Apprehension. Trembling. Alarm. There are locations in Baltimore that just plain scare me.
I realized my penchant for geographic skittishness the other night. I was driving with a friend. We took a wrong turn because of the construction outside Pennsylvania Station and wound up on Falls Road under the North Avenue Bridge.
The masonry underbelly of that noble span is nowhere to be at 11 at night. Do I fear the trolls who live under bridges? Yes, if the wind's blowing in the right direction. Do I cringe at the hobos who lurk by the railroad tracks? I keep my distance.
What about the strange rock outcrops, the tunnel where the Jones Falls water course slips underground and the weird brickwork under the bridge? This is not a place the tour books will recommend.
We then took off up a steep alley more properly known as Trenton Street and discovered this shadowy ramp-like thoroughfare rated at least a B-plus on Baltimore's best list of scary places.
The experience made me compile a fright tabulation of places where I don't need to waste any time. Here are a confirmed city dweller's most unlikely spots to hold a crab feast:
Windsor Mill Road, under the Clifton Avenue Bridge. With apologies to the people who live in the Windsor Mill neighborhood, I get scared on that lonely stretch of road that dips into Leakin Park under the concrete arch of the Clifton Avenue Bridge. For years I've read accounts of bodies being dumped. Whenever I dip into this otherwise beautiful and placid stream valley, I utter a fervent prayer, "Motor don't fail me now!"
One day last week I was being driven by the corner of 21st and Boone streets. I witnessed what I guess to be a drug transaction. It was 1 o'clock in the afternoon. A car was stopped. Currency changed hands from the car's driver to a man standing in the street.
This was the first time I'd seen one of these deals even though they are reported daily in this newspaper. I was scared. Then a little girl, immaculately dressed in a blue school uniform, came walking along. What kind of future will she face?
Not too far away from there is CSX Railroad's right of way and an old overpass at Belair Road. This is another place that has always caused me to tremble. It is the locale of a 1922 unsolved crime that had special meaning to generations of Baltimoreans.
A school girl named Clare Stone was found slain in some brush near there. My grandparents and parents always spoke of that crime with the warning to stay away from strangers. I cannot pass that stretch of rail without thinking about the incident that happened so many years ago.
In the same way, the old mansion atop the hill at Reservoir Street and Park Avenue scares me. It's not a haunted house, but it was here that little Latonya Wallace checked out a few library books from a Pratt reading room before she was murdered in 1988. It too is an unsolved case.
I'm not good with heights, so I won't need to climb to the Washington Monument again. Hundreds of steps lead to a small observation platform. The view of the city is superb, but the scaredy-cats had best stay away from the edge.
Let's nominate the platform of the Aberdeen MARC-AMTRAK railroad station as a fearsome place to be when a Metroliner roars through. Passengers are not technically allowed on the platform until a local train has made a stop. But if you slip out there and don't expect one of those 110-mile-an-hour expresses to come roaring though, you'll be caught off guard. You feel like you're about to be sucked onto the tracks.
Light Street traffic near the Inner Harbor is also an exercise in terror. Tourists, drunks, and mad drivers play a game of traffic chicken here. They seem to enjoy cutting across four lanes of traffic to make a turn. Other traffic traps are Russell and Hamburg streets and St. Paul and Mount Royal, where motorists regularly reinterpret traffic laws to suit their needs.
Another Baltimore specialty is red-light running. Stopping when a light changes from yellow to red is getting to be optional.
Another traffic heart-stopper is the garages at the Towson Town Center. Ditto crossing Dulaney Valley Road on foot.
And for the final place I never need to be, how about being in a sail boat, anywhere on Chesapeake Bay, during a thunderstorm? Enough said.