Assateague 2007

All I can say about this weekend was that Matt, Jeff, Ed, Timmy and all the guys from Laurel, DE did an absolutely fantastic job of planning this weekend and getting everything together so that more than 50 people could have a fantastic time at the beach. Big high fives for all. Here is a picture of me getting some sun. Slideshow:

I will see you all again in 2008.

East Side Hike, The Killing Fields, Baltimore, Maryland

For those monitoring my feeds, this is an old post. For some reason blogger wiped out all my pics so I had to reinstall them, that is why this has popped back up again, I had to edit.

2 weeks ago I was in a place called Tombstone, Arizona. This town was a bit of a tourist trap, apparently it had some sort of Western hi-jinx history to it. I stepped into the lobby of the The Birdcage Theater Museum to get out of the sweltering heat. I inquired about the entrance fee and learned from the ticket seller that it would $10, which was about $9.99 more than I was will to pay. The seller decided that I needed a bit of persuading, looked me up and down, noticed the blond hair and the blue eyes and decided to go for a bit of a "shock and awe" sales tactic. She said to me, "This theater played host to many bandits, criminals and murderers over a 10 year period, during that time the town buried 26 people that DID NOT DIE FROM NATURAL CAUSES!!!!"

Sometimes my mouth is not connected to my brain, I couldn't quite get why I was to be impressed. I replied, "What is this? like, amateur hour?"

So far in 2007, as I write this in the afternoon of July 14, my beautiful city has experienced 169 murders, but the day is still young and it is pretty warm out there. The Baltimore City government has done a great job cataloging these deaths, with pretty colored push pins, search capabilities and a nice map. Have fun, the map is a barrel of laughs. The Baltimore Sun, the main paper of Baltimore has listed the year-to-date murder total every Friday so the citizenry could keep up with the number but the free local paper, The City Paper, actually goes the extra mile and gives up a weekly wrap-up with dates, times, names and a few circumstances of each murderous death courtesy of the hard work of Anna Ditkoff in her weekly column, Murder Ink.

This is all well and good, but even after living in Baltimore for 25 years with all this information thrown in my face day after day I always seem to get the feeling that this murder business is happening in another universe. Deep down within the furthest reaches of my psyche I never thought these thoughts were fair so I set out this morning to match up a place or street with the untimely end to someone's life. Using Anna's latest column and a recent article in the Baltimore Sun, I was quickly able to put together a route that encompassed 7 murders in the last 11 days on the East Side. The idea was to take a few pictures of each block where a killing occurred.

So without further adieu, let's get going on our little trek because you are taking the walk with me.

The Republican Party and Jorge Bush thrives on scaring the middle class with stories of inner city hoodlums, Willie Horton and all, but Baltimore seems to draw a solid tourist base made up mainly of those suburban white folks that somehow never seem to get Rush Limbaugh's message that the big bad city is a bad bad place. At 9AM this Saturday morning the Inner Harbor parking garages were filling up fast with Ward, June, Wally and Beaver, probably all headed out to the Aquarium or Science Center and then to the pavilions for an unhealthy lunch. A few blocks after I passed an overweight Ward, June and their offspring, I found myself on Granby Street where one Paul Cornish who was 28 was gunned down in the prime of his life at 9PM on June 30th. Grandy Street is not at all part of the hood, it is in Little Italy and flanked by some pretty nice real estate at probably some pretty hefty prices. Mr. Cornish was afflicted with a bullet wound by a local bike rider but his friends drove him to the hospital, but he still died.

Next on the list was an unidentified victim who died just recently on Thursday at 1:30AM at the 200 block of South Herring Court. This is at Perkins Homes, that frighteningly dark and foreboding housing project nestled between Fells Point and Little Italy. At this point that place seems out of place in the new and improved Emerald City, as one of the few housing projects that have escaped the Controlled Demolition, Inc. explosives team. Even at the early hour, many of its residents were already out enjoying the day, I was a little jealous of all those available clothes lines.

I moved along on Pratt, past the illegal immigrants trying to get day labor gigs along Broadway, past a very pleasant community garden, past all the rehabbed row homes on Patterson Park and headed north where a very young Devon Turner, 21, was shot down at the 800 Block of North Patterson Park on July 1, 2007. A man shot him, Devon fell to the pavement and the man continued to shoot him. The man apparently wanted Devon to be really really dead. On both sides of the street, for the most part, were occupied row homes.
Many people were out on their stoop, they eyed crapass camera suspiciously. I've been on this street before, there were some "To whom it may concern" signs on some of the houses nearby courtesy of B4 Design, which according to this article is some sort of sketchy architectual design company that helps flip properties. Ugh oh, there goes the neighborhood! Bill Struever is probably on his way in next.

I headed west to my next address, only to get an eyeful of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Some of these murder victims made a stop at this place first to partake in their last few dying breaths. This hospital is supposedly the best hospital in the world but has never enjoyed a good relationship with the surrounding community. You see, when the great and allmighty Hopkins decides it needs a new wing, some more space or bigger parking lot they simply call up their friends over at city hall and take a chunk through emininent domain out of the East Side hood.

You are probably saying, hey, that's not fair Cham, it is Hopkins that routinely sews the murder victims up from their bullet wounds and stabbings, the East Side should be grateful to have the powerful and almighty Hopkins in their midst! I agree, Hopkins uses the latest and greatest technology to perform lifesaving operations on the injured and recently shot, and they proudly and swiftly contact their local Medicaid rep for prompt payment, which, in case you haven't been paying attention, is our tax dollars. Not once do those doctors think for a minute about maybe doing something to stop the carnage before it starts, it isn't in their interest to do so. You can call it the greatest hospital in the world, I call it a bloodsucking leech.

Let's move on up the road, specifically Broadway.The upper blocks of Broadway are home to many wide rowhomes in good shape on a treelined street with a parklike median strip. I had noticed before that most of these houses showed up on some sort of rehab program the city was doing a couple of years ago, probably seized by tax liens. The houses didn't seem to be going through a massive rehab transformation today but I did notice a couple of workman installing a very nice new door in one of them. The snails-pace renaissance didn't seem to help Phyllis Johnson, 40, who was stabbed multiple times at her own house in the 1700 block on July 3. Her son, Cesar, found her and took her to ole Hopkins which wasn't able to save her. She's the 11th female murder victim to die this year.

2 blocks from where Phyllis lay dying is the 1500 block of North Bond Street. This is where Christopher Barnett, 52, had been shot and dumped in a trash can. He was found at 6:50PM on July 1. On this street I met a man named Curtis who was able to tell me that Mr. Barnett had been chopped up into pieces before he was placed in the aforesaid mentioned trashcan. Curtis had been recently displaced by one of Hopkin's landgrabs and was now living on Guilford Street, he was glad that he was off he drugs but was still struggling with an alcohol addiction. Curtis and I had a spirited discussion about the core-problems of the city, his biggest issue was the big bad hospital but he was also concerned about the drugs and the violence. I asked Curtis what he would do if he was mayor and he said, "Put many more cameras and hire more poh-lice." Um, didn't we already do that?

It was time to move on and I hoofed to westward. I found some real neato row homes on Oliver Street along with another neato building. See the additional pics. I reached Guilford Avenue only to find myself staring at the big massive schools administration building, can't miss it. Directly behind said building is the 2000 block of Guilford Avenue where Allen Burton was shot along with another man who survived at 12:13 on July 2. What was interesting about this location was that this block is adjacent to where the school systems keeps its school system police fleet. I guess the presence of official looking police vehicles wasn't a deterrent to this enthusiastic killer. I noticed the school administration building was being maintained in tiptop shape which can't be said for many of the Baltimore City School system properties. I have to say, the landscaping was pristine.

Last but not least, I meandered to the 1100 Block of Greenmount Avenue where Antonio Tracey, 31, was shot numerous times on July 3.
This is an area I know well. Back when I was selling telecommunication services I hit this area hard. There are a bunch of bail bondsmen in the area, the rest of my team and the competition was too chicken to go into this neighborhood so I found it to be easy pickings for easy sales. Bail bondsmen are incredibly nice, very smart and are also kings of their own castle so they can make decisions on the fly. This location was also near my favorite Lake Trout emporium so I couldn't resist getting a small serving of the boneless trout and fries. I noticed that no one had actually cleaned this eatery since the last time I was there in March, but this time I wasn't freezing my fingers off either. Chicken Trout was being cooled by the overhead fan and I talked to a few of the other customers about which was better, Popeyes or Chicken George.

I walked maybe a total of 5 miles in a loop inside the East Side. It turns out that just about every place where someone was killed I had been there before, I guess I do a lot of walking. Yes, I just described 7 locations where 7 killings took place, but there weren't just 7 victims. Dick Cheney and many conservatives would love for you to believe that there is some evil sadistic compound where we grow the hoodlums and baddies that kill. But that is not the case. Those that kill live, work and breathe in the same neighborhoods with their victims. Almost nobody (with the exception of Jorge Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld) wakes up in the morning with the idea that they are going to kill someone later on. Those that murder on these streets are spurred on by anger and rage, and, according to the little red push pins on the city map, easy access to handguns.

I am sure there is a microsecond of joy felt just after the trigger is pulled that the killer feels, happiness that he finally got one over on his victim. But, most likely, soon afterward is a moment of fear that they know they have done something very bad and the pohlice are going to come looking for them soon, which is probably what prompted Mr. Barnett's killer to chop him up and put him in a trashcan. That killer thought he had an outside chance that the waste disposal company might not notice the body parts and by the time the body got to the landfill it would never be found. Maybe the buzzing flies told a different story. Nice try, no cigar.

After a few years, after the bravado, the testosterone and the anger has gone away, we are left with the killer, stuck in a jail cell, who finally realizes that he took someone's life, and for that there is no forgiveness. He will be stewing in prison for a long time well after he understands that what he did was so very wrong.

And after we deal with the victims and the killers we have to deal with ourselves. Our nation is obsessed with locking people up and throwing away the key these days. The United States has some of the longest prison sentences on the books for any developed country. We have the 3 strikes and your out law, mandatory prison times, and a supreme court loaded down with half-witted conservatives. Has this helped any? From the looks of things, no. The carnage keeps coming, faster and more furiously this summer. And Joe Suburbanite is still screaming "harsher sentences" at the top of his lungs even though these pictures will be the closest he will ever come to a crime scene. And all of this costs us plenty, right now Baltimore keeps 1 in 5 of its African American males incarcerated. At $30K/year that adds up.

Putting all that aside, I wish to remind all of you that to date, according to this site, the American government, has spent 443 billion dollars on the War in Iraq. In case you haven't been paying attention, the war isn't going very well. We have yet to figure out why we are there and our government insists on "staying the course" even though it is a horrendously bad course. With all this time, money and effort spent on this boondoggle of a war, no time has been spent trying to figure out what to do about the carnage here at home.

To me, all of this boils down to the difference between us and them, and who is us and who is them. When I was out west I visited a place called Craters of the Moon, in Idaho. I remember climbing a little volcano hill and sitting up top and enjoying the view. Along came an LDS family, mom, dad and 6 tow-headed kids. For some reason these children were drawn to me, most likely due to the blond hair and eyes of blue, I might have been their long lost auntie for all the knew. They surrounded me as if invading my personal space was perfectly okay, never have I wanted to be a dark black man more than that moment. The parents decided to start up a conversation with me and asked me where I was from. Perhaps they were thinking I would say Boise or Salt Lake. I knew exactly what to say to get these folks to move along, a very simple, "Baltimore".

I waited and I knew what was coming, their little faces first gave me one of those, "does not compute" expressions and then they quickly registered with the thought Homicide, The Corner, The Wire and god knows what other dreadful cable TV fare. The parents quickly gathered their children and gave me all the personal space I needed, afraid that I would put a few holes in their precious offspring without a moment's thought. These are the very people that assume hoodlums grow in a compound somewhere, that longer prison sentences work, that Jorge Bush is doing a great job Brownie, and that the war in Iraq was a great idea.

So as I come to the end of my diatribe, maybe I am trying to make a point. In November 2008 we are going to have an national election. I beg you please to stop believing the drivel that is coming out of Dick and Rush's mouth. For the love of God, please, let's throw those bums out!!!

If you are still reading, here is the slideshow from the hike.

Update 07/17/07:Over the weekend there were an additional 5 killins, only one was on the eastside and it was on Sunday. At 4AM and unidentified man was shot on the 1800 block of North Gay Street. This location would have fit nicely on my itinerary and would have brought me near one of my favorite buildings, the American Brewery. The total now stands at 174 for the year.

: As of October 27, 2007, Baltimore City has seen 253 murders for the year so far. The closure rate for these cases is running at 35%.

Baltimore, Maryland

Weight: 125 lb. (give me 3 weeks and I will be down 8)
Odometer: 144778
Total Mileage driven since April 7, 2007: 13853.2 miles

Michigan, the longest state

I drove for 14 hours yesterday and I am still not out of this blasted state. I made only one stop for a tour of the Iron Mountain Iron Mine. I'm not big on roadside tourist traps but once I learned that the tour involved wearing a hard hat and riding an underground train I forked over the 9 bucks in a flash. The tour was well worth it, and I put on my heavy coat so I would be warm and toasty. I saw all the other people on the tour shivering in their shorts and tank tops, but I still have ALL my gear with me and you have to remember that when I left home it was snowing.

The roadside signage in Michigan is most interesting. There are several highway signs that say, "Prison Area, Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers". First of all, if I feel like giving a prison escapee a lift, that is my business. Second, if there are so many prison escapees wanting rides along the roadway, I would suspect the prisons should review their security options.

There are also several billboards, many for which is a company that helps people with disastrous credit purchase new cars. My take on it is that if you have bad credit the last thing you ought to be doing is making payments on a new car. Other signs are for various health insurance plans, apparently Michiganers have lots of health insurance options if they can actually spend time choosing an insurer, most of the rest of the country is busy trying to pinpoint the free downtown healthcare clinic. Another sign read, "Choosing a hospital is probably the most important decision you will ever make." I'm not sure about you, but if I suffer a car crash, a heart attack or a gunshot wound the hospital I will be choosing is the one that someone can get me to the fastest. Okay, Michigan, whatever.

I just arrived in downtown Detroit. For once I am in normalville lots of nice black people, heroin addicts instead of meth heads, and graffiti instead of blank surfaces. I can tell I am going to like it here.

Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan

I have always wanted to see the lakes region of the north central US but I have never had a chance. The place is flat so there has never been a good reason for me to be out here. But this time I decided that it was in my best interest to stay as north as possible to take advantage of the cooler temperatures on the ride home. I stopped over in a place called Duluth, MN(I always thought Duluth was in Iowa for some reason) yesterday which is a wonderful little city on Lake Superior. It is an old city that has lots of brownstone buildings that are architectural delights. There are also an assortment of casinos, titty bars and head shops to give it a nice little edge, my kind of place. I got to learn what a "urine cleaner" was. I thought it might be something where you get to clean your urine so you could recycle it and drink it all over again. I was thinking that would be a huge advantage while on the mountain, you could carry less water. But, sadly, I was wrong. Anyway, if you need urine cleaning, stop over in Duluth, they can sell you some.

What the Cham fans might not know about me is that I was born in Minnesota. Fruitloop chose a lakeside beach to bury her eggs one year, and I was the only hatchling that could run fast enough away from her, no doubt she ate the rest. Every time I go through customs, the agent always beams when he looks at my passport and says, "So you are from Minneapolis?" Um, yeah, whatever, my family only stayed a few months when they realized they had to create a snow tunnel from the garage to the road and thought they best seek greener pastures elsewhere.

With global warming climate change these northern states wouldn't be such a bad place if they weren't so gosh darned flat. They have lots of wonderful lakes and ponds so I can take as many baths as I want, and takes lots of wonderful naked pictures art shots of myself which are turning out pretty good. There are also plenty of peaceful forests for sleeping. The logging industry is big business around here.

I'm getting excited about visiting Detroit, I have always wanted to see Detroit.

Theodore Roosvelt National Park North, North Dakota

I opted to spend last night in the Juniper campground at Theodore Roosevelt . I had a dream that lasted 8 hours about being eaten alive by ticks. I woke up about every 2 hours to pull off the giant ticks that were actually eating me alive. When I woke up in the morning I still had about 90% of my blood so I was good to go. This night was a big improvement over the one before which I spent in a place called "Wagner" in central Montana, I had to erect my tent inside my car to put a layer between me and the giant mosquitoes. My ankles are still swollen from the multitudes of mosquito bites. Hopefully I didn't contract yellow fever.

Anyhoo, Teddy Roosevelt is a pretty cool park, I got some great pics of prairie dogs and mule deer which I will post when I get my camera issues straightened out. I liked this park because there were very few people there even though it is high season. One advantage of being in the parks during summer is that you get to take advantage of the parks programs where they give lectures and guided hikes. One of the disadvantages of being in the parks during high season is that you end up sharing the parks with assholes.

One specific set of assholes from Illinois decided to chase around a mule deer that I was trying to photograph. WTF? I was going to let the air out of their tires but decided against it just to be nice. However, this same set of assholes ended up being my campsite neighbors. They decided to continue on in their asshole quest and started sawing down the trees for firewood after it got dark. So I was faced with the rather unpleasant task of waking up the park ranger and demanding he take action. The assholes decided to hide away from their campsite when the ranger arrived but the ranger, bless his soul, sat sentry until the assholes got tired and returned. I feel I got full use of my tax dollars. For once, kudos to the park service.

Right now I am in a place called Devil's Lake, North Dakota. I am sharing the road with many unsupported cross-country bicyclists. They have my respect, it is really hot out here and it is incredibly flat, I don't understand how they can handle it because there is not much to see. Whatever floats your boat I guess. Since I am in corn country minivan is enjoying E85 at $2.60/gallon. I say let's grow some corn.

I am continuing east on Route 2 and currently plan to stay on it through northern Michigan, but as you know my plans can change at any moment.