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.