While out strolling at night, finding hope for life in the city

December 25, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

IT WAS A COLD night this week when I made the heartening observation that there were more people out walking, unafraid of the streets, than I've noticed for a long time.

I thought back maybe 12 years, when I first noticed the lack of people on the streets. I thought it was me, but asked my cab drivers, who confirmed my fears, few innocent strollers were going out at night on the city streets.

The city endured a rough period in the late 1980s and during much of the 1990s. I encountered a lot of skeptics, who often asked if I was still living in Charles Village, with the implied tone, "Haven't you seen someone shot yet?" Come to think of it, one Christmas season in that dismal period, I was tackled and thrown to the ground by a band of muggers just outside the Johns Hopkins University campus.

The other night, after a round of jolly Christmas parties, I decided it was time to see if it was safe to walk my neighborhood routes about midnight. I survived. It was also a delight, looking in the houses and glimpsing the Christmas lights and decorations.

The sidewalks were hardly crowded at 12:15 a.m. But I wasn't alone.

As I walk around at night, I observe many more heartening sights all over town. I see the lights on in refurbished downtown office buildings where people are now living in newly created apartments. I often see our city's newest downtown residents walking home.

I also see urban hope in construction debris. The trash bins all lined up along the curbs. Baltimore's ancient homes need constant renewing. I know, and 2004 was the year I mortgaged my house and used the proceeds to call in the plumbers, furnace installers, electricians, carpenters, painters, floor refinishers and appliance guys.

All over town, I see the trash bins out as we reclaim more of our wonderful houses.

My last note of urban hope surfaced while gathering the ingredients for a crab dish to be served today. It requires sherry; I was out.

I wasn't near a fancy liquor store and decided to see if a neighborhood package goods store - better known for its offerings of cheap booze and miniatures - might carry sherry. I was doubtful, but asked.

The clerk informed me he carried sherry, not only domestic, but imported. My eyes rolled around as I passed the racks of rotgut bottles and saw the extensive inventory of the more costly brands, including the Harveys and the Sandemans. There is hope yet.

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