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New circulating Funny money is actually legal competition to the Mighty Buck

Witney Webre of Zeke's displays a 5 B-note now being accepted throughout Baltimore

After all this jabbering about sustainable economy — buy local, support urban farming, rediscover craft industry — a group is putting money where the big ideas are. They have created a local currency — The B-note to be more specific, legal tender that functions in same way the good ole greenback works, passing bucks from one hand to the next, except for one thing. The B-note stays in B-More Not true with the dollar, which is at the whim of the big spender who could buy a beer for the house at the corner bar or plunk some cash on an overpriced pair of sunglasses guaranteeing that the money zips out to some corporate headquarters.

“The whole purpose of this is to benefit the small independent businesses, to get people thinking about where they spend their money,” said Jeff Dicken, a member of Baltimore Green Currency Association, the group behind the currency project.

The idea was in the making for a year, as the group planned the distribution, designed the 1 and 5 B notes and raised about $8,000 to print 100,000 Bs of tender. The B-note hit the streets three weeks ago and is now being accepted by 64 business citywide all listed on The acceptance is far larger than the currency architects imagined.  Dicken said he had hoped that maybe they’d recruit 30 to  50 businesses in a year’s time. Now they’re looking to cap 100 business by the end of the summer.

The local currency movement basically enforces the buy local cred. That is the B-note is worthless (so far) unless spent in the community in Baltimore, forcing the consumer to think or search out where they can plunk down their B-Buck.

Damien Nichols, one of the organizers, found that explaining the mechanism is behind the currency can be difficult, but Baltimore with its tight network of indigenous business understands the power of buying local.

“You’re surround the community with a fence and all the energy and the money stays here,” said Nichols.

The idea is that people can exchange dollars for B-Notes at an exchange rate of 90 cents on a dollar or ten dollars for 11 B-notes. So the purchase incentive is built in. Secondly the Baltimore Green Currency worked to set up a lateral economy where businesses buy goods and services from each other such as  a store owner can get graphic from a designer, who have agreed to accept the notes, rather than just have a group of stores, a shoping center. Whats more no one stands to profit from the currency. There is no cut. Baltimore Green Currency as an organization raised the money as a way of responding to the Recession and the strain placed on local businesses.

“When you go and buy something from Walmart, all that money leaves town,” said Michael Tew, an organizer with Green Currency.

The money collected at exchance centers or what is formally known as Cambios ( Little  Shop of Hardware, Capital Mac in Fells Point and Murray Blum in Hampden ) is put in a bank account backing the currency, according to the organizers. The idea, according to association members, is that the B-notes stay in use much like the dollar and so far few people have been  cashing in Bs back to dollars.

Rooted in the buy local, grassroots, sustainable movement, the B-note made its debut along the independent heavy neighborhood of Hampden and has since spread throughout the city.

The Baltimore Note, artfully done with the Oriole Bird on Side A and Frederick Douglas on the other for the 1 B, and The Raven with the required portrait of Poe on the other for the Fiver follows the  lead of other communities, There’s the Ithaca Hours or BerkShares in Berkshire, Mass or The Plenty in Pittsboro or Brixton Pound in London and of course Seatle, home of the World Bank Riots, came out with Local-Bucks. And now Baltimore Green Currency stands ready about the 100,000 in cash notes, 6,000 on the streets.

You get the idea, progressives playing with money.   But the economics benefits is very tangible and cross-cuts the community.

“It gives you a real way to buy local and Baltimore as a community takes pride in that,” said Nichols.

Still adopting a new currency was a bit much for some businesses owners to handle. One owner laughed at the idea that someone came into her store with the idea of  printing their own money.

“I’m still coming around to it,” she said.

Others like Mickey Fried, owner of Belle Hardware in Bolton  Hill, locked on to the political ramifications of creating local money. When asked to accept the currency he considered what would happen if he was inundated with the B-note. Would he be able to use it and of course there’s overall concern: What if the B-note fails.?

“It’s a risk because if it fall flat on its face, then frankly we’ve basically given the stuff away,” he said.

But Fried also had faith in Baltimore’s tight network of small business and likes striking back at the ever  expanding move to bring in corporate stores where the profits leave the city for corporate headquarters.

“There are lot of people who  have put a lot of emphasis into what a slip of paper (dollar) is worth, but I don’t think they thought much about the circulation. If you don’t think about w here you spend your money, that money isn’t staying in your community.”

Jokingly called hippie money, the B-note has captured  the attention of the usual suspects, small businesses people already rooted in social consciousness that these days has been translated in that over-used word – “Sustainability.”.

But the real challenge is for the B-note to translate into the regular  sector, where money exchange hands in crumpled bills in quick pace, basically a place like a famous deli on Lombard Street or a popular movie house on Charles Street or how about a baseball stadium off  395. The day the B-note gets in the hands of the apathetic spenders, the greater the change. The organizers know this and are pushing on with goals like having the city accept the B-note. Last week Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake happily posed with a B-note. A sign of the future or bandwagon move by a politician.

This ain't funny money, it's the latest in the Buy Local Movement


Minas might have a subversive fishbone


Most boutiques, shops, eateries, cafes and joints in between are passive establishments, set up to receive you like a park bench or a public bathroom, the listening station at a music store. You go in, you wander, consume and walk out. But few with the mighty shingle out front are set up to instigate, and fewer of those actually get away with it.

Minas, 815 W. 36th Street,  in Hampden is one of those storefronts. Part boutique, part gallery, part toy store, part book store, Minas pulls off the modern-day emporium provocateur quite well. That’s mainly because of the laid back proprietor Minas Konsolas. The  Greecian-ex-pat, Baltimore bounded since 1976, keeps a steady eye on his customers. Good with faces, he is, especially when he learns of their artistic habits. Writers and artists have gathered in his space for years.  A reading every third Thursday 5 p.m. has become a Baltimore mainstay. His upstairs gallery exhibits usually have pluck, a much appreciative counter to the amazing assembly line of  schlock that papers cafes and eateries around this town. Exhibit A is the current exhibit of James DuSel’s black and white photographs.

 Phainomena is the name, but the photos are black and white sprung from Leica, Rolleflex and a Linhof cameras of the 1930s. The old school look is well-earned and his subjects mundane, industrial, utilitarian work horses — the steel foot rest from a malt shop stool, a granite foundation, a chrome stack of nested chairs that I swear I saw somewhere (The Maryland Club or was it the Boy’s Choir in East Baltimore) and thought it would make a nice photograph. Light is stalked and captured, flared along a banister or snared in stainless gleam. And yeah, we get the point and DuSel’s mission statement, “I fully engage myself in the process, it uses my eye to measure the light , not a photocell. Thus I become part of my equipment, and my equipment becomes part of me.” Nice motto, but the proof is the artist’s vision sticks with you or at least with me as I found myself staring at a usurped train tracked installed to hold shopping carts at the Whole Foods down Mount Washington Way.

Next up  is Minas himself.

“It seems like I have been practicing for this the whole time,” said Minas, who took a frustrated portrait classes at MICA in the 1980s. This exhibited entitled, Interaction, is a big leap from his Masks that made a popular splash when exhibited in his shop two years ago.

“Interaction,” he said. “I’m trying to bring the word back to its original meaning when meeting someone was to smell touch and be with them.  We’ve got so many gadgets in-between us. Now that when we meet people in reality we don’t have anything to say.”

Of course he saying all this as he scrowls his art on his lap top. Minas realizes the irony, shuts down the computer and takes me to see the art live in his studio. I puruse his future offerings, but I’m struck most with the photograph pinned to his easel. His next subject.  Wild hair and wild eyes. One of the Catonsville Nine. (Those Vietnam Protestors that grabbed national attention way back when). He comes in here, ” he says, pauses. Nods.  

“I always like my paintings to have a part of me in it, because we all have a different vision of things”

I glance at the gent with the madcap hair and Minos with his subtle street wise concierge coiffe. This I got to see. 


William Donald Schaefer’s Funeral serves as quiet street fair

The soul of William Donald Schaefer wasn’t necessarily in the speeches by the state’s dignataries from Senator Barbara Mikulski to U.S. Rep. (and always rumored mayoral candidate) Kweisi Mfume . Try standing in the street outside St. Paul Episcopal Church on Charles and Saratoga streets. That’s where Schaefer prefered to linger anyway. While he pushed for big changes in the marbled halls of government, he never missed a crab cake dinner or failed to loiter with “the druggies” as one woman observer put it, in front of Lexington Market playing the part of civic barker. Schaefer was all about impressing his impact one handshake at a time. This is where he seemed most comfortable in the oddity that is street life. Except the day of  his funeral, the street of Baltimore failed to deliver its normally reliable panache. Honestly apart from the usual dignitaries and wanna-be dignitaries, there was a tumbleweed vibe, the hanger’s on in a ghost town as if they pack themselves in a Saloon in hopes of reviving the days long gone only to find the taps all dry. (See Scene in The Outlaw Josey Wales for further elaboration). And that spoke volumes in the same way when I went down and watched Martin O’Malley launch is Governor Campaign (last year) and saw a cluster of what seemed be paid employees and few bored government workers. Even then I tried to compare this wilted extravaganza to what Schaefer’s statewide spectacle must have looked like. But under bullying clouds going wild in blue skies, Schaefer got a light dusting of true outcome from The People that the Old Timey Pol used so well as a backdrop.

loitering, some people’s connections that drove them to take the day off to go to the funeral was dubious like one Patterson Park resident who remembers offering Schaefer a pair of vice grips when he his car broke down in a parade. “He told me to run along.” And the repeating version of  people down on their luck getting a job or public housing from Schaefer came off as if we were burying what James Smith declared, “The Last Don” not a public figure. But what really was telling was the great absence of people in the street. Factor in the clumps of media there were probably 50 people milling about and some of them were eating lunch. Sometimes it takes a death to realize that the change has been more sweeping than we had thought.

Robert Finn remembers running into Schaefer “and I’d tell him about a pothole and he told he already knew about it.” That was enough for him to stand outside the church, “and say goodbye to the man.”

Desha Dodopia. Owner of Desha’s Den, a former bar on Glover Street. She said she once spotted Schaefer on the street and invited him to her bar. “He came right on it. Just like that. We’ve been friends ever since.”

Antoinette Olanrewanjo, she met Schaefer when she was five years homeless, sleeping behind My Sister’s Place then on Saratoga Street, sometimes on the very steps that lead into Schaefer’s memorial service. She was there now, a woman who has left homelessness behind.“He saw me out on the steps and he said get up be free,” she said. “He told me let the people see the homeless.”

Brian McMillion called him the Don of Baltimore. He remembers when he worked in a community garden off of Greenmount Avenue and they wrote to the city asking for funding “he came out and gave us the check. He loved marigolds”


Thomas Forsythe Sr.  still a city worker, recalled when he started out as a mail room clerk fetching Schaefer’s breakfast.I would go to give him his change and he’d say keep it. Keep it. Put it in your pocket Do it now. Everything with him was do it now.”Schaefer tried to transfer the do it now attitude to the state government  with mixed resulted. His gumshoe technique didn’t get a thorough translation in the bureaucratic mish-mosh of state government. But his point man Luther Starnes, officially titled was a community liaison, but Schaefer thought of him as Secretary of Hard Luck. All those letters,the desperate ones written by people who believe that head of state could actually do something — he would get those to sort out. Schaefer would send him ones with the Get It Done emphasis.

“We never said this is  a state problem or a federal problem, it was our problem,” Sterner said. He recalled one time a Marylander-ex-pat and veteran living in Western Virginia and was getting nothing but hassles getting an official Maryland Flag from the Veterans Affairs. Starnes drove one out special for him.

“No one ever heard about that, but these are the kinds of things he did,” he said.

Starnes, (Right) Just after giving a eulogy.


Schaefer’s Funeral Will Be A Once in a Lifetime Event For Baltimore

Schaefer enroute to City Hall for a public viewingThe funeral for William Donald Schaefer will be probably be the last of its kind, a city-wide, deep reaching communal ceremony. Think about it. Who else will touch the city like the iconic four-term Mayor, two-term governor. Anthropologists and historians study funerals as a reflection of the cultures? The fact that there isn’t another leader or even personality to take Schaefer’s place says a lot about our time and the city, which has undergone sweeping changes in the past two decades. This is a sad and overwhelming comment on the city and whether it really is community at all. The city has attracted scores of young, the old stalwarts, The Baltimoreons, have gone. fled up I-95. In some sectors, being a Baltimore native is unusual.

Not only is there no emerging true leader to galvanize the city, but people maybe too divided and self involved into their own lives to even care, thanks to technology and the hyper, hysterical self afflicted pressures  of family life. Much can be gleaned about a person’s life, sometimes too much, during a funeral. The speeches, stories told over heaping spreads back at the house miraculously weave together a story of the departed.  Much will be said about Baltimore from this event, in the the crowd people will hold their own stories. But is even talking about Schaefer an indicator of a lost generation of Baltimoreans sort of like the people who still talk about the Baltimore Colts. Schaefer’s passing may not only be an end of an era. That era may  have long gone.

B'Nai Israel of Lloyd Street offers a message to Schaefer's passing motorcade


Rhino Spotted on the Jones Falls, Baltimore, Maryland

Look carefully and you’ll spot an animal way out of its normal habitat.

On Saturday, just after a rain storm a rhino was spotted by yours truly. The rhino was seen in an obscured wooded area in what was Baltimore’s eariest industrial mill center now a struggling stream under I-83, a major expressway. The area lies not a mile away from The Maryland Zoo, which borders the stream. The zoo does have a rhino. All these thoughts came to mind when I was out on my bicycle and saw firemen looking down from a bridge. I figured it was probably a jumper until I saw them drive away, leaving me alone on this graffiti trail.

A graffiti Bridge along the Jones Falls in Baltimore

Then I turned to my left and saw this. My flee instinct kicked. Large Animal. I’m alone in woods. RUN. But I also was amazed. Am I seeing things. Was this a boulder with odd lighting. No. I scamped down and yes it was a rhino. How they got it down there is a mystery. The terraine ain’t easy by yourself never mind carting this thing down there. I talked to a passerby, a local Hamden guy and he said he goes by there ever day and hasn’t seen anything like this. I got closer and the detail was impressive. Notice the silica, the little hairs, the ribs.

Artist prank taken to its highest form.

This is why I prefer bike riding. I would never had seen this bit of wildlife. The placement of the art was impecable. not in the middle of a meridian strip but placed in urban wildnerness primed for discovery.

The closer I got the more impressive it became.

Indeed this was a Rhino, an excellent speciman.


DIY crafters Hit Fells Point

May 8th A DIY crafters filled the old square of Fells Point, Baltimore. It was a small but potent showing, for the most part, distinguishing itself from the usual schlock that sometimes can be seen in this gnarled waterfront brick-a-topia. The craft people  here showed  how viable the DIY movement has become merging trade skills with design, such as the sleek pendants made from broken plates or the bike messenger bags sown from sailcloth and discarded bike inner-tubes. The question is can the products come down to the retail level, because some of this stuff, while well made — such as the diorama shelves– hovered around $80 bucks —  kind of pricey. True this is art and there’s skilled labor involved and you’re trying to bring  the artisan back from the dead, but hey the consumer is a cold-hearted bastard. It’s the ancient question, do you wanna sell a little or a lot.


Father and Son play their cajun hearts out

Loren and Jim Pettijohn find that cajun music fit in with the streets of Fells Point, probably because Fells Point could easily fit along the levees of the great Delta City of New Orleans. In the early 1800s, Fells Point grabbed the world’s attention for perfecting the Clipper Ship and privateering (legalized plundering of the high seas) only to incite the wrath of the British, which led to the War of 1812. Later the Point helped bring the Chesapeake famous seafood industry to the nation with its canneries and railroad link up in the late 19th Century. And like New Orleans, Fells Point is heavy with bars. But unlike New Orleans, Baltimore’s street music scene is pretty pathetic. These guys may be the best we got to offer. I met them several months ago and swore I’d come back upon a second spotting with a camera. Finally I got my chance.

The music seems to hit all walks of people in a city that tends to segregate itself. Recently Fells Point has emerged as one of the more integrated night scenes in the city. True many of the bars are still white, but the street is increasingly mixed, something that couldn’t be said just two years ago.
The Pettijohns have a way of engaging people. If you watch carefully you can see that Loren’s a gifted guitar picker, particularly between songs when he’s flying up and down the neck. And as a father, I’m sure he’s enjoying these  moments with his son at a time when parental ties get frayed. It shows in their music which    grafts so well with Fells Point  lost seafaring history —  more vibe than fact on the street, but a powerful thing vibe at that. People  pull dollars from their pockets, break out in dance, stop and stare. Sometimes the poorest of folk are the most generous myself went home and grabbed my guitar and harmonica and played with them. It’s that pumping accordion and how it hits the night. That’s why to watch Jim nimble fingers I was shocked to find that he has MS.  He talks sometimes how his fingers get  numb and it seems he lashes out  against his ailment with his fierce play. Stay tuned for more dispatches.


Carlton Street, Baltimore A visit to the Arabber’s Stable

First thing’s first. The word Arabber is an old world name given to the group of people who make their living selling fruit and vegetables from horse and cart. There used to hundreds of stables working from back alley stables throughout Baltimore. Today, there’s only one working stable and one in a holding pattern literally in tents under a bridge in West Baltimore. 

In July I published a feature in the magazine, The Urbanite. It was the result of a year’s worth of work, some of which I filed with the Baltimore City Paper. You can check out the articles on and do a search or go to and check out the 20 minutes in video, four stories I did.

There’s a rush you get or at least I get when a story gets published. I still get it and is probably why I’m still in this miserable profession despite having a wife and two kids and doing a terrible job as a provider. (More on that later).

Anyway, after you put out a story there’s this nagging  question what now? I established all this contact and got all this momentum, do I just drop it and go on. Sometimes, most of the times yes. But with the Arabbers, a sub-culture I have been writing about for ten years I don’t want to let it go. I’ve got a line on a story that goes beyond the quaint but sad narrative of people of old timers trying to make a living from horse and cart.

I want to go into their lives and work my way backwards, that is I want to write about their lives on the margins in Baltimore, dealing with poverty and their aspirations and then go oh by the way, he’s walking to his job which happens to be taking a horse out on the streets.

I believe I have this story with Dante, a nine-year old kid, who aspires to be an arabber. 

Today I went down there for the first time since the article came out. The reception was frosty and strange, but that’s what happens. The stable manager gave me grief for mentioning that I someone was smoking pot in the alley. Not an arabber mind you, but a resident who lived in one of Baltimore iconic alley homes, tiny homes built for B & O Railway workers back in the 19th Century. I told him wasn’t trying to besmirch the stables but rather show how the kid’s love of horses kept him away from the teenager offering him to join the party. The kid kept his attention on a horse rounding the corral that was build right there in the alley. It’s a wild sight watching these horse lapping around in the dirt knowing you’re right in the city. There’s a sense of serenity.

I went back there today and Dante had already gone out with a new arabber, a good sign that the culture isn’t quite dead and I hung out with Keith “Superstar” Brooks, his father Brock and “China” sharing some food. Nothing else but the re-affirmation that the story is rich and waiting for me to push on.  

Tony takes Rose, the horse out in the corral in downtown Baltimore

Tony takes Rose, the horse out in the corral in downtown Baltimore


Journalism Redux — A visit to the Arabber’s Stable

I have been a journalist for 23 years. I’ve worked for newspapers, dailies, weeklies and then as a freelancer.I have written for the New York Times. I have written for a small town paper.  I  still am a freelancer. But I always have been frustrated with how the news works. “All the News that is Fit to Print.” The funny thing is much of life isn’t fit to print and we’re not talking about decency. We’re talking about stories that don’t necessary follow the journalistic pyramid theme. I’m interested in the feel and the vibe of a story and have struggled many times unsuccessful to inject them in  the story. This is probably due to my limitations as a writer. Oh well. 

This blog is an attempt create a newswire service as well as window into the story making process. I want to share in the experience of piecing the story together rather than just offering a final product. I believe  there is a hunger for this kind perspective and is why blogs and documentaries have gotten so popular. (I also do documentaries, but I’ll get to that later). The world of Journalism is changing or falling apart. The daily newspaper is collapsing around  us and that’s going to have a profound impact on our  country. At the same time blogs and the web offers an even playing field, so I’m going to take a crack  at it.  I’m going to let you into my struggle as I stumble onto stories, most of them strange and a lot in the trenches of some social strife. Baltimore definitely will provide a lot of material. 


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