Baltimore as seen by...Jonathan Scott Fuqua

Setting off for 7-Eleven

July 05, 2004

As visitors descend on Baltimore during the summer tourism season, staff writer Larry Bingham offers an occasional look at how the city has been portrayed by writers over the years. Today, an excerpt from local author Jonathon Scott Fuqua's 1998 young-adult novel The Reappearance of Sam Webber. In the story, the 11-year-old protagonist has moved from Rodgers Forge to Charles Village.

"I looked around at the ground, at Ditch's torn-up work boots, splats of white paint across the toes. `There's a 7-Eleven near here?' I asked, excited.

" `A 7-Eleven,' Ditch told me again.

" `Sure,' I said softly.

" `Well, alright,' Ditch replied, standing, unfolding like a horse getting its legs beneath it. He loomed over me the way trees loom in winter, leafless and bare.

"Tired, I stepped over the fence and started down the asphalt-black alley after Ditch. We were going in the opposite direction from the way we'd entered that morning, and I looked into our other neighbors's yards. Some were messes, others weren't. Just like back in Rodgers Forge, a few of them had Formstone garages with large wooden doors, like castle gates. That was normal. The thing that I couldn't believe was that they took up every inch of ground, from the backdoor of the house to the alley, and that a couple were in such rough shape. Windows, half-protected by big iron gates, were broken out. Graffiti and laundry-pen writing cluttered wooden areas. There were holes close to the ground, in the Formstone or beneath rotting planks, where I imagined large rodents and insects wriggling around, waiting for night. But then, like a cave opening to daylight, a whole string of homes near the end of the alley was spotless, filled with grass and flowering plants, decorated with nice little items. The greenness lit up the air around them, glowed sweetly against the trimmed and tidy bricks. Little stone paths wended their way to the alley area, which just so happened to be clean, too. They filled me with a glimmer of hope.

"We turned down 32nd Street, passed by Harry Little's Pizza and started across a large empty parking lot, plastic grocery bags blowing like tumbleweeds across it, getting stuck on battered parking meters. I saw the 7-Eleven up on the corner, less than a block off Greenmount Avenue. After a minute, we tramped over a patch of brown grass and hopped off the curb, crossed this narrow street with about a thousand Coke bottle tops melted into the tarred surface. I stopped and looked, amazed, before we clomped up a flight of cement steps. Turning sideways, Ditch and I slid between two parked cars and made our way toward the door, where a couple of rough, moon-faced teenagers stood talking. They glowered at us with their chins tilted up, made me more and more nervous as we got closer to them.

"Inside, it was like every other 7-Eleven I'd been in, maybe a little more worn, though."

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