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Archive for February, 2009

Bragging Rights

baltimore-believe-police-blue-lights

During a 3 day work-meet bender–that is, a marathon of meetings punctuated by overcooked buffet lunches, tepid coffee breaks and bland curry dinners spilled on hideous hotel carpeting–one generously recycles personal anecdotes. Lately, I’ve been fond of rehashing three go-to subjects: mishaps of my cataract-ridden blind dog (fumbling in air for the staircase!), my recent wobbly, bleary visit to Dhaka, and our mace-toting, back-watching adventures in Baltimore. To some people these topics might seem inappropriate for casual conversations with colleagues. But setting aside sad animal stories and scatological humor, Baltimore is a fascinating place to folks from the outside.

How do you like Baltimore?

Me: I LOVE Baltimore, it’s so cheap, when I moved here the rents on craigslist made my head spin with reverse sticker shock!

Out of towner: Do you feel safe? Because, you know, I decided to go to Emory because, well, Baltimore…

Me: No, I don’t feel safe. [Eyebrow raised. Is he kidding?!] I carry pepper spray and walk everywhere with my big mutt dog, who (though blind and peace loving) looks like she could take your arm off. We hear police helicopters at night and occasional gunshots.

Local colleague chimes in: I lived on Park Ave —

Atlanta: That sounds like a nice area!

Local: I got caught between two guys who pulled out guns…

Atlanta: Oh my lord!

Us: The sirens wail all night, and it’s inconvenient that you can’t walk after dark except on Charles street, and not below Saratoga.

A project director: I like to walk at night, so I carry my car key like a switch blade, it pops out like this.

Me: There’s a guy selling drugs on my corner after 10. But it’s so fresh, you know, edgy! We have great music here. Rolling Stone said we have the best music scene in the states! It’s because starving artists can afford to live here. We have the coolest museums!

Local: The good thing is you can tell which streets to avoid because they have flashing blue lights.

Atlanta: Blue lights…

Local: They have cameras–the city installed blue lights to provide surveillance for high-crime areas. There are 300 blue lights.

Me: From my window at work, the whole city is flashing blue! It’s like a giant disco.

Drives from DC: I move my car from the street into the parking garage after 4 so I don’t have to walk after dark into those areas.

My two cents? Besides the fact that the concept is ridiculous, the police statistics haven’t shown that the lights catch criminals… Or at least not the ones worth chasing. According to the Examiner, in the first year of operation, the crimes illuminated by the ubiquitous $10 million lights included 24 cases of trespassing, 21 illegal cigarettes and 3 people who littered.

But back to the coffee break:

Atlanta: Where in the city do you see these lights?

Local: Oh, if you go a block north of here you’ll start seeing them…

Atlanta nervously backs away from the hotel’s picture window and opts out of afternoon sight-seeing.

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Postcards from the Edge

post card

I started the Baltimore Block Blog with the intention that neighbors would keep in touch by blogging from the road. Working/studying in the international health field, we collectively accumulate a lot of air miles, exotic knick-knacks (elephant god statues, Malian necklaces, Senegalese sex beads) and premature gray hairs.

I intended to take Baltimore Block Blog on the road with me. But the day I traveled somewhere more exotic than Towson, I abandoned the BBB for my old e-diary, Golap Golightly. I’ll try to make up for it here, posting proxy dispatches for my friends and neighbors.

Just in from…

Hanoi: Adventuress Adrijana tells of carbon gas masks that are totally de rigeur when riding on motorbikes in Vietnam’s densely polluted capital city. Nearby sunset cruises are popular with Australians.

Bihar: Patna, the capital city of India’s poorest state, should not be confused with a vacation getaway, according to the most jet-lagged (honorary) resident of the block, newly minted Torontonian Jess [The Jess who lived in Dakar until moving to Canada before visiting Baltimore via Atlanta and then (whew) flying back to India… Before returning to Baltimore. But only for 5 days.]

What’s happening in Patna? Well, last time I visited, they were lynching extortonists and killing people on a holiday called Holi. There must be some wholesome entertainment to be found in this city of 1.8 million. Per Jess, there’s not much. When not working until 11, Jess reports that she unwinds at the local ladies club, where you can get your hair done or “run” on 30 year-old treadmills. Breaking a sweat is taboo, so she dones jeans to stride in place.

Cape Town: Brian Skypes in that he has been keeping busy in the South African summer playing soccer in the shadow of 2000-foot Lion’s Head, beach combing and hiking Table Mountain–when not drinking cheap local sauvignon blanc. But each day under the celebrated wide cerulean sky and filmic sunshine, racial tensions and South Africa’s desperately unequal economic playing field become more apparent. Being Caucasian, he’s noticed passersby uttering what can only be slurs in Afrikaan. A theft has left him broke, until Bank of America can get a new card in… Possibly weeks.

Closer to home, Anna spent Valentine’s Day in the Midwest.

What’s up in Michigan? It’s really cold. Our resident future-farmer, Anna reports that her boyfriend’s horseback riding concept is on ice (so to speak) until the mercury cracks 32. For now, she ventures into the negative 20-degree weather to groom the horses and exchanging bonding snorts.

And me? Glad my stomach has finally settled, I am holding down the fort in Charm City, getting caught up on movies, museums, and eying, from a healthy distance, the latest guy waving down cars on our Cathedral street corner. I don’t think he’s selling necklaces.

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