Archive for the 'Urban America' Category

16
Jul
13

Proposed Harbor Point Tower on Chromium site could make Baltimore an Environmental Crash Test Dummy with real lives at stake

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Underneath lies stored Chromium 6, a carcinogen that officials say will be contained when builders are allowed to penetrate the cap.

Opinion *copyright and published by Eyesore Productions*

Baltimore may be the first  city in the country to knowingly puncture a capped chromium dump in order to build a 23 story tower, making city folks either guinea pigs or participants in a pioneering remidation project, depending on your perspective.

If it works then the nation’s developers will suddenly have a way to build heavy on what was seen as taboo territory, highly toxic brown fields such as the 25 acre Allied Signal Chromium site on the Harbor. But if it fails the city, the Maryland Department of Environment and the EPA would have willingly broken open the cap designed to protect the public from hexavalent chromium or Chromium 6, an officially recognized carcinogen. And that public has gotten increasingly crowded around this site as the city’s waterfront has been built up since the cap was completed in the early 1990s with corporate headquarters, condominiums and a high end shopping district, Inner Harbor East pressing on all sides.

Dubbed Harbor Point, the proposed development comes in at $1 billions for the Exelon Headquarters and has generated much rumbling from City Councilman Carl Stokes after a last minute proposal asks for 108 million in bond advance to draw investors.

Harbor Point sits on a political fault line that could draw diverse interest from civil rights advocates angered that developers are utilizing incentives but giving nothing and environmentalists to whatever is left of the Occupy Movement, but Baltimore’s street politics is a pretty tepid place to be sure.

The project, under the aspices of developer Michael S. Beatty’s Harbor Point Development Group LLC, with 9 acres of  green space, is a far cry from the original perceptions of relatively low impact develoment and more than 11 acres of development.

Indeed the bewildering pace of  the  win-win push behind the  proposal ,at least as seen from citizens of the streets , can be summed up by  the gushing of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings -Blake official statement in the Baltimore Sun on June 3.   “Like the Inner Harbor revitalization effort of 30 years ago, the Harbor Point project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grow Baltimore by attracting new jobs, new residents, new tax revenue, and new public amenities,”

But Baltimore may be breaking ground in more ways than one.

Baltimore’s distinction as a trailblazer or guinea pig, depending on your perspective, has yet to be varrified,but that hasn’t gone without trying. For the last several months I have gone to the EPA as a citizen, a resident who lives two blocks asking if there is an example of any development of this size that has been completed  on an urban toxic site. They have offered none. In the meantime I’ve searched libraries and the internet for development protocols such as exist for say lead paint removal, detailing how can builders send 27 foot pilings safely into a clay cap and found nothing.

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Developers informally presented plans to the Fells Point Homeowners Association

I had a chance to ask representatives of the developers of the proposed new home for the new Exelon Headquarters, The Beatty Group. He said that the pilings will have a point that would reduce any dust. Just how the pillions will be inserted into a toxic site without disturbing the containment system that prevents groundwater contamination that remains to be seen.

EPA officials assured that strict monitors will be in place and although the developers have gotten preliminary approval, the procedure of how the site will be development has yet to get final approval.

But that doesn’t fill me with confidence especially since Baltimore seems to be set up as a test case.

In fact in Jersey City, which was facing a similar chromium site, owned by Honeywell, the same company charged with overseeing the Allied site, the contents of the toxic dump was  removed. That is in Jersey, there is no issue of buiding on or penetrating a cap because the chromium was shipped off to an already established  toxic waste site. Of course the removal only  occurred after a law suite forced New Jersey’s government to remove the site.

Known as the former Rosevelt Drive-in, the site encompassed 30 acres of chromium and slag. The slag would pop up or heave from the chromium underneath, according to reports in the New York TImes.  Concerns were both about  air-born contamination as well as groundwater.

Rev.Willard Ashley,pastor of the Abundant Joy Community Church in Jersey City part of the group that successfully sued Honeywell, told the New York Times in 2006,

“I very much believe in economic development, but I want it done in a way that’s safe,” Mr. Ashley says that allowing developers to cap a site, build housing on it which serves as a cap, is asimilar  to description put forth by the Baltimore group and Maryland Department of The Environment officials. He said dubbing the development as a working cap is what  environmentalists call “pave and wave” and just postpones the problems.  He wanted all the hazardous waste removed.

In 2003,  a federal court found that the way chromium waste heaved under the slag made capping impossible and ordered the contaminants, a half million tons worth,  removed.  That didn’t stop Honeywell from appealing the  decision, coming up with a containment solution to prevent the slag from heaving.  According to the New York Times article, they said ground water was making the chromium bond together pushing up against the surface. In the end the courts were not buying it and ordered Honeywell to remove all the chromium (see link to law suit).

And yet in Baltimore right in the middle of the City’s gold coast, with Harbor East on one side, Fells Point on the  other and Inner Harbor to the West and Tide Point and Federal Hill to the South, that’s exactly what we get. We get the very toxic site that the courts in New Jersey found unacceptable.

The question is why did Baltimore  which was hammering out a remedial plan with Honeywell in 1989, allow a toxic waste dump to be built on such prime real estate, a peninsula in the Harbor.

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A law suite forced Honeywell to remove Chromium to make way for development in Jersey City, but in Baltimore the same company was allowed to cap the waste, a process that was rejected in Jersey Courts.

According to a source who worked in New Jersey government and has knowledge of the Baltimore sites,  the government understood that the Maryland Port Authority, which oversaw other  chromium sites, could be made liable. The person indicated that the Maryland  enforcement was soft but  also noted in Jersey, “it took a suite by  a citizen group.”

Thus far in  Baltimore, the environmental concern is at best on the fringe of public discussion. While many talk about the promise, the jobs, the risk of doing what amounts to be exploratory surgery in the cap of  a chromium six is getting scant public airing and no talk of the risks.

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10
Jan
13

Winning Ugly — The beauty of being Not Pretty — an Essay about psyche of a Ravens Fan

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The heart and soul of Baltimore’s now nationally famous tailgate scene is NOT on the official lots  at M&T Bank Stadium.  Nothing wrong with those lots of well-healed spectators. They surely put out a great spread one more outlandish than the next. From the stainless steel grill the size of a bass boat to the gramps bunkered down in a van with three tier rotating carousel of liquor,  M&T offers up a might buffet that doesn’t welcome my kind — peddlers.

Lucky for me hauling around a massive bag of newly minted T-Shirts, there’s the wilds of the Baltimore hinterlands that sprawls through what is the city’s oldest industrial sites.  To the South was the B&O Warehouse, made a museum  to the North was the Mount Clare House, which oversaw a colonial forge one of Baltimore’s first. Lost in the middle is  this flatland of rubble, weeds and harsh hughed buildings along Ostand Street snaking up Warner Street and slivers and lots under bridges in-between. The Mad-Max revelers unleash their twisted take on the family picnic. Booze presented on checkered table clothes.  Kids play catch alongside the railroad tracks before a nervous security guard looking for the flashing signal lights listening for tale-tell moan of the rail. In fact the tracks is littered with the purple-cladded doing a hobos stroll, taking  pisses while guzzling urine-colored beer at the same time.  More times than expected a train pushes oafishly through, the wheels grinding in a fist pumping camaraderie. The blast of the horn definitely so.

A D.J. sets up his mobile studio and mashes up country-western with hip-hop. Absorbing it all like he’s done for years is  T sitting like a kingpin reading the paper — who reads the paper at a tailgate?

“Without the football team a lot of people of different races would not have met,” he said. “ They have their differences and the whole nine but there’s one common denominators, the Baltimore Ravens, the purple and black.”

And with my T-shirts I was hoping to plug into this common  denominator not just into the Ravens, but the definition of the season and hell why not – the city.

 

Winning Ugly is a Beautiful Thing — Laying down a concept is ruckus that is Baltimore Tailgate scene not an easy thing especially when the competition gets to sell trademarked protected and lawyer enforced emblems and player’s jerseys, which has become a required uniform for the football fan.  But every once in a while a rouge t-shirt comes along that sums of the moment. I believed that Winning Ugly was that next big thing.  Like Ball So Hard  University was last year.

Winning Ugly surely would make a connect – I thought. While the Ravens forged a reputation for not winning pretty, this season has been particularly vexing. The Ravens vaunted Defense loomed at the bottum of ranking and the high-hoped anticipated high powered offense played like  Joe Cool has been supplanted by Flaky Flacco and yet were playoff bound, I was hoping to give the fan to embrace the team’s inner-ugly for a bargin price of ten dollars. Then Ray Lewis had to go mess this whole spleen venting indulgence up and announce his retirement. Hours before the Ravens played the Colts nobody mentioned the old tired history of the Baltimore Colts leaving town. It was all about Ray.  Nobody wanted to hear about Winning Ugly with  the return of Ray Lewis. After being out for nearly eight weeks due to an injury, Ray Lewis presence was conjuring up images of days of yore when he and his fellow hunters terrorized offenses to the point it wasn’t even physical. The quarterback would become mired in his own mind game.

 

It’s a  simple T-shirt with high aspirations, a newly minted slogan, a get rich quick scheme, a chance to experience that hustler’s rush of peddling on the streets, a chance to step away from being a passive spectator and ride back-drafts of a team plunging into post-season glory. What I got was a crass view of Baltimore’s psyche, the collective unease of being the step-child of the Mid-Atlantic, a harsh view that comes ever clear with a butt whipping when I hit the streets.

You know that character Bubbles in the Wire> Well I was like his shopping cart  buddy who we all know was doomed for an ugly end all caught on a little video.winning ugly under bridge

This project wasn’t all about selling shirts, but also engaging the crowd, a little subversive instigating in the guise of  a street hustle for a short film. As a low-end documentary filmmaker,  I’ve always been attracted to dynamic of old school peddling. I’ve done more than my share of A-rabbing stories and videos. I did a film about  a successful New York street musician. I followed around Fancy Clancy, beer vendor extraordinaire for two years. But this t-shirt scheme has fermented for years until I could stand it no more.

I figure the shirt not only fits this team, particularly this season, but if embraced — that is if you embrace the inner ugly — than you’ll experience a  transcendence and isn’t what we all want in a football team or as fan of any sport. You’re hoping to experience transcendence or more accurately live vicariously through the players. But the ugly truth that very little if anything that happens on the field will fix the lives of those up in the stands and out in media land.  We are stuck with our selves like a hangover while the players go on to their exclusive euphoria capped with hundreds of thousands if not millions,   that us fans manufacture for them – that is unless you got a stake, a wager, a business, 150 t-shirts that needs to be sold.

Finding the good in the ugly was what I was preaching to  the fine folks  tailgating in the nooks and crannied remnants of South Baltimore’s old world industry — vacant lots festooned with purple tassels and obscene suggestions for Ben Roethlisberger — It was Steelers Week and the fan base stewed, hellishly, enflamed further with each yield of the bottle.  And there I was, the short misfit among gunslingers, talking some nonsense about benefits of winning ugly.

“Winning Ugly is a beautiful thing. Winning is a beautiful thing. Embrace it and if you do we’ll ride this horse to the Super Bowl. Give up on the dream of being a Peyton Manning Team. Fuck that. I wanna win ugly all the way and piss the whole world off. “

At this point it was no longer about selling a t-shirt for ten bucks. It was about if  these boys were thinking about kicking my ass.

Winning Ugly selling on streets

But I still, at this writing defend my actions.  I am going down believing that  Winning Ugly is beautiful thing is the Ravens true identity whether the team crushes their  opponents or is given a gift-win. In fact I believe that winning ugly is where they find  their glory.

“They are not the most esthetically pleasing team to watch — they can put up 55 points one game and not get 8 points the next,”

Bob Haynie, a Sports Radio Talk Show Host for 105.7 the Fan, who  offers a point of reason on the airwaves particularly after a loss,  but does so  in a scratchy voice one suspects is forged from yelling at the TV, cured by cigs and distilled by libation

Ever since the Ravens ugly Super Bowl Win in 2001 where a historic defense lead by then four year Linebacker Ray Lewis, Haynie and the rest of the sports show hosts have fielded irate calls about lame play calling, inept quarterback play be it  Kyle Boller to Joe Flacco, who by many accounts takes extra heat,  and a general offense that can look clueless at times.

“Everybody wants to identify with the team’s hard working smash mouth grind it out — throw out any cliché you wanna to use but at the end of the day they want Joe Flacco to be Joe Montana. And when he’s not that’s when the complaints roll in.”

No doubt Baltimore dug deep in their Ravens Defense street cred. As Warren Sapp put it, when his team won Tampa Bay Buccaneers team won the Super Bowl the next year, “The Ravens made defense cool.”

But you get the feeling the NFL wasn’t too keen on games being won on Defense. Before The Ravens Super Bowl win over the New York Giants, Ray Lewis stated that all they all needed was for the Offense was to put up 3 points and Defense would take care of the rest.) Rules were instated that hampered defense play including preventing cornerbacks from “ touching” receivers five yards off the line of scrimmage. The word was that the NFL was looking for more scoring and flags for illegal hits start flying. Even the Ravens the next year didn’t believe in their Winning Ugly M.O.  and jettisoned Game Managing Quarterback Trent Dilfer for Glory Boy Elvis Grbac, a decision that came back to haunt the Ravens like a curse. Grbac left the team and the game in tears and the Baltimore fan base  was driven to tears by watching the clown shoes footwork of Kyle Boller. The team was either by design or  out of survival stuck with keeping the Defense stout, despite a doomsday chorus of prognosticator declaring the end of the ancient adage “Defense Wins Championships.” According to the NFL stats, The Ravens produced a Top 5 defense eight out its last ten years.winning ugly stadium

Players like Ed Reed, Bart Scott, Adalous Thomas, Kelly Gregg, Jerrett Johnson,   and Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Ladarous Webb to name too, powered a fierce Baltimore’s defense. It didn’t seem to matter who was the defense coordinator,  Marvin Lewis,  Mike Nolan Rex Ryan now Dean Pees, the Ravens consistently inflicted  its will on opposing offenses. And  Baltimore, with a rich sports heritage but one fraught with some horrible losses (The Colts 68 Loss New York Jets has been the greatest upset.), not to mention step child status to cities like New York, Philadelphia Boston and Washington, D.C. ate ugly defense identity up.  Even Pittsburgh, the Ravens arch-rivals, , at times would top the Ravens in Defense standing, with Baltimore taking number, has had a dynamic offense ever since Ben Roethlisberger came into the league and made magic with tenacious receiver Hynes Ward. It can be easy to pair the defense with Baltimore’s blue collar vibe.

Talk to Ernie Ernie Grecco, 70 year old native, who watched when an upstart Colt Team beat the Giants in what now has been called the Greatest Game Ever Played, because of the first use of Sudden Death and the dynamic play of Johnny Unitas. Back then Sparrows Point had 35,000 workers. There was a General Motors Plant. Armco Steel and Continental Can. Baltimore was second to New York in the garment industry. The city was chalked full of Breweries. Grecco, now the President of the AFL-CIO in Metropolitan Baltimore got his start at the Seagram Distillery. “Now it’s all gone,” he said.

But Grecco bails before going down life was sweeter in the good ole days brattle. He marvels that Baltimore, a town that people drove through to get from D.C. to Philadelphia, pointed out in a National Geographic article – has emerged as a destination point. “I’d rather have the jobs the good manufacturing jobs,” he said.  “But people love Baltimore.”

Baltimore’s hard climb as a destination point for artists and those looking to break out on their own has surprised yours truly. I remember my dad driving me around as a kid pointing out the few hot spots in other dreary streets — Louis Bookstore, Bread and Roses Coffee House, Peabody’s Bookstore. Now city pulsates tailights from Woodberry, Hamden down through the Charles Street Arts district into Fed Hill and Fells Point, Canton and beyond. I remember when you couldn’t find a cab now the streets team with taxis and you still can’t find one — empty.

But last week came a new realization. I was out in LA desperate for something on the radio when I came to a DJ gushing about Dan Deacon’s America. He talked how he was out to Baltimore and how those places that Deacon refers to like “Guilford Avenue Bridge” really do exist and that he could see why Deacon doesn’t wanna leave.

Never in my dreams did I think Baltimore would get such recognition, much of which has already been documented in this paper.

It’s gotten to the point that natives like myself have become a bit rare, maybe not like Formstone, but maybe like Berger Cookies. We around but you got to know where to find us. And for the last 10 years I’ve heard from the new settlers an appreciation of the feel of history. Sports Talk Show Host Rob Long noted that many blue colar towns like Cleveland or East Coast cities like Boston have rich sports heritage with teams that pre-date ours by more than half a century, Baltimore keeps its history close to the surface.

It’s the difference someone who keeps the family heirlooms in a cherry wood box or someone who displays the great, grand-dads fiddle on the wall or even plays it. .In fact, Long takes it another step further and says that Baltimore’s revels in the under-dog snub.

“I don’t know if it’s an inferiority complex or our edge,” Long said. Long warns that people shouldn’t interpret the complaints about snubs or National Coverage conspiracies as self hatred. “We don’t believe it.”

But change does come even for a town that has a firm grip on the past and old fashion smash mouth football. For one, Baltimore is in the mists of its fifth straight playoff birth but also racking up at least one win  in the post-season. And during this run there’s been a seismic shift from defense is king to offense led by Joe Flacco, who came in as an under-dog, from a below the radar school University of Delaware and looking to be a second stringer at least at first until Troy Smith got sick right before opening season. The problem is for a whole host of reasons, the offense hasn’t hit the heights of the Ravens defense. Last year it looked like Flacco and The Ravens was about to plateau at beautiful heights with a spot in the Super Bowl. The Season careened from brilliant play — from opening day beat-down against the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers to the  head scratching bungle in Jacksonville. But in the AFC Championship  Flacco did what everyone out their in radio and web-land  have been clamoring for: Flacco put the team on his shoulders and marched the team down the field. With less than a minute, Tom Brady was on the bench, his head in his hands and Flacco reared back and found Lee Evans in the End Zone. What followed is one of the ugliest drops – somehow a New England defender managed to lurch two steps in the endzone and knock the ball out before Evan could but the second foot down to be called a touchdown. Two plays later Billy Cunduff shanks a gimmie field goal to at least send the game into overtime. Talk about an ugly loss. Man put that one on the NFL top ten why don’t cha.

Honestly it’s surprisingly the Ravens could even muster the nerve to be contender this year.  Long is convinced that Ravens 5-11 showing in 2007 was a hangover from the Ravens 13-3, throwing a dismal and ill-advised pic in the Playoffs against the dreaded Colts, losing their chance to get to the Super Bowl.

The Ravens have ridden  the top of our division the entire season and it felt like we’ve been in a tail spin. Hell at 9-3 we fired our offensive coordinator. Who fires an offensive coordinator when the playoffs seemed almost certain and the losses could have been put on the defense who allow The Steelers and then the Washington Redskins to drive the field and win.

“We’ve become spoiled,” Haynie said. Drew Breeze threw a ton of touchdowns and he will be home watching the playoffs with everybody else. The fan base, fans in all cities they tend to harp on the negative more than the positive.”

the competition was not only fierce but wise.

the competition was not only fierce but wise.

So Winning Ugly is a Beautiful Thing. Right. No way to dress this season up — the miracle 4 and 29, 30 yard run by Ray Rice in San Diego was as ugly win as anything. The next day Flacco got mocked for not daring to throw down field like a real quarterback, instead he dumped it off to running back in the flat with a lot of real estate to make up. No way to dress this season up. Might as well give it an ugly kiss and feel better about ourselves.

Ah Theories look much better on paper, but as soon as they hit the air they start to tarnish. It wasn’t pretty for this little peddler out there folks. I never felt so short.

I sold 14 shirts and everyone was tough and took a lot a patter.  There was a time I got a bunch of grissled fans engaged in some conversation, the first step to a sale.

“Hey Buddy, Hey Buddy. You’re selling to the wrong crowd.

“What

This is a homeless shelter.

I played the fool well. Doing a hard sell to a woman who wondered if I would be there after a game, while a stranger freaked her. I turn around and spot tons of  Pittsburgh Sucks shirts everywhere. A bail bonds company was giving them away.  Ten dollars can’t compete for Free. One  woman mocked me and said I needed to change the saying to “A win’s a win.”

“A win’s a win?”

Her eyes spoke loud as any jeer  — you doofus.

“You’re never going to sell shirts with that.”

Next stop a man heckled during a near sale. “I’ll give you two cookies and two dollars. This heckler owned the massive lot and demanded a five dollar shirt if I wanted to keep selling on his lot, the only lot that I had made multiple sales.

He already called me a fuck up and “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

But in this business you can’t have any pride and when I’m saying this business, I’m referring to journalism. A journalist has to eat it for a story. Many cases I’m intruding or at the very least culling their world and if you want truth, you got to seek pain. Tom Nugent, a teacher told me that back in J-school at U of Maryland. If it was  not for him I’d never be a journalist, which isn’t such a good idea these days with the written word and the newspapers in such straights. He would urge us to “seek pain,” look for the truth by throwing off the cliché’s and the formulaic. He inspired me to aim to be a great writer, not that I am or ever be, but to aim for it anyway. Why not go high, but to do so would be an ugly road. He warned me. He also hated sports, football especially. He thought sports was an opiate for the masses, a place where people took their broken lives and dreams and hung them on a team that would do nothing but take their money, get them drunk and feed their shortcomings that many times exploded into violence and abuse. That’s the truth of sports, he’d say.  “I used to see blood run down the steps of Memorial Stadium.”

His father was Tom Nugent (Sr.), The Football Coach at University of Maryland, back in the 50s. Through his access due to his father, Tom was struck by the brutality  on the student athletes — not the physical impact but the lie that aspiring athletes were left along with their shattered knees and no hope of getting into the NFL. But worse,he says, is how sport obliterates people’s view of the ills of society. As sports engulf the culture he says, society has become, “so degraded and vile, it’s hard to look at.”

“By roaring at this abstraction that we call our team in the stadium, we avoid the big problem of community mainly the killings that go on forever in the ghettos of Baltimore,” he told in a phone interview.

I believe he spoke the truth. PSLs is a crock after we the people paid millions to build that stadium and what’s worse is the time – weekend quality time – that I spend away from wife and kids. More than once I’ve come back from the stadium with this sick feeling that I’ve been had, that why am I putting so much physical, monitory effort in something that means nothing while my life could use such effort.  Each summer I proclaim I’m not going to be into it that much, my friends and family laugh.

But I love football. Can’t help it. I love it. I loved The Baltimore Colts, got my heard broken and stayed away from it until the Ravens showed up in very ugly fashion I might add.

Football to me is about the struggle, seek pain — it plays out the hassles of the day to day of living.

They say soccer is a beautiful game. That may be true in real time. But in slow mo there’s nothing more beautiful than Football. Even baseball — besides Brooks Robinson watching clips of him scooping up balls, still sends chills up my spine). But the struggle as violent as it is what I relate to ….  Between the rants of the God-talk Ray Lewis  personifies the struggle.

The shoe of Johnny U kept shinny by folks rubbing for good luck

The shoe of Johnny U kept shinny by folks rubbing for good luck

I not much for hero-worship, but I dig Ray Lewis work ethic, how he stresses working on the little things. That’s all in the work you put in or as Jackson Pollack put it, “Work is Art.” How amazing it must be to go to Ray’s house and do film study with him and Ed Reed and whom ever else. I once met an ex-linebacker who had dreams of making it back into the league. He never did, but he kept himself in shape and the day after The Ravens horrible loss (worse than  ugly) to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2010 playoffs when the Ravens went from 24-7 in the half to losing with a series of dropped passes on Flacco’s last drive, the day after that, Ray Lewis called this guy up and asked him to work out throughout the afternoon. That’s all I need to hear about the man.

But my misgivings about Old 52 retiring had nothing to do with missing his presence. No. I had a feeling it was going to throw static in my Winning Ugly vibe. And when I parked my car for an extra ten bucks, I knew it was over. I gave t-shirts to the parking lot attendants and invaded people personal space, re-working my pitch:

I know we’re going to win pretty today. But in Denver we’re going to scratch and claw, so you might as well sit on your coach next week with this t-shirt on.

Not one sale.

I found myself on the Southside of the tracks penned in by a slow moving freighter and security fencing. The train wheels screeched something fierce and I sold one shirt. I turned to get a number of a guy who says he would buy one but he’s leaving the country on account of Obama winning the elections and the taxes.  His wife verified that they were packing boxes to move to South America.

When I got his name turns out this bail bondsman was in my class in Mount Washington Elementary School. Everything changed. He brought his dad over, gave me a drink and we talked about the fights down by Falls Road. This wasn’t Whole Foods Baltimore.  The train was gone but I wasn’t going anywhere as he marveled over Baltimore’s small town vibe.

“This is a blue colar working hard team, that’s gonna do what it takes to win, just like Baltimore Cty , unemployed taxes through the roof, but they are gonna make it work. When you see Ray Lewis come out you’re gonna see the real Baltimore City.

I went to see Ray’s last game and as Rob Long predicted the story line has changed – It’s no longer about the dreaded Colts (the ones who scorned us via Mayflower Trucks) coming to town. It’s about a Raven leaving.”

Sitting next to me was  Minnie Niazi, who forgo her club seats to sit with her daughter.

“They are a hardnosed fighting battling  guys, that give us all they have and we love them,” said Minnie Niazi of Annapolis with a dog named Lewis.

The game started out ugly – exchanging turnovers, but finished in a noble way. Not a beat-down, but a hard fought win that at time was closer than the 24-9 implied.

When I got back the parking lot attendant looked up and said, “Hey I got a lot of comments on your shirt. If you leave some with me, I’ll make some sales for you.”

Sure thing, Next Year/.

Check out the five minute film at http://vimeo.com/55525096

And for a David Lynch look — https://vimeo.com/54908743

password winning

Bryan Bello camera man.

Bryan Bello camera man.

08
May
11

Favorite Fells Point Street Performers are back

Jim Pettibone and his dad, Leron, are back playing the sidewalks, another indication that the street scene is alive and well despite the jolts of gentrification that’s been rocking Fells Point, the home base of The Baltimore Wire Service. Much bemoaning can be done about the sweep of upscale restaurants — that is if you’re into bohemia or  maybe a slummer or worse one of those old timers who hold the good ole days over everyone else.  But hang with these guys and the new incarnation of  Fells Point may just surrpise you. Sure there’s plenty of up-scaler, but there’s plenty of rif-raff of all walks and race. Best yet the cross-culture goes across all lines and everyone seems to be doing a Chagaul flaot on Baltimore  rare mini-season, the flash in the pan moment  when the air hangs heavy with blossuems just before Preakness, the annual drunk feast, and the blitz preview of sun burnt season. I’ve had the opportunity to bring my guitar and try to get down Leron’s timing. (His chord changes comes somewhere in the third measure between two and three, somewhere. I’m still looking for it). But most of the time I  take advantage of the catalyst they create. Women dance. Men in cowboy hats, seemed find such H’ombres on the East Coast.  Two years I noted Fells Point quiet diversity, but last Saturday and surely tonight, the momentum has kicked up a notch.

Being a resident, I say this is a mixed blessing. More nutjobs yelling at closing time, but also I appreciate the joy and see it as a bromoter of the times. It’s a gauge that was tested back after 9/11 and a few y ears ago, there was too much peace and quite. Now on these glorious early May week, Fells Point as much of the city, whether you’re dining outside Bs in Bolton Hill or Loittering in front of the Maryland Film Festival at the Charles, this is about as good as it gets in the City, before thea Heatwave comes that is a Baltimore Summer. 

07
May
11

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 Baltimoregreencurrency.com. 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

26
Apr
11

Baltimore Mayor First. William Donald Schaefer may have been a two-term Governor, but his heart belonged to Baltimore.

The late Governor and Baltimore William Donald Schaefer heads to City Hall one last time.

There’s a reason, that the pugnacious funeral procession started Monday morning in Annapolis where William Donald Schaefer officially hit his career crest as governor from 1987 to 1995, but ended roaming through his hometown of Baltimore before landing for a day of viewing at City Hall .

Baltimore is  still  morphing into the vision that he created 40 years ago. As Baltimore’s histrionic Mayor, he  grabbed national attention for having the gall to envision a dirty rotting wharf-front as a gilded tourist attraction.  Here is where he made his mark as four-term  Mayor Willie Don.

Schaefer will be eulogized as the guy who flipped the switch for mayors stuck with dying waterfronts not just nationwide, but worldwide, to view their harbors , not as derelict land but potential vacation spots for tourist looking some of that beach vibrations in between their jaunts to the ocean. Why couldn’t people get that good ol boardwalk stroll in the city. Crazy. Preposterous. Nuts as the guy who jumped into the seal tank at the National aquarium. Oh wait that was Schaefer.

But to Baltimore he was so much more. He was an old school character, tough and goofy, a little hard-boiled, part Comic Costello. He exuded a kind of fairy tale aura that drew you in the schtick and still did even from the hearse.  Even on Monday’s procession, you were in his world.

I saw this one last time today. When I was standing in Fells Point, one of about 14 stops on his tour de Baltimore before he was laid out at City Hall. I was standing in this still yet to fully blossom Colonial seaport, home of the Baltimore clipper, 1812 privateers and  tugs vacated to make way for a waterfront hotel that has yet to appear. This was also the place that Schaefer wanted demolished in the late 60s and 70s for I-95, 695 interchange.  This was the place where Schaefer realized the strength of the neighborhood, after fierce fighting, enduring protestors dressed like American Revolutionaries,  and he realized that rather  than bull them over like Robert Moses did up in New York, he embraced Fells Point and neighbors in the city.

Senator Barbara Mikulski displays a sign for the cause that launched her career and shaped Baltimore

So there stood his chief foe, Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator flanked by neighborhood activists of days long gone. She told me how during the long battle, a low point came after she, then councilwoman, lost a bill to save the neighborhood and other waterfront stalwarts like Federal Hill across the Harbor, which now stands as  Baltimore’s more humble version of Boston’s Beacon Hill.. But rather than bask in his victory, Schaefer noticed something big was brewing in the neighborhoods.  He called Mikulski and others in for a sit down and fate did a slow change.   And when the motorcade finally ambled up the Fells Point cobblestones and came to rest in front of Jimmy’s Diner, a one time politico hotspot, the cluster of a crowd cheered. About 50 strong went ecstatic — a strange reaction at a funeral procession. But it was as if  the mayor was gonna step from the black shine of the limo , his  eggplant head  never  find balance on his neck, always in motion, looking for an angle, contorting his face, rolling his eyes,  yes even clown-like. His act was infectious when at his prowess and at times sadly ill-timed when he got older.  Still he was pure Baltimore, a tugboat of a man, tenacity done different. So when Old Schaefer failed to step out the limo, they cheered for his aid, as if  it was a homecoming. The strangeness stretched on as a classic Schaefer event, which of course it was, hitting spots like Faidley’s at Lexington Market and was it an accident that limo paused in front of Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street as if he was going shoot the you know what in the KibitzRoom.

Schaefer's entourage heads down what was once the heart of Jewish Baltimore.

Working the crowd, today’s pols should be as masterful.

I remember when I had a similar  private audience with the king. It was behind old Memorial Stadium, three-quarters demolished. I was doing my first documentary, about Baltimore’s emotional hold  on the stadium, which he argued unsuccessfully to save. (Why I’m not exactly sure) On his  suggestion, he pulled up  and jumped out of the Limo and laid down the reasoning, how the demolition of the stadium was a failure of imagination. He did this right in the middle of the street and just nailed it with no press hands, no guards. Just him in his suit and the limo. Then he jumped back in and jetted.Whether you agreed with his politics. (He didn’t make too many friends when he bailed on Jimmy Carter for Reagan back in 1980), you had to admire his mastery of the craft.  Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy w th tourist glitz even if you crown it with jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion urban renewal, like of jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Schaefer’s passing isn’t an end of an era. That era was long gone. You could see it  in the ragtag crowds around  town. There were clusters of people, A few hundred here, 90 there. But the thousands were absent.

That may because many of  the Baltimore contingent are dead or have left the city a while back, although I’m betting his funeral on Wednesday will be a major draw.    Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy with tourist glitz even if you crown it with a jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion of  urban renewal, the loss of good paying  jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American  community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Despite the shortcomings, Schaefer had heart, an unabashed radiance woefully  missing in these wound-too tight times. Too much risk to let your personality shine, too many people with video on their phones. Schaefer himself as an 80-year-old Comptroller was taken down by gaffes that came off sexist, out mode and crass. Still we could use a guy who would bother to work the crowd. A lot is being made about Schaefer’s jump in the pool at the National Aquarium. But that was one of hundreds of so-called stunts. During some research at the News American archives now stored at University of Maryland, I came upon boxes upon boxes of Schaefer immersing himself in  tiny neighborhood shing-dings.  . There’s the Mayor with a lemon stick. There he is in leprechaun hat.  If Baltimore was the city of neighborhoods, he was the ring master
Where is that kind of politicking today? Don’t tell me,  time is better spent on strategic placement like Obama visiting Facebook’s headquarters.Compare the luke warm to snarky coverage he got  to the New York Times front page  photo of Obama running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to surprise tourists, after he managed to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

We need to get back to the human level. That’s why Schaefer even though after beating back Mikulski’s bill was able to see the human potential that she represented and he eventually came around to seeing Fells Point and Federal Hill as Baltimore assets. That insight shaped what Baltimore is today. We could have easily been in Newark’s position even if we live with in a two tier society that David Simon’s Wire so deftly depicts.  Schaefer’s  was a vision of classic slow cooking. It took two developer’s renaissance after Fells Point and Federal Hill was saved in 1970s for other neighborhoods to emerge nearly 30 years later as go-to waterfront spots like Canton, Locus Point. That’s why on a Monday afternoon, people in Fells Point cheered when the hearse slowed to a standstill.

The Mayor's hearse stops by Fells Point, Baltimore

They wanted so badly for someone to pop out once again with that kind of audacious, infectious belief in  Baltimore.

25
Apr
11

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.

22
May
09

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.