Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Watch Your Back

First day of Spring. My husband and I walk home from the Inner Harbor on a Tuesday night. It is warm and breezy and we have spent the evening waiting in line at Rita's for free water ice. A hundred Baltimorians wait with us, and by the time we are finally clutching paper cups filled with mango ice, the Circulator has made its last rounds for the night. Shoot, we missed the bus. Oh well, no big deal. We just have to walk home as we have done many times before. 

Eating our water ice, we begin marching home. Cars shoot by us, it is still light out, and the city is fairly busy as people go out to or come home from dinner. I revel in the soft night air and the fact that I can finally wear sandals again. We walk past the entrance to the Galleria (a fancy shopping mall) and spy shoppers darting out of its gleaming doors with glossy bags strung over their arms. Some of these shoppers hail taxis while others take to the sidewalk and trudge home on foot.  

Coming to an intersection, we decide to take North Charles Street home. We walk on North Charles all the time because it's a busy street filled with restaurants and shops and much to do and look at. Making a left turn onto East Lombard Street, which leads to North Charles, we are met by two Korean girls running frantically towards us. I look past them towards the end of the block and see a group of five girls running in the opposite direction after a guy. The five girls run in the middle of the sidewalk chasing this guy, while another guy on a bike rides furiously in front of them on the street. It is apparent that the guy running and the guy on the bicycle are a team who have just robbed this unsuspecting group of girls. 

The girls scream, curse, and yell, "Thief! Thief! Stop him!" and desperately run after the pair of thieves. Unfortunately, these thieves have a huge head start over the girls and when the whole group disappears around the corner, the girls are way behind the thieves. Should we chase after them too? No, there is no way we can catch up. We are just close enough to witness, but too far away to help. Though we don't see the actual robbery occur, it seems that this pair of thieves must have a definite method for stealing from this large of a group. I guess that maybe the thief on foot has stolen the purses or bags and then handed them off to the guy on the bike. Whatever their method of stealing is, they have a plan this team of two, and it is grossly successful.   

I am sickened. I cannot believe we have just witnessed a robbery on a main street, when it's light out, from a group of five girls. One or two girls together is plausible, but a group of five? Do people really get robbed in such large groups? Apparently. It disgusts me that this pair of thieves is trolling the streets looking for people to rob.  The two Korean girls who have practically run into us are panicked and frightened. They have barely escaped being robbed themselves. We gather together and discuss what we should do. I contemplate grabbing a cab, but we don't have any cash. Be rational, I think. The chances of us being involved in another robbery tonight are probably low. We can make it home. 

We ask the Korean girls if they want to walk back with us. They nod yes, and the four of us quickly cross to another street. We pass a Dunkin Donuts just a few hundred feet from the robbery. A Baltimore cop walks out of the door with a steaming coffee. Darn it. If only this cop could have waited a few more minutes before getting his caffeine fix. Maybe then, if he had been outside instead of inside waiting in line he could have stopped the robbery. Yet I don't blame him, I've needed a coffee too. But darn! This cop was so close by. My husband tries to tell the cop that we've just seen a robbery. For some reason the cop doesn't seem to hear us and gets in his car. I hope he will hear about the robbery on his radio. I comfort myself by telling myself that the robbers will meet justice one way or another. 

We make it back home without incident. The Korean girls walk with us almost the whole way, never talking directly to us, just walking closely behind us talking amongst themselves. They drift away once we near their home and we don't say goodbye because there is no need. We share a silent gratitude for keeping each other safe and go our own ways.  

Why share this unpleasant story? I have debated sharing it because it exposes a hostile side of Baltimore that I know will make many people worry and/or deter them from visiting the city. Yet, I have to admit that seeing this robbery blew some of the glitter off of the streets and revealed a dingy, hard layer beneath. I wish I'd never glimpsed this hard layer, but now that I have, I can't forget it's there. 

It is not my intention to make Baltimore seem like a scary place. I still love this city and I still see the glitter. I just can't only write about the pretty and ignore the ugly - it wouldn't be truthful. What I can do is try to paint an honest portrait of the city and hope that the highlights will outweigh the shadows. 

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