Lost, but not alone, at Artscape

Clarinda Harriss Raymond

July 30, 1993|By Clarinda Harriss Raymond

I LOST my car at Artscape. More accurately, at about 9:30 p.m. on Artscape '93's last night, I lost all recollection of where I'd parked it. And since in fact I vividly recollected where I'd parked my car but remembered it all wrong, I temporarily lost my mind.

At first I searched on foot. Since the evening still had that purple and green afterglow of day, I walked zone 21217 with confidence. After three different men, large, dark silhouettes against the disappearing flicker of the fair, stopped to warn me I ought to be careful -- one handed me a crimson flyer with information about avoiding rape/carjacking -- I remembered something I once read about walking in the street being safer than walking on the sidewalk. I continued at an unhurried clip along the narrow, crooked aisle between parked cars and rushing traffic. Traffic seemed curiously unhurried also.

I didn't start getting scared until a middle-aged lady at the bus stop murmured to the child with her, "That lady's been by here three times now." The child giggled.

An instant later, two young men hit me up for change. I felt rather companionable toward the pair. I'd stood just behind them, all of us bobbing and clapping, while a black band belted out (of all things) Beach Boys tunes. I searched my wallet. I had one quarter left.

"Look, I haven't got anything but this one quarter, and that's going to have to be for a phone call. I've lost my car."

They listened politely. "Damn," said the spokesman for the two. "We got no home and you got no money and no car. Damn."

"Damn," I echoed.

"Well," sympathized the quiet one, "we had a good time at the fair, didn't we? Lord bless you, lady, and good luck. Be careful."

I continued striding down Charles Street, now pitch dark except for oncoming headlights, looking for a mid-block lot with a red brick wall. Then, still attempting to look purposeful, I started walking up Charles for the fourth time. The lights of an Amoco Station attracted me as if I were a big sweaty moth. At the one phone that was not hanging limp, I inserted my quarter and punched 911, explaining to a gentle female voice that I had lost my car, I had no money, I was kind of night-blind and I was getting scared. She took the address, bade me stay put. Some Force gave me back my quarter. I sat down on a curb that gave me a clear view of both streets from which the police might arrive.

Meanwhile, a figure that had been circling around came closer. "You got any spare change?" He squatted beside me at the curb.

"Sure," I said,. "I've got this quarter. I got it back when I dialed 911. Here."

"That all?"

"Yup." I explained that I'd lost all my cash to the parking lot, that I'd lost the lot and lost my way and lost my car. I added that I thought I might have lost my mind.

"Life's a bitch, ain't it?" he mused. "Excuse my language."

"Sure is."

"Well, they had some pretty good groups at the fair, didn't they?" Music lovers together, we commiserated. We'd both missed Chaka Khan.

"I think I better sit here with you till the police come."

And he did, chatting amiably, occasionally dismissing other shadowy figures with a "Yo! Catch you later." And he too lord-blessed-me when the police car rolled into the Amoco station.

The young blond officer walked me through 20 or so parking lots, simultaneously walking me through my horrible embarrassment. "This makes a nice break from all the other crap," he reassured me.

"Artscape-related crime?"

"No. I been here three years, and Artscape is always pretty mellow."

Half an hour later, though, the policeman seemed to be getting as desperate as I -- and as convinced I was a loony. "Biddle and . . .," the soft voice of the dispatcher kept saying. "The lady seems disoriented and very upset. Please talk to her . . ." I felt for the lady. I felt ashamed to be both disoriented and safe, taking up this nice young officer's time. I could tell he was getting restless.

Eventually, he pulled up to a parking lot gate to turn the car around. It was a lot we had both dismissed after four or five drive-bys as not fitting the description I'd given. But there, in plain view, sporting my very own license plates, bumper stickers and home-repair paint, sat my car. And yes, there was a red brick wall.

He grinned over his wide shoulder. "What have we learned from this experience?" he asked in a pretend-school-teacher voice.

"All's well that ends well," I replied promptly.

I don't think that was the right answer. He drove off shaking his head.

And I drove off shaking mine. Such a stupid mistake! But such a lovely fair! Such a lovely city, Baltimore -- dark and bittersweet, melting into the summer night.

Clarinda Harriss Raymond teaches writing at Towson State University.

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