Journal Entries for September 2005

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Thursday night, September 29:

I wrote this on Tuesday, September 27, 1pm
: It's been a long week.

I've resisted sitting down to write because I was too angry and disappointed. You might say "that's never stopped you before." You'd be right. This time seems different. I'm tired of it. More tired than usual.

As you know, there's a generator driven light tower on the corner of Mad Av now. The dealers count their money under it. For a day or so it was a deterrent. Now, like so many other efforts, they realize it's just for show. Like the cameras, squawk boxes, fence and seldom seen security at Pedestal Gardens.

Oh, I am on a downer, aren't I? Might have to do with the rock and brick thrown at the house last week. BANG, BANG! about 10ish while I was watching TV. The big mutt ran to the window to bark. I grabbed him, throwing us both to the carpet. It seemed loud for gunshots, but thank God I don't have that much experience with them to know. I called 911. Less than three minutes later an officer was here. We looked up and could see nothing. "I didn't hear gunshots and I was just across the school yard at the courtyard [of Pedestal Gardens]." He was responding to a call about breaking and entering there.

Next morning I saw the sidewalk in front of the house. The pristine new one I've been so happy about. I'm no forensic scientist despite my addiction to CSI, but it was clear. Brick shards and pieces of rock. There were freshly broken twigs amidst the debris. I credit the old scarred up pear tree with having deflected the projectiles.

Hey, at least they weren't Molitov Cocktails.

One day last week, I was walking up from downtown. I stopped at Pedestal Garden's office and met Stephanie White, the assistant manager. I wanted to introduce myself to the new manager and to ask about the loud, garbled gibberish we've been hearing sporadically from the PA system at the 1715-1717 building. We really wouldn't mind the PA system, though it does seem intrusive, if we could hear something worthwhile like "please leave the premises, the police are on the way." Instead we hear totally unintelligible garble. The next day, there was a crew tweaking the system. I heard a pretty voice say "testing, 1,2,3." I called Ms. White to thank her. As much as I bitch, I prefer thanking. We haven't heard the newly tuned system since. Hoping it's better.

Sunday
, I was standing in the yard with a cup of coffee in hand, watching the dogs do their business. My usual morning ritual.

An officer came in to do his business and as he left, he stopped next to the fence. Cino ran up to him, sat down and let the officer pet his nose through the fence.

And from this young man came these words:

"You're a very lucky man."

I exhaled a bit of my coffee through my nose and choked out  "what!?"

"You're a very lucky man [pointing at the dogs] and such a nice yard."

He was sincere.
I was dumbfounded.

When I stopped sneezing coffee,  I looked around me, while he petted Cino. I did see what he meant. I imagined this young guy lives alone in a small apartment with no ground to call his own. Like every boy, he wants, wanted, had a dog. Here I have three. And a yard to call my own. In the middle of the city no less.

I called Vaughn, who was away at church, to tell him. Left a message. He called me back to say "you'll accuse me of planning this, but you are a lucky man. You just don't know it." Or something like that. I hate it when he's right. Fortunately, that's not often a concern.

I don't know how to explain what goes on around here. How one minute it seems we're in desperation and the next all is OK. It isn't just me. Perhaps that's this morning's lesson: It isn't about me.

Back to Thursday: Last night I was marveling at how few bad boys out there milling the street. And how few cops. Then, I looked out in time to see a pickup truck fly by on Wilson Street. A squad car came from the other end of the block and chased after him. Might just have been a speeder. Might well have been someone nervous about the lights. It was encouraging to see a different tactic. I'm hoping there's more than that, but I'm tired of emailing and calling when I see blatant dealing. It's got us no where. And as I told someone new to his job a day or so ago: I stop calling or emailing someone when they don't seem part of the solution.

When the lights first went in, we saw the drive through customers panic when they saw the floodlamps, backing up down one way streets. Stopping like deer in the headlights. Then perhaps trying the other end of the block. They're sure this is where they can score. They always have.

Still the brief high of feeling lucky has faded. The ongoing stress of living here is taking its toll. Today we did something pondered for a long time. We met with a Realtor. Took the grand tour.
She's doing some research. I guess we're exploring the prospect seriously now.

The loud garbling from the Pedestal Gardens PA system has returned. I don't know what's wrong with it, but I told them about it last week. That's all I can do. Impressive new fence in place for weeks, but no gates or access control at all. The very point of it. Dealers routinely commute to the corner and down Wilson and back to their stashes at PG. Not seeing any security at all. I guess the city is left to run the lights and handle Pedestal Garden's security. Just as Major Skinner warned them not to nearly a year ago. But we're on a new Major now. Third one in four years. Same problem with Police Commissioners. Each has a learning curve. That could be a good thing when it means new tactics, but after three times it's tedious waiting. And my patience seems just about finally sapped. Not fair to the new guys. I'm sure property managers are encouraged to hear that. "Perhaps if we can just keep leading the police and HUD on a bit longer, we can get rid of those guys finally."

Monday, September 19, 1pm: Vaughn related a story from one of our neighbors a block north. Rachel called 311 to report a man sleeping in her doorway. The operator asked that incredible question I've heard a hundred times, "is this in a drug free zone?"

Rachel's reply: "I would hope so."

Haven't you seen the sign, Rachel? ...

Drug Full School Zone
I took the liberty of correcting the sign on the side of Eutaw Marshburn Elementary.

Rachel is impressed by the new lights, too. They're creating a buzz down the block. They do make a statement. I'm thinking more than one of Commissioner Hamm's neighbors is going to knock on his door. Losing one's temper may not be a desirable trait, but endless patience has its drawbacks, too. I think unless we'd "lost it" the other day there would be no light tower at the corner of Madison and Wilson. Of course, we have no idea how long it will be there or if it will remain as effective. If it's just a light with nothing else, I don't know what it can do. I suspect other efforts are underway. I hope so. Too much work has been done here.

About noon time I walked around the block. I was trying my best to make a construction crew nervous as they loaded up trash from their rehab project. I mouthed their license plate number and heard something in Spanish that sounded like something unpleasant aimed at me. I don't speak Spanish so I'm not sure if that was just paranoia on my part. Maybe they were aware the Environmental Crimes unit was here because of our complaint. This is not the work crew at 1712. They seem quite responsible. I'm talking about the one on Laurens I wrote about last week. Anyway, when I turned the corner down the alley, I watched as two big guys leaned against the school yard fence, having a loud conversation about the light in front of them. I know one of them is a dealer. I've watched him for over a year. As he caught sight of me, he pointed and said "it's his fault!" I shrugged my shoulders, smiled and carried on "my rounds." I'm just a grouchy spoilsport, but I certainly can't take the credit.

I don't know where it came from, but it was nice to see this email yesterday.

Guys,
I commend your efforts a million times over. I'm from New York and currently looking at Baltimore as a cheaper alternative for home buying. I'm familiar with your neighborhood and optimistic things would change for the better. The entire city is in dire need of progressive minded individuals who can collectively rejuvenate it's blighted communities and I feel you are on the right track. I've never before seen such neglect, disrepair and disillusionment in any one city. Your efforts won't go unrewarded, God willing. Keep it way up!!!!!
'Siji

1704 was foreclosed upon the by the city a year ago next month. While a "developer" has been chosen for the house, he was granted an extension which seems to be getting extensive. Vaughn and I are wondering if he's gotten cold feet. He does seem very concerned that it will be difficult for him to sell three $150,000+ condos in that building given the boards on our windows and the other somewhat ramshackle neighbors. Apparently, this wasn't considered during the process. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, the chosen developer wasn't even aware the building had a garage until I asked him what he planned to do with it. He seems a nice guy, but getting a half million bucks for 1704 seems a bit out of touch with reality even during this crazy real estate boom. I'm working hard at rebuilding some windows and trying to keep this house from being the one that brings down the whole block.

All morning long I've heard fire trucks, police sirens and ambulances down Wilson Street. Obviously, there's been a fire. Hope no one was hurt. Haven't seen any officers use the substation. I think they're too busy to take a break. I'm hyper careful here. These old houses go up way too fast as we saw during those July 4 fires.  I've often said that if I came home to find the smoldering remnants of this house, I'd be fine so long as Vaughn was outside standing next to three waggly tailed mutts.

The fence is done at Pedestal Gardens. I see tradesmen working in the builidng on the new magnetically locked fire doors. I imagine they're working on the new systems. Still, no gates. I watch as "Fatso," one of our resident dealers, comes and goes. Wide open fencing accomplishes nothing, as Madison Park North illustrates so well. That's the Section 8 housing at Park and North that terrorizes the residents of Reservoir Hill and Northern Bolton Hill. Another privately owned low income housing project destroying lives while fat cats feed at the Section 8 tax money trough.

Saturday, September 17, 1pm: Came home from dinner last night to find the corner swarming with dealers. I was mad. I mean mad in every sense of the word. It was all Vaughn could do to dissuade me from marching up to them. Something I've physically prevented him from doing more than once.

At one point,  while he was on the line with 911, I yelled at him that I was going to walk up to our neighbor's house and ask him what he's doing. Something to that effect. Anyway, the neighbor I was referring to is Leonard Hamm, our newest Police Commissioner. He's often said at community meetings that his door is open to his neighbors. "Knock on my door." I was ready to accept that invitation and make him one as well: come up to our end of Mad. Ave and see what we live with.

Half way there, we were intercepted by four squad cars. Obviously, they felt I'd voiced a threat to him. I felt like a homeland security threat. I did not know these officers. At one point we thought we were spending the night at Central Booking and perhaps Guantanamo after that. After a while, they seemed to understand. We met Lt. Johnson. A veteran officer. He was firm but patient. He felt a visit to Mr. Hamm at 9pm might be impolite. He said "He's home from a long day, he shouldn't have to deal with this right now," or something to that effect. The lieutenant was right, of course. Visiting Mr. Hamm at that hour would have been rude. Not neighborly.

It's a tough situation all officers are in. Crooks on one side. Angry citizens on the other. It's never been my intention to make the cops' job harder than it is. It's just so damned frustrating to watch things get better and then go backward literally overnight. I think the officers we dealt with last night understand our exasperation.

When we got back home, we watched as a city crew put a generator with a tall light pole up at the corner of the school at Madison and Wilson. A moment later, the entire intersection was bathed in stadium intensity lights. It was daylight. The light pole is still there. Some kids were looking it over this morning. Vaughn said they pointed at him when he opened the window to see.

Major Sheppard emailed this morning that they were going to try "another new tactic, so keep me updated. There is light at the end of the tunnel." Major Sheppard has a sense of humor. And we've seen the light.

He's right about light. The dealers do not like it. One yelled at us last night. "There ain't no need for that," referring to the artificial daylight. Customers don't like bright lights or cameras.

Thanks to Julie and Mike for donating four cases of bottled waters. I removed the donation jar. She's right. We can't charge the officers for bottles of cold water. I was ashamed to ask it. We ask too much of these guys and gals as it is. A decent restroom and a cold bottle of water is not much to give in return.

On Tuesday, we had blatant dealing under the "drug free school zone" sign, as is too predictable again lately. A few 911 calls later, an unmarked car showed up (very unmarked, but that's all I'll say).  And then a squad car parked there for a while. The market was closed for the night.

Richard White of IRM, the property management firm for Pedestal Gardens, told me the other day that his firm had donated the money to repair the basketball hoops at the school playground. Unfortunately, the money seems to have gone to the police department, but not earmarked for the PAL program Officer Graham runs at our school. We need to get the big lights there working, too. We can't rely on a generator and light pole for street b'ball.

Some people say neighborhood basketballcourts are a breeding ground for dealing. I disagree. The dealing happens regardless. Kids playing ball, where there's so little to do otherwise, is a great thing. Regular readers will recall the time when a bunch of kids came to our substation door to complain they couldn't play at the PAL Center. We will pursue this. I promised those boys. I recall when they walked away from the substation I was struck with their enormous potential. Potential we're challenged to fill. Ten to 15 year olds. And they looked to us to fix something that mattered to them. They're right. Old guys like me have to be the ones to fix things. Who else will?

As with all children, it's up to us to raise them. What's that hokie line? "It takes a village." We really do have to grasp that. And I mean next door. Not the way we pretend. The kids I saw that day were the future.
Their question was clear. Their expectation huge. The spark in their eyes blinding.

And reason to carry on this fight.

[end of ranting ... for the moment]

8pm: I can't exactly figure out what to write just now. A couple of tears are streaming down my cheek. Make that a torrent.

The generator and huge lights are up again.

Just got off the phone with Carlton of the funeral home around the corner. He has spoken to the commissioner and to the central district major, too. We are not alone.

A very annoying feature of the neighborhood these days is the loud, unintellgible garble from the PA system at Pedestal Gardens. No one can understand what she's saying, but at the most unpredictable hours of the day or night, there she is at full volume. Loud, like prison yard PA. Saying something. Perhaps with good intentions. Vaughn suggests it's entirely unintentional. "She seems to be hitting the button, not knowing she's transmitting." Regardless, none of us appreciates hearing we're part of the same prison yard.

Friday, September 9, 11am: As usual, when I write anything here about things being better, the proverbial other shoe drops to prove me wrong. The bad boys must read. I'm always surprised about that.

Night before last, we had a tailgate party. I had not been invited. Two tall, fat African American gentlemen popped the gate down on their fancy silver SUV, set out a cooler, cranked up the rap, and proceeded to drink malt liquors while carrying on the loudest conversation possible. The decibels were all about advertising, of course. And it worked, as always.

They parked almost exactly out of the line of view from our camera, on the other side of NIMROD center from the Pedestal Gardens cameras. I wouldn't have seen them if I hadn't noticed the steady stream of business. People spilled out of PG, and from other points west, lured just like kids to the ice cream truck melody. Several of the young men who visited the tail gate party came back again and again after selling down Wilson Street and Laurens.

Of course I dialed 911 and described the scene. Five minutes later I went out into the yard with the dogs. As I was peering through the wooden fence slats, I noticed the customers and retailers were all gone. Then I saw one of the tailgaters cup his hands to his mouth and yell in my direction
"Don't you be hiding, we know it was YOU!"

I screamed back "I ain't hiding! This is my house!" or something like that. I meant to scream an expletive or two. I might have.
I don't think they could see my middle finger very well even held high over my head and the fence. Sometimes when I'm mad as hell, the hair on the back of my neck standing on end, I don't consciously act, I react. Like the time I stormed down the street toward the clustered dealers there, screaming at them. When I saw Vaughn do this once, I screamed at him about how stupid that was.

A few moments after our exchange, a squad car cruised on down Wilson, right past these boys. Didn't even stop. Seemed as if to tell them, "you know he called, cool it. I don't want to have to do my job." Effective officers would have stopped to talk to them. There was "sufficient cause" to search the car
with the open containers. Another lost opportunity to take drugs off the street. LIkely a substantial haul it would have been, too, considering the brisk business they had been doing. I know several good officers who wouldn't have hesitated to stop and do their jobs. Unfortunately just not this one.

The tailgaters closed up shop a few minutes later. I saw them vigorously nod their heads "no" as their retailers and customers tried to approach again after the coast was clear. The rap was silenced as loudly as it had announced. No doubt they just moved business further out of our view.

I wrote a very critical email to the mayor, commissioner, major, council president Dixon and HUD that night. Nothing new there. As effective as a smoke signal in the dark.

Yesterday afternoon Foxtrot visited at least a couple times. Figure eights over the school, NIMROD and all the way down past Druid Hill, down to Pennsylvania Avenue. Several loud minutes each time. (here's an old map for those of you who don't live in these parts) The helicopter is a huge deterrent and always a welcome sight to me. I smile and wave thanks each time. I figure if he can see license plates, he knows how much I appreciate it. With the street number and name painted both directions in three foot characters on the roof of the substation, he certainly knows we're here.

city police helicopter "Foxtrot"

The Central District Major called last night. He listened politely as always. Said he'd directed the drug squad to keep an eye out in our area that night. I emphasized all the work they'd done can so easily be undone without some effort at maintenance. Just like firefighters who never leave the scene until they've watched a while for the unseen sparks to flare. He said Sergeant Wimmer's crew was working near by. I reminded him of the effective work they had done last January at Pedestal Gardens with help from HUD's Inspector General's Office. I also told him about what then Central District Major Skinner had said about the effort: "We'll clean it up, but it's the property owner's responsibility to keep it that way."

Night before last there was a knock at the door. Vaughn went to answer. Turned out to be two residents of Pedestal Gardens. One from the building at 1600 Eutaw Place and the other from the main courtyard at Eutaw and McMechen.
They wanted to know how we cleaned up "our" building, the one at 1715-1717 Madison Avenue, across the street. They said dealing and security at their buildings has gotten intolerable. "Where is the security patrol?" One said "when we came here, they interviewed us and explained the rules. Now they start out bad. [referring to a lack of evictions for criminal activity and dealers being rented to as well as no supervision of the number of persons using an apartment, etc]. What can we do?" They were so frustrated they had no qualms about our giving their names, addresses and numbers to anyone if it would help. That says a lot considering they have much to fear about retaliation from dealers and property managers alike. Talk about not having any friends. Vaughn was moved to tears they would look to us. One of the ladies told him "They're watching us right now. They know we're here. We don't care!"

flagging down customers

Not long after dark last night, the same two who'd had the tailgate party opened shop on the school's rock fence. Another "change up" in tactics they've used before: one is cashier, the other stock boy. They use the rock fence as a display case. All the pretty crack, heroin vials and gel caps lined up for your selection. Pick one. Set the money down on the end of the fence where the cashier stands. Leave with your hit. The cashier picks up the cash. The stock boy replenishes the display case. No hand to hand transaction. "That isn't mine. I don't know who left that there."

I called the Major and left a message about them. Not long after I did, the fat one in the red shirt came out of our Pedestal Gardens building in a gray shirt and baseball cap. Maybe we have a wire tap. Perhaps I should use the corded phone. Maybe I'm paranoid.

All of this happens, of course, just after welfare checks are being cashed. As predictable as the moon phase.

Made the mistake of reading the Bolton Hill Bulletin Board again. For months now, it's been riddled with entries by some Asia based robotic spamster. The webmaster has to clean it out frequently. One of the reasons I closed the guest book here. But the really sad part is the ongoing political debate about national issues. Attack and counter attack. It's the red states versus the blue. Bitter division. Flaming egos. People with nothing better to do. Other than the entries about what mechanic you'd recommend or furniture for sale, not much of relevance to community. No concern about the thriving drug markets surrounding. There was an entry about a nanny with her toddler charge in tow being purse snatched. A nanny. What does that say about the economic class we're talking about? Even that devolved into a race politics debate because the suspected culprit was a young African American bicyclist.

It would be downright amusing if it wasn't so ... so ... I don't know, pathetic? Perhaps the entry about how to discourage dog urination on one's plants conveyed it best. Last year, I remember one particular flaming ego on that board likening dog feces to a national crisis. She'd made it one of her missions in life. In nasty email exchanges I let myself get in to, like the recent posters, I recall telling her "I'm glad you have your issue. I can think of no one better suited to the issue of dog shit." Apparently she's vanquished that foe. At least enough that Bolton Hill's attention can now be turned to dog piss.

Heads in the sand.

But not all, of course. Some realize it's not an island. Some realize there are real issues that can be solved by working together. They just get drowned out too often by those egos who want to rant, but God forbid not about anything they might have to or could do something about.

[End of this egomaniac's tirade ... for now.]

Wednesday, September 7, 5pm: Seems updates are happening only once a week now. Used to be I had events to report every day.

Pedestal Gardens remains quiet as far as dealing. It's sledgehammer loud with the fence construction. It's all up, but the gates that can make this newest security plan work are not in yet.

Residents of the building continue to ask me where are the security patrol people. Their presence is sporadic at best. Their visibility, outside of sitting in their cars, is nil. Still, things are better or at least usually less conspicuous.

Saw computer monitors pop up in NIMROD Center on one of the floors that's been vacant since the ballyhooed "community center" opened a few years ago with so much promise. Turns out they're for a computer lab in conjunction with the school. Sounds great. I haven't seen anyone in their yet, but perhaps that's coming.

Have heard from the trustee for the church that an office supply and repair company has offices their now, joining other for profit, rent paying tenants. When asked about the long proposed adult day care center, his reply was "they're paying their mortgage." I assume that means they're paying the rent. Apparently this is another for profit operation. Just not the community center I read about when they were going for zoning and federal money.

The church did have a brief street festival the day before school started. They had a moonbounce for a little time and hot dogs if you stood in line to get a ticket. There were speakers. We heard our state senator Verna Jones introduced with "she's done so much for our community." I've never seen it. She seemed entirely uninformed when we met her here with the then new Police Commissioner Hamm. She said "wasn't that building going to be torn down?" referring to our Pedestal Gardens building.

When dealing is down, I can concentrate on slightly less urgent quality of life issues here: Our alley dumping progress has been backsliding. Most bothersome is the attitude of someone who rehabbed a derelict house around the corner from us on Laurens who has deposited his clean up in the alley for others to take care of.

rehab debris

No, it's not like he's coming back to pick it up tonight. It's been there a week. Nice little gift to those of us who work hard to try to make this a safer, cleaner place to live. Seems all this "developer" cares about is selling his cute little house alongside crumbling derelicts. It is possible he entrusted someone to take this stuff away, but that's no excuse.

pretty house

I wonder what the real estate agents are telling prospective buyers. No doubt lies as they did to those interested in rehabbing the crack house we got closed next door.

It was funny when I took this photo. The man on the stoop of the abandoned house to the left, jumped up as I snapped it, scared nearly to death it seemed. "CAMERA!" he yelled as he stumbled to his feet, as if to warn everyone. I hollered over to him the photo was of the new house, not him. He replied "I'm just camera shy, you know." Yes, I can imagine why.

Work on 1712, the apartment house, continues. That's the one two doors north of us that sold a few months ago for nearly $200,000. I still find that amazing. It belies any understanding of the challenges of this block. And I worry he won't get the Federal Hill level rents he expects after the rehab. I don't think they're the ones dumping in our alley though. They took away rolloffs of trash and promptly acted at my suggestion to clean up the jungle in their backyard. Some of our street dealers were using the cover to stash their drugs between sales.

Just the next block up we have a homeowner who doesn't seem to notice or care he has a public dump on and next to his property.

the block dump

Like so many around here, I suppose he has his fence to blot out the blight so it's better ignored. I think that's a good definition of what being a neighbor is not. It's about as bad as the dump we had in the vacant lot next door here until the city agreed to sell us 1706 Madison. I'll save you from pictures of the squished rats caught by cars as they swarm through this stuff. Just trust me, this is not the block for open toed shoes.

I've referred all this to Dale Thompson of Sanitation Enforcement whose officers have been very effective in forcing Druid House behind us and the slumlord at 1700 Mad Av to dispose of their trash properly. If you have problems in your neighborhood in the city, email her at dale.thompson @ baltimorecity.gov (take out the spaces in the address). Digital pictures and specifics will help her direct officers to the problems.

One reason I haven't been entering so much in this journal is I have been more busy working on this house. In part now that things seem like they might finally be a bit better, reliably, I'm much more willing to invest the time and money to rescue this house. For too long it was a question whether all the work on the neighborhood would make the house livable. Seeing the investment in houses on this very block and the improvement in street crime, it seems less folly to finally make it more livable.

Because we get so few donations of supplies anymore, we're going to start asking the officers for our cost on things like the bottles of chilled waters we've been providing all along. I'm putting a jar in there today along with a letter asking for 35 cents a bottle, the price we pay at Sam's Club. If that works well, perhaps we can stock more goodies like those 50 cent fruit popsicles they went through a carton of in one day. We sure don't begrudge them the supplies, but we simply can't afford to keep them stocked ourselves.
Don't know what the reaction will be. I expect they will understand.

We do appreciate all the help many people have given us for it since the Police Pit Stop was opened three years ago. Susan, Amanda and Chuck come immediately to mind recently.


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