Pulaski Highway: The 'other' Block

February 15, 1994

In a lengthy article in last Sunday's Sun, staff writer Joe Nawrozki described the descent of Pulaski Highway, particularly around the Baltimore city-county line. In a scene resembling "a Third World country," one police official said, 80 to 100 prostitutes work a five-mile stretch of the road that's chock-a-block with no-tell motels. The hookers rounded up on Pulaski by police in recent months have included a grandmother, a mother-daughter team and a woman who was seven months pregnant; the johns have included locals, long-distance travelers and even a minister who told police he was just trying to spread the word of the Lord.

After you've driven Pulaski Highway, you want to take a hot bath. But this road isn't just the boulevard of broken dreams; it can also be dangerous. Baltimore County police officer James Beck was critically wounded on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale last Halloween when he was shot in the chest after he pulled over two robbery suspects. This is also the stretch on which John Thanos, now on Death Row, came upon two teen-agers manning a gas station on Labor Day 1990, robbed them, then shot them both in the head with a sawed-off rifle. With a bar every few dozen feet -- there's even a year-round, open-air, drive-up liquor window for those in a hurry -- the road also continues to have a major problem with drinking and driving: Pulaski has had more than 200 drunken-driving accidents in the last five years, including a dozen fatalities.

If there is an uglier highway in Maryland than the Pulaski stretch of U.S. 40, which meanders from East Baltimore 60 miles to Delaware, we have yet to find it. What's most puzzling about the highway, though, particularly in Baltimore County, is that it engenders so little hand-wringing.

By comparison, political debate rages in the city over whether to drive out of business the strip-club district known as The Block. Anne Arundel County has long been self-conscious about Ritchie Highway. Even rural-suburban Carroll County has had some public dialogue about the appearance of its gateway corridor, Route 140. But in eastern Baltimore County, people and pols seem to accept Pulaski with a shrug.

One county planning official says the community's tolerance of Pulaski's ugliness reminds him of his own teen-agers' inability to hear anymore, because they've been listening to ear-splitting rock music for so long. The community seems immune to Pulaski, as if its hideousness is just the way the highway was meant to be.

The prospects for cleaning up Pulaski don't look good, and not simply because there aren't enough resources to throw more police officers or revitalization programs at the problem. The surrounding community just doesn't seem to give a hoot about it.

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