Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Charm City Burning

I'm Philly thick and thin, but Baltimore has a special place in my heart.

I've visited several times before, and so should you.

Baltimore is a fascinating place, it is a City's City, and between it's cobble stone alleyways separating its distinct cookie cutter row homes, and it's posh and beautiful Inner Harbor, it explains America.

From Edgar Allen Poe to Henry Mencken, Babe Ruth to Tupac, Baltimore is American as apple pie.

On one of my visits, back in July 2008, I decided to take the long way down to Montgomery County, MD where my ex girlfriend at the time lived. I chose good old Route 1, the local road which at one time was the only option, before I-95 existed.

It goes right through East Baltimore and West Baltimore as North Avenue, then turns sharply southbound as Monroe Street before veering off to the southwest leaving Charm City in the dust for the western suburbs.

And let me just tell you, at one or two points during this local urban trek, I regretted not taking 95.

Once or twice, admittedly, I was slightly scared.

Maybe it was the rampant hitch hikers, or the emotionless junkies sitting on the benches labeled "Baltimore - The Greatest City in America." Maybe it was the bandana-laden boys on the corners where my car would roll to a stop for just a few tense seconds.

But I got through it no problem. And looking back, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to see all of this. This unnecessarily long trip to my destination was actually the best part of my trip.

For, until this day, Baltimore was, to me, soft shell crabs and hotels on Charles Street and late Spring ball games at Camden Yards.

And surely, Baltimore is this, but also it is that. It is crumbling yet vibrant. Dangerous and safe. But one thing that is constant is its honesty.

What you see is what you get here, and what you get is a living lesson of the unintended and very destructive side of Globalization, and the people who simply refuse to be beaten down and who simply deal with the cards they're dealt. This is Post-Industrial America 101.

And yesterday, today, and for who knows how long after, we all may be witnessing the tipping point, the culmination of decades of neglect and policy failure. The epicenter? Right around that sharp southbound turn at North Avenue and Monroe.

Call it Globalization - Wealth + cheap cell phones with video capability everywhere = well, I'm not really sure what this final product is or will be.

It used to be a running joke what happens to you in the rear of a paddy wagon on the way to the Big House. It used to be accepted that police can get a little emotional with their fists and feet. This has been going on for decades. Complex social factors and the iPhone, however, are changing things whether we like it or not.

Sure, the smashed and burning store fronts will eventually be rebuilt, insurance will pay out, and protesters will eventually get tired and go home.

But calling PEOPLE ANIMALS won't help anything, and neither will pretending that looters stealing toilet paper and flat screens is political dissent.

I think some good will in fact come out of this. Reform will simply have to take place. Police CANNOT shoot people in the back, and teenagers CANNOT die of spinal injuries while in police custody. Period. Real community policing must become the paradigm once again. Neighborhoods deserve better than to be occupied by roving police cars looking for infractions.

I'm already seeing this in my new hometown of New Haven, CT. We're very lucky up here to have an enlightened and forward thinking top brass in the PD, who require all rookies to be paired up in a walking beat throughout the lower-income neighborhoods. You're not going to beat crime from behind a steering wheel. And crime is at record lows here in the Elm City. I'm sure it's way too early to correlate this drop to a new policing style, but I'd venture to say it's more than a big coincidence.

Community policing won't save Baltimore from years of neglect, corruption, police brutality, and a globalised economy that all but shuttered its seaport, and factories, and warehouses, resulting in tens of thousands of good paying jobs lost then replaced by menial minimum wage service sector part time work, at places like the very storefronts and pharmacies which are themselves being burned and destroyed as we speak by the disenfranchised children and grandchildren of a once proud middle class that clocked in at one time at the seaport, and factories, and warehouses.

But it may be a good start.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

A Real Actual Conspiracy

I'm a newspaper guy, I read the news.

This is not something I even have a choice on, for I need to know what's going on around me.

I need, I crave, the world at all times, I can't even imagine starting the morning without seeing headlines. Fuck coffee. I want Syria. And Russia.

I want to know where Iran stands on the sanctions thrusted upon it. As of this morning.

And how many murders Philadelphia has had as of now, as in right now.

I crave world news, but I NEED local news, and so before the Washington Post, or the New York Times or the Hartford Currant, I go right back to my roots...

My first URL typing is always Philly.com, followed by Delcotimes.com, followed by Delawareonline.com.

And so, after a wild drunken night, New Year's Eve Eve, 2010, I skimmed through headlines and noted one, something about a body spilling onto a trash heap from a crane at a landfill in New Castle, DE.

Ok, New Castle, DE. Dead body. Trash. Land fill. Nothing out of the ordinary.

See, if you've ever been to New Castle, DE, well, you'd know what I mean.

The before words, how can I say this, are synonymous with the town.

But within hours I'd find, we'd all find, that this corpse wasn't just any BODY.

This was the body of John Wheeler, and for the many who don't know, a very prominent figure in politics, the very man responsible for the existence of the Vietnam War Memorial in DC. A guy who was CEO of the Security and Exchange Commission, an aide to two Presidents, a war veteran, and a great man. A man who at the time of his untimely death was working for a defense contractor in DC.

A man, so humble, that he chose to ride public transportation from DC to Delaware every work night.

He had a reputation for being witty, he was obviously very intelligent, yet 3 days before his body fell indignantly through the air into a trash heap, Wheeler was witnessed exiting an Amtrak train in Wilmington. Over the next three days, he was encountered by witnesses disoriented, carrying one of his shoes in his hand, walking through parking garages, refusing help, yet asking for it.

And sometime, after this three day excursion, John Wheeler wound up dead in a landfill. Even while the whole time he was seen alive and alone stumbling around Wilmington, DE for days, he was within 1 mile of his home.

The police ruled his death a homicide. The medical examiner determined it was due to blunt force trauma. They even narrowed down the dumpster that his body would've had to come from to end up in that specific landfill to a parking lot in Newark, DE, several miles from Wilmington.

Something does not seem right about all this.

The very fact that you can Google this and the latest news on its behalf is from 2011 bothers me deeply.

I don't typically give conspiracy theories much attention, but there is something sinister about this.

About this very caring and loving man, and an important and prominent one at that.

How he could disappear so easily, from the face of the earth, in these modern times where everything is recorded, where even HE is recorded on live security video two nights before his body shows up in a landfill.

This case is very much open, and very much unsolved.

And yes, it bothers me deeply. Still.