The Flags that Fly Here

A stream-of-consciousness from Baltimore

Timonium is a suburb outside of Baltimore, sitting north of the intersection of Baltimore’s Interstate 695 Beltway and Interstate 83.   That latter road is the fastest route to downtown; Interstate-83 runs from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor all the way to the Pennsylvania line.  The road shares many flaws common to East Coast thoroughfares – traffic is heavy, maintenance is poor, and the speed limit is usually 10 lower than it should be.

It is seven o’clock when I head toward the 695 Beltway loop, bearing towards the I-83 South exit towards downtown Baltimore.  Traffic is heavy on the beltway loop, heavier than usual… my signal flashes as I cut to the right, weaving in and out of traffic.  My car wears a Honda badge, but that belies its 270 horses and I love the feel of the engine even on crowded asphalt.  She hums.

I love that feel even more on open asphalt.  An uncommon sight; most days there’s plenty of cars with me on the road, even though I’m reverse-commuting from work in Timonium’s suburbia towards home near Baltimore’s city center. Today though, I reach the exit-only lane for I-83 South and am suddenly alone.  I open the throttle, and the engine doesn’t hum, it sings.

The journey, from this point, is ten miles.  Five are unremarkable, a road through faux-countryside that recalls the rural byways of my youth.  Soon that landscape changes, the dull grey and brown of an urban center eating at the green of the city’s periphery.   A few cars have joined me, but for the most part I’m alone, claiming the left lane as mine own, carried on the interstate’s bridge-like superstructure above the city below.

There is no sign of violence, protest, and almost none of police… a undercover cruiser sits discreetly under a bridge, waiting to write me a ticket, but I slow down in time.  This road is an artery that I know well, and a trick like that won’t work often.  The cop fades in the rearview mirror as I move back to cruising speed. The road is an artery… from where to where?  From city center, to suburbia, from the moneyed business district, with its skyscrapers and $3000 apartments, to the outside world.  It is a path that enables those who must pass through Baltimore to fly above, literally, the Mogadishu that lies below.

I could have taken the Beltway around the city, to the southeast, and then cut in two miles towards home.  It would have been slower, but perhaps more prudent, and the prudence of my neighbors was doubtlessly why traffic was heavy on the loop and empty on the straight-shot downtown.  I wanted to see I-83 today though, because it arbitrarily terminates into President Street in the middle of the city, one block from Baltimore Police City Headquarters.  I wanted to go there.

There’s no sound when I arrive.  Strange, given the news today, that the oddest part would be the quiet.  There’s no one directing traffic, because there is no traffic to direct.  A phalanx of police on motorcycles blocking the center of the intersection sends a clear message though – no turning left, keep moving on.

No turning right either.  These streets are barricaded off, sealed by corrugated steel fencing.  Unnecessary really; no traffic could flow through the hundreds of police officers behind the fence.  An army in blue and white.

I keep moving.  I’m able to turn left a few blocks down, and I proceed a mile and a half to the place I rent in a young, predominantly upper-middle class bar district close to the harbor.  At one point, three cruisers fly by me, lights on, going the other way… but my trip is uneventful, there is no other sign of trouble, and I’m shortly parked near home.

I listen closely as I walk through the neighborhood, from my car to my door and hear a curious thing… normally there would be people milling about, going to one of the bars situated on virtually every corner, but today’s odd quiet persists.  I can hear the faint whine of sirens miles away, but not the opening of doors or the chink of glasses in a taproom.

Still, its not a crisis zone.   It is as it always is, an affluent neighborhood in a tired, one-party industrial city, seemingly isolated from the dire poverty of a vast swath of territory just a couple miles away.  Most people here don’t seem to mind.  Most days I don’t either.

I do today though.  I’m angry.

I’m angry because I’m reminded of the cycle of government dependency and poverty in the poor, “Wire” neighborhoods I just flew over on the highway.

I’m angry because the Democratic politicians responsible for the mismanagement of the city are cashing in on the “solidarity” of the racial, political moment.

I’m angry because those same politicians are ordering a *week* long curfew of this large metropolitan area… perhaps they hope to plug their dearth of competence with the sacrifice of a few of my civil rights.

I’m angry because there were 210 homicides here last year, and will be again this year.

I’m angry because the Baltimore Police Department, whose flagrant, habitual misconduct has cost this deeply-indebted city $6 million in wrongful arrest settlements since 2011, stood by while violence ensnared the city through the weekend, but still had time to try and catch me speeding on the highway.

I’m angry because spinal cord injuries don’t happen on their own… the officers of that same department killed Freddie Gray in that van, and all of us here know it.

I’m sad, too.  I’m sad because instead of talking about Freddie Gray, and Walter Scott and others, and about the liberty-crushing growth of police power and militarization in this country, we must instead talk race riots, poverty, crime and despair.  It is not avoidable; the rioters have cast the die.  I hope that we will, afterward, discuss the former.  It will not come a moment too soon.



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