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Monday, January 29, 2007: I get emails. Usually, they arrive when I'm unhappy, griping about something. Then I read them and smile.

5 January, 2007

Bryan,

 My name is James Adams and i live in Frederick, MD not too far from Baltimore.  I just finished reading the entire journal of your experience at Madison Ave.  I think you should be applauded for you efforts to change that neighborhood and the time you took to document your experiences there.  I'm sure your efforts have been pretty much forgotten by now but not by me.  Thank you for what you did.

 James Adams

That's a lot to read. And I thought our efforts had been pretty much forgotten.  Though I will never forget it. 

Another email from a former Techbalter:

RE: Reflecting on the ripple effect of Rebuilding Madison
>Bryan,
> I'm not sure if you'll still remember me.  I wrote you some time ago
> just to touch base and let you know how much of an inspiration the
> Rebuilding Madison effort had been to me.  A few months ago, I told a
> buddy of mine, who is studying forensics, about it and encouraged him
> to look through all the back logs just to understand what immense
> efforts are possible by an individual.  It got me started reflecting
> again and at that time I told him that for all my involvement now, I
> still look back to your effort as the spark that inspired me.  I
> looked back at a few of the emails for a date.  December 2002 you
> invited me up and gave me a tour.  I was working with the TechBalt
> group at the time and I was 24.
>
> Nowadays I'm living in Pigtown, and working regularly in the
> community.  I was elected to the board of directors of a small
> nonprofit called Washington Village/Pigtown Neighborhood Planning
> Council(WPNPC) which works with a number of community programs but
> especially with public safety grants such as 'CSAFE' and 'Weed and
> Seed'.  I'm also sitting as the chair of their public safety
> committee.  It's a bit hard for me as I'm not at all fond of speaking
> in front of groups but I'm adjusting bit by bit and learning my way
> through the business bits as I go.  I've always worked in tech support
> so the business management aspects are a bit foreign to me, but I
> guess the best way to learn is to do, right?  In the times when I need
> to do things that give a bit more immediate of a return I'm helping
> with cleanups, boarding up houses, and chasing property owners through
> the code enforcement maze to get the properties sealed up and
> renovated or the owners prosecuted.
>
> For a while also, when I first moved in, I remember being consumed by
> the problems outside my window.  The drug dealers, the trash, it's
> just hard to take in stride.  I also remember having read along as you
> had gone through similar ups and downs.  Fear, frustration, occasional
> specks of hope.  There were some very hard times living all alone in
> that house, a sheltered kid from the suburbs.
>
> Nowadays I take things in stride, accepting that a slow but steady
> pace is the only way I'm going to make progress without breaking
> myself in the process.  I spare my friends most of the stories about
> housing inspection and chasing people out of abandoned houses with
> nothing but a flashlight.  I thank police officers when I deal with
> them.  Doubly so when I see them doing something I know they didn't
> receive a call to do.  My poor friends tired long ago of hearing me
> talk about how fulfilling it is when the legal section of housing
> finally forces someone to cleanup one of vacant drug houses.  But I
> still get pleasure from the accomplishment and every now and then,
> when someone let's me go off on that tangent and rant about all the
> work to be done, I like to think that maybe someone else will get the
> idea, even if a few years down the road, and start wondering what more
> they can do.
>
> I still look back occasionally, and while TechBalt (which I eventually
> separated from) may have started me seeing the treasures in the less
> than sparkling neighborhoods, Rebuilding Madison got me thinking about
> what more I can do as one person.  It may not have been the only
> influence but it was a huge one.
>
> Put shortly, I still very much appreciate what you did with Rebuilding
> Madison, even if it didn't go as intended, and I hope you don't ever
> let yourself get to thinking that what you did there didn't make any
> difference.  It did for me, and I hope to make my own difference even
> if it's small.
>
> Christopher Montgomery

"Don't ever let yourself get to thinking what what you did there didn't make any difference." I often think just that. Drove by the other day. Noticed huge progress on the old crack house at 1704. Scaffolds in front, a completely new garage in back. No progress on 1708. The substation windows now have boards over them. Cold and dark where once was warm and happy. I'm starting to wonder if the owner of Pedestal Gardens didn't set up the buyer of our old house. Hey, smart investment and it gets that "damned Bryan guy off my back. He was much too accurate at times." Or so I imagine him saying.

The little red maple is gone. Don't know whether it was cut down or removed. The new owner professed to want it so I left it. Seems the new owners of 1704 may be buying the vacant lot between. The yard as me and the mutts knew it. The fence between the two is gone. Who knows? Shouldn't be my concern anymore ... but I can't let it go.

Wrote the new Mayor recently:

RE: Mr. Hamm
Congratulations Your Honor, on becoming our new Mayor.

I voted for you. By that of course I mean I voted for O'Malley for
Governor. But that was also a vote that I have faith in you.

I met you when you and Ms. Pugh cut the ribbon at the BBQ we held to
open a police break room in a very challenged neighborhood: 1708 Madison
Avenue. Front page of the Sun in 2003 I think it was.

We have since sold that house, reluctantly giving up on our dream of
making that block a decent place to live. It's still a thriving open air
crack market supported by the taxpayers who pay for Pedestal Gardens
Section 8 housing.

Commissioner Hamm lives two blocks north of where we were. Has since
1996. Came to visit me with Del Jones one day before he was even
confirmed. As did Coms Norris and Clarke. She didn't know a thing about
the block and he promised there would be change.

There was none.

I vehemently disagree that Com. Hamm is the right police commissioner
for the city. He is wrong for a city that needs change. He is status
quo. Status quo ain't working, Your Honor.

I can understand reluctance to try a radical approach: Norris was a huge
mistake. Clarke was promising but had personal issues. But that does not
mean we must retrench to a man like Hamm is who is about nothing but
tired and disproved approaches. His expensive suit didn't impress me
much. At least Clark looked around our block, wearing a polo shirt. Hamm
has a blind eye for the troubles just a block from his house. I suppose
his 24/7 police guard helps him think nothing is wrong a block away.

Manufacturing new terminology and adopting old catch phrases is not
going to get the job done. I expect better of you. And I believe you can
do better.

Just my two cents. Obviously, you're heavily invested now in Hamm. I
guess I can pray he does something like Norris or Clarke that lets you
fire him. We need new thinking for safety in the city, Madam Mayor. Not
Hamm.

I liked your inaugural address. That's why I'm writing. I had a good
email dialogue with Mayor O'Malley. Was amazed how well he and his
"eMayor" communicated with the little guy. I hope you will be able to be
as communicative. My regards to Ms. Lauretta Brown who I hope is still
part your team. She was very helpful on more than one occasion.

2007 is your year, Your Honor. Do us all proud.

Bryan Taylor

I don't know if I have as much confidence in her as the email sounds but why not start with hope, huh?

Someone from her office replied...

Bryan-

Mayor Dixon asked me to follow-up and respond to your email message. She
appreciates your confidence in her leadership and your openness in
communicating your frustration.

Please know that I am also sending a copy of this email to Lauretta
Brown. Lauretta continues to serve the citizens of Baltimore as Director
of Constituent Services in Mayor Dixon's Office and can be reached by
email or 410-396-9520.

I've contacted the Commander at Central District, Major Palmere, to
address the activity in the area of 1708 Madison Avenue immediately. 

Once again thank you for contacting the Office of Mayor Sheila Dixon. If
we can be of assistance to you in the future, please feel free to
contact us.

Of course I feel free to contact her. That's an understatement. I do appreciate her focus on cleaning up the city. Of course, cleaning out the drug dealers who kill each other every day is the most important housekeeping she could do. 

Read yesterday that Keiffer Mitchell has lost his day job as a bank teller because of his run for mayor. He has been an out of touch, laurels resting non leader all the time I lived in his district. Certainly good at finding photo ops ... and not much else. I appreciate his efforts on the school reform, though keeping it under local control doesn't seem an accomplishment when that hasn't worked for decades. I'm glad he's running for mayor. Frees up his council position. Perhaps someone who actually understands the district and does something will succeed him.

One such person would be Adam Meister. He of Techbalt fame. He's an odd ball. Takes one to know one. And not the likely successor to Keiffer, whose chief accomplishment is bearing his family name, if you ask me. Adam is young, Jewish and arrogant enough to believe he can make a difference. Takes ego to be in politics.  When I first came to Baltimore,  a young white guy was running for mayor, I dismissed it as impossible in a majority black city. (Forgive me, I'm old. If I'm white, African Americans are black. No disrespect meant.) But didn't the city's voters surprise me? And reelected too. So why can't a 30 year old, skinny white Jewish track star win? 

Adam has a house on Linden Street in Reservoir Hill. He understands the incredibly lame city Housing Department. Perhaps with him on the council, they'll be brought to task. He's signing up to run today. Don't know if there's competition yet. Perhaps they'll be smart and stay away. I think he'll build up some speed. The whole city needs a fresh voice on the council. Too many career politicians and bank tellers. 

Yes, I guess I'm back. If you want to read, I'll write. Seems to me there's too many opinions out there. Not enough doing. But if reading this inspires action, great. The city's got huge potential. I see it in every boarded up house, crack addled loiterer and kid looking for a pickup game. Perhaps with a new mayor we have a new start. A young, awake and energetic new councilman for the 11th is what my old neighborhood needs too.  



Epilogue: I have no more daily observations about life at the front lines of one of the so many forgotten areas of Baltimore. I am burned out. Glad not to fight dealers or bureaucrats anymore. Happy to be helping start a new venture. One intended to support those on the front lines trying to make progress: a nonprofit, offering printing, web help, signmaking and silkscreening at cost.

Each day as I come into work I look at the boardups hear near 25th and Harford Road. I still think to myself "my that could be a fine home, and that one!" This as I pass aimless men and women stupefying on their stoops or weaving down the sidewalk. Behind a generator driven floodlight or a blue light I see a house that once was a home, sitting vacant while housing prices elsewhere soar beyond the average man. And I remember another abandoned house I once had the privilege to know. Maybe some day I can try again. Most of my friends pray not.

Friends of the Substation and other readers of this site, please feel free to touch base. 

I will never forget the many nights I reached out to you, and always remember the many of you who reached back.

Wednesday, May 31, 2pm: Six weeks and no entries. That's a record. I guess I'm writing to a dozen people now where once the stats showed several hundred regular weekly readers.

It's been hard for me to think what to write. I've been struggling with a bitterness toward the city and about giving up the fight at Madison Avenue. Been preoccupied by our new nonprofit to help other nonprofits get the best value in printing, signage, silkscreening and websites. Lots to do. Been good to keep busy.

There was an event three weeks ago, that threw me for a loop. I'm not sure I'm ready to write about it here now. I haven't been able to put the feelings into words yet.

Still undecided about keeping up the site. I don't have daily rants and observations anymore. I have been careful to avoid visiting the old block. Thought it might be depressing. And where I live now, there's nothing to report. A very vanilla neighborhood where people go to work, come home, mow their lawns and have cookouts. Boring in a good way, though I'm still not used to it.

Thursday, April 13, 6pm: Ran into Jimmy who has been a special police officer at Pedestal Gardens since we moved in and before. Regular readers will recall the name. I was turning the corner at the Giant Supermarket in the new neighborhood, picking up some flats of bottled waters. I thought of the many times we'd loaded up on bottled waters at Sam's Club to keep the substation stocked. Realized I didn't need four flats. When I put one on my cart, I heard a familiar voice and turned and saw his reversed cap with the big "Police" emblazoned on it.

I snuck up behind him and tapped him on the cap. He was surprised to see me too. Began to tell me about the troubles at PG. I was interested, but not like I used to be. I'm starting to see it from a distance now. It seems hopeless now that I don't live in the midst of its troubles. Why would anyone care? I guess I can understand more now why some never understood what we tried there. Still, I miss the house ... and even the neighborhood, oddly enough.

Jimmy told me it's obvious we're not there anymore. He can see it in how the dealers act. People have been hanging out on the steps and in the vestibule of 1708 looking for and doing crack. Another officer has told me "they guys [dealers] know you're gone, for sure." I suppose it's gratifying to be missed. Or not in this case. At least to know our presence did make some difference.

"There's been nothing done to your house. The lights are still on." We ordered service there turned off two weeks ago. I wonder if BGE thinks it's just going to keep charging us. Doubtful the new owner has even visited, less likely still he's transferred the utilities. He hasn't even paid the property tax and water bills we paid for at settlement on January 27th. Nor has he recorded the deed, as far as we can tell. Pretty sure he's just waiting to see what others do in the neighborhood and doesn't care what happens to the block or house until then. The property is on the tax sale list. I joked with Jimmy I should buy it for the tax lien and foreclose and resell. Don't think I have the stomach for that sort of underhanded crap.

Read this posting on Craig's List under real estate for sale:

"$1 - How do you sale a $1 crackhouse for $40K in a bad neighborhood?
Reply to: hous-148073128@craigslist.org
Date: 2006-04-04, 11:22AM EDT

The so called rehab properties are in neighborhoods that are not worth rehabbing. Give or take 10 years the pace may start picking up. These scam artist real estate agents should be ashamed of themselves. How are you going to sell a shell in a neighborhood where homes in liveable condition sell for $40-60k?????????????? That is why 60 % of these blocks are abandoned & the homes aren't selling. Word to the unwise- try rehabbing them first. Then demand $100K or better. Poverty is strong in the Baltimore area. I am a current resident hoping someone will buy into the neighborhood soon. These agents are putting a brick wall in front of potential homebuyers.

* this is in or around Bmore Ghettos"

Not exactly the situation on our block of Madison Avenue, but not far off. This flipping and speculation is not benefiting anyone but speculators. Certainly not homeowners. City Hall should be ashamed to be encouraging it.

Many of you have no doubt read the City Paper article. I have no idea what good it did. At least it countered the incessant bragging of a bureaucracy in bed with real estate agents and speculators at the expense of working people who simply want a home in Baltimore.

Monday, April 3, 6pm
:

Dear readers and friends, 

I've taken a small vacation from this journal as you likely noticed. Was busy moving. Traveled across the country by train and back to see the folks. Was in Chicago when the story in the City Paper came out.

And oddly enough, though tempted otherwise, still came back.

Finished moving from the house. Finally. Seemed that never would end. It occurred to me I was tempted to start taking bricks. One by one. Then it dawned on me I was acting like a retreating army, not wanting to leave anything useful to the enemy. The time had come to say we were moved. And we are as of this week. The red maple remains, but if the new owner doesn't want it, I may find it a new home. If he does want it, it'd be nice to see it grow there as a sort of memorial for a time when it was the only sign of civilization and caring in an otherwise dismal looking block. Perhaps when it's five feet taller, there will be homeowners there who take it for granted on a quiet, pleasant street.

Unfortunately, the current neighbors have realized we're gone. There's already kitchen trash and the discards of passers by strewn about the grass in the yard. No doubt it will accumulate till the new owner is encouraged to clean it out by City Sanitation.

The substation is a lonely, blank place now. I wonder if the officers miss it. I haven't spoken to any in weeks. It's been tough getting over my regular habit of slippering down there each morning to make coffee and tidy up. Trying not to frighten them with my unshaven, groggy and generally scary morning visage. I miss the many times I'd run into them when we'd share how each other's days were going. Mine were almost always far brighter than theirs.

There've been some sad scandals about Baltimore City officers in the news lately. But when I read the headlines, I knew they would not be the officers I knew. With fewer exceptions than is worth remembering, I was inspired and proud and grateful for the many fine men and women whom I saw doing their jobs with courage and diligence in our neighborhood. It really was our pleasure to provide a small courtesy to them. We were honored to have them guests in our home.

Part of why I stopped writing here the past couple weeks was because I was on more of an emotional roller coaster than usual, even for Madison Avenue. Was afraid of what I might write. And if you read her regularly, you know that's saying a lot.
There was an email to a city bureaucrat I shouldn't have written during this time. It was too personal an attack. More on that later, too. Leaving Madison Avenue (hey, maybe that should be the title of the book several have suggested) has been very hard.

The blur of watery eyes tells me it might be time to stop here for now. I have a list of topics to discuss and will. Stuff I want to share, especially with those we've left on the front lines. And I will again soon. After that, there will be little more for me to add. Perhaps I can encourage others on the frontiers of the real Baltimore to share their experiences. Those who don't already use this venue enough. I know this site has shed a light on one small block in one besieged city. It has served many purposes: A thorn in many sides. A reference work. A note in a bottle. A desperate plea. A simple chronicle.

Tuesday, March 14, 10am: Was reading an interesting article in City Paper about the blue light cameras all around town, especially in rough neighborhoods ...

http://www.citypaper.com/news/story.asp?id=10405

As you know from reading here, the police department's response to our repeated complaints of dealing and other crime here was to put a generator driven floodlight next to the school with million candle power floodlamps aimed at the problem. No cameras. This was supposed to be part of the "trying new tactics" we were promised.

In Reservoir Hill, things are bad as ever. If that's the crowning achievement of the City Department of Housing, God help us. Prices may be high, but contrary to what the Mayor would like us to believe, high prices don't serve the community.

Vaughn told me when he visited the house yesterday the dealers were all over the place, "as bad as ever before." When we visit to remove stuff (which we'll be doing till the end of the month), they slowly amble back around the corner out of our line of sight. Not fast, but they do move. As soon as we leave, they return to hanging out on every available stoop, including ours and 1704, selling their product blatantly.

One of the Pedestal Gardens security guards told me the other day that a man was sleeping in our vestibule. There were sunflower seeds spit all over. And about a half dozen orange, gray and green crack vial tops. Obviously a party.

It seems the block was long ago ceded to dealers and absentee slumlords (like Pedestal Gardens) and has been again since our departure.

The new issue of City Paper will be out online tonight. In print on newstands tomorrow. There will likely be an article about the city's pitiful handling of the crack house next door to us at 1704. Such a fine example of the city's stewardship of property. I would never have imagined that the city's taking possession of that house would be nearly as bad as when it was owned by the crackhouse slumlord. Their negligence with this house has helped encourage the flight of the only two owner occupants it's seen in decades. I wonder when there'll be a time any of the houses there are lived in by homeowners again. Till that happens, the block is doomed.

I wonder what if any impact this article will have at City Hall. No one dares question the City Department of Housing. May be we'll want to hide from the Housing Inspectors. They've targeted us for revenge before.

Friday, March 10, 10am: Spring seems in the air. Almost 70 already this morning. A good time for new beginnings.

Last Sunday while moving I met a fellow who says he's been selected as the buyer for 1704 Madison. He was frantically on his cell phone, apparently trying to reach someone to let him in. The door appeared locked because I propped it that way ... again. I kicked the door and it swung open: "The real estate agent left it open ... AGAIN! Be my guest. Good luck." I shared a few choice words for those at the Housing department and kept telling myself this is not my problem any more.

Another "developer" chosen by a group of out of touch bureaucrats behind closed doors with absolutely no input from those who will be affected by whatever this guys plans are. Same people who botched the last choice and took two years just to make that mistake. Such incompetence and negligence. I didn't ask him what sure fire money making plan this guy had. Maybe he and his wife plan on making a home there. He, hee. Yeah, right.

Was looking at a fixer upper near the city/county line. A little two story wood frame house on a big lot with a couple nice yards. Great vintage asbestos siding. Did some research. Every house on both sides of the block and on both blocks to the north and south are listed at SDAT "Principal residence: YES." And it shows. Middle class families. A good mix of people. A quiet street. Not a dealer to be seen. Sort of place folk watch the news at night and wonder how anyone can live in the inner city.

Homeowners are everything. Pity City Housing doesn't grasp that simple fact.

Did I tell you I met the new pastor at Payne Memorial Church? Nice, handsome woman. A commanding presence to the church employees around her. Being Pastor of Payne Memorial does not impress me. Caring would. She sat me down in her conference room to ask questions and take notes. It turned out the big reason I was summoned was because the church was being cited repeatedly by City Sanitation Enforcement for their always overflowing dumpster. The absentee landlord's tenants use it constantly. The church has been asked many, many times to do things like lock it, put a light out there, post a sign that it's not a public dumpster. To try something. But, like the other slumlords on the block, the only thing that got their attention were fines.

At one point she asked me if I felt the church could be more involved in the neighborhood. I'm sure I smiled, I was laughing inside. "Yes, I'd say the church could try really being a neighbor here. Maybe care about the dealers all over this block. Seems your parishioners have made it out of the ghetto and have left those here to fend for themselves." Something like that. Her question was about as amazing to me as when the developer selected for 1704 by our wise friends at Housing called to ask me if I could persuade the city to drop the homeowner/occupant requirement. He couldn't make enough money on the deal otherwise. I think you've read how sympathetic I was.

Spent some time on the phone yesterday with a fact checker for City Paper. Their article on the debacle of how housing handled one Project 5000 house will appear next Wednesday. Online Tuesday night. It's about 1704 and the fact two naive and stupid guys did everything they could to work with the city to close down and find a responsible owner for a crack house next door. Far and away above the call of duty. And the fact they were pretty much thwarted and disrespected by those bureaucrats at every turn. It's true. I don't think it was the dealers who were the last straw in deciding to give up so much as ineffective police brass (commanding fine beat officers) and a city bureaucracy that didn't care. If 1704 is an example of Housing's performance, it's time for some real changes there. They seem proud of truly disappointing figures. Maybe, like the new police commissioner, they "have their own way of coming up with the figures." I think that's what Police Com. Hamm said on a radio show recently, or was it to reporter Jane Miller on TV? Whatever the excuse, both city crime stats and the city's performance in managing housing need real scrutiny. Not campaign boasts. I'm still looking to meet regular folk who live in vast areas of the city like the 1700 block of Madison Avenue who've seen the wonderful progress.

Sunday, March 5, 2006: The substation was closed today. No fanfare. No ceremony. It was just time. Wrote a note for the door, including a picture that seemed to say something ...

"TO ALL OFFICERS:

We regret the time has come to close your break/restroom, effective immediately.  As you may know, we sold the house in January. We’ve kept it open as long as we could while moving. It is possible, though unlikely; the new owner will reopen it.  

It has been our pleasure and privilege to provide you this convenience for the past three and a half years. It has been a small gesture of appreciation for the work you do every day.
 
Thank you for looking out for our neighbors and us. We wish you health and happiness.

Bryan & Vaughn"

The End


Monday, February 27, noon: Found one of our long time substation users in there the other night, munching his homemade lunch late. Just smiled and said hello. It reminded me we must keep the place open as long as we can. With the water going off after the 24th, I guess that will be the latest possible. More likely we'll close it by the middle of the month. Our insurance is set to expire then and we should have all our stuff out.

The City Paper's article on Project 5000 and more specifically how the city has handled 1704 Madison, the former crack house next door, is coming out within the next couple weeks. Should be interesting. Had a nice evening with the reporter at our former neighbor's up in Reservoir Hill on Linden Street. Saw Paul and Lynn's amazing rebuild of the row house wreck they bought a couple years ago. Inside you wouldn't know you were in a drug infested ghetto, much like ours. The home is nice as any you'd see at a model home showing in the burbs. But when we left, between the ear splitting rap and the dozens of boys dealing blatantly on the street, you quickly came back to reality.

The reporter seems to be doing a thorough piece. No doubt won't make us many friends in the Department of Housing. But then again, there are none left for us to lose. It is time for a critical review of Housing. And long past time for City Hall, the Mayor and Council, to supervise Housing, not just let them go on as if they're answerable to no one.

Several readers have asked about the site. I pretty sure it will be closing with the substation now. It's purpose will be done. Perhaps it'll get updated should we visit the old neighborhood. Maybe to talk about the vast improvements we'll see. One could hope. Vaughn intends to carry on its mission with his TakeBackBaltimore.net site. Check out his recent entry. He's been invited to talk to community groups about what works and doesn't in neighborhoods like ours. I agree with one of our qualifications in that regard: we're expert on what and who doesn't work.

Monday, February 20, 5pm: Not making many entries these days. Too busy. Not that stuff hasn't been happening on the block ... or not.

The gate at Pedestal Gardens remains stuck open, doing nothing, rendering the whole fence charade just that. No one seems to care. Certainly not the property managers or owners. Not Commissioner Hamm who promised it would "make the difference." Not HUD. Not City Hall. Why should I be surprised?

The generator driven floodlamp is still there at the corner. Sometimes whirring all night. Sometimes on all day. Doesn't matter. The dealers and residents know it's worthless. Another hollow gesture by police brass to make the good citizens think they "are trying new tactics."

Found the door to 1704 Madison Avenue left open yet again by another real estate agent. I was shoveling the front of our former property (we have the house through next month under a rental agreement) and on down in front of 1704, as I've done for three years. Lots of foot traffic in and out. Sent another scathing email to Mr. Bainum with Housing, full of threats. Of course, it was President's Day and the city was off, just as they are today. Anyway, it got closed up.

The deadline has passed, but Housing tells me "The house remains listed and offers can be presented up till the time a contract is approved by the Board of Estimates.  Until that time, agents will continue to show the property and need access to the property. [this is supposed to excuse them leaving it open?]" Apparently the word "deadline" is open to interpretation, as are most statements by Housing.

Our neighbor at 1702, Pastor Jones, has sold his church/apartment house after only a few weeks on the market. He's the one who loaned me an extension cord in the winter of '01 so I could fix the wiring and plumbing in our house and not have to use my propane lantern. He told the reporter "if they're leaving, so am I." Only partly kidding, he said. The price was right, I'm sure. Vaughn thinks maybe he sold to the same guy who bought our place. That would be smart on his part.

Amanda and Chuck, who donated the new air conditioner for the officers, are coming by tomorrow night to see the substation finally. They've given us their blessing to use the AC at the new nonprofit venture which has finally found a home.

They will be one of the last to see the substation before it's no more. Every time I take a load to the new place I have to fight the urge to look around at the block for dealers or make sure no one's dumped another pile in the alley. I gotta tell myself it's not our fight anymore. We're just hoping to get out of there uneventfully at this point. It's getting empty inside. Still hurts sometimes.

The substation will likely be closing in the next couple weeks. Just been reluctant to formalize a date and write a notice to those officers who are still using it. I feel like I have to apologize for letting them down. Found a water cut off notice in the mail with a deadline of mid March. Apparently the new owner or his title agent haven't paid the city the money we paid them for it at closing. Called him. "Doesn't matter to me and it doesn't affect you." No, we only called him as a courtesy. Makes the substation useless, but that doesn't matter to him either. I don't bother wondering if the neighborhood matters to him.

Was interviewed by a City Paper reporter for a follow up on the front page story they did on the plight of this block of Madison Avenue three years ago this month. The headline was "True Believers ... They're still waiting for reinforcements." I'm sorry to say the follow up should read "and the reinforcements (from the city) never came." This is part of an investigation into the true effectiveness of the oft touted Project 5000, which unfortunately 1704 became part of, and what that program has really accomplished ... or hasn't. He's doing an in-depth article(s) and interviewing many.

Thursday, February 9, 11am: The money has changed hands. 1708 Madison Avenue now belongs to a Mr. Mike Vaughn, actually one of the many LLC's these folk like to hide behind, who owns a few other houses in the city and has turned over many others. Not my preference for who to sell to, but in reality, you can't control what a property owner does with his property. It's wishful thinking. Someone might have come along and said, "oh yes, my family and I want to rehab and live here and keep the substation open ..." But just as likely, they'd later say "it was too big for us and our plans changed." Or at least that's how I'm rationalizing the sale. Frankly, It's not my business any longer.

We will be staying on for at least another month, though we've found a place and already begun moving stuff to it. Other end of town. Might as well be another world.  Looking forward to living in a decent place again.

At first, I was inclined to keep the substation open to the last minute, but now I think it'll be closed by the end of the month. The new owner doesn't comprehend what the substation is or requires. It would be foolish to pretend he'll keep it open. Seems like several officers already think it closed or have found a new break/restroom, at least according to the pedometer attached to the door I use to keep a traffic count. Had planned a sort of "party" on the last day. Not now. I don't think there's anything to celebrate. Just as when I wonder why people keep congratulating us on the sale. It wasn't what I wanted, it was simply time to give up thinking I would ever want to live here. Five years was more than enough.


Vaughn came home the other day and ran into one of our local drug sales supervisors. The guy was quite drunk and slurred something to him about "you don't live here no more!" Vaughn said "well, then why am I here? We haven't left yet." His buddy held him up and said "pay him no mind." They were both quite cordial. They have reason to be happy. One fewer snitch to keep pestering the police. That's one fewer out of at best two. Another win for them. And they didn't have to firebomb our house to do it. Just wore us down. Patience pays ... for drug dealers.

One of the good residents of Pedestal Gardens. A single working mother of three, the sort you don't mind to see helped by the taxpayer, heard we were leaving. She came to visit the other day. Like so many readers here who are not on this block, she thanked us for our efforts. She also reported that last weekend a girl was shot in the leg about 3am in the main court yard of PG. Daughter of someone she knew. I verified this. Unfortunately, there was no security patrol on duty late on Friday and Saturday nights, as we've been promised over the years. Another example of a millionaire slumlord being supported by HUD and getting away with as much as he can. He doesn't give a damn about people getting robbed, beaten or shot on his filthy property. Why should he? He doesn't live here, and HUD does nothing but talk.

A good example: A fence system still untested (though only a defective delaying tactic) because the driveway gate system still sits wide open. Not that it will stop dealers using 1715-1717 Madison Avenue. Now, they can just get buzzed in by their cohorts inside if they're too lazy to walk around to the driveway.

I'm sure you can sense the bitter resignation in my tone. I'm reminded yet again of what I said about the wealthy property owners on Eutaw who wanted to close Pedestal Gardens at any cost, even if they had to lie about reasons, like back in 2002: I hope I leave before I ever become as bitter and angry as those crazies. I waited a bit too long.

One big reason for my bitterness is the city's bungling of the sale of 1704 Madison Avenue. The one 23 neighbors from around the city stood up in court together to close down. I wrote a while back I'd publish the written answer I wanted of Housing rather than the telephone conference they preferred (no paper trail of what they said that way) in response to my complaints to the Mayor and Ms. Dixon. Craftily written letter.  Here it is. I think it speaks for itself. Defensive, arrogant, pride and boasting about facts that speak more of failure than real accomplishment. Bureaucrats who see their jobs as defending their jobs.

I should note that the police have been very active on Madison Avenue the past year: That is, two blocks up where Police Commissioner Hamm lives with his blinders on. Patrols and even round the clock officers taken from the staff that should be protecting all of us. He doesn't see the prostitutes and dealers. He told me the fence system at 1715-1717 would solve the problem. Either stupid and gullible or more likely, a politician trying to appease a citizen than work on the real problems. A noisy generator driven floodlamp is not "new tactics" or  "we'll fix this" as I was promised in person over a handshake.

And then there's an intelligent and maybe even well intentioned Councilman who seems only to concern himself with issues that make the newspaper. He lives one block from here. Has visited only once. He must have the same blinders.

It was one thing to feel the dealers were the enemy. Quite another when I gradually realized the city and even the feds, HUD, are just as much part of the problem. In reality, together they poison and ignore blocks like ours, right alongside absentee slumlords. Yes, I'm bitter. And done trying here, at least.

But there's a bright spot ahead in my life: Together with some fine people, we're forming a nonprofit group to provide printing and web services to the many nonprofits in Baltimore and DC. I know it's a good concept. With Federal priorities being all about everything but our own citizens, unless of course you're wealthy, nonprofits are feeling the pinch more and more. When inflation kicks in as it always does when we run huge deficits, charitable giving by regular folk will naturally fall. More good works will be compromised. More poor and middle class will fall through the gaping cracks. There will be less money to help more people in need. Our purpose will be to help maximize the impact of the shrinking dollars charities have to spend. (You already know my politics so I'm not even going to apologize for voicing my opinion <g>)

I look forward to this new venture. It will be wonderful to be part of a team working together to do some good. There was little teamwork on Madison Avenue at Wilson. Except for the very effective teams of dealers who thrive there today.

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