Friday, January 27, 2012

Life's "Special Moments", episode 2

To read episode 1, click here

Episode 2:  "Burn, Baby, Burn!"

   One of the more interesting things about Baltimore is the sometimes stark juxtapositioning of its neighborhoods. Some of its classier neighborhoods are known to run right up against some of its more dangerous. Crossing a major thoroughfare in the city sometimes seems like crossing a border into another country.

  Back in 2004 I was living in an old brownstone subdivided into apartments in the Marble Hill neighborhood, a historic community on the westside known at one time as one the earliest and most prominent communities for middle-class Blacks. By 2004, however, it had fallen on some hard times. There were well-preserved homes, such as the one where I lived, side-by-side with abandoned and boarded up ones (complete with the sort of element those houses attracted). If you walked a couple of blocks south of Marble Hill, you ran smack into the McCulloh Homes housing project, which is historic only in its inspiration for the TV series "The Wire", as stronghold of the infamous Barksdale drug distribution ring (there were days when the whole area was blocked off for the shooting of an episode of the series).

   If you were to leave my apartment, walk to the end of the block, cross McCulloh Street and walk another block, you would suddenly enter what seemed like another world: the even more historical - and unquestionably better preserved - neighborhood of Bolton Hill, which is one of the jewels of inner city Baltimore, and a fully yuppified-to-upper crusty center of culture and history in the near-downtown Baltimore area. The contrast to Marble Hill, and especially to the McCulloh Homes projects and the Upton neighborhood next to it couldn't possibly be more stark.

   As alarming as those differences between these bordering communities were, and as sad -even tragic- the differences in the plights of the people residing there, Bolton Hill is one of my favorite places to visit, just to walk or drive around and take in the history, the architecture, the beauty of it all. I would often walk or jog through Bolton Hill to admire the scenery, and every day I would drive through the area to go to and from work, even though there were faster routes to the job.  Something about driving through Bolton Hill just always put me in a good frame of mind. Until...

   One Friday afternoon, on a beautiful spring day, I was driving home in my 1992 Grand Am, windows down, music blasting, contemplating what I was going to do that weekend. As I exited off of I-83 and got ready to make my sceninc drive through Bolton Hill, the car started to sputter. It had been acting a little funny the previous days, so I figured I would get up early and take it to the shop to have it checked out, and I'd still have the rest of the weekend to enjoy. But as I turned onto Lafayette Avenue to begin my drive through Bolton Hill, the car's sputtering turned to rather pronounced jerking, following by the car stalling out altogether. Terrific. Me and this old car are really going to be a sight in this neighborhood.

   I put the car in park, and popped the hood (not that I had a clue as to what I was going to be looking at or for), and as I got to the front of the car and went to raise the hood, I could see there was smoke coming from the engine. Oh it just gets better. Then as I stood there cursing my bad luck, just like that, the luck got even worse...

  "Oh shit, FIRE!" yelled the guy crossing the street at the exact same time I was thinking it. "I'll be right back he said, as he ran into his house to - I presumed - grab a fire extinguisher or something. Instead he came back with a camera. Others joined him in taking pictures or just marveling at the sight of a car engine burning, until someone finally asked if I had called 911, which in my shock I had not.

   Within a few minutes, the fire and police departments were there almost simultaneously. I had never seen such quick response in all my life (I guess living in Bolton Hill has its privileges). The fire crew quickly soaked the car and drenched the flames. Then one of the firemen approached me and asked me to see if I could start the car and maybe move it to the curb. Seemed like a ridiculous request, but in my state of semi-shock, I trudged over to the driver's side, opened the door, got in, and - forgetting that the windows had been down - sat in a gigantic puddle of water in the driver's seat.

   Of course the car didn't start, so now all I had to show for that effort was a wet ass. I got out of the car, and the police officers approached me and said that if I didn't have a number for a tow truck, that they would call one to take the car to the city lot, and then I could make arrangements later to get it from there. I didn't, and so they did. While waiting for the tow truck, I went started taking some belongings out of the car: three bowling balls in a bag with wheels, a few books and some other assorted odds and ends. A gentleman who lived one of the houses in the block gave me a trash bag to throw the stuff in. A young woman with a toddler in tow asked if I was hungry, then disappeared into her house, returning with some animal crackers and a juice box. So next thing you know, I was standing on the corner, big wet spot on the back of my khakis, with a garbage bag and bowling ball bag beside me, eating animal crackers and sipping from a juice box...

   Finally, the tow truck arrived, the driver got my info, and hooked up the car. He and the cops drove off their separate ways, and the neighbors returned to their houses, without anyone so much as offering me a ride. No big deal, I thought, I'm only about 4 or 5 blocks from home. And then...I felt a drop of rain...and then another, and then a few more. Oh boy, better get a move on!

   So I slung the garbage bag full of my belongings over one shoulder, grabbed the handle of the bowling ball roller bag with the other hand, and started trudging my squishy drawers wearing self home. After about a block or two I didn't have to worry about the embarassment of having a big wet spot on my behind, because it was now raining so hard that ALL of me was soaked.  So I kept it moving as fast as I could, although one can only move so fast in the pouring rain dragging almost 50 pounds of bowling balls and a Hefty Bag filled with a collection of crap I could have taken from Fred G. Sanford's junkyard... I can only imagine the thoughts of the drivers who drove past me, more often than not splashing water on me as they sped on...ahhhh, good times...

1 comment:

  1. I'm so nervous about my car breaking down in a similar way. And of course my phone would be dead and friendly neighbors :(