Clarence Barnes leaned against the parking meter in front of Lafayette Market and echoed the call: "Hack? Hack ride, ma'am? Hack?"
He repeated the offer of a ride for nearly an hour yesterday before a woman took him up on his advance -- a lousy little $3
"This better be better next week on Election Day. People better ** want to go to the voting booth," he said. He looked at his aging Cadillac, parked at the unfed meter.
"If it's not, we're in a world of trouble."
He was one of about 20 men and women -- mostly older -- who gather daily at the market on Pennsylvania Avenue to pass time and try to make a few dollars by hacking, an unlicensed form of offering transportation for a fee.
Most of their time is spent jabbering, with no topic unaccepted. Yesterday, as a car radio screeched to an oldies station, talk was of Cal Ripken and the city's Democratic primary election next week between Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and City Council President Mary Pat Clarke -- both subjects being accorded equal importance.
"I'd like to see Mary Pat win so she can hire all them police like she said she would and have them arrest all the reporters who keeps talking and talking about Ripken," said Mr. Barnes, presumably facetiously. "That would be a reason to vote for her."
But Mr. Barnes, 61, a lifelong Baltimore resident who said he knows "every corner" of the city through hacking, is not happy with the state of the city and expects "major changes" from the next mayor.
He said race and gender don't matter -- it has come down to who can and will get things done.
"I ain't got nothing against Schmoke, but look around here and let's see what he's done," Mr. Barnes said, glancing at a trash- and glass-strewn parking lot adjacent to the market.
He pointed to unemployment, drugs and a lack of decent and affordable housing in the Sandtown-Winchester community ,X alone as proof of the city's decay.
Mr. Barnes, who weighs more than 250 pounds, said crime in the area near the market has gotten so bad that he now goes home at night "sometimes before 10."
"My wife don't know what to do with me when I come home," he said. "Used to be after work we could sit and talk for a while, have a drink. Now we sit and talk here, you hear gunshots and people screaming and running. No one wants to have a good time when they're shooting."
While he talked, a man calmly walked up to Mr. Barnes' Cadillac -- parked about five feet away -- and pulled several times at the door.
"Whose car is this," the man asked.
When Mr. Barnes said the car was his, the young man walked away.
The hacks sat astonished.
"Unemployment, that's why he did that. Give him a job and he wouldn't be out here hustling and stealing," said Lynn Spradley, a small woman who carried several plastic shopping bags filled with aluminum cans.
A regular on Pennsylvania Avenue and vicinity, she has been homeless for several months and relies on the money she gets selling cans and begging.
"I've been trying to find some place to stay for the longest. Ain't nothing happened. Maybe the city doesn't care right now," she said.
A police car cruised by slowly.
No words were spoken, and the officers and the hacks exchanged sullen stares.
The officers were white and the hacks were black, but it's mutual distrust, not a racial thing, one hack said later.
Vincent Way, a longtime hack who claims to have chauffeured former Mayor Clarence H. Du Burns from downtown to the market for lunch once, feels that more black mayoral candidates are needed.
"This is the kind of city where if you have any concern, you at least vote -- and then hold them to their word," said Mr. Way, a retired steel worker who lives in Upton.
"It's nice to have a black mayor, but it's just as important not being held up and having your house not broken into. As a black man, you don't want to vote against the brother, but you want to be safe, too."
Bernie Evans, 60, who has hacked for about five years, said few fares he has driven recently have said they will vote next week.
He said Mr. Schmoke and Mrs. Clarke think alike -- "His ideas are her ideas, and her ideas are his ideas" -- and that neither of the major candidates have come to Pennsylvania Avenue to talk to citizens.
"This means they don't really want our vote or think that we'll not vote," Mr. Evans said. "At this point, I'm going with Schmoke, but only because he's the first black mayor we've had elected."
Mr. Evans recalled that William Donald Schaefer, then mayor, remarked during a televised 1983 mayoral debate that people were afraid to walk down Pennsylvania Avenue because of the crime.
"That stuck with me even today because it's the way a lot of white people feel about black neighborhoods," Mr. Evans said. "Mary Pat Clarke, what's she going to do if she gets elected? I don't know. But I haven't seen her walking down Pennsylvania Avenue yet."