Back in 1996, the manager of a downtown Burger King handed out discount coupons for ammunition and guns along with the Whoppers with cheese. A week ago, police told us you could buy cocaine from a Shell gas station in Severna Park. And now, the feds tell us your potato chips could come with a Beretta at the Utz kiosk in Lexington Market.
I went to lunch Wednesday at the historic shopping stalls in an area the city is trying to revitalize, but all I got was a scowl from the clerk when I ordered a 9 mm. I watched customer after customer, but none left with weaponry. "It goes with my lunch," one man told me. He was talking about his chips.
Federal agents and Baltimore police busted this stall, as they did the gas station on Ritchie Highway - charges are pending against the suspects - and pressure from the police union forced the Burger King manager to give up his attempt to capitalize on the city's reputation for violence.
It appears he was ahead of his time.
This city is facing economic doom, and we're arresting business owners for finding innovative ways to survive? And why shouldn't we be able to buy illegal guns and drugs without the hassle of venturing into bad neighborhoods? It certainly would make our hectic lives easier if we could fill our tanks and stomachs and in the same trip fuel our bad habits and vices.
Baltimore already has a reputation for thuggery - a homicidal city whose residents gorge on cocaine and heroin, flout authority, laugh at the judiciary and view prison as little more than a courtesy room at taxpayer expense, a place from which they remain free to run outside drug gangs and arrange hits on witnesses using cell phones.
We don't call it the "misdemeanor homicide" for nothing, or keep coming up with new ways to mock our feel-good slogans - the "city that reads" becomes the "city that bleeds" and the "Believe" bumper stickers have morphed into "Behave." Baltimore is "Bodymore."
So let's just go with it. Embrace the image instead of wasting time trying to fight back. Pander to the stereotype. The mayor is talking about laying people off, closing rec centers and swimming pools and reducing library hours. We're in desperate times. Let's try some bold action.
Instead of a discount on gas for running your car through the carwash, give out free heroin testers with each gallon of premium. Would piles of bullets, rifle scopes and silencers look any stranger than the buckets of hog maws, pig tails and chicken feet at Lexington Market? I mean, this place considers muskrat a delicacy.
We used to promote The Block as a tourist destination until authorities realized that it wasn't so much a throwback to vaudeville as a seedy strip full of heroin-addicted prostitutes. Now we're ashamed of what we created. Let's put Baltimore Street back on the official walking tour. As I headed to lunch, the "Quacktacular!" duck tour boat went by on Fayette Street, and I heard the peppy guide point out, "World-famous Lexington Market" as the half-boat, half-vehicle sped by without braking.
Not a single mention of the Uzi with extra clips an undercover agent reported buying at the chip stand. (Uzi, Utz, easy mistake to make.) What a missed opportunity to confirm for tourists their worst fears about the city they're visiting! The last time Lexington Market got so much notoriety was 12 years ago when a rat scampered across the covered body of a murder victim on live TV there and horrified viewers flooded the city with complaints - not about the body, of course, but about the rodent.
The city went on a rampage cleaning up what it described as a "roach, spider, flies, mouse, rat" infestation, and I haven't heard anything about a problem since.
The murders are a different story.