March, 2005 Journal Entries

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Wednesday, March 23, 9am: The warm weather has brought the dealers back, just as it's brought the first sprouts in the garden. Last night for a while, they were swarming. An officer pulled through, spoke to a few. They left. He left. They came back. Then they disappeared again. The rest of the evening it seemed pretty quiet. I did hear "woo-hoo, woo-hoo" several times. That's replaced "5 - 0" as the signal there are cops on the way.

A large group of late teens were in and out of 1715-1717 several times. One of them was clearly and overtly dealing. Don't remember seeing him before. No Pedestal Gardens security to be seen when they should have been. Apparently no one minding the cameras, either.

Had a run in with the slumlord at 1700 Madison, our corner, across from the school. He was in the substation parking lot, taking photos of it and our house and down the alley. I ambled on down there, opened the door and said "you know this isn't the house for sale. It will be that one," gesturing toward 1704.

"Are you the man who made the complaint!? You sent me that letter!?"

"I sent you that letter six months ago. I asked you to stop dumping in the alley and to tell your tenants to stop dumping their garbage on the sidewalk in front. I made the formal complaint two months ago. That's the only way to get your attention."

Anyway, he started yelling about how the alley was a dump, it's not his fault, he couldn't do any better. I suggested a dumpster. He stammered "then you should have to get a dumpster!" I just glared at him and finally said "Whatever. Continue getting the fines. I don't care, but you will stop or go to jail. And get the hell off my property right now!"

Later he was talking to Sanitation Enforcement Officer Dorsey in the parking space. She's a fine, patient, and tenacious officer who's been very attentive to our concerns. Mr. 1700 was being quite agitated with her. He really wanted the fines removed. Gesturing toward our house, up the alley. Apparently his idea of an excuse was everyone else is dumping here, so why should he be fined. The logic of a five year old. He even pointed to the old claw foot tub and radiators in our yard as dumping. We use the tub for a dog bath in summer and plan on installing the radiators this spring, but now I gotta decorate the tub and conceal the radiators or risk a fine myself.

She wouldn't budge, telling him only that he couldn't continue putting out loose garbage all week long, blocking and littering the alley. Afterward, she said he was just going to have to find a way to contain his trash on his property until collection days and then put it out only in cans with lids. And no more than four cans per collection day per address. That's the law, regardless of how many apartments you have.

Here's an example of the piles that he and his tenants threw in the alley every day, regardless of collection days ...

Tiffany Alley behind 1700 Madison Ave

And that's after I dragged stuff out of the middle of the alley where it blocked officers trying to use their place. Every day. Except the past couple. Seems he's found religion. Saw the shopkeeper with the little rip off store directly behind this wall out there picking up the bags some of the tenants had dumped the night before. He denies being the owner of 1700. Everyone does, I notice. Anyway, he knew well Officer Dorsey would hit him with yet another fine if she saw it again. She's coming by every trash day now until everyone on the block starts cooperating.

We're meeting tomorrow morning with Sanitation Enforcement staff and officers from the Environmental Crimes unit. Afterward, I'm planning on walking the block with Officer Dorsey knocking on doors, explaining the requirements, that we're under the magnifying glass now and passing out a flyer I made up with the specifics, like what days we have collections.

Was chatting with my neighbor, the auto mechanic who works out of the back of 1702. He pointed at the former dump site next door and said "look, no rats!" I said they must be disappointed 1700 isn't feeding them.

This same slumlord creates other problems too. He's always evicting people from his six apartments.

another eviction from 1700 Madison Ave

There was another one just last week. Another slumlord relying on the city to clean up after his evictions. Still don't understand why taxpayers should have to do this for landlords, but that's a different gripe.

This guy will rent to anybody. I've seen him counting crumpled bills on car trunks out front, renting to yet another questionable tenant. I've met a couple. They seem nice. But I know at least one of these apartments is serving as a stash for the dealers who loiter on the Wilson side of 1700, just out of range of the PG cameras, but still close enough to serve.

I guess we got another Clarence Weston on our hands. I'm so pleased. I was concerned one day we might run out of problems here to keep this busy body busy. Or so I was hoping.

I did put out a sheet asking officers who use the substation to sign their names if they use and want their pit stop to stay open. Over a dozen officers did. There's now a note thanking them and assuring them it will stay open for them and thanking them for what they do every day.

Got a nice email from an officer who said ...

Hey Brian,

We surely appreciate that substation, it is really great to have a clean place to take a pit stop when you need one ...

Got another from a reader ...

Hello Bryan,
I'm sending a late reaction to your most recent post. I hope you don't close the substation. The work you and your brother have done is very important, and it's motivational to me, both in my blog and my life.

Your journal has absolutely influenced my writing. While I don't deal with as many personal specifics as you do, I focus on the murder rate in Baltimore, The Sun's coverage of it, and our seeming acceptance of it. It's my little way of trying to remind people that we're all responsible for taking care of the city and each other.

More importantly, the commitment you've made is inspirational. Last year, I bought a house in a troubled but up-and-coming neighborhood that borders Southeast and East Baltimore. For the safety of my family, I'm not able (or at least willing) to be as active as you are, but I often use your actions as a guide of what I should be doing, and try to get as close as I can.

I have a lot of respect for you and your brother. It is people like you that will make this city change. I should be helping you, but I'm barely able to take care of my own responsibilities in my own neighborhood.

However, while I don't know what support I can offer, if there is something specific that I might be able to do -- supplies, an appliance, words of encouragement -- please let me know. I won't promise that I'll be able to help, but I'll do my best.

Thank you for all that you're doing,


With encouragement like that, how could we quit?

Chuck has an interesting web site. I found myself reading it yesterday. It's a compassionate look at the people behind the statistics. Too often we just think of 275 murdered people as a bad number. We forget they are men and women and families and children. Our neighbors.

Sunday, March 13, 11am: A lazy, gray Sunday here at Casa Madison. The avenue is packed full of cars. The Payne Memorial church makes us their parking lot each Sunday. Unlike Bolton Hill and just the block north, we usually have plenty of spaces. In fact, there's only a half dozen cars out there most nights while on the next block north, people double park and are reluctant to move for fear of losing their space.

Was looking forward to having the donated fancy coffee maker in place finally.

fancy coffee maker

Spent hours and hours over the past two days putting in a dedicated circuit and plumbing water to it only to find it leaks. Was very frustrated. Had a tantrum and threw it out the side door. Yes, I know. I really should work on my patience.

While I was installing it, I had marveled at how well it was made. They don't fly well, though. I could probably still fix it if I wasn't so disappointed and was willing to buy the parts it needed. While setting it up, I spent a half hour with a Bunn-O-Matic technician on the phone to Springfield, Illinois, figuring out why the fill valve was jamming. Made in America and backed up by an English speaking, courteous and helpful fellow. Imagine that.

I had wanted it so we could provide instant hot water for coffee, chocolate, soups, etc. We used to have that with the bottled water dispenser, but I returned that to save the rental money last summer. Officers use the small bottled waters and can microwave water after all. I'm thinking I'll just buy one of those now. Cheaper than renting.

If I keep the substation open, that is.

I'm considering closing it again. I envy the officers having the best room in the house. It's expensive to keep stocked and heated and cooled 24/7, too. Is it really used enough to make it worthwhile? I've wondered this before. Maybe this time I'll put a "petition" in there and ask those who use it to let me know. I suppose if enough officers appreciate it to make it worthwhile, I'll leave it open.

Susan chose last night to email me ...

Hi Bryan - How are the substation supplies holding up?  Do you need anything?

What timing! She regularly helps with bottled waters, chocolate and such. Always much appreciated. And the help is encouraging, too. I've told her we're pretty well stocked up right now. We've taken pride in always having cold water available for thirsty officers when they make their pit stops here. I suppose I'd miss that.

Maybe it's just the cold gray that's got me down. And no doubt the frustration I feel at our progress on this block after so long. Last Monday when it was warm and a few times since, you'd have said nothing has changed here if you'd visited. Still a thriving crack mart. Watched Friday as a car with DC tags stopped in front of 1715, across the street. The driver jumped out, hugged two guys and handed them a paper bag. I doubt it was anyone's lunch. Then he was off again, in less than a minute. On his rounds, like a candy machine vendor, stocking up for the weekend. His comrades immediately got on their Nextel's. "Beep, beep." No doubt letting their dealers know they had the goods. Absolutely the most successful multi-level marketing scheme ever.

Wednesday, March 9, 11am: The city crew did return to 1704 late yesterday. They simply put our boards back up. It took several calls and emails to make sure of it. Our thanks to David Levy, Assistant Commissioner of DHCD, for getting personally involved.

I've suggested they just replace the deadbolt on the back door so prospects and realtors can get in. That door's pretty solid already. Leave the rebuilding of the front entry to the new owner. Besides, I can see the back door of 1704 from my bedroom and my office. And the officers see it every time they drive up to the break room.

Been brought to my attention, by a neighbor who lives there, that the useless on site manager of Pedestal Gardens has been bragging that no one's going to listen to Bryan anymore because they've put in the cameras, a pass system and changed security companies. LOL. Window dressing is not going to cut it. Our first taste of warm weather last Monday night proved that.

From what I've seen, the cameras are not monitored adequately, the pass system is a joke and the new security company is worse than the old. Only one of these security guards are commissioned, a transplant from the old company, and that's obvious. None do more than walk around the building once in a very long while. And I still wonder why the proposal of a very qualified firm with eight commissioned officers was not considered. Very suspicious. Especially when I've heard from reliable sources the new security vendor company has personal connections to the on site manager.

Scapegoating the old security vendor is not going to fool anyone. That was an expected tactic of IRM, the current property management company for Pedestal Gardens. They're running scared. They've been kicked out of other contracts in Baltimore, by HUD. They've been unreliable, irresponsible neighbors here for too long. Only even appearing to do the right thing when forced. And, as predicted, not doing the right thing right, even now.

Many neighbors here are giving it a little time to see if any of these improvements are more than fake, but IRM has abused our patience repeatedly. Any improvements we've seen recently are because of city law enforcement and they shouldn't and won't be PG's security force indefinitely.

I wonder what the new owner of 1704 Madison Avenue will think about Pedestal Gardens when he or she begins living in their new home with the same window we have to PG.

Tuesday, March 8, 2005, 2pm: Rare sighting of a Pedestal Gardens security guard just now. Wonder where they were last night. The street in front of their building and down to the corner was full of dealers doing good business. It was warm and near the beginning of the month when checks come out. Have no idea who is watching those cameras during the day or night now. Neither shift of monitors knows or cares what they are doing.

I had been wondering why, with so little security, there was not much dealing last week. Then I was told that the state is now sending out its assistance checks on a staggered schedule, based on last names. Still, sent toward the beginning of the month, but over a few more days. The later dealing frenzy makes sense now.

Received this letter from City Council President Sheila Dixon yesterday ...

Council Pres. Dixon's letter
We had contacted the mayor's office and our councilman as well. Readers here may have read the entries in previous months about our being asked to find prospective victims for this house. No, wait, I mean prospective buyers for this house. We found two who didn't run. In fact were willing to rehab the house and live there. We sent their letters of intent last year only to be told 1704 was being folded into a "project" centered around Upton and would have to wait still longer.

The SCOPE program seems good. Anything to bring  homeowner/occupants to troubled neighborhoods is good. A homeowner next door would go a long way to securing the tenuous progress we've made. But bureaucratic delays have made no sense. Especially when we were encouraged to find prospects and did. And in the meantime, leaving the neighbors to make sure the place stays secure.

We're not the most patient people. Two years of war against the crack house slumlord (and city employee) who facilitated dealers in his house followed by two years of the city just sitting on it rather uses up one's patience. We had hoped to find a neighborhood community benefit from the building, but it's hard to find the interest in that among such a transient neighborhood of renters.

This morning I heard a loud bang and went to the window to see two men struggling to unboard 1704. They finally did ...

1704 open again

I knew it was a city crew. That was encouraging. Then they left. Left it open, that is. Now it's been unboarded for over four hours. And school is letting out.  Two years, two months, two days or two hours is too long here. We've called everyone we could think of at the city to get it resecured and intend to put the boards up yet again if the place is not secure by nightfall.

The dealers from last night would love to get this house back, I'm sure. They've tried before. Last night they were doing a good business right in front of it. Police responded and stood in the street, chatting for ten minutes. Ten minutes no dealers to be seen. Within seconds of them leaving, there was a guy beneath our door pointing, saying "this is the house that's calling, " or some such thing. He then added, at the top of his lungs to his partners at the corner, "yo! Whadya do with my blunt?"

And city bureaucrats wonder why we're impatient.

Tuesday, March 1, 2005: A new month. Spring is only a few weeks away now, but you wouldn't know it from the snow and cold.

Had a pleasant surprise this morning. Was putting on my boots, grumbling to myself about having to shovel the sidewalk, when I opened the door to this ...

our sidewalk

Not sure who did it. Think it might have been the sexton from AME Payne Memorial Church on the corner. I heard a snow blower, but assumed he was doing the other side of the street as usual. We've been getting along, working together to try to get the dumping stopped in our alley. Whomever did it might have seen me doing the same thing last week and thought to reciprocate. What a neighborly thing to do!

Speaking of neighborliness, the managers of Druid House may have finally decided to comply with the law and decency. They didn't throw their open bags of trash in a heap across from the substation yesterday. In fact, they didn't put out any trash at all. Whether they just forgot it was trash day or if they now intend to comply with the sanitation officer's citations I don't know. It was just nice not to be out there in the alley picking up tv dinner trays, chicken bones and soiled diapers.

While I complained yesterday that I didn't expect to see the new Pedestal Gardens security officer on patrol much, I did see him do his rounds. Seemed like clockwork. Probably punching the bar code reader at the required intervals. Better than nothing. Of course, the weather discouraged all but the most desperate crack heads. There were only two dealers most of the day on Wilson. As I said, the test will be what happens when the checks are cashed this week.

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