LATE ONE NIGHT I was reading this paper's account of Baltimore's appalling homicide rate. Other cities have cut murder rates; not us.
There, in a warm bed, I turned the paper's pages and felt more fTC than a twinge of embarrassment for the city I've lived in all my life. Are we really that bloodthirsty? I wondered. Is this such a terrible place to live? Am I in danger? I live but six blocks from North Avenue, four from Greenmount and three from Barclay, all streets frequently named in news stories as being drug-selling, killing-zone nightmares.
And, because I don't drive, don't I often crisscross these streets on foot? As one who walks around what the out-of-town press portrays as the Dodge City of the 1990s, didn't I see this horror?
Will I stop doing my Saturday morning shopping on Greenmount Avenue? I don't plan to. Will I stop crossing Barclay Street? I don't think so.
Didn't I emerge solo from a great holiday party on Lanvale Street last Saturday night and walk to Penn Station to catch a cab? Could I have been a crime statistic? You bet. But it was an atmospheric December night, with wispy clouds and houses lighted for the holidays. Baltimore looked great and I wanted to make the evening last a little longer.
Many shoppers have given up on the old downtown crossroads of Howard and Lexington streets. Most have no choice. The stores they knew and loved are long gone. But Lexington Market remains one of my favorite Christmas-season destinations, and my life in Baltimore is not complete unless I spend a couple of noontime sessions there.
This year, I haven't been disappointed.
Lexington Street is a scene never to be repeated in a suburban shopping mall. One afternoon, some sort of police officers were swooping down on an unlicensed peddler. He displayed a piece of paper, but apparently it was not the right kind of permit for the corner of Eutaw and Lexington. His offense? Selling cases of no-name cola.
He was made to pack up his motley assortment of cherry smash, but the street evangelist standing next door was allowed to continue blasting away on his bullhorn. This curbside preacher had plenty of sound equipment as well as a large wooden cross.
In case you got cold, another outdoor vendor, apparently legal, had a supply of gloves and mittens ready. He asked me if I needed anything, but those of us who like to walk in the winter weather know to prepare for cold and winds well in advance. His helpful tone, however, more than compensated for the parking lot rudeness I'd encountered the night before when a friend of mine drove me to Towson.
I guess I feel that for all the senseless gunfire that gets reported, there are so many more urban acts I've witnessed that are colorful, funny, full of character or downright courteous. And I get the sense that Baltimoreans haven't allowed the headlines to sink their spirits.
As city buses pass through neighborhoods that make the police think twice, I see men and women relinquishing their seats to the elderly. Thoughtful riders regularly hold the back door open for those burdened by clumsy packages trying to get off at the right stop. They regularly dip into their wallets and purses to make change for those who have nothing smaller than a $5 bill.
And more than once lately, I've seen riders without the necessary fare see it, or a portion of it, donated by thoughtful fellow riders.
So, as the murder rate and the drive to keep the year's total below 300 makes the news, I say to myself, this is true and it shouldn't be. But it's not making me a prisoner in my own city. This morning, I'll be shopping on Greenmount Avenue.
Pub Date: 12/19/98