Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Last Week in Baltimore, Charm City

I spent last week in Baltimore, Charm City. I returned home late Friday before the first outbreak of violence on Saturday, for which I would have had a front row seat around Camden Yards. Now more rioting on Monday, National Guard on call, law enforcement moving in from around the region. What does the rioting solve, Baltimore’s mayor asks? What happens to the charm, I ask?

I’ve come to like Baltimore, the parts I see as a visitor downtown and around the inner harbor.

I’ve spent a lot of time at the National Aquarium and see what some folks in Seattle meant when they said they wanted a first-class waterfront like Baltimore’s. The guy at the visitor’s center wanted to know how Big Bertha was doing; I just shrugged.

There are restaurants I like: The Thames Street Oyster House and The Point, both within walking distance at Fells Point; the B&O American Brassiere in downtown’s restored Monaco Hotel; and great kabobs, eat-in or take out, at Maiwand Kabob behind the Marriot Renaissance.

I also figured out how to get to Washington DC and the Smithsonian on the MARC out of downtown paying the geezer fare of $7 round trip. Cheap out-of-town entertainment.

My favorite ride is the Charm City Circulator, Baltimore’s free bus service (Orange, Purple, Green and Blue) running round trips in four directions through the downtown core.

Last week, I took the #11 bus from downtown on Charles to get to the Baltimore Art Museum (free admission!) near Johns Hopkins. I got on and asked the driver whether he went to the Art Museum and he said he did; he also refused to take my reduced fare of $.55 because the fare box was broken.

As we rode away from downtown, the bus filled up with black people, old and young. I was looking to get off at 31st Street but bus turned right on 29th. I got up to the front to the driver as he turned left on Calvert.

“Are we near the Art Museum?” I asked.

“I thought you knew where it was,” he said quite matter-of-factly.

“Uh, 31st,” I said.

“Get off next stop on 32nd,” he said. “Walk that way (he pointed left) and go back to 31st and go right.”

You have to get off the bus at the rear so I need to make my way through all the black men standing to get to the back door and wait for the door to open.

Nothing happened.

“You have to push the handles,” the man standing next to the door said to me, softly.

Alright! I pushed the handles, the door opened and I said, “Thank you!” and exited the bus.

I had read all week long about Freddie Gray’s death and the circumstances of his questionable pursuit, arrest and “nickel ride” transport in the police van. I’d followed the mounting protest.

Maybe it is simple naïveté that allows me to feel safe among a group of people. I’ve never felt unsafe in Baltimore or in any city as long as I’m around other people. I have no idea what they must have thought about this guy wandering around on the #11 bus or even if they noticed. But I thought about my fellow bus riders when I heard about rioting breaking out. I think about my fellow bus riders and want justice to be done for them and Freddie Gray.

I think about my fellow bus riders and want the charm put back into Charm City.

(The larger issue of what’s at stake for Baltimore and this country is addressed in Sunday’s Baltimore Sun editorial, Why Freddie Gray ran )

--Mike Sato

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