There’s more than one way to get out of Baltimore. Sometimes I drive down MLK Boulevard until it lifts off the ground and carries me into the sky, cradled by concrete and rebar. Other routes, through West Baltimore, twist and contort themselves between blocks of brick row-houses—people packed in damp apartments or businesses behind bulletproof glass that advertise fried chicken and lake trout, checks cashed, two for one cigarettes, Natty Boh thirty racks, and bail bonds.
Traffic trickles slowly through one and two lane streets, stopping constantly for double-parked single mothers to transfer children from carseats into covered vestibules lined with mailboxes. Hoards of people clustered at bus stops, pouring from the edge of the concrete sidewalks into the asphalt streets, hacking by shaking fingers down low at passing cars. Working girls bent over, grabbing their thin ankles, to advertise no panties, no hair, no waiting…
Have you seen the signs on the medians? NO BALL PLAYING. Boys want to throw footballs and baseballs, but the only grass is the trash laden strip between passing cars. Instead, these boys hold dollar-store squeegees and dart between cars stopped at the traffic lights with spray bottles of glass cleaner—a dollar for a wash. Have you seen the benches at every street corner and bus stop? We used to be THE CITY THAT READS; now we’re THE GREATEST CITY IN AMERICA!
MLK is three lanes with a higher speed limit, lined with panhandlers and their tents beneath overpasses in the larger, concrete median. Some tents are covered in sleeping bags to try and keep the impending November cold from seeping through. Veterans guide wheelchairs between vehicles, their damp and filthy pants hanging loose and empty where limbs are missing. A man with a lump beneath his chin, as if he’s swallowed a softball, holds a piece of cardboard. I’LL BET YOU A DOLLAR YOU READ THIS SIGN…And the man with the dingy blue blanket wrapped around his body is crossing and recrossing Baltimore street, bare toes curling up off the cold asphalt.
It’s a Wednesday afternoon, and I opt to take MLK since it’s between eleven and three o’clock. Any later and I would become a body packed in a steel cocoon, just one of thousands stranded to watch cigarette ashes flutter then spread their grey wings…along with the sandwich eaters, make-up dabbers, torso dancers, and those who repeat swear words compulsively as if they’ll become forgotten. Like the pulsing red coils of a left-on oven or a barely legal browsing history.
When I reach the last light before MLK becomes the highway, the car in front of me refuses to run the yellow light, because the median is lined with a police van and patrol cars, as if there’s been an accident. But there aren’t any dinged vehicles or broken headlights littering the innermost lanes like usual. Instead, officers stand among the wild roses, wearing slick coats. A woman with poorly dyed red hair and blue medical gloves holds a small plastic bag close to her face and inspects two small metal pieces. She isn’t wearing a uniform, just a POLICE parka, and she squats between the wild rose bushes, her head just visible above slick fuchsia petals and green leaves that shine in a way that makes them look plastic. And where the stems of the bushes pierce black mulch, the legs and feet of a young man are visible. He’s laying beneath the roses like Dorothy lulled to sleep by poppies on the way to the Emerald City. His Air Jordans are pristine, black leather glistening around his thin ankles, and the hair on his honeyed legs is so thin that it’s barely visible below the hem of his black basketball shorts.
There is more than one way to get out of Baltimore. Look for the sorcerers with destiny branded into their skin in blue-black ink. A hex carved with a fire-sterilized needle, three dots between the thumb and forefinger. A shroud of black or blue or red. They are the guardians of this city. They make grown men disappear.
EGYPT KOSLOSKI lives in Baltimore City with her lover and two cats in a pink row-house. She is currently finishing the second year of her MFA Degree at the University of Baltimore where they have large windows to spy from.