Sunday, May 18, 2008

A Drive home at night thru Baltimore in Search of a Snack

Buz had finished up some work at a nonprofit in Northeast Baltimore and headed for home in Medfield, typically a 25-minute ride away. However, he had worked straight through the evening and had not had anything to eat. So, he wandered home in search of a place to grab a quick bite. However, the ever-present threat of crime snarled him and made him reflect on the extent to which crime in Baltimore affects our economic behavior.

And the extent to which our city is hyper-segregated, to a large degree, by race, class, socioeconomics, and perceived safety. (Not to mention real safety).

He first drove west on Belvedere Avenue and got to York Road. The closed Taste restaurant was on his right.  I speculate that one of the reasons Taste restaurant closed (besides its high prices) was its location: I've often noticed groups of young, tough-looking guys walking around the area in the night on my way home from the nonprofit. I just couldn't imagine people with a lot of money, parking their car in the area, and sitting outside by York Road, and peacefully eating without being worried a bit.

The consultant turned south on York Road and considered the Wendy in the heart of Govans; however, the area felt dark and threatening, and he felt out of place [scaredy cat!]. He then continued south through the crowded area of the 5400 block of York--just north of Woodbourne. No stopping here. He then looked at at he McDonald's and the Popeye's down by Winston Avenue. There were crowds lined up in both places, but it felt isolated and unsafe. Buz felt he would stand out too much to go in to either [fraidy cat!].

Still hungry, he turned west onto Coldspring and pulled up at the Royal Farm Store; it was well after 9pm, approaching 9:30. The staff took forever to get his order. Several big, tough-looking guys came in, one with his pants way down on his buttocks exposing most of the rear of his boxer shorts. They all gathered in the back of the store; Buz recalled that this store had been held up numerous times; he felt he had to pay quickly and get out of there before a holdup went down; he didn' t feel safe. 

Buz gulped his hot dogs down on his way home. He never used to be so chickenshit, but realized intuitively how much he stood out: white male, 50-something, with polo shirt and khakis: victim with money. Though Buz is 6 feet and 215 lbs., he doesn't feel able to fight off a determined fit robber or two, though, and wonders about this concealed carry stuff. Would he have stopped in the Wendy's if he was packin' heat?

Is ppatin really right? Buz has to believe that, though crime is "down" (from very high levels) the perception of crime is high and the perception of citizen safety is not very high. He has to believe that fast food restaurants and other businesses would do much better business if they felt safe for hungry guys like me. (And for hungry gals too).

The consultant notes that on this little typical drive home, he never saw a single police patrol of any kind. Many years ago, one of the officers who worked for me, and came from a background of many residences in a military family, remarked what a heavy police presence Baltimore had for such a large city. Sadly, that is  long gone: the cops are all "somewhere", "busy", or detailed to specialized units or our Vietnam-like crime areas.

I was wondering what others think.


jaimetab said...

I completely agree with you! Since moving to Baltimore and spending a year looking over my shoulder when I lived on 26th and St Paul, I realize EVERYTHING I do here is affected by my perception of the safety of the area. A lot of people thought I was crazy or paranoid when I warned about how incredibly dangerous it is around where I used to live, but unfortunately, my fears have been confirmed by the high profile attacks that have happened there lately. One aside: for a few reasons, I think it's time to retire the "Vietnam" analogy to a crime area.

jaimetab said...

And by the way, I'm a huge fan of your blog! Thanks for all your hard work and insight.

jaimetab said...

Hey buz, what's the straight story with the under reporting of crimes relating to 911 calls? Sometimes I think it at scandal level. just waiting for someone to uncover the depth of it. BTW, I too am amazed at how few policed patrols I see! Especially when you then read the blotter and like 20 muggings took place around there...

ppatin said...

Speaking of restaurants affected by crime, I'm amazed that Thai Restaurant in Waverly continues to do well. Admittedly 33rd & Greenmount is far from being the worst part of town, but it certainly isn't great either.

buzoncrime said...

*I use the Vietnam analogy kinda semi-sarcastically/cynically, because I think a huge inordinate amount of resources are thrown by the police department into the "bottomless pit" of high-crime areas to the detriment of other neighborhoods which are trying to remain relatively crime-free. And then those are the "middle of the road", "on the fence" neighborhoods, which are neither high crime nor low crime, but still get the attention the low crime neighborhoods get. (such as Waverly and Charles Village and Govans).
So the neighborhoods that want more police don't get them, and the ones that have lots of them, think a war is being waged against the residents by the huge number of police looking for stats. The police department has not adjusted its post or sector boundaries based on workload for many years. And the district boundaries re-done in the Frazier era under community policing caused a complete discombobulation in the Eastern District--making it far too large to make any sense.

*Jaimetab: thanks for your compliments.

*I dunno about the inconsistency of the crime versus 911 calls. John Galt is the stat guy on that. The simple increase of requests for service is not a good measure. People call police for all kinds of things (social workers don't work around the clock in all neighborhoods and are immediately available).
And in the professional criminal justice world, police crime reporting is always suspect (usually with the exception of murders and stolen cars).
A good measure would be following a call, say, for a reported robbery to 911 and seeing what the final report (if any) said.

*The Thai restaurant on Greenmount is probably the best in the area; they have a great following. They had some minor problems years ago when I worked around there, but don't know lately. Don't know how they're doing with this latest economic downturn; they get a lot of Hopkins Asian students as customers at times.

*There are very few stores or business open late around 33rd and Greenmount. I wonder how that new restaurant Darker than Blue is doing........I wish him luck, but.............

jaimetab said...

Hey buz, how can we follow up on what happens to the little darlings arrested for terrorizing JHU students and charles village residents? check the daily jhu security alert page, it seems like there are one or two serious armed robberies there every night! why the hell are these pieces of s*** out on the street?!

Anonymous said...

Buz, next time come down falls road to the urban paradise of Mount Washington. They finally extended the hours of our Royal Farms to 24/7.

So you're saying the revitalization of Hamden isn't all it's cracked up to be? I personally think that outside of the Avenue and surrounding area, Falls Road along that stretch is a huge dump.

Anonymous said...

buz turned left and went south on york-- not exactly a culinary delight.

Taste closed because they had bad service and food for the price range. If it were not too late, any of the following belvedere sq places would have been better than the fast food on york:

Cafe zen,
the indian carry out places between N parkway and belvedre, grand cru wine bar, the vietnamese place next to the starbucks, and a few places north of N. parkway: panera, and the chinese buffet.

buzoncrime said...

It's hard to say how to followup. Most are not arrested. When juvies are arrested, it is not a matter of the public record, officially. So their names cannot be revealed. Sometimes Hopkins or newspaper articles releases the names of adults arrested for crimes around campus. (Usually no serious crime happens on campus--at least not recently). One can check them out and follow the case on Maryland Judiciary Case Search.

The kids on bikes and in groups in the area are just honing their criminal skills--one can see how tentative they are about it at times. And usually not much happens to them when they're caught the first time or two or three. Thus the government sends the message that this is all not really that serious, and then leads them on to think we're all chumps.(punks) ...............Then they turn 18, "catch a charge", and the world changes for them--often forever. Someone has to pull these kids aside early on and say: "This isn't keep doing this shit and it's going to fuck you up forever." Buz sees plenty of adults in his other job as employment counselor who never got that message. Good luck in getting your next job after your third conviction for something or your first felony.

Thanks for the tip about Royal Farms in Mt. Washington.
I think revitalization in Hampden has mostly stopped for now--though a new coffee shop just opened on Falls near 36th. And, yeah, a lot of it looks like a dump. But most of the central part of Hampden is ok. Many of the "old Hampdenites" who had not been displaced during the housing boom are still there. There is some disorder, but street crime is still low compared to many areas of the city. The addicts and thugs of Hampden (along with the prostitutes) frequent Falls Road from 36th up to Dimitri's. Some gather at 36th and Roland and others are down at the Elm Avenue playground pretending to be Park Heights drug dealers and Eminem. If you stay away from them, you're generally all right. Buz doesn't like thugs of any color.

Thanks for the other tips on place to eat; my car was on auto pilot veering south and west to home.

Anonymous said...

*There are very few stores or business open late around 33rd and Greenmount. I wonder how that new restaurant Darker than Blue is doing........I wish him luck, but.............

I ate there with a large group several months ago (for Fat Tuesday). We had a prix fixe tasting menu. The service was extremely slow (for the 23-odd people he was serving, I imagine he or his soux had to spend at least 10-15" per course on all the bullshit nouvelle cuisine plating and saucing he was doing...)

The gumbo had more cumin in it than I was expecting; although it was OK, and I like spicy food, it didn't taste like my idea of gumbo.

The shrimp appetizers were kind of chewy, and came with barbecue sauce when cocktail sauce would have been better. There were also only two of them per diner, but it _was_ a tasting menu.

The fried catfish was tough.

The real standouts were the cornbread (which was so good they ought to put it out on every table in baskets) and the mac and cheese with Maytag blue cheese.

I liked the owner and the wait staff, but his three-piece-suited partner/financial backer rubbed me the wrong way when he made a joking threat about consequences if anybody posted bad things about the food on the Baltimore Chowhound board. He reminded me of the kind of upscale thug that Louis Gossett Jr would sometimes play. Only this guy would probably shit himself if LGJr looked at him the wrong way.

buzoncrime said...

Thanks for the review, Anonymous!