Late listeners will miss WBJC voice in the night


October 27, 1997|By DAN RODRICKS

A long period of sleeplessness, back in the 1980s, had me up at night, staring out rowhouse windows, listening to street sounds, wondering about the world. That's when I first started listening to Bill Feldman on WBJC-FM. He became to me, for a time, what he was to some people for years -- a quiet overnight companion who shared his love of classical music with strangers listening in the dark.

Once I visited his lonely studio at the Community College of Baltimore during the wee hours and found him answering the phone, taking requests, hunting up discs in the WBJC music library. He was incredibly patient with people. Many of them requested the same tunes over and over again, week after week. Some listeners wanted lullaby -- "Won't you please play Mr. Paco Bell's canon?" -- while local college students wanted large music -- overtures and fanfares -- to keep them awake while they studied for midterms.

A nun called regularly for the meditation from Massenet's opera "Thais." A priest adored just about anything by Brahms. A guy named Charlie, who worked some overnight shift somewhere in the city, asked specifically for "Come Again, Sweet Love," by the Elizabethan composer John Dowland, sung by the tenor Martin Hill. I remember someone asking for a selection from "Ma Vlast," by Smetana, which was my introduction to the work. There was a wonderful moment in the night when Feldman had a chat with a fellow who demanded the Chopin polonaise. Knowing fully that Chopin had composed many polonaises, Feldman never made his caller feel bad; he merely talked the man into letting him select a polonaise for him. (He aired the polonaise in A major, performed by Maurizio Pollini.)

Feldman always delivered on requests, though the night I was there he couldn't quite put his hands on "God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols.

He died this month, according to the obituary in The Sunday Sun. He was only 44. He'll be remembered fondly by those who needed help staying awake, and by those who sought blessed sleep, during many a forgotten night.

Baltimore's beggars

What's your sense of panhandling in downtown Baltimore? Is it worse on Charles Street than at Harborplace? Worse this year than last? Worse at night or during the day? On my last half-dozen strolls through downtown, between Little Italy and Camden Yards, I wasn't once presented with an open hand and a sob story. I walked several blocks, past Charles Street, to the Basilica of the Assumption on Friday afternoon; Cathedral Street was loaded with lunch-hour patrons of Our Daily Bread. Not one asked for money.

Perhaps the widespread panhandling that got so much public and media attention during the past few years has subsided. It doesn't seem to have discouraged visitors to the Inner Harbor, where merchants recorded a banner summer and early fall.

I mention this and ask the questions because of a note I received from a friend, a lifelong Baltimore resident. It's one of the very few I've received on the subject of panhandling. (In previous years, TJI readers frequently commented on the subject.) My friend writes of emerging from a downtown restaurant, fat and satisfied, then being faced with the worst problem in the city:

"Street addicts. A ploy going on for awhile has been for them to stake out certain restaurants and follow the well-dressed, well-fed, prone-to-guilt people as they leave. It happened to me and my daughter, and there was a long song and dance and tears and talk of an asthmatic baby freezing in an alley somewhere. The woman followed us for three blocks, begged us to let her sleep on my floor.

"I've spoken to others who say they've been hit coming and going from the same restaurant, and I'm sure the restaurant is aware of it; I'm sure their regulars have complained.

"I think I'm more charitable or resilient than many. So I basically gave the woman $10 just to get away from me. I hate being conned by addicts. I hate their stories and I hate never knowing who is telling the truth. I'm sure there are some people who never come back downtown after this happens to them. You have to wonder what it does to Baltimore."

I apply a Rodricks Rule of Reality to this matter: If you don't like the human conditions in Baltimore, walk a couple of blocks. The city is a huge paradox, loaded with contradictions, starkly different realities separated by a few streets. What might be true at one moment in the 500 block of North Charles won't necessarily be true in the 1000 block. Some blocks just to the east and west of North Broadway are desolate; at the foot of Broadway, they're thriving. What my friend experienced near Charles Street he might have been spared near Pratt. It's a mathematical improbability that, in a city with 50,000 heroin addicts, we would experience a day or a night without being touched by that population. That's why all the panhandling of recent years.

Of course, there's nothing new here. This reality has been a reality for a couple of decades. What's new is my friend's tolerance level for it.

Comments to This Just In are welcome. Write to Dan Rodricks at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278; phone 410-332-6166 or e-mail

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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