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‘They Belong to the Concrete’
Part 2 of 2: Three Days on Baltimore Buses: May 8-10, 2023
© 2023 James LaFond
JAN/26/24
The bus emptied except for the good man with the coffee and I. So I asked him about the hospital and he directed me on a “twenty minute walk” to it while he walked off to his destination.
My appointment was over within an hour and I joined two old black fellows at the hospital bus stop. They were about my age and dependent on canes, complaining of bus service, as the next bus showed up on time and took us back into the city. On the way back into town I had more leisure to observe and noted as we went down Washington Boulevard back into the City, that the level of decay had increased.
Motorcycle boys and scooter boys and homeless with shopping carts obstructed traffic. Houses and shops were boarded up. Crack heads, junkies and whores malingered on trash strewn sidewalks. A train stopped traffic and the big mamma piloting the bus chirped, “Derned trains is long as shit deese days—we goin’ on detour, y’all!”
She did a K turn before the tracks and circled back and around over Wilkens Avenue and down Monroe, over the railroad and back down past the monstrous old, white stone 1960s Montgomery Ward department store headquarters to Washington Boulevard. The bus matron dropped me off at a stop she assured me would get me on the #54, and it was so, that bus pulling right up behind her.
Stepping off at Glenmore and Harford Road, around the corner from where I lived for 8 years, I drank two sugar free Muscle Milks for lunch and walked down to the Sikh liquor store where I purchased peanut butter whiskey for the Brick Mouse and enough hard booze to keep me going all summer after surgery: Barbencourt’s Haitian Rhum: 8 year old, 4 year old and Panga, as well as craft Vodka for his bride. The youngest son was thrilled to have me there, offered to walk my booze to my car, and when he found out I was on foot, said, “Then I welcome you back soon, Sir!”
Squared away at the Brickmouse House, I read emails and downloaded 8 for article prompts and wrote a two part historical article on the origin of the term “White” as a racial noun.
By 3:45 it was time to head over to Megan’s on the East Side. On Northern Parkway, waiting at the bus stop, an older man, a working man of pecan skin tone and scruffy beard, carrying a side satchel, like a leather version of a newspaper bag, showed me his open hand as he passed and said, “Good afternoon to you, sir,” and walked on.
A #33 came by while I waited for the #36. The man yelled from behind me, down hill by 50 paces, “That’s not the stop, sir! He won’t stop there.”
I walked down to him, “Do I have to walk down to Valentino’s and catch it there?”
“No sir, he pulls over here, starts banking over where you were—just saving you the jog—you darn near as old as me.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“You new in town?”
“Was born and raised here. But been livin’ out west for five years—come back here for medical.”
“I should of done what you did, up and moved and started a new life. Baltimore is like the woods, the wilderness, ain’t shit good left, not a Samaritan soul left.”
“That’s why I left. After the riots, by December 2017, I was the only man left taking the buses from here to Essex at night and had two pair of young men try to waylay me, so I cleared out, quit my job.”
“Don’t I know it, sir! Young hoodlums come up on me every danged week, think I can’t fight. Hell, you fit, younger then me, en I still battle their young asses! Please sir, I sixty-nine. We need to fight, battle into our graves ‘gainst dese no accounts ain’ worked a day in dey lives!”
“Agreed.”
“Yes sir, buzzards of a feather! They come, don’t neglect that brick, don’t shirk that stick, don’t leave that trash can lid when you can run it upside dey narrow heads! Hoodlems ain’ shit. En da poleese knows it. Finally the cops on our side, draggin’ dick while we sort it out, turnin’ a blind eye!”
I smiled and rocked on my heels, soaking up the uncivil dissent.
“Sir, we soldiers—en ain’t near young. Work done got us nothin’ but battle in dis world! Glad ta have you!”
I nod with respect and he points at his wide jaw with his big thick hands, a man perhaps 5’ 9” and 185, thick bodied and wind burned, “Weakass so-in-sos thought these ole chops couldn’t hang. Not a mont gone they come up side dis jaw en I was eatin’ a cold cut next day. Don’t neglect the curb, Ma Man! No siree, dem hoodlums come den da curb be dey dentist en da sidewalk dey undataka! Dey come up on us, den dey belong ta da concrete!”
“My Bus commin’ sir.”
We shake hands and I ask, “Your name, sir?”
“Jerome, they call me JR, en you?”
“James.”
“Goot ta meet ya, James—we ole, but we ain’t dead yet!”
Wow, as Jerome boarded the bus, I wished momentarily that I was flanker in his squad and he my NCO in the war against the gathering horde…
Offloading at Eastpoint and 54th, I go to the Paki liquor store, passing a 50 year old black man with a walker and an ancient paleface who asks me the way to a bank that has been closed for ten years.
“Sorry, sir, I’m from out of town,” I said as I walked in, past a large chocolate land whale cow in spandex hot pants and tube top, whose mop-headed mixed race child wailed for her attention.
I walk past to get two 25 ounce cans of beer and she mothers her wailing child of four years, “Nigga, stop yo bitch-ass winin’. Yo sound like a bitch—shut da fuck up!”
She ignored the child as she picked out her wine coolers and he tugged on her skirt. She backhanded him in the mouth and he cried louder as I got a bottle of Smirnoff for Megan and mamma, declares, “Nigger, you’d think I cut yo dick off! Whad da fuck—man da fuck up! You betta’ shape yo bitch ass up—cryin’ juz ‘cause I hit ya! Shiaa, if you wanna girlfriend when you grow up, ya betta stop sound’n like a girl yer own self or you gonna be da bitch—you feel me nigga!?!”
The boy wailed at the top of his lungs as his matron began his induction into the horde of violent sissies being prepared to put JR and I in our graves…
The next day, at about noon, taking the #36 home to shower and change for my urology examine, a man about my age, looking at his smart phone, glancing at the crowd of teens hooking school behind us and deciding on me as a guide:
“Sir, I got a new job site to go to. The phone is saying Harford and Echodale but they told me Harford and Taylor, said there was a Royal Farm store right next to the post office.”
“Get off with me, sir, and I’ll show you where it is. Echodale is down in the city 10 blocks. Taylor is the County Line, at the top of the hill. Right over the hill is a VFW and then the Royal Farms and Post Office, on your right.”
We get off as the punks are joking about waylaying “muva fuckas,” instead of going to school, “we goin’ ta fo real school,” and I pointed the way.
“Thank you, sir,” said the anonymous man as we shook hands, and we parted ways in the these hateful times.
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