Elsewhere, on Opening Day

Wiley A. Hall 3rd

April 09, 1991|By Wiley A. Hall 3rd

Yesterday was Opening Day of the 1991 major league baseball season. The Baltimore Orioles played the Chicago White Sox at Memorial Stadium.

The vice president of the United States was on hand to throw out the first ball. An honor guard presented flags representing every state of the union and each of the territories. And so, the team's titanic battle for the American League pennant began.

About 2:10 p.m. yesterday -- minutes before the first pitch of the game -- a man walked into the First American Bank on East Lombard Street.

The game was being broadcast on radio and television, but it was not on at the bank.

The man wore denim. He had wrapped a blue bandanna around his face. In his hand, he carried a silver revolver.

He said to a teller: "Give me all your $100 bills . . . !"

The teller complied. The man then fled with an undetermined amount of cash. Just outside the bank he dropped his weapon. It turned out to be a toy.

"Just your everyday, garden-variety armed holdup," said a police officer at the Central District police station.

Things seemed quiet inside the People's Community Health Clinic on Greenmount Avenue. This is a small, storefront clinic on the front lines in the war against sickness and disease.

A mother and her daughter played a memory game in the clinic's waiting room. A state correctional officer read the newspaper. The ball game was not on.

"It's been a pretty typical day -- busy," said Bernadette Williams, the clinical administrator.

The ailments they see at the People's Community Health Clinic aren't particularly dramatic, Williams said.

"We're talking about viruses, flus, colds, sore throats," she said. "But it seems endless."

Blocks away, Deborah L. Worthan clapped her hands with excitement. She's principal of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School on West Preston Street.

The Orioles were down by two runs at the time, but that's not why Worthan clapped her hands. The game was not on at the school.

"We had 100 percent staff attendance today -- and this is the day after spring break," said Worthan with delight. "They're terrific. In fact, I'm on my way to a staff meeting to tell them so."

A plaque in the office celebrated the school's "Sensational Sam" choir. A poster in the hallway celebrated the "Sensational Sam" readers. Children, many in neat blue-and-yellow school uniforms, streamed out of their classrooms toward home.

Today was a pretty typical day in the school's war against ignorance, the principal said. Coleridge-Taylor averages 96 percent staff attendance and 92 percent attendance for the students. Student attendance this year is at an all-time high.

"That tells me the kids want to be here," Worthan said enthusiastically.

"They want to learn. Everybody seemed energized today. You could tell that they really missed school. I like that."

It was getting late. The White Sox had worked the bases loaded in the sixth inning, but the game was not on at the Addict Referral and Counseling Center on 25th Street.

Russell Jackson, a counselor there, talked sadly about an addict who had to be turned away earlier because of red tape.

The addict, a man in his 30s, had just finished a three-day in-patient detoxification program at a hospital. His doctor wanted him on methadone to ease his transition to the streets. But clinic rules mandate that he had to be "dirty" to qualify for methadone. So, the man is in limbo unless he goes back to drugs. Then, and only then, can he be helped.

"It's a farce," growled Jackson, himself a former addict. "Three days is not enough for detox. But Medicaid has cut the funds so far down that nobody can stay in long enough to be helped. It's a farce. We're just wasting money and lives."

The clinic's director, Laura L. McCall, has an even more frustrating story about the war on drugs. State and local governments last year allocated more money for treatment slots. But the sole manufacturer of methadone promptly doubled its price and gobbled up the extra funds.

"Sometimes," said McCall, "you feel things are so hopeless. But we've got to keep going. We've got to do our best with what we have."

The Orioles, by the way, lost to the White Sox, 9-1, a step backward early in their battle for the pennant.

In the scheme of things, though, it was a very minor tragedy.

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