Constricted lives of city children give one pause

City Diary

January 19, 2000|By Jennifer Grow

THIS is the debut of City Diary, a feature that provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods.

Tuesday, Sept. 14, 1999

The boys are playing ball in the street again. I can hear them from inside my home -- the bang of the garage doors when someone misses, and the car horns blaring at them to get out of the way of rush-hour traffic.

Occasionally, a wild pitch strikes a parked car and makes a different sound than the whack of the garage doors. One boy launches his ball high into the air. He laughs as the ball plummets and bounces off the windshield of a moving taxi.

Thankfully, it is a tennis ball the boy has thrown, so instead of shattering glass or denting hoods, it ricochets between two lanes of moving vehicles, back and forth like a pinball.

The boys were warned a few weeks ago when their baseball rolled a few too many times into on-coming traffic. A policeman on patrol told them over the bullhorn to get out of the street. "Patterson Park is three blocks away," he said.

Sadly, some of these kids are not allowed to play in the park by their parents -- they would prefer to have them stay within sight of their houses. As if, somehow, it is safer for them to play in traffic.

"Oh, go play in traffic," my mother used to joke with us when we were frustrating her, by which she meant, "get out of my hair." It was merely a turn of phrase since we lived on a country road, miles from anything resembling traffic.

But, this stretch of Washington Street is not a quiet neighborhood. We are surrounded by several busy intersections. Buses roar through, fire trucks, speeding squad cars. And still, playing in traffic is considered safer by some than playing in Patterson Park.

Sunday, Sept. 19, 1999

I can't get any work done for all the noise outside my window. "Give me a chance to win my money back!" I hear an older kid say to a boy named Jeremy. "C'mon, that thirty five dollars you've got is mine!"

Jeremy, who is about 14, has been pitching nickels against the flat brick side of my rowhouse again. He wins $5 at a time, $20 at a time. Double or nothing. But the older boy, who is on a terrible losing streak, refuses to give up. Where do they get so much money to lose? I'm not sure I want to know.

"C'mon," the older boy says. "You've got my money. You can't quit now. You've got my money!" Jeremy's father hears the commotion and lopes across the street to straighten the problem. But, after a few rounds of nickels, he is pitching, too, and correcting his son's throwing stance.

Tuesday, Sept. 21, 1999

I went to the Upper Fells Point Community meeting tonight. There was mention of a program starting at St. Patrick's parish for Hispanic teens, which will be a great asset to the neighborhood. The older kids in the area need a place to go.

There is the Julie Community Center at the end of my block, which has an after-school program for elementary and junior high schoolers, but after a point, the kids outgrow the activities that are offered.

Just the other day I saw a notice in someone's window about a meeting to discuss the fate of the Rec Pier in Fells Point. The community wants its space back from the city since the "Homicide" crew left town.

Meanwhile, kids on under-sized bikes hang out near the alleys tosell drugs and wait. In this neighborhood, truancy is a problem. The other day around noon, I overheard a cop talking with a teen-age boy who was sitting on his front stoop. The cop asked him, "Do your parents know that you're home from school today?"

I was struck by how fatherly the officer sounded. It was another instance of the police acting as parents to the kids in this neighborhood.

Jennifer Grow, a free-lance writer, has lived in Butchers Hill for five years.

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