block E. Madison Street at N. Broadway

WHEN: Tuesday, February 5, 2008; approximately 7:00 p.m.

HOW: An employee was walking westbound on the north side of E.
Madison at Broadway when two juveniles approached him. One of the
juveniles displayed a knife and demanded money. The victim refused to
comply and continued to walk westbound. The suspects fled the area.

WANTED: 2 African American Males, between 8-14 years of age; wearing
dark hoods and dark pants. No further description.

Armed Robbery

WHERE: 1600 Block E. Madison Street at N. Broadway

WHEN: Tuesday, February 5, 2008; approximately 10:35 p.m.

HOW: A student was walking westbound on the north side of E.
Madison at Broadway when 6 to 8 juveniles approached him. One
juvenile displayed a knife and demanded money. An unknown juvenile
pulled the victim's wallet from his rear pocket and the victim grabbed
it, ultimately giving them his cash ($40.00). The suspects fled
westbound on E. Madison Street. The victim went home and called the
Baltimore City Police Department which took a report.

WANTED: 6 to 8 African American males, between 8-15 years of age;
wearing dark hoods and dark pants. No further description.

As a side note, what the hell is wrong with a town that would make them think naming a housing project "Target City" could possibly be a good idea?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Beating the traffic cops at their own game

Now and then, I enjoy taking my life in my own hands and riding a commuter shuttle to work. The afternoon passengers are typically weary workers with spirits crushed by life in Baltiless but the ride to work is more raucous. The driver told me once that methadone maintenance patients ride that route in the mornings in order to get to the clinic first thing.

One young lady was using the ride to finish her morning toilette, including applying a coat of heavy makeup in a minibus that's hurtling over the Crappiest Roads in America. The effect was....stunning. Eventually, she finished getting all dressed up for the clinic, and joined in on the hootin' and hollerin' and carryin' on, to use a favorite phrase of my grandma's.

On this particular day, the conversation had turned to DUI convictions. Most people seemed to have them, often coupled with charges of reckless driving and/or driving without a license. They wondered how to get out of them, and how on earth they could possibly avoid them. How indeed, readers?

Our protagonist had a suggestion. "Last time I was pulled over for a DUI, the cop let me off because I was pregnant."

Friday, February 8, 2008

Ace of Cakes

One beautiful Baltiless morning, I was walking from one building to another on my employer's campus. On a tray, I was carrying a styrofoam cooler with a test tube rack sticking out of the top, some pipets and some vials of liquid. In short, it looked pretty much exactly like a science experiment, which it was, and pretty much nothing like something to eat, which it was not.

A disheveled elderly man was walking towards me down the sidewalk. His face was red, his gray hair yellowed and sticking up in all directions. His massive grin displayed most of his remaining teeth. As I approached, he began to grin even more widely and slowed from an amble to a slow wander. Soon he had stopped walking entirely and stood directly in front of me, looking me full in the face with an ecstatic grin. What could I do? I paused too.

He cheerfully announced "I watch that show, Ace of Cakes!"

I answer "Oh really?", attempting to convey surprise, dismay, profound disinterest and l'esprit du please-leave-me-alone while also making him aware that he was breaching social etiquette, all in just two words. It didn't seem to work.

"Yeah! Do you?" he asked. I was forced to admit that I did not. "Well, I watch that show" he explained enthusiastically, "and I thought you was carryin' one-a them fancy cakes, but now I see you ain't." The excitement was palpable.

I acknowledged that I ain't and started walking again. He remained in place as I passed and turned to watch me go, carrying my fancy cake.

Monday, December 31, 2007

The appropriate reaction re: Baltiless

From a friend being exposed to Baltiless for the first time: "If Baltimore were a SimCity file, I would just delete it."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

There are no words.

Actually, there are three words. What. The. Fuck.

Addendum 12/31/07: After a year and a half's residency in The Greatest City, my surprise at any incident of random violence reveals my naivete. Here's a clip from The Baltimore Sun about the rest of the month aboard the city buses.
"The Dec. 4 attack on Sarah Kreager was the first of four violent incidents this month aboard MTA buses. Two passengers on a No. 64 bus in Brooklyn were attacked by five men Dec. 10. Eight days later, a girl was stabbed in the arm on a No. 51 bus near Mondawmin Mall. And on Dec. 26, a 14-year-old boy was shot and wounded on a bus in West Baltimore."

From the same article, the mother of one of the attackers reacts to her son's house arrest and revocation of his bus pass, following his participation in a beating that left a woman with broken facial bones and other severe injuries, as well as destroying several seats aboard a city bus.

"This is too much," she said. "These kids are young and under a lot of peer pressure. I believe my child, so yes, I believe it was [Kreager's] fault."
Yes, peer pressure. That, and PCP in the water supply.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Division of Labor

Everyone knows that security guards are basically ineffectual. They don't have power of arrest. They don't carry guns. Still, seeing them makes you feel a little better, because you know that there's someone there dedicated to maintaining law and order. Someone who may not intervene in a crime, but you hope they'll dial 9-1-1 at least. I should have learned by now: there is no hope in Baltiless.

Rite-Aid's checkout line had snaked past the magazine rack, past the line of cash registers left unmanned while the employees shot up in the bathroom, and into the make-up aisle, but that doesn't deter the woman at the head of the line. She was determined to buy some vodka with her hard-earned food stamps. For once, it would seem, the customer was not always right, but damned if the cashier could convince her of that. We weren't going anywhere for awhile.

Fortunately, the security guard was telling stories and keeping us entertained. He'd been working the night before, and started telling us highlights from his shift.

He points out the window. "Right across the street, some guy got stabbed! Bam! Right in the chest!"

Good start.

"And the guy that did it? He just sits himself right down in that chair here. Just sits there and looks at everyone. "

"Daaaaaaaaaayum," someone in the crown murmured. "That's a natural born criminal."

"Oh hell yeah he is" agrees the guard. "He just sit there, watchin', just lookin' at everyone that goes by, tryin-a tell which of 'em's gonna snitch."

Someone asks "So what did you do?"

"I didn't do shit! Aw hell no. I'm the guard for Rite-Aid. I work on this corner, not over there. I ain't pullin' out my phone and callin' no cops with this bitch starin' at me. I ain't gettin' mixed up in that shit."

People in the crowd nod. This cat's got it together, they think. He's a natural-born security guard.

He continues his story. "So eventually the cops show up. Ambulance takes the guy away. Guy that did it still just sittin' in that chair, watching everything and don't nobody say a word. Cops go 'round, ask everybody, but don't nobody know nothin'. After awhile the cops leave, and the guy just gets up and walks off. Cops don't know a thing. And daaaaaaayum I ain't gonna tell 'em neither."

"What if I get into some mess sometime, and I wind up in the clink, and the guy sees me and says 'you're the asshole that snitched on me'? Hell no, I ain't gettin' all up in that."

Saturday, July 7, 2007

It's a free country

It was a dreary afternoon on the forth of July, and I was waiting in an endless series of stoplights on MLK. I had dissociated from reality to an extent due to the excruciating boredom of being stuck in The Greatest Traffic Pattern in America, which is why I didn't consciously pay attention to the honking at first.

The light changed and we pulled up to the 23rd consecutive red light. Suddenly I noticed the sound and realized it'd been going on for some time now. After rounding a slight curve approaching the 24th red light, it finally became apparent what all the fuss was about.

There was a car stopped on the light rail tracks, blocking the path of the oncoming train. At this point, the train had pulled up to within a few feet of the car, but the driver was having none of it. In fact, it was the driver, not the conductor, wailing the bejeezus out of his horn.

Because, seriously people, wtf is that train doing on those tracks in the first place? And why the conductor gotta be like that? He needs to chill out and just go around or something. But no. The conductor was dead-set on going down those tracks and he turned out to be even more stubborn than the driver of the car.

The driver finally acceded defeat, but the American people are known for their scrappy "can do" attitude, and their dogged individualism, their anti-authoritarianism and willingness to break the rules if that's what it takes. No one embodies that attitude better than The Greatest Drivers in America.

Instead of slinking past the barrier in front of him to finish crossing the tracks like some damn Frenchman, the driver celebrated the American Way by heroically slamming the car into reverse and proudly backing off the tracks, going the wrong way into oncoming traffic.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

In Baltiless, even the shorties are against you

Worry not loyal readers, for we did not succumb to Baltiless' many charms.

But the cards may be stacked against us, as is demonstrated by the following email, sent out by our building security staff. The text is verbatim, although the employer is hidden to avoid further retribution.

It's like Lord of the Flies, except the children don't even bother attacking each other anymore.


Friday, June 15, 2007
9:45 a.m.


Rear of Dunbar Middle School near Central Avenue

African American Male
10-13 Years of Age

DESCRIPTION OF INCIDENT: A male staff member parked his car off campus in the 700 block of Central Avenue and began walking eastbound through the area to the rear of Dunbar Middle School. He was struck in the back of the head with a rock by a juvenile who then fled. Staff members are advised to contact Security immediately if they see any suspicious persons or activity.

Monday, April 16, 2007

What would you do for a Red Bull?

The sheer horror that is life in the greatest city in America took a turn for the personal today. After a morning spent reading Baltiless crime logs and The Baltimore Sun (same thing), I went out to my car to discover that the rear passenger window had been smashed. The perpetrator had helpfully left the cinderblock he'd used in the back seat to allay any confusion about what might have happened.

Surprisingly, the car was still there. All the electronics were still intact. It appears our nighttime forager hadn't allowed himself to be distracted by those other temptations- he'd kept his eyes on the prize
and it had paid off. For his troubles, he scored some loose change and- here's the kicker- a can of sugar-free Red Bull.

Double-fisting a treasure trove like that, is it any wonder he hung up his cinder block and quit for the night?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007


It's Saturday night, about 20 minutes before closing time, and we're standing in the check-out line at the grocery store. The clerk makes it clear that our presence is the ONLY thing preventing her from clocking out, and she's deeply resentful as a result.

She starts to scan the final item of the man in line in front of us- a bunch of leeks. "What's this?" she demands. He just shrugs. He had no idea what he was buying.

Exasperated,she complains "This happened earlier too, and just little ol' me, no one here to help." Seeing the potential for major Charm City-style inconvenience and naively hoping to avert it, I helpfully offer "I think they're called 'leeks'".

"Leafs?" (sic) she snaps, and starts flipping through a price list. "I don't see no leafs. What section would they be under?".
"You could check under 'onions'. Also, I think it's spelled L-E-E-K-S."
She continues flipping through the booklet. "A million damn onions here, and no leafs."

I give up. It's clear trying to help will get me nowhere.. The clerk moves on to a picture book of common fruits. This goes on for awhile as she gets increasingly frustrated. Something finally catches her eye.

"Green leaf lettuce. That's the only leafs I see so that's what I'm ringing it up as." The buyer, who hasn't said a word this whole time, shrugs again and the transaction is complete.

Everytime I go to grocery store in Baltiless, a little part of me dies.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Free ride

The bus pulls up to the stop and everyone begins to file on, just like usual. This time however, the driver's not scanning passes, just cheerfully waving everyone past. Confused, I try to deposit my fare anyway but she blocks my hand and waves me past too.

"Everyone just go ahead and go on. I owe y'all for yesterday" the driver explains.

I wasn't actually on the bus yesterday but believe me when I tell you I'd have happily paid the $1.60 fare to find out why I didn't have to.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Baltiless Field Trip #1, Part II

After passing "STOP HERE FUCKER", we quickly realized we were out of our depth. We followed a trail of abandoned shoes (multiple pairs), snack wrappers, liquor bottles and other assorted detritus until all of a sudden, we realized: we were in somebody's house!

The living room. Note the bike against the far wall.

The bedroom. We agreed that there was pretty much nothing in the world that could induce us to go open one of those coolers.

Yep, there was a lot of stuff under there.

Needless to say, the stench of urine was enough to make your eyes water. While we had no idea where the denizens were, we were glad that they weren't there. What with the cornucopia of purses, bikes, and possibly most sinister of all, empty shoes, we had a very bad feeling about them.

Carroll Park is just as great for cycling as advertised! Unfortunately, it looks like someone accidentally left his or her bike behind in the flood zone.

Eventually, we reached the definitive end of the path. Why definitive? Well, the asphalt had broken off and fallen down the slope into the stream, dragging the handrail with it. This seemed as good a time as any to turn around.

We put a little spring into our step as we made our way back to the trail head, and with good reason- it was getting on towards 1pm, a little closer to dusk than we really wanted to be there. When we emerged back into the sunshine, we noticed pieces of paper stuck to walls and posts and even scattered on the ground. We approached to take a closer look. What a pleasant surprise. Some generous soul had taken it into his (or her!) heart to share his (or her!) porn collection with everyone. The donor had been thorough too. The area was saturated. Appropriately, even the lovely sign with the colorful map and richly illustrated history of the park was obscured by a layer of porn. It was time to leave.

Who doesn't love a little bit of AZN PR0N?

We made it back to the car, shocked and awed. The thing is, as gristly as it was, this wouldn't have been so out of the norm for Charm City... except this was a park. A park with its own web page. A park featuring professional graphic design skillz on the map and "history of" sign at the entrance. I've never seen anything less like a park in my life.. but they even advertise this thing! Apparently, this is standard operating mode here in The Greatest City. Relentless boosterism with zero connection to reality in the face of utter devastation. At that point, the pathos becomes a little bit hilarious too.

Want to go?
Carroll Park
1500 Washington Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21230-1727

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Baltiless Field Trip #1

A first foray into America's greatest recreation opportunity brings us to Carroll Park. Carroll Park is part of the Gwynn Falls Trail, making it part of a "unique urban hiking" experience. According to the appealing, professionally-designed website, this is a place where:
local residents and visitors are able to bike, hike, roller blade, fish in the stream, picnic, watch for birds and other wildlife, undertake environmental education activities, find solitude and enjoy nature, host community festivals and meet friends and neighborhood residents along the Trail.

Sounds great, right? Let's go! A fact worth mentioning: Carroll Park, "unique" "scenic" and "culturally significant" as it is, is located in the heart of scenic and culturally significant Pigtown, a neighborhood which has now been redesignated "Washington Village" by the city's urban renewal program. Amazing what having an urban hiking experience in your midst can do to turn a horrible neighborhood around, I guess.

The sign at the entrance of Carroll park. So, uh, is that a desired feature?

My urban hiking companion and I packed a little picnic lunch and set off. The place was special. I'll say that. It started off prosaic enough- an asphalt path meandering along the banks of babbling brook, trees and bushes festooned with colorful blossoms, the wind sighing overhead... except the brook was fetid and far too litter-choked to babble, the blossoms were actually tangles of shopping bags and trash, and the sighs of the wind in the boughs were actually the sighs of 18-wheelers speeding down the highway, which was actually overhead, because Carroll Park is uniquely located under a I-95 overpass.

Nature in all her glory.

Sometimes it's just so great to get away from it all.

It was about this time that we ran into our first fellow citizen, a man taking advantage of the pristine conditions to try to catch what would almost certainly be some very unique fish.

So this is where lake trout comes from!

It's true; given the location, we were a little bit terrified of anyone who was either oblivious, badass or desperate enough that he'd consider eating anything they came out of that water, but we had nothing to fear. As we approached, he looked up from the incongruous Sunny D juice box he was nursing (there were several more at his feet) and gave us a big toothless greeting. A genuinely friendly guy.

The lure of the open road...

As we hiked, we came across all kinds of culturally significant and scenic items. A fancy purse hanging on a branch about 10 ft off the ground, for instance. Oh, and here are a couple more. Could this be where the ladies of Pigtown bring their valuables for safekeeping?

A park that's fun for the whole family!

Soon after, we crossed the threshold between Baltiless and Baltileast. This was easily discerned by the warning spray painted onto the path before us: "STOP HERE FUCKER". Beyond that the path had been washed out, probably by a storm surge of industrial waste and raw sewage. (Even more) ill at ease, we picked our way across the foul mud until the path started up again.

To be Cont'd...

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Sunday Stroll

The scene: a warm Sunday afternoon, strolling on the sidewalk on one of Baltiless' self-designated "Main Streets". I'm with a friend of mine who's visiting from Brooklyn. While he'd certainly seen Baltiless in action, I'm don't think he fully grokked the situation yet. That was quickly remedied.

In the distance, we could hear the buzz of a small engine. That buzz got closer and closer, louder and louder until, all of a sudden, we realized ohmygoditsrightbehindus!! We literally had to leap to either side of the sidewalk to avoid being mown down. A man on a motorcycle tore between us. We watched, stunned, as the man on the motorcycle sped up the sidewalk as far as the eye could see.

Our shock is instant proof that we are not native Baltilessors. In a city with a vibe that's apathetic almost to the point of hostility, who cares about a motorcycle doing 40 mph on the sidewalk?

Given the Baltilessian panache the biker had already displayed, I'd be shocked if the motorcycle wasn't abandoned on the side of the road by nightfall...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Monday, January 8, 2007

First murder of the New Year

Congratulations, Baltiless! The number of hours you made it into the new year without a murder (18.5) was greater than than the victim's age (17)! Good work... I guess?

NB: The Chinese restaurant pictured was not the murder scene. That said, Baltiless being the greatest city on Earth and all, it may have been the scene of untold others.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Free-Market Forces

Like any third-world city worth its salt, Baltiless' thriving underground/black market economy leaves its failing industrial economy in the lead paint-laced dust. As noted on by the city on their official fact sheet, it's the nation's heroin capitol and number 5 in cocaine. One can only imagine that the sole reason it lags in cocaine is the widespread abject poverty leaving cocaine out-of-reach for most Baltilessors.

Largely left to fend for themselves, Baltiless has spawned entrepreneurs who operate their businesses outside the Man's regulations and laws, accountable only to themselves, their customers and the gangs who shake them down for protection money.

I came one of the more innocent examples recently in the Waverly neighborhood. A hand-lettered sign propped against the wall of a gutted building that had formerly housed a restaurant read "Hey everybody! Lunch is served starting at 10am!" The menu had a column for side dishes at $1.00 each, including collards, mac & cheese and mashed potatoes. Entrees started at $4.00, including lake trout (of course) and fried chicken. The pies category had been crossed out. The bottom of the sign listed the number to call to place your order and the address of the house where you could pick it up. Sadly, despite the mouth-watering drawings, I was too short-sighted to actually try it. Apparently their business model failed, because I haven't seen it since.

Falling in the mysterious-and-highly-mobile category is a delivery truck I saw parked in the center of an intersection, pulled up alongside the median. A cardboard sign read "YES! We are OPEN!" One could walk up a ramp into the back of the truck to engage in god-only-knows-what kind of business. Whatever it was though, it was good times all around. Meat smoked on a grill they'd set up in the center of the median strip and Mylar streamers fluttered between a jaunty, Corona logo'd beach umbrella and the entrance to the trunk. There were actually several people milling around, apparently waiting for their turn in the truck.

The above may smack of scrappy, can-do, Horatio Alger-esque free enterprise, but other parts of the Baltiless shadow economy are more sinister, much to the gentle readers' surprise. The eastern outskirts of Baltiless are a preview of post-apocalyptic desolation. It's home to defunct factories, some light industry, potholes that could eat your car... and that's about it. One of the more lively intersections features an abandoned factory surrounded by a tall razor wire fence on one corner, a junk yard across the street, and out of nowhere, a row of houses on the remaining corner. Mind you only one of these houses is actually inhabited, but its residents keep busy. You see, they are just really, really into home electronics- stereos, VCRs, DVD players, TVs- you name it! When they get tired of the ones they have, they sell 'em off and buy some new ones. No problem! So every 6 weeks or so, they have a gigantic yard sale in front of their home. It's pretty amazing how much stuff they have. I mean, who'd have thought one household would need 7 TVs and 5 stereos? Or that, a month later, they'd have similar quantities to sell? They don't have the latest and greatest stuff, just the sort of equipment you'd expect to find in the average home. And they sure do buy a lot of it. Seems odd, but what else would explain why this small group of men in a shady area finds themselves with bulk quantities of home electronics to sell every couple of weeks...

Honestly, I really can't imagine why these people haven't been arrested yet, but maybe Baltiless' Finest like bargains just as much as the rest of us.

Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Drunk and Bleeding in Public

"Hey, dude- you know you're bleeding?" asked a nervous bus-rider.

That right there- public bleeding and ignorance thereof- is a major criterion I use when forming a first impression. Another is if they have a half-finished bottle of whiskey in their front shirt pocket. Half-finished at 8am. This guy had both. A gaunt scruffy redhead who appeared in his 50s was clinging to the hanging strap, lurching every time the bus did. Every time he fell into someone's lap, he apologized profusely and jovially.

Back to the blood though. There were numerous black spots on his hands and wrists, and blood was oozing out of several of them. Gangrene perhaps? Well, he certainly smelled bad enough.. The unfortunate passengers seated below him stared in dread at the dark droplets that shook off now and then. When a seat opened up next to me, the man genteely offered it to each passenger in the front of the bus, one at a time. When no one claimed the seat, he plopped down next to me.

Meanwhile, a young man exiting the bus noticed a streak of blood running down the shoulder of his snazzy, cream-colored suede jacket. He furiously opened his mouth to confront the guy, but after taking another look the man who had just bled on him, thought better of it and just filed away with his defiled jacket, glaring and with his hands balled into fists.

The man, who quickly introduced himself as Robert, immediately began regaling me with jokes and anecdotes about his life, both tragic and humorous. After 30 years away, he'd just returned to his hometown, to Hampden where he grew up. The neighborhood had changed so much he no longer recognized it, he said. Poignant/cliched as that sounds, he appeared to recognize very little of his surroundings in general. Robert cautioned me to never join the military, to never go to war because "it'll fuck you up. You'll never be the same." There'd been good times too in the military though. When he was stationed in Saudi Arabia, there had been no booze available for obvious reasons. He reminisced "We made us up some moonshine in these big barrels and boy did we get FUCKED UP! When we got caught, we got our asses beat, but it sure was fun while it lasted."

As the bus ride progressed (and it was about 45 min long, so we had plenty of time to get acquainted), he revealed more and more of his life to me. There were sad stories about estranged family and sad stories about the friends he watched die in Vietnam, all liberally sprinkled with jokes. He knew a lot of jokes. An awful lot of jokes. A lot of awful jokes. Robert's attention span was short, he was easily confused, and he delighted in looking at women. Any woman. Someone's portly grandmother hauled herself down the aisle. Due to her girth, she clocked him in the head with one of her hips. He was thrilled and turned to holler after her "Oh honey, you can come sit on my shoulder any time!" as well as a few similar suggestions. Nothing obscene, just puzzling. Chuckling, Robert admitted that he just couldn't help himself with the ladies.

I pulled out my phone to text my balti-blogging co-conspirator with an "omgz you won't believe who's sitting next to me on the bus!!!1" message. Robert thought my phone was just about the funniest thing he'd ever seen. He guffawed, shaking his head, and intently watched me texting, finally laughing "What's the matter, honey? Can't you get that funny-looking camera of yours to work??"

After another slug of whiskey, he matter-of-factly explained that he was on his way to rehab after being confronted by some friends the night before, and that he had no idea where said rehab clinic was, just that it was on this bus line. A collective effort on the part of several passengers got him where he needed to go. I sincerely hope that, in addition to sobering up, he got those sores looked at.

Confidential to the guy with the besmirched suede jacket: just burn it. I mean, seriously. It's a total loss.