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Car makes the man at Druid Hill Park


Six o'clock rolls around,

You just finished wiping your car down.

Time to cruise to the park where it looks like a car show -- "Summertime," D. J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince.

The Park.

In Baltimore, there is little question which park is The Park.

Each Sunday, Druid Hill Park -- the city's largest park and perhaps the best place to profile/hang out/be seen/polish a spotless car/profile some more/check out sweet young thangs -- rocks.

Sunday at The Park is when hundreds of immaculately clean cars line a stretch known as "Looker's Row" between the basketball courts and the reservoir as their owners -- ever worried about scratches -- lean lightly on their hoods.

The Park is where young ladies sport fresh, new "do's" and even fresher outfits for a stroll in the park, but seldom stroll far from Looker's Row.

It's where thumping raps by The Notorious Big and dance tunes by songstress Patra blare from car stereos, drowning each other out so that neither is understood.

It's where Michael McNeal -- who is 22, works part time at a drugstore and lives with his parents -- walks with a cellular phone attached to his ear and talks non-stop.

The phone has never been activated.

"But that don't matter to me. The honeys don't know it, you know what I'm saying," he said yesterday. "They just see me talking on the phone. They might be impressed."

Druid Hill Park is a second home to thousands of people every weekend for sports, family reunions, picnics and visits to the Baltimore Zoo. Singles and the younger generation usually take over on Sundays.

Alma Bell of the city Department of Recreation and Parks said as many as 10,000 cars cram into the park on weekends, with most coming on Sundays. Police yesterday closed smaller roads to control traffic.

And despite threatening weather and occasional light showers yesterday, crowds again packed the park. For at least the last 15 years, Sunday at The Park has been a tradition for the city's African-American community, which jams many of The Park's narrow roads for impromptu car shows and singles' sizzlers.

"There is no better way to end the weekend than being around positive people who are looking good," said Jerome Harper, who drives to The Park from Columbia every Sunday.

But The Park has not always been for the younger crowd. Older residents recall a time when families who lived nearby would bring pillows and blankets and spend the night there on hot summer nights. The park now closes at dusk, and for safety reasons police strictly enforce the ordinance.

Jean Ackers, 80, who lives in the nearby Parkview neighborhood, said the park is used by more people now, but she felt more comfortable going there in the 1930s.

"It's just too many cars all over the place," Ms. Ackers said. "They park on the grass, on the paths, every part of the street. We used to just come enjoy the serenity. Not now."

People come to The Park today to take in the spectacle of it all.

"I like to come out and watch the fellows playing basketball," said Andrea Alston, 30, of Northwest Baltimore. She was there with William Holly, whom she met there this year. Both were stylishly dressed.

"He dresses to get the eyes. I dress to get the guys," Ms. Alston said.

But Mr. Holly said he has gotten more than eyes, and admitted to getting four or five telephone numbers "in my older days," he said.

Yvette Carter, 28, a nurse whose 12-hour shift ended at 7 a.m., decided to forgo sleep when she came home from work. Instead, she styled her hair and polished her nails.

"I can't always go out on Friday or Saturday night, so coming to the park on Sunday is the only time I can wear good clothes and meet people," she said. Wearing a white sun dress, she made several new friends along Looker's Row.

Police say that despite the crowds, there have been few problems in recent years. The only reported trouble has been traffic congestion, police spokesman Sam Ringgold said.

One problem, though not for the police, comes to anyone who brings a car that's not spotless. "You wouldn't get any play, and you'd get laughed out of here," said Ronnie Conaty, who was with several men who drove glistening Honda Civics.

"I saw one guy who brought a dirty, out-of-date Yugo up here and tried to be cool. We cut into him bad. He hasn't been back since."

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