Journal Entries for September, 2004
click here for archives of previous entries
Monday, September 27, 8pm: Very quiet out there tonight, though business is brisk. Walked over to the store and saw dealers enjoying the mild evening at the back steps of the 1600 Eutaw Place Pedestal Gardens building. Yes, I do know dealers when I see them and watch what they're doing. Also, five guys next to the NIMROD center, laughing, picking up the customers driving through Wilson Street. No Pedestal Gardens officers or city officers to be seen, except the car of one PG officer obviously hanging out in their substation. Mondays and Tuesdays are reliably without adequate coverage at the Pedestal Gardens apartments, though HUD continues to pay for it. What a waste of a commission and taxpayer's money.
One of the guys at NIMROD gestured toward me as he laughed. Couldn't tell what he had said. Probably something about how foolish I am to think I can make a difference when it's "their block." I just glowered back. When the PG officers are so ineffective, or simply no shows, it pretty well confirms the dealer's opinion. SPS makes fools of me and the management of Pedestal Gardens, unless you wonder at their duplicity. Apparently the owner of SPS has no problems sleeping at night when they provide virtually non existent service at times to the Pedestal Gardens properties while the management continues to look the other way. Hey, everyone's getting their cut of the HUD gravy train, so who cares?
Monday, September 20, 8pm: Officer Vogt with the PGP staked out the entry to 1717 the other night. Saw a deal begin and watched as the dealer walked through the unsecured fire doors to where he kept his stash, come back out and complete the deal. Jimmy came down on them, lost the dealer, but got the customer who wasn't so fast. Seven vials of crack straight from our drug supply warehouse at 1715-1717 Madison Avenue. Your federal tax dollars at work.
So much for some officers and some landlords saying Bryan was crying wolf. I see's what I see's ladies and gentlemen. Wishing doesn't make it different.
Today, our Cadillac Crew's leader was presiding over his domain again. In and out of his car. In and out of 1715 and 1717. Sitting on the stoop of 1700 Madison and on the other side. I gather the PGP officer on duty was mostly busy elsewhere. Likely monopolized yet again by the PG on site manager who seems not to understand what goes on over here. Or chooses not to. Or it could have been one of the officers I'm told is on whom I never see. Same result.
No cameras there yet, of course. That'll take forever and then I'll lay odds it won't be a good system, well thought out. I'm expecting them to put something in, likely overpriced with a little palm greasing from some vendor and then when it gets destroyed in the first day they'll point at me and say "see, that didn't work." Standard Operating Procedure. But like the Major says, I'm not interested in anything but results and responsible ownership over there. I'm not seeing it. It's not like this is a new problem. This has been allowed through inept management to happen again.
There are rumblings from others than just me about revisiting a drug nuisance suit against that property if HUD can't act to keep it in line. I guess if that's the only way to get lasting control of that building, then so be it. Just like 1704, 1715-1717 would be better boarded up tight now if it can't be reliably controlled.
My entry regarding the attitudes of some Bolton Hill/Spicer's Run people elicited a long argumentative response attempting to justify petty priorities over real work on real problems. I made one volley back. Won't be drawn into that game any further. We have different priorities. I care about serious issues. Some don't or prefer to ignore the real problems and feel they're doing community work by pursuing easy issues. That's just the way it is. I'm just glad dog shit and zoning issues have their champions. God knows I see more important things to fret about.
I'm in better spirits than my last entry. Rather than depression, it's more anger again. Determination. It helped to go sailing yesterday. Wonderful day for a sail in a small sailboat with some good friends. Came back wind burned and smiling. It also helped to catch Ken from Spicer's Run dropping off a flat of bottled waters for the officers. He has his own key. While we were talking, the officer on the dirt bike roared up to use the facility and get a cold water. Also, Susan brought a flat of waters yesterday. She dropped by even though I was off sailing and happened upon an officer eating her lunch who let her in. Good for all of them to see and meet each other. Being reminded how much people care helps the spirits, too. An example follows.
Another Pit Bull is in need of a home.
She's been abused. Someone hacked off her ears with a pair of scissors or a knife. Long healed. There's a recent bite wound to her head which seems to be healing well. Strong sign that she was used as bait to "teach" fighting pit bulls to be the mean, vicious creatures of their reputation. Probably because she doesn't seem to have a shred of mean in her. Not good fighting stock. She's very underweight and has a small rash the vet is testing.
But she is one big wagging tail. I can't imagine why. I'd be beyond bitter with humans if I were her. Instead, she's wonderful around people. Very, very sweet. Julie found her wandering the sidewalk downtown. I loaned her my crate so the dog can have a secure place to sleep when Julie isn't walking her, away from her other dogs until we know what the rash is. She's eating very well. Probably never known plenty and good food. The people she got away from or were abandoned by, and I use the word people loosely here, usually feed the animals the barest minimum. I'm reminded of how they fed the Pit Bull that used to live in the back of 1704 by tossing garbage out the window at her.
I'd take her, but four is too many. Three is a handful already. Anyone need a new best friend who really needs one herself?
11pm: Just finished watching The Wire on HBO. Wish I hadn't, but couldn't resist. I'll say one thing for the show, I'd like it if it wasn't simply an exploitation of life for too many in this neighborhood, litterally filmed in my backyard. For those removed from this scene, those disconnected from the reality of it whether they live across the street in Bolton Hill or across the country in Orange County, it must seem fiction. I can attest it's reality.
Was disturbed to see the fat assed former commissioner acting like a police officer again, like he used to act as a police commissioner. I thought Norris was serving a jail term for stealing from the police department? Apparently that doesn't faze David Simon, the show's producer. It's all about exploitation in every way possible with him. He's so good at it. Just like Norris taking advantage of the police department while looking for another job, living high on the hog, entertaining his mistresses at department expense. Pled guilty to a felony. Back on TV. Perverse.and unprincipled.
I know some officers think Norris was the best commissioner we've had in years. I don't see that from the perspective of a homeowner in a drug filled zone. I see new tactics, new approaches, and responsive management in our district. I don't blame city police for the failure of management at Pedestal Gardens. I believe the department is doing a better job than it did before. And I believe this commissioner is interested in doing his best work here, for Baltimore, not for himself.
Wednesday, September 16, 1pm: All was quiet on the western front last night ... that I could see. Wasn't surprised to see the commissioned PGP officers on duty. That's why it was quiet. I seldom see the others or their work. Pastor Jones, my neighbor from two doors up at 1702 even asked "what's happened? Seemed so much better." I told him about the complacent management at Pedestal Gardens who thought we wouldn't notice. The same landlord that sees fit to use a security company who assigns unqualified and ineffective personnel when they think the landlord doesn't notice.
Not so quiet the night before. The dealer boys were a steady stream down Wilson Street from Druid Hill, over to 1715 and back again. That's the circuit. They keep moving, mostly, except for their lookout kids on bikes and the head honchos who just hang on the corner, supposedly with their girlfriends, carrying nothing, except perhaps a few measly hundred bucks on them and a car with a few thousand more and God knows how much heroin and crack.
It was quiet except for the appearance of two police cars and the paramedic unit at the Pedestal Gardens building. Happens frequently there. As it did at the thriving crack house next door, what with the overdoses and other illnesses brought on by heroin and crack addictions.
Another new tenant moving in at 1700. That's about a weekly occurrence. Usually not a wholesome crowd. And when the money runs out, they're evicted very efficiently and replaced immediately with the very next person in line with enough cash, and likely a large enough deposit to cover the eviction process period. Often seems like people who want to be closer to their dealers. More convenient. A landlord of the same ilk as Clarence Weston, whom most of you might remember from this saga.
Heard from two sergeants that the city police now have three Flex Teams in the area as opposed to just one rotating shift. That's very good. A response to the increased incidence of shootings, I was told. I have seen more patrols. That's good. And I hear there is a newly formed Central District Drug Squad. Don't know if that's so good. I thought that was deemed to be ineffective last year. One squad covering a district huge and diverse, without the close knowledge of their beats our Flex units have.
I know I found a Central Drug squad useless under the last sergeant I knew to be in charge. I recall her telling me one time they were putting extra officers on staff in our neighborhood to try to curb our blatant open air market. Later I learned they caught a 13 year old boy anyone with a pair of eyes could have caught. Apparently it took all the extra staff 'cause after that "brave" bust, they all retired for the night to write reports. Never saw her or her people again. But hey, it's a changeup, meaning a change in tactics. It keeps the dealers wondering. That's important.
Noticed trash thrown into the alley last night in cheap plastic bags, as usual. By the neighbors up toward the church and a huge pile outside the DHCD apartment house door again. Also noticed the rats ripping the bags open, enjoying a nice feast. So nice to have what is supposedly an important force for good in the neighborhood showing such frequent lapses. I wonder if there's any connection between the rat holes I'm always fighting in the yard and near the foundation here and the fact my neighbors feed them every night?
New "Film Crew Parking Only" signs in front. Again and again. Oh, what joy! I get to lose what little quiet appreciation of my property I can glean. All for the sake of arrogant TV producers who don't give a damn about anyone in this city.
Read the current tirades in the Bolton Hill Bulletin Board about the youth marching band practice and what an "outrage" it is that they would dare practice until dark on Robert Street between the sacred Bolton Hill and the nouveau Bolton Hill wannabes of Spicer's Run.
The crises in that area are so many, it seems. I'm often torn between a good laugh and disgust at those with no perspective: Outlaw dog poopers abound, littering the streets, parks and sidewalks with their inhuman excrement. Furtively looking around for the vigilante teams who persecute them. Then there's fence wars over a neighbor who wants to put a privacy fence around his postage stamp yard in Spicer's Run to keep his toddler in and to enjoy some sense of having his own yard, not just a vast commons. One or two homeowners there, subscribers to Orwell's 1984 utopia, could not have this blatant example of individuality so they dragged him through the bureaucracy for months. Finally forcing him to rebuild his fence with half an inch more space between the slats.
Then there are those, not unlike me, who have an opinion on everything. Colleges can't tear down old buildings they own for their own purposes. MICA's new Brown Center is an abomination not to be allowed or Brown Center is a beautiful juxtaposition of architecture. Someone bastardized their old house by putting cheap vinyl windows where unGodly expensive round works of art had rotted away. And then there's the horror of someone painting his fence or daring replace a gutter without the proper permits and permissions, but official and acceptable to all their neighbor's tastes.
You don't really seem to buy a house in Bolton Hill or Spicer's Run. You're renting it from the vigilantes. Everyone's business is everyone's. You better tow the line, mister. A provincial attitude prevails. That's one thing I can say about over here: I don't get pestered by the neighbors for the remaining boards on my front windows, while I ever so slowly rebuild and replace the original as this thin budget allows. But the flip side of that is I lament that neighbors here don't care about anything, including themselves. Most of the landlords either. They don't care about rats, trash, dealers, noise or invading film crews here to recreate it for the middle class suburbanites. Those mystified by what happens here every day. The same one's reassured why they and their parents or grandparents got the hell out and never looked back ... except safely from their TV.
We've definitely determined no fall BBQ this month. Can't afford it. And I have no enthusiasm for the effort. While several from outside the neighborhood donated, volunteered and enjoyed it the two years past, most just came for the free feed. They didn't want to meet the neighbors and talk about helping the place. I'm sure it did good, but I'd have to be more hopeful to do it again. I don't feel that this fall.
I'm getting tired and more Baltimoron bitter by the month. I notice I mutter to myself not so flattering things about certain races, cultures and religions that I would never dream of even thinking a few years ago and that I actually don't mean. I suppose in frustration and desperation it's human nature to lump people together, to explain it all, if only for a moment. It's not just the people around here. I think some equally nasty things about some of my affluent neighbors to the east at times. That's why I should stop reading their website.
I'm developing the us or them attitude I see so much of in places like Bolton Hill or Parkville or Bel Air. I'm slipping every once in a while to the attitude those people on Eutaw Place express. The ones I have so often criticized. The ones who take every chance they can to make their western neighbors more white and affluent. I fear I'm becoming one of them, God forbid. I said two years ago that when you get to that point, you should get the hell out of Dodge, not stay and stew in anger.
About the only thing I can say keeps me here at this point is the substation. I smile every time I see an officer pull up, use the restroom, nuke their homemade lunch, grab a water, perhaps a popsicle and leave in ten minutes, sometimes pulling out with lights and siren blaring, as happened yesterday. I smile when I check the browser history on the internet connection we provide for the officers and find someone's logged into their Strayer University online account. I imagine they were checking the results of their exam the day before, as happened today. (I do this to make sure no one has inadvertently left an account open and to assure myself no one is visiting inappropriate sites.) And of course I'm always inspired by people who bring stuff for the officers, like Paul who came by unexpectedly while I was at the market and left me a note asking how he could drop off his donation.
Truth is, I don't know how I'd close down the substation. I feel an obligation to the officers. That's the thing I'd miss.
And my dogs. I'd be hard pressed to find a place for 170 pounds of pit bull. Dogs who have helped me sleep at night when we felt under siege. Dogs who've been companions when I couldn't sleep and while I've chiseled away at making this hulk of a former crack house into some sort of home. I owe them the faithfulness they've shown me.
Plus, I'm just a stubborn cuss. Unable to admit defeat and exhaustion. So, for the time being, I'm here. I just don't know how long I guess. And I do know I need a vacation, but I can't leave ... still. After this long, I expected better.
Wednesday, September 8, 1pm: Politics! And this time I'm not ranting against Republicans, but simply politicians and the stupid electorate we encourage them to pander to.
Check out the article in today's Sun about the end of the assault rifle ban.
Republicans have always catered to the National Rifle Association and the idiots who believe that everyone should be packing. It's our constitutional right!
But now we have Democrats, some supposedly responsible ones, letting this law lapse so they can get at some of the right wing, gun toting hick vote, too. Who cares what the right thing is, we need the votes.
In the meantime, the men and women who protect us will no doubt find themselves facing our dealers with Uzi's and other Godless creations that can pump lead faster than the kid pulling the trigger can think. I remember the drive by shooting rage in California in the late 80's. Usually kids with automatic assault rifles peppering schools and other public places. Our local high school put up a wall just to deflect bullets.
Assault weapons available over the counter again is just plain wrong. You might, if you dare, say that convicted dealers won't be able to buy them. Thats true, but their girlfriends will. I can just see the girls all lined up with lists of exactly what the boys want. And gun dealers eagerly filling the orders. I'm sure the kingpins around here are just dying to get their hands on these guns so they can intimidate citizens and officers alike even more than they do now.
I was repairing a window earlier. Putting in a new pane. Now I'm wondering how much bullet proof glass costs and if I'll ever feel comfortable actually using the living room on the ground floor here for living.
New signs up for the film crew again. You can imagine I'm just thrilled. As if it isn't troublesome enough living here, I really appreciate the city allowing this huge nuisance. It's apparent most in city leadership don't care too much about this area. Hey, let 'em film there, take over the block with your noise and lights, keep people from accessing their homes or parking or sleeping. Those people don't count. Sure, let's exploit them to make a buck. I have to wonder when this becomes illegal. There must be a point where taking over a block for someone else's profit becomes wrong to a judge, too.
Honestly, I don't know why we need crime dramas on TV. Over here, we get to enjoy them in real life ...
In the center of this photo you can see a red Thunderbird where it crashed over a stop sign in the yard of Eutaw Marshburn Elementary. Thank God it was an hour or so after school let out. Messy chase. Lots of squealing tires, yelling between cop cars, "he's over there, no he's going that way!" It looped around the Pedestal Gardens building across from us. Involved several squad cars, Foxtrot and the officer on the dirt bike. He came back to pick up the cap and t-shirt one of the suspects had discarded at 1715 during the foot part of the chase. Another patrol car was damaged, anti freeze gushed out all over the street. Fortunately it seems no one was hurt.
Pretty sports cars, these new Thunderbirds. I don't know if it was a kid on a joy ride or a dealer or both. Haven't run into any of the officers to find out. The scene attracted almost as many spectators as the police chase they filmed last Friday in our alley.
Tuesday, as promised, The Wire crew came by to "put right" the mess they'd created on the back of the DHCD apartment house opposite us in the alley.
The back of this building was solid stucco, well done. Now the building has a coat of cheap brown paint with graffitti and a covering coat of cheap beige paint not even matching the left side of the building. Stucco is a solid through color. Maintenance free mostly. Any guesses when the brown will start to show through the spattered-on top coating? Pretty stupid of the DHCD if you ask me. But hey, they got a few bucks. Maybe it'll almost pay for the maintenance when this stuff flakes off.
Petty criticism? Yes. But we moved here in part because they were doing such a nice job on that building. It was being rebuilt when I first saw this house. Shame to see it bastardized for a formulaic TV show that'll be long gone by the time this paint flakes. But it is their building, even if done with tax and donated dollars, and I'm all into the rights of property owners. Especially the rights of property owners to enjoy their property without interference from drug dealers and TV crews. Except, of course, if the property owner harbors drug dealers.
Tuesday, September 7, 1pm: My entry here last week about the questionable wisdom of consulting a security company for more work when they're not doing the job they're being paid for now, elicited a strong response in the guest book. Check out the September 2nd entry by Mr. Miller of IRM, the property management firm for the beleaguered Pedestal Gardens Section 8 properties here.
Understandably, he did not like our questioning the long term relationship of IRM and SPS. Some excerpts followed by my specific rebuttals ...
"The Internet is an invaluable tool in that it provides the opportunity for numerous individuals to share their thoughts and opinions. It is a shame when the power of that tool is used to cast unfounded allegations." I have no shame about this website.
" ... but I cannot abide the unfounded insinuation of what, in this case, would amount to federally criminal activity." I didn't say it was true. It was just an explanation since there seems no logical or intelligent one.
"I understand your frustration at what you obviously feel have been ineffective attempts to curb drug activity. There is no easy answer. No “home run” to clean up the drug activity." Yes, let's hide our neglect behind this rhetoric. Clarence Weston told me no one could fix the problems with his crack house, too. Clarence's crack house is fixed. Just admire the boards I put up myself.
",,,owner of the project (a non-profit entity that, contrary to your numerous previous suggestions, does not see one cent of "profit" from the operation of this property) ..." Your insinuation of philanthropy on the part of the property's owners is ridiculous on too many levels to address here. The property's owners, who choose to hide behind your management firm, and you as their agents, have had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing repeatedly. The plague of this building has has gone on too long. While it seemed we were making progress, you've let it backtrack again because you thought no one was looking.
"There are only two choices, give up and walk away, or continue working to make things better. And believe me, we are not going anywhere." I've been tempted too often to walk away because of the building you're in charge of. And if "we're not going anywhere" is a threat, I'll tell you the properties of irresponsible landlords can be closed. Whether 6 units or 24 or 300.
My entry just voiced an idea to explain the irresponsibility of letting a security company offer inadequate services at full price, pretending to the do the job while the management is oblivious. It's actually not slander, I've been told. It would be libel. But it's neither. It's free speech. Protected by the largest Federal law of the land, the Constitution. Website journals, often called blogs, are an expression of personal opinion and not subject to the requirements of the press. This according to the Supreme Court. Anyway, I didn't say I knew it to be true. In fact, I hope it's not. But those who care around here are hard pressed to see why this backsliding has been allowed unless there's a motive we don't see.
Francesca replied in the guest book. She lost her temper I think. I don't mind. I had to wait a few days to make this entry to regain mine. I think it's called righteous indignation.
The website seems to have lit a spark again.. More likely it was several emails and calls to City Police and HUD. It always seems that to get any action from Pedestal Gardens management, one must go to their cash cow, HUD, and the city authorities. I'm tired of wasting my breath with landlords who've repeatedly shown little interest in doing the right things for it's own sake. As a city police official asked me "what is it you want, Bryan, to get involved in their business or for it to be a safe building?" "Just a safe building is all I demand, I'm tired of being sucked into their excuses, politics and game playing."
I'm reminded of those I used to call the Eutaw Place Crazies who came out of the woodwork with allegations of a conspiracy by residents of the 1715-1717 Madison Pedestal Gardens building to firebomb their houses. Unbelievably, they compared it to "9/11" and simply exaggerated and lied to further their purpose, which is/was to close the building because of it's long history of mismanagement and trouble. A worthwhile goal if you ask me now. Especially if Pedestal Gardens management doesn't step up fast and become reliable in its dedication to being a responsible landlord. I gave Clarence Weston a year before I declared war. Unlike the Eutaw Crazies, I don't have to lie or exaggerate. I simply see and photograph and write down.
I have to disagree with Mr. Miller when he asserts that this website has anything to be ashamed of. In fact, Vaughn and I are very proud of our efforts here. We know this website is read by many neighbors, leaders and dealers, and I think all respect it in one way or another. Unlike the other players here, we have nothing to show for our efforts than what little progress we've made. And we'll be damned before we allow others destroy it.
Speaking of lighting fires, figuratively, I see Don Miller and Richard White of IRM outside in front of the building right now with Joyce, the on site manager, and a young salesman, most likely discussing the now promised, and way long overdue, camera system...
I've been suggesting a good camera system for at least two years. I'm tired of being Pedestal Gardens camera man. Doesn't pay well and I don't even get a thank you from the owners. The police commissioner asked why there was none when he visited last year. It was suggested at the emergency HUD meeting two years ago when HUD's director condemned 1715-1717 as "out of control." Officers have asked why there wasn't one. Yet when I suggested it to Mr. Miller again earlier this year, I heard something like "there are problems with camera systems ..." Read expenses.
Finally, it seems the cameras are going to happen. I guess now we'll see the security staff here more regularly, at least to smile for the cameras. Maybe I won't see boys blatantly dealing in and out of their building as I did yesterday afternoon ...
Forgive the shakiness. I couldn't use the eyepiece because they were watching my window so I held the camera away, with me out of view. I'm sure there are much better pictures of them downtown and coming soon to a post office near you.
This was a crew of four in rotation with two others wearing white t-shirts. They were likely keeping their stash in 1715 or else why would they be constantly walking in and out? Reupping as they made sales. They changed shirts twice that I saw. Pretty crafty, these young entrepreneurs.
There was what looked like a good bust in front of the house next door later last night. Obviously, some city officers were watching. I had called downtown. Two men and a car were taken away too. I watched the boys above nervously fidget as they pretended to be just walking by, cell phones glued to their ears, no doubt reporting the news to their superiors. Brought tears to my eyes. Amazing what I can find touching. And very reassuring. I knew for a while at least the boys would be gone.
But there was comic relief. As the city officers with their three cars and a paddy wagon, blue and reds and strobes glaring, made their arrests, three SPS guards came meandering up the street. First time I'd noticed them all afternoon. As if on cue for a Three Stooges episode. Tied together as if at the hip, it must have been time to run the bar codes or take a break. God knows they weren't watching what was going on before. One of them is supposed to be supervising 1715-1717 at all times, according to Don Miller. These are non commissioned officers. The ones both the dealers and I know are ineffective, especially when bunched together all shift. The dealers and I pay attention. We know what's going on here. Pity certain landlords don't.
This has been a rather carping, nasty entry. Sorry about that, gentle reader, though I know you've come to expect it. Sometimes it seems necessary to get the job done. Vaughn has something he'd like to share about what we think that job is ...
"I'm Vaughn, the other crazy guy on the block. I usually just read Bryan's journal of our ongoing dream or saga, depending on your perspective. Sometimes he asks me to proof it because he knows I'll ask him to tone it down a bit. Sometimes, when his anger is coming through loud and clear because it really needs to, I don't encourage toning down at all. Sometimes we need to be heard.My guest posting today is about coincidence. Many of you have heard of the John Guare play and movie adaptation "Six Degrees of Separation". My recent experiences make me wonder how we can all not just know someone who knows someone, but how we can all affect someone too. . .After the City Paper article in January of 2003 came out, we were contacted by a woman from Hampden who had once followed her son because she suspected he was using drugs again, and she followed him to our house where he was scoring his drugs [when it was abandoned before we bought it].
I work in Charles Village during the daytime and I know a young girl there who was amazed to hear about our project. She's clean now and attending college, but she used to get her heroin from our block.A few nights a week I do some work with a transitional home for men in recovery. These are guys who after they've gotten out of detox and or prison become part of a very strict program for 6-8 months in order to sustain sobriety, secure and maintain full-time employment and attain their own permanent housing.
One night last week I took one of the guys with me to pick up some donated furniture for the program. He picked up and was reading the address and directions I had printed out from Yahoo Maps. The directions were from 1708 Madison to the place where the furniture was. He said to me, "Who do you know in the 1700 block of Madison Avenue?" I told him I lived there. He then asked if I was one of the guys with the Police Station in their house and responded that we were either crazy or had some connections. I told him it was a little bit of both.He was arrested and spent some time locked up from dealing on the other side of the block in the 1700 block of McCulloh. That crack-house was closed by Major Skinner [An OCD, Organized Crime Division, initiative] about 8 months ago. This guy can't go back there so he's trying something different. A more life-affirming approach. So far he's doing really well in the program and I hope he continues with it.Bryan and I have often said, that if we could only make a difference in one person's life, especially the children we're surrounded with, that all of our efforts would be worthwhile. It gets very frustrating sometimes when events seem to be going backwards. But we do know that we have made a difference in the lives of more than one or two. I think we've made a difference in the lives of everyone who lives in this block and everyone they associate with. I think we've made a difference to the dealers. They can no longer deal openly in the street as if they owned the block and hopefully they won't be able to intimidate or bribe the Pedestal Gardens residents and their children into giving them a base of operations.We will continue to do whatever it takes and remains in our power to make drug dealing in this block and the rest of the neighborhood as difficult as we can make it. If it becomes too inconvenient or profits are too affected then I hope they move down the street or even further. We're not giving up and quitting. There are too many lives at stake. Not just here, but people they may know. Even someone you may know.
In the past too many years, Vaughn has repeatedly calmed me down, reassured me that it was all worthwhile, that this would be a friendly neighborhood again as it was so many years ago, not an infamous crack and heroin market, a block of blight and hopelessness. One day we would be proud to live here. Maybe we could do some good while rebuilding a house. I'm already proud to live here. And prouder still of him. He didn't have to say yes when I asked him to join me tilting at windmills.
And he certainly didn't have to stay. (I'm reminded of him nervously watching me clean a shot gun because I was convinced we were going to be visited in the night by Quentin, the Steelside Gang, or Lamar or Fat Boy or any number of less than pleasant young men. He wasn't sure if I was paranoid or prudent.). Without him, I would be long gone, just like so many who've abandoned this city the past few generations. I should thank you, Vaughn. Though at times I've cursed you for helping inspire me to stick it out.
Forgive the pride. Sometimes it seems the only thing we have here that dealers and bad landlords can't take away.
Sunday, September 5, 2pm: I'm an angry old cuss. I may have been born that way, but didn't know how true it was till I moved here. This place has brought out the worst and best in me.
Thursday evening as The Wire invaded the block, I realized I often feel I have to fight on several fronts here. Dealers, dumpers, irresponsible landlords, film crews, bureaucrats ... If I don't, it seems they all just crap on this block because they can. And too many of my neighbors just expect it from long abuse.
I was rudely awakened Friday morning just before 7am by a big panel truck dumping debris all down the alley, right in front of the substation too. My response from habit was to scurry down and get a plate number to call 911, but then I fully woke up and realized it was The Wire setting up at what they consider their "established location."
None of this was here before of course, we see to it. We don't let people dump here as best we can. Even sweep it when necessary.
When I got downstairs to catch the crew, I noticed a police man using the substation and that they'd even gone so far as to throw this junk in our private parking area.
The furniture debris is The Wire's. The police car is not a prop. Nor is the old junky truck. That's actually mine, though I admit it looked too much like part of the ambiance the crew was going for.. <g>
There were table legs with screws exposed strewn in the roadway and junk metal actually placed behind the officer's squad car. If I hadn't removed it, I'm pretty sure he would have backed over it losing a couple tires. I guess they assumed we were all just part of the shoot. This after I was assured via email by the Director of the city film authority that neither the officer's nor our access to this parking would be impeded in any way. I had written an angry email to the mayor complaining that we were allowing a profit making enterprise to surround a block and hamper people's access to their homes, along with city officers at ours. He forwarded it to her.
I was livid. I'm not a morning person anyway, but I'd been tweaked. Watching them desecrate the building across the alley the day before, the walls that I personally have repeatedly defended against graffiti vandals and dumpers, bothered me no end.
It all had looked like the bright wall you see here ...
Just over a week before, the city crew had come after my 311 call to remove debris someone had dumped in the alley. They responded in only two days or so. I had been impressed. It's critical you get this stuff out fast otherwise it attracts more dumpers who assume no one cares. Same as it is with cockroaches, rats and dealers. In fact, Vaughn and I have taken a few truckloads out of the alley ourselves, not wanting to wait for the city.
I spoke to the officer as he came out of the substation. He summoned his sergeant. The sergeant had a bad attitude. Maybe he wasn't a morning person either. Didn't want to deal with an irate neighbor and who could blame him? "They have the permits," seemed his only concern. I had no doubt about that, but I showed him the email we'd received saying this was not going to happen. Then the chief film crew dumper came down the alley to see what was going on. I told him our property was not his and that if he didn't remove the debris he'd put on it and in the way of the substation I would make an official illegal dumping complaint. He realized he was dealing with an angry old cuss too and promptly removed it. The sergeant drove away, no doubt shaking his head.
After that, I figured things would only be a fight all day as the crews began to set up all around us with the smug arrogance that we were there's to use as they please. Later that morning as I was out with the dogs, a young blonde man came up to say hi and he apologized. He is the location manager for the show. "I don't know why they got so carried away. They were only supposed to do the area from where that brown wall starts half way up the block. I apologize. We won't get in your way." That helped. Courtesy always does. I see so little of it here.
Perhaps you can see why I might take offense at all this dumping, temporary as it was. It was a symbol to me. A symbol that outsiders can come here and dump on us, use us, our houses and our neighborhood for their own selfish purpose and that our city leaders allow it.
I stayed home all day and night. They had been filming at Carlton Douglas' Funeral Home all afternoon. Apparently Carlton doesn't mind whoring out his place for a few bucks. I sure was ashamed after doing it just once. Vaughn was nearly as angry as I when he had trouble navigating his way through the trucks to get to his parking space. A couple times he told the Wire security guys to get out of the way. I'm glad they did.
The filming of the scene in the alley commenced about sunset. Around that time Vaughn had to go out for an appointment. When he came back, he was stopped by the security and then by what he found was a real police officer. I came out and explained the situation, too. He took the email we'd printed to the location manager, as I called after him "it doesn't matter what they say, no one has the right to surround our house and prevent us from accessing it."
A minute later he came back and said it was OK. I was pleasantly surprised that he seemed to understand why we might be bothered. And he didn't know about the substation so I think he sensed we were bothered too that something we work so hard to provide would be denied to the officers who use it. We talked for a while. He shared some stories. Listened to us, too. Asked a few questions, like the one we here most commonly, "why do you do it?" As we wrapped up our chat, I thanked him for helping calm us down. He assured us that wasn't his only reason for talking with us. <g>
The rest of the night was uneventful, except for dozens of takes for several scenes: screeching squad cars, cursing, trash cans flying. Over and over again. Huge flood lamps illuminated the whole block just like the stadium lights. Went on to the wee hours. No one could sleep, so many of us formed a big peanut gallery to watch from the sidelines. People who see this very scene in reality every day, no doubt wondering why all the trucks and equipment were necessary. Footage from Carlton's or my cameras would have given more realistic scenes, but we don't have the celebrity stars.
Around midnight, I came out and chatted with a few extras dressed as city policemen. They were waiting around to be called. Bored. I wanted a guesstimate of when it would all end. They didn't know. We chatted. Interesting to hear their stories. One actor I spoke to was from DC. As we talked, rats scurried around our feet. At one point I lamented that part of my problem was that Mr. Simon, the show's driving force, has made a career of exploiting Baltimore's woes ... and we let him. The actor said something like, "well you know, good things just don't make good shows." He's right. We want drama and intrigue and excitement in our entertainment, not the safe, quiet, happy neighborhoods so many of us take for granted.
I had a small epiphany. I had thought our fascination with the drug trade in Baltimore, the high ratings of fictionalized horrible reality, was an indication of the perverse, prurient, dark side of human nature. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe it says something good about human nature that we assume the best, take it for granted. That most of us consider crime and drugs to be the exception, not the rule. We know what's normal, what's right. So we find the evil, the wrong, intriguing. Deep down most people who live in the crack ghettos of Baltimore know what's right too. Exploited and terrorized by amoral dealers every day, they just feel hopeless. I'll bet the dealers and their young apprentices see themselves glamorized and validated by the show. The rest find themselves bewildered at watching their reality turned into other's entertainment.
Wednesday, September 1, 10pm: Heard the property management firm of Pedestal Gardens is consulting with the existing security company about installing cameras. Hmmm. A company gives you unqualified personnel at full price, resists implementing a radio backup system, screws that up, and basically screws you over and then you consult them for further work, work they're entirely unqualified for? And now we have back the area manager who was in charge when things went completely down hill. I think Vaughn is right. I wonder who's paying whom. Does the word "kickback" sound applicable? I'm not seeking to slander. This is just a guess. But when a company does not do the job its contracted for, why would the management firm seek their "expertise" on something they have no expertise in? One does wonder.
Our neighbor, Dr. Howard, from the other side of 1715-1717 Madison had this comment...
I agree, there seems to be more activity on our side of 1715 Madison as well. Thanks for your attention to this."
I think the other neighbors have just completely given up on complaining. Dr. Howard still cares for sure.
Cameras would be a good thing. I've said this for four years. If they are put in right. Not by people who want them to fail. Property management at Pedestal Gardens needs to consult Major Skinner and a big database of knowledge on the subject of surveillance at similar properties. It's readily available on the Internet. If it's accessible to me, why is it such a mystery to a multi million dollar Section 8 property management firm?
LIke the radio system that isn't, it seems property management and security vendors need to be dragged kicking and screaming to do the right thing. And then when they can avoid it no longer, they sabotage the best of intentions to prove themselves right and in the mean time waste taxpayer money and everyone''s time.
I'm also not really impressed by seeing security guard's cars parked in front of my house all of a sudden. This means nothing to me. They can park anywhere they want, it's doing the job that counts. Who is it who thinks I can be as easily conned as a property management firm that supervises from New Jersey and Pennsylvania? Performance is what I demand, not window dressing. I'm not fooled by a security company that's shown me repeatedly it doesn't care at all. Mr. Coppinger (SPS's owner) is very lucky he does have a couple good employees. God knows, he doesn't deserve and does little to encourage them.
There are bright spots. Today the UPS truck drove up. I thought it was a carburetor I'd bought online. Turned out to be this...
What a pleasant surprise! Coffee and pralines from New Orleans. I make coffee every day in the substation. Of course it doesn't go so fast in the summer. The pralines will disappear in one or two shifts. Thank you for the donation Julie. And I'm glad your orphaned friend has found a home.
Wednesday, September 1, 1pm: Quiet out front ... right now. Just a city guy putting up "Film Crew Parking Only" signs. Hmmm. I own this house. They do not. I'm so tired of bending over backward, or is it forward, for a TV show about the problems in Baltimore. I wish we had "No Drug Dealing" signs we enforced as strictly.
Last not, not so quiet. Cadillac Crew, as I call them, was doing a bangup business on the block and in and out of the Pedestal Gardens building. This time he didn't park around the corner to avoid me reporting him. Just did his business as flagrantly as he could. At one point even smoking what I'd guess was crack with a girl right next to his car. I just can't get over what a dealer magnet that relatively small (24 units) apartment house and this little block itself are. And of course yesterday evening no Pedestal Gardens security to be seen.
At one point I was out with the dogs in the yard and heard "hey, Gabriel, want me to get that white guy for you?" I took it personally and wondered if the guns were in line for a cleaning. DefCon level went up a notch, for sure. Called the Major after that. It was the last straw. Two officers came out. Supervisors. We had a good talk in the substation. I shared some very specific information with them and referred them to Pedestal Gardens Officer Jimmy for more. One of the officers did point out to me that "take care of that white guy" could have meant "serve that customer over there." I have to check my paranoia at the door.
We're mostly African American on this block. In fact until we moved here, it had been 100% black for many years. But Caucasians do come by to buy drugs here. Or did. We used to have the rep as the best place to get your crack and heroin. I figured there was a flyer in the Sun's suburban editions. "Crack mega mart, 1704 Madison Avenue." I will always remember the bumper sticker on a station wagon driven by two kids who barely looked old enough to drive: "My son is an Ann Arundel High School Honor Student." Wondered if mom knew what he was up to that night, nervously waiting for the dealer to come up to his car. We used to have drive through service, don't you know? Cadillac Crew would like that again.
Some people on this block do confuse my anti crack crusade with being anti black. Ain't so. I hate crack dealers, not African Americans. Vaughn was told once, in the middle of an argument with a neighbor about her putting trash on the sidewalk, "you don't belong here, you belong over there," pointing to Bolton Hill. In fact, a couple years ago, a city officer told us the same thing. Not a good city officer. There's a bad apple in every barrel. I have to wonder why people would think us racists. Why in the world would we move here? I guess they don't know I was equally bothered by the lilly white Irish American dealers who used to hang out near my print shop in Fells Point. Crack and heroin are equal opportunity destroyers.
Speaking of race. Saw Lt. Governor Steele's speech. Yes, me. "Know the enemy," Caesar said. Laughed. Republican is the party of prosperity was his message. He suffers from the same delusion a Republican friend or two of mine share: Republicans are wealthy. If I support Republicans, I will be, too. There's no doubting the Bush/Cheney/Haliburton government is assuring that wealthy Americans stay that way. I just don't see them recruiting new members. In fact, this president has saddled us with a huge mortgage on our future so he could fight a war that has not made us any safer at all. And so far it's cost us 978 American lives, part of a huge toll. How simplistic. Terrorists attack New York. Find someone to exact revenge, even though Iraq is no different than Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Lebanon, etc. All are filled with angry people who hate America. With some reason. And now we've made them angrier still. Ah, but I digress. My political comments always elicit a few nasty retorts from readers.
I will say yet again: Why do we take on new wars when we cannot secure our own neighborhoods from drug terrorists right here at home? I sure wish the officers I met last night had even a tiny bit of the resources we've flung at Iraq. God knows they deserve all the support they can get.
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