Monday, May 30, 2005

Baltimore, City of Angels

Foolishly leaving the Orioles-Tigers game at Camden Yard yesterday with the Tigers down 6-1 (they came back), I found my car's battery to be dead because of another error earlier in the day -- I had left my lights on (it doesn't "ding.") The streets of the Mt. Vernon neighborhood (Paca and Saratoga), about a mile away from the stadium, were nearly deserted because there seemed to be very little housing in the area -- it seemed to be all Monday to Friday retail. I stumbled upon a gas station and asked if they could help me in some fashion.

The clerk there was initially brusque but called over his "aide," Stanley, who turned out to be not an employee but rather a homeless person who cleaned windshields and ran errands for change. They pledged their help and, despite the sinking feeling I had, in less than half an hour I had gotten a jump and was happily on my way back to the DC area. It turns out that this gas station (I think it was open 24-7) was pretty much the social center of the neighborhood. Both the clerk and Stanley the helper knew about every other person who came to fill up. They scared up some jumper cables from a guy who just left them because he was on his way to work (he would pick them up later) and talked another Samaritan into giving me a jump. All this for five bucks so Stanley could buy a chicken box for dinner. In this whole episode, several people let me know that this was a much better solution than calling a towing service for a jump, which I would probably have to pay a hundred or more dollars for weekend help. Stanley also suggested I pour some Pepsi on my battery terminals and give them a going over with a wire brush to combat corrosion, sage advice affirmed by another local who helped in the process. Two other people who were sitting on the sidelines asked me if someone was helping me and if Stanley was having any success tracking down some cables.

There were some signs that this somewhat derelict area was getting some redevelopment money, but I really hope they don't just wipe the slate clean. Maybe it's cliche to echo Jane Jacobs' lessons from Boston's North End, but this turned out to be a really great place and a rewarding experience for someone still working to overcome the lingering suburbanite's fear of "slums" in the city.

If anybody tries to tell you Baltimore isn't a great place, you punch them in the mouth.


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