They came out of curiosity and boredom, clutching bottles of Pepsi, hoagies and bags of cheese popcorn. They staked out the one shady spot and waited, staring blankly at a metal door that rose and fell like the curtain at a long, ponderous play.
Live, from the corner of Madison and Forest streets, it was today's hostage situation at the Maryland Penitentiary, and it was East Baltimore's hottest, cheapest ticket for some unexpected entertainment.
Neighborhood residents, usually inured to the prison's uproars, stopped by to check it out. Families passing through parked their cars and hopped out. Others had heard the news when they awoke that morning and decided to make a daylong expedition of it.
"It was my day off from Kentucky Fried Chicken," James, a 23-year-old Druid Hill Park man, said with a shrug.
Mo Scriber and Skeeter had been there the longest, arriving last night right behind the helicopters and the patrol cars. By noon, they still had not left the corner, not even for a bathroom break.
"I want to see the outcome, what's going to happen," said 19-year-old Scriber, whose uncle is an inmate. "I think someone's going to get seriously hurt."
Scriber doesn't think his uncle, Russell Jackson, is likely to get mixed up in an escape or hostage situation. But he says he won't be sure unless he sticks it out.
"It's hard to say, you know. It might be one of his friends who started it, said to him, 'C'mon, c'mon, let's get out of here.' I don't know. It's hot in there, I know it's hot. If it's 95 out here, it's 135 in there."
Skeeter was more taciturn than Scriber, but he said he knew quite a few inmates. Brothers? Uncles? Cousins? Friends? "Yeah, all of those," he said. "A buddy of mine got stabbed in there. I know a lot of people who have gotten attacked. And I know some of the people doing the attacking."
The Hurston family -- Howard and Tina, their 4-year-old son Kenneth -- were on their way to breakfast when they decided to take in a scene that looked like something out of a summer action movie.
"They ought to lie to them," Mrs. Hurston said in a low, confidential tone, as if inmates might hear. "Just tell them what they want to hear and then go in and stop this."
For the state troopers who lined Madison with rifles, there was little to say. Hot and tired -- some were into their second eight-hour shift -- they simply wanted to see it end.
"I tell you one thing," a weary officer said, "I wouldn't be here if I didn't have to. It's not the safest place to be today."