It's Labor Day in the city. And that's time for Raymond Tyson to fire up his gas grill so his neighbors can pig out on pork chops while savoring their haven of shade and security in South Baltimore.
Their haven is a tiny port between two drug corners, a half block of conscientious citizens who cook out on concrete in front of their houses on Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
Yesterday, as part of the traditional last weekend of summer, they struck a particularly urban pose there on their stoops and sidewalks.
"We believe you can have as much fun in the city as you can in the country," says Mr. Tyson, a 47-year-old firefighter, as he tends to the pork chops, hamburgers, chicken and sausage that turn the stale city air sumptuous and thick.
He says he's lived in this 100 block of W. Randall St. about 18 years. For at least 10 years, he says, his neighbors between Clarkson and Hanover streets have cooked out in the warm weather and gathered inside in the cold.
"We try to keep our neighborhood up as best we can," Mr. Tyson says. "But it's not easy. The next block down is drugs, and the next block up is drugs. After dark they come through here like Grant went through Richmond."
He says the people wanting drugs invade the neighborhood looking for the people selling drugs.
"We have people come from Towson, and people come from Bel Air," he says. "It's a ritual, the drugs around here."
But these six households patrol their neighborhood on foot and in cars, he says. They work to keep their half-block safe for a cookout on Labor Day.
And Labor Day means it's time for Darryl Dantzler to challenge his brother, Terrell, to a game of one-on-one on the basketball court that Terrell and his buddies created on a dingy, city sidewalk.
Terrell, who is 12, and his friends nailed a plywood plank to the boarded-up windows of an abandoned rowhouse in the 700 block of E. Chase St. near the Maryland Penitentiary.
They attached a rim with a ripped-up net, and yesterday Terrell and his 16-year-old brother, Darryl, faced off in their home block as if they were center court at Madison Square Garden.
"All day, every day, we play," says Terrell, a seventh-grader at Dunbar Middle School, "because we got nothing else to do." He means they've played all day, every day since Friday, the day they transformed their littered sidewalk into a playground for jukes and drives.
Darryl, a 10th-grader at St. Frances Academy, steps into the street and launches a moon shot.
"I challenge my little brother all the time," Darryl says.
And who wins?
Terrell leaps forward.
"I do," he says.
His older brother just smiles on this Labor Day.
It's nearly time for Mary Darmsteadt to go to work. She sits on the front steps of her corner rowhouse at S. Kenwood and Eastern avenues, gazing across the street into Patterson Park, where all is quiet.
"I could of went crabbing, but. . ." says Ms. Darmsteadt, 41. But she's got to go to work for a telemarketing company where, she says, "I call for the Amvets, the cancer foundation and multiple sclerosis to ask people if they've got clothing they don't wear, or shoes, or household items, to see if they want to get rid of them."
She's got to call people at home, while they're trying to enjoy Labor Day? "We work every holiday except Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving," she says. "I don't have no problem with people. You'll have ones who hang up and say they're not interested, but I just tell them, 'Have a nice day.' "
She says a person could do worse, especially on this Labor Day.
"It's a job," she says.