Decay, loss echo through Waverly

City Diary: Michael Scarcella

April 18, 2001

AS THE hulled-out, weeded-over remains of Memorial Stadium are being demolished, an eerie metallic death knell reverberates ominously through Waverly's trash-strewn, rat-infested streets.

The demolition crew's daily wrecking ball bash marks -- and sounds -- a low point in Waverly, a neighborhood that since the loss of its once-prized sound-box, Memorial Stadium, has been haunted more loudly than ever with the sounds of urban decay.

I grew up in Waverly and still live here, too, and as a child I delighted in the sounds of a vibrant, effervescent Waverly. Memorial Stadium was once a central player in Waverly's well-being: The stadium provided Waverly residents a sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan and unparalleled.

The streams of pedestrians and traffic, a nuisance to some, were a sign of vitality. The crackle and hiss of street-side grills, nourishing enthusiastic passersby, were a welcome sound, and smell.

The roar of the crowd, which seeped into my bedroom window -- the stadium's lights illuminating my room's walls -- complemented Jon Miller's play-by-play ebullience as I lay awake listening, dreaming of one day playing ball, literally, in my back yard. Even the sound of empty aluminum cans rolling in a post-game morning breeze suggested the presence of festive visitors whose late-night reveling was, at worst, nominally obnoxious.

The cans were always picked up -- the streets thoroughly swept -- before every game; during Memorial Stadium's days of grandeur, the city, if only superficially, cared about Waverly. Only now, with the stadium's demolition nearing completion, are people beginning to listen to Waverly, again. And there's much to hear.

It's not that Waverly residents have been forced to make their own noise to entertain themselves in the wake of Memorial Stadium's loss. Rather, the stadium's ever-present harmonious din served to overshadow pre-existing sounds; it muted the underlying sounds of a neighborhood in despair. Now the sounds of urban rot in Waverly are heard more loudly and distinctly than ever before.

Roving groups of kids wander the streets late into the night, carrying on loud, alcohol- and drug-inspired conversations, shouting over the deafening roar of silence. Police cars, with their screeching tires and blaring sirens, race through Waverly's narrow streets.

Sanity-piercing gun shots sometimes puncture the night air; the breaking of glass, too, shatters nerves. Even on a quiet night, the soft rustling of plastic bags blowing in the wind -- decorating trees as year-round urban Christmas ornaments -- competes with rats rummaging through trash cans and shrubbery. These sounds of decay have existed for a while, but are only now being listened to with a greater urgency.

There's a sense the crew, once its Memorial Stadium duty has been completed, will swing its wrecking ball toward Waverly.

Today's writer

Michael Scarcella, a free-lance writer, is a political science major at the Johns Hopkins University and grew up in Baltimore.

City Diary provides a forum for examining issues of concern to Baltimore's neighborhoods and welcomes contributions from readers.

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