Carl and Barbara Evans are stranded in the cold. They deserve better. The temperature is falling, and they're playing by the rules, and they're being frozen out of the simple right to make a living.
Every night on Market Place, they're out there from early in the evening until well past midnight. Barbara's selling fresh-cut flowers and stuffed animals, and Carl's taking snapshots of sweethearts, and they've been doing this for nearly three years now.
In 1991, when they were selling flowers, they made about $12,000. A year later, when they expanded the business to stuffed animals and snapshots, they made about $13,000. This year, working until 2 in the morning seven nights a week, they will make about $5,000.
"If we're lucky," says Barbara Evans, wrapping a jacket collar tight around her neck to ward off a chill. A few feet away is her souvenir cart, with stuffed animals and balloons, in which she has stored some added winter belongings: ski pants and goose down jackets and water-proofed boots, which she and her husband will be wearing soon.
It will never be a picnic making a living out here -- not with the area's suffocating summer humidity and its raw winter nights, not with the late hours, not with the city's erratic nighttime street people -- but selling souvenirs here on Market Place has its economic possibilities.
Bennigan's and the Slapstix Comedy Club are right behind their souvenir stand, and the Harbor Park Movies are in front of them. Off to the side are Fat Tuesday and the Baja Beach Club, and there's foot traffic from Harborplace. The Baltimore City Community College is just across the street, too.
Barbara Evans knows it well. She graduated several years back, after studying business management and general education there. Carl Evans is skilled in pipe fitting and plumbing, electronics and carpentry. These aren't deadbeats looking for an easy hustle.
But both have disabilities, and they say that working here allows them to stay together in a tough job market, and to minimize their physical problems. But they're being hurt by unanticipated problems: vendors who don't play by the rules.
"We've written to everybody," Barbara Evans says. She pulls two large folders from her souvenir cart, filled with copies of letters to City Hall officials, to police, to various politicians, accompanied by return letters promising nothing.
Everybody's very sympathetic, and nobody knows what to do. Carl and Barbara Evans pay money to the city for licenses to operate. The licenses are very specific: Carl Evans can stand outside of the community college, at Market Place and Water Street, and take photographs until 12:30 in the morning, and Barbara Evans can operate her souvenir stand outside the Brokerage until 2 in the morning.
His license costs $85 a year. She pays $40 a week, plus 10 percent of her sales. Also, they have to have a $300 insurance policy. And they have to stay in one place, so that those walking through the area aren't approached every few feet.
And this is where the problem arrives, every night, when unlicensed, uninhibited, unanchored vendors hit the Marketplace area, racing up to tourists, grabbing them before they reach either of the Evanses' operations and beating them to most available dollars.
"We're leasing these spots from the city," Carl Evans says. "The licenses are very specific. We're not only paying for a spot of land, but for a place for customers to approach us. I go up to these other guys, who are running all over the place with no licenses, and they tell me, 'Oh, yeah, we have permission.' Permission from who? 'Permission, man.'
"That's what's killing us. Like, last Friday, we made $18 for the whole night. We used to make a few hundred dollars. Now the other guys are floating around and grabbing all our customers, and we're not allowed to move. The police are always going through here, but somehow they don't have time to check out these guys' licenses."
Yes, the police say, they try to control unlicensed vendors. Yes, they understand that those who play fair deserve a fair shot. But the police have other problems, and the politicians do, too.
So Barbara and Carl Evans will be out there tonight, in their assigned places, with their assigned licenses. They're playing by the rules. Only, in their case, the rules seem to be stacked against those who obey them.