Rode the bus down York Road from Towson to Baltimore yesterday afternoon. I was jammed in with about 80 people, half of whom were standing, most of whom I'm sure endure this ride every day. A junky got on at one point, struggled with his pockets for a couple stops pretending to look for fare, and was finally warned by the driver that he was off the bus in one more stop if he couldn't find some coin. The junky pissed himself at that point, eliciting hoots of derision. An old lady next to me shook her head sadly as the driver hollered a blue streak in front of several very young children who found it funny. I've used mass transit all over Europe, in Asia, in New York, DC, Philly, San Fran--but this was the first time I ever used it in Baltimore (excepting the Light Rail or the MARC train to DC). What an experience I've been denying myself.
We left the suburbs and entered a part of town similar to the sets of The Wire. Greenmount Avenue itself has thriving spots and some beautiful architecture, but once you get south of the fantastic Greenmount Cemetery blue-lit police cameras mounted on posts blink on every corner, and boarded-up houses outnumber those (legally) occupied by a margin of about 3 to 1. We passed a guy with a pit bull on a leash who was letting it menace two golden retrievers in a fenced yard. The dog was lathered with thick spit down to its neck, and several passangers behind me were enthusiastically rooting for the pit to "kill those pussy dogs. Kill 'em! Let 'em go! Sic those bastards."
Rather than ride the number 8 further downtown in order to take the 11 back up to Mount Vernon, I got off at Biddle and Greenmount and decided to walk around the 'hood a bit. Mostly it made me sad to see some blocks with one well-tended house, an optimistic garland of Christmas lights in a shuttered window or hanging from a rusted aluminum awning, situated amidst completely gutted and once magnificent rowhomes. This part of town is only three or four blocks from Mount Vernon, where the rich and the artsy live and hang out. Unfortunately the Mrs. had our camera or I'd have gotten some good shots. I found the accompanying image online--someone has been hanging art work on the boarded up houses in an attempted community beautification. The art on such a desolate backdrop made me angry instead of hopeful. So much of the City has been revitalized, and here was a desperate pocket just over the highway from the glitziest part of town. I passed the lovely Saint Frances Academy just as some students were leaving the walled campus. They walked back into the neighborhood I was leaving, passing couches on street corners, fumbling junkies, crumbling houses, the blinking blue camera lights growing bright against a darkening sky.
And then I was at the Walters, sipping hot cider and looking at illuminated manuscripts. A fun time was had by all who can safely venture out at night.