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Baltimore's public urinators are caught in the act

It has happened to many of us.

You're out drinking, having a good time with friends when suddenly, you have to go to the bathroom. Most would use a proper restroom. However, those more adventurous — or foolish — duck down an alley or around a corner and take a leak in the street. In public.

Dusty Ritter has seen plenty of drunk people peeing on his street off O'Donnell Square. They've peed on his house and his Honda Civic, too. In fact, over the busiest bar nights last December, he said, he counted 54 different incidents of people urinating outside near his house.

That's a lot of whiz.

He started talking about these issues with his friends in Canton. One night while drinking at Harry's American Bar, they came up with an idea: post videos online in order to dissuade people from peeing in the street.

This, in a nutshell, was how a strange new website was born.

"We'd caught these people," recalled Ritter, 34. "We settled on yougotcaughtpissing.com."

Ritter bought the domain name that night. The website went live in March, and the concept is to shame people who urinate or defecate in public.

"We're focused on trying to improve the community," said Ritter, who works in medical research and grew up in Rockville. "The people who want to improve the area are supportive."

On a recent afternoon, Ritter stopped by a Canton bar to talk about the endeavor. Four other individuals help him run the website, he said. Those four asked to remain anonymous out of concern for their day jobs.

The team said they have hours of video they have personally recorded since last summer that show people peeing and crapping near, or in, O'Donnell Square — the heart of the bar scene in Canton. Some of it was collected via their private home security cameras; other video they recorded with cell phones.

Ritter said that in the future, they'd like the website to feature viewer-submitted videos from around the world. A few weeks ago, they received their first submission. Someone only identified as "Dave" has been submitting nauseating pee scenes from what suspiciously looks like a corner tucked behind Jimmy's diner in Fells Point.

Meanwhile, anyone visiting the strip of restaurants and bars dotting O'Donnell Square need merely look up at the South Curley Street skyline to see it: a huge, bright yellow banner warning 'Don't piss on me' hanging off the side of a row home roof. The website's address is also advertised.

"I think it's hilarious, personally," said 24-year-old nurse Ally Hayes, walking a block away. "It would definitely deter me. I wouldn't want to be on a website and have everyone knowing that I peed in public."

Hayes, who has rented in Canton for the past year, has seen people urinating on the street but doesn't consider it "super common." Prior to living in Canton, she once took a tinkle by the waterfront after visiting O'Donnell Square with some friends. The bars had all closed.

"There was no place to pee because we didn't live down here and I was dying," said Hayes. "What else was I supposed to do? There's a bathroom that's supposed to be a public restroom by the waterfront and it's never open, ever."

Hayes was walking with her friend Samantha Brenner, who felt fines were probably more effective than a website to get people to stop urinating.

"Unless you were really embarrassed and maybe your friends saw you there, but I don't know how many people know about that website," said Brenner, 23.

If you do know about it, chances are you've seen some memorable videos, like a guy peeing right next to his purported barf puddle (April 5). Or how about a guy holding a hot dog in one hand and his wiener in the other? That's March 13. Or two young women — it's an equal opportunity offender website — who squat one after the other on the exact same patch of Fells Point cement (May 21).

The funniest — or saddest — one is the March 8 video in which Ritter actually confronts a man peeing in the darkness on Ritter's car.

"I'm sorry dude," the man responds at first. He then gets angry that he's being recorded, launches some expletives and storms off.

When he asks the piddlers why, their reason for release is usually the same.

"It's 'What do you expect? It's Canton,'" said Ritter.

No one has asked their video to be taken down yet, he added.

The Baltimore Police Department does not track these misdemeanors with Comstat, its statistics-based management tool. Still, certain districts do keep score. Last year in the Southeastern District — which includes Canton and Fells Point — there were 17 criminal citations and 24 civil citations for publicly urinating or turding. Downtown, home to the Inner Harbor entertainment district, registered 6 arrests, 45 criminal citations and 39 civil citations.

"It's not a pressing crime matter in the city," said Baltimore Police spokesman Detective Vernon Davis.

Emily Sherman, spokeswoman for Jim Kraft, said the 1st District councilman declined to take a stance on yougotcaughtpissing.com, even if he encourages community involvement.

"We're definitely supportive of residents being proponents of a clean and safe district, no matter what their definition of that is," said Sherman.

The O'Donnell Square Business District Association isn't thrilled about the big yellow banner, but it isn't against the website.

"The businesses support the fact that there should be no public urination," said association president Pat Weaver.

She said two Canton bars had posted messages on their Facebook pages about using their restrooms instead of the street. She believes the latter approach may be most effective.

"I do think you take the risk certain people — meaning people who read the sign, who don't have scruples or morals — will say, 'Hey, I'll be on camera.'"

Stephanie Fleishman seems ready to take that risk. Fleishman has owned 2910 on the Square for 14 years. The gift shop is located on O'Donnell Square. She said she confronted someone peeing outside her store at 9:30 p.m. Saturday on Memorial Day Weekend.

"There was a gentleman who looked to be in his forties with a female in the passenger seat, standing outside urinating before he got in to his car."

Fleishman said he then threw out a paper bag with a to-go container.

"I threw the trash back in to his window and then he proceeded to come after me," said Fleishman. "I ran across the street in to the pretzel store. He goes, 'You better run.'"

Fleishman, who lives in Canton, knew about Ritter's website and said she supported the efforts to address the issue.

"People are just lazy and they don't care, and if they don't live in the neighborhood, what does it matter?" said Fleishman. "We've become a rental neighborhood."

Less sure of the website's approach was Joe Freund, who has lived in Canton for 28 years. Freund had seen people peeing in Canton before and doesn't agree with it. Still, he figures a finite number of bathrooms in the bars and restaurants may be leading to wet alleys or a soaked flower pot.

"I don't think it's right putting people urinating on the internet," he said while walking his dog in O'Donnell Square. "It's people's privacy. If they're not where people can actually see them — as long as they're not doing it around people in the park, families or kids."

Darryl Jurkiewicz, the president of the Canton Community Association, said there are more than enough restrooms for Canton bar patrons. He agrees with Ritter — the problem is with the behavior of some visitors.

"I guess I grew up differently," said Jurkiewicz, who was raised with five other siblings in a two story, one-bathroom Canton row house.

He drank and partied while growing up, but didn't urinate in public.

"I guess I was a responsible drunk," said Jurkiewicz. "Maybe I was more responsible than young adults are now."

Ritter said he and his colleagues have no beef with police officers who don't arrest people peeing in the street. Nor do they blame the owners of Canton's bars and restaurants who sell the liquor.

All of this raises the question: Why don't Ritter and crew pack up and move to a quieter neighborhood, or even out of the city?

They're not short-term residents, he said. Ritter himself has lived in Canton for nearly 10 years and likes its walkability, convenience and attractions.

"We're not whining," said Ritter. "We're having fun doing this. You'll notice that we're not doing a website about noise and people being drunk."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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