Thursday, September 24, 2009

Next time, they can keep the car

The boys’ flight landed at 8:30 that night and they got home around 9. “Ok,” Blake said, “so where do we have to go to get your car?”

“Well, that’s the thing…it’s the last neighborhood in Baltimore you want to drive into at this hour with three hundred bucks in cash in your pocket.”

“Where is it?”

“West.”

“West like on The Wire west?” asked Evan.

"Um...yes.”

“Great,” said Blake, “because I was just thinking the other day that we don’t spend enough time hanging out over there after dark with pockets full of cash.”

“Plus, we’ve lived in Baltimore for months now and neither of us has been mugged,” I added. “It seems like as good a time as any to get that out of the way.”

“I do feel like a good mugging may be what’s been missing in my life,” Blake said. “Let's go. Evan, we’ll be back soon.”

“Uh…ok,” Evan said, looking genuinely concerned. Evan understands certain things to be true. For example, he knows that sarcasm doesn’t actually provide any protection against violent robbery. He looked at Blake and I not as you would at brave adventurers, with admiration and a hint of jealousy, but more like you would at helpless idiots, with pity and fear for their lives. Evan also knows that there’s no point in arguing with us, as he is a man of Logic, and that is a country Blake and I have no interest in touring. So, with his look of genuine concern, he sent us on our way.

Blake and I climbed into his truck and pulled out of the parking lot. He pulled a stack of twenties from his wallet and said, “Here.”

“What’s this?”

“It’s the dog’s half."

"You don’t need to do this."

"Take it," he said, shaking it in my face. "Seriously. None of us has any extra money. You can’t afford this any more than we can, so just take the money.” I stuck it in my pocket, glad for the help, embarrassed to accept it.

We drove west. The thing about Baltimore is that you’re never more than a few minutes drive (or stroll) from a neighborhood you probably shouldn’t be driving (or strolling) through. In that spirit, it didn’t take long for the trip to get interesting.

The street lights were all out, and, on either side of the road, there was project housing, the flavor of which I hadn’t seen since that time I got lost in Detroit on my way to a pediatric clinic. Laundry hung from lines in between the buildings. “Clothes lines,” I pointed, “I haven’t seen those since the last time I went to Amish country. Any chance you think these people might be Amish?”

“I'm not so sure,” Blake said. “I think the drug deal we’re watching over here and that guy picking up the hooker over there actually argue against this being one of Amish country’s satellite branches. Now, if that hooker was wearing a bonnet, maybe…but with her hair all out like that, I'm unconvinced.”

“Well, on closer inspection, I’m beginning to think you may be right, mostly because that guy appears to have a hand gun sticking out of the top of his boxers and, as everyone knows, the Amish wear briefs.”

As I said this, I glanced over at Blake and suddenly noticed something I hadn’t before—he’s really, really good looking. Like J. Crew model pretty. Like J. Crew model pretty…except much smaller. As I sized up his 5’8” buck thirty frame with his perfectly plucked eyebrows, long lashes, and pouty lips in his lavender polo, plaid shorts, and boat shoes, it suddenly occurred to me that I may have actually chosen the last man on the planet a girl should take with her to the impound lot. This is not the kind of guy you hide behind in an emergency, I thought. This is the kind you try to outrun in the vain hope predators will descend upon the slower, more attractive one.

“You know,” I said, half joking, “I think maybe we should turn around now and I’ll just buy a new car. I never really liked that one anyway.”

“Well, now that we’re all the way out here, we might as well just get this done. We’ve gone so far west I really think it’s going to get better soon, that we’re going to come out the other side of all this. Plus, I wasn’t planning to drive back through here. I think we should figure out how to drive around all this to get home.”

“Oh, that’s cute, the way you still believe we might make it home.”

We drove a few more blocks and somehow, it actually got darker. I repeated my suggestion that we might just abandon this mission. “I think that even if we do make it to this impound lot, we shouldn’t actually stop and get out. Like I said, I’ll just buy a new car. Or not. You know, I’ve been meaning to put some air in those bike tires and get a little more exercise.”

“Look over there,” he said pointing ahead. “A Burger King. And a gas station. With lights. See, I told you it would get better.”

“This is better. Now let’s go hole up in that Burger King until morning,” I said. I include this detail here to point out that it was not my idea to continue driving.

But continue we did.

The Burger King, the gas station, the lights—that was the eye in the ghetto storm. Suddenly, all that we had just driven through looked like the Sandals Baltimore compared to what we were in the middle of.

It was then that we began to panic. I looked over at the J. Crew model and thought, We are not going to make it out of here alive. I am about to get the only person in Baltimore who truly appreciates my sense of humor killed for a fucking used Toyota. I thought of the look on Evan’s face when we left the house—the look of pity and fear—and thought, ...and he is going to be so ticked at me when his boyfriend and I are dead.

Just when it looked it really could not get any worse, we pulled up to the impound lot. It was a large cement block wall with a huge overhead door in the center. To the right of the huge door was a smaller windowless gray metal door. Next to that hung tiny rusted placard that said RING BUZZER TO ENTER.

"Shit, Blake. We can’t get out here. Fuck my car. Just keep driving.”

“We’ve come all this way, let’s just try it.”

He parked in front of the buzzer. As he unbuckled his seat belt and reached for his door handle, I craned my neck around to survey the surroundings. There were a couple people standing in an empty lot across the street. One of them started to walk in our direction. “Blake, don’t move," I said. "Look at that guy behind us. I think he’s coming this way.” Blake stuck the keys back in the ignition and paused. The man crossed to our side of the street, slowed for a minute, looked at the truck, and then turned and walked the other way.

Blake saw this as our chance to get in the building. In one acrobatic move, with a flash of lavender polo, he jumped out of the truck and onto the buzzer. Less convinced that getting out of the vehicle was the way to go here, I tentatively opened my door and stepped onto the gravel outside. Hearing footsteps behind me, I whipped around to find a man standing near the rear bumper of the truck. “Evenin,” he said. My eyes shot to the hand he had resting on a bulge in his front pocket.

Meanwhile, Blake’s left hand was on the gray door knob as his right was on the buzzer. In the millisecond during which it was unlocked, he yanked hard and yelled to me, “Get in here. NOW.” I ran for the door, and he slammed it shut behind us.

We were standing inside a cage of fencing. There was a metal awning over our heads, cars parked outside the fence under the awning to our left, a small plexiglass encased office to our right. Inside sat a woman in her twenties. She looked bored and tired…until she sized us up, at which point she looked bored and tired and a little befuddled, as though she didn’t typically have visitors in boyfriend jeans and boat shoes at this time of night.

“Can I, uh…help you two?”

“We’re here to pick up a car,” I said.

“Yeah, I figured as much,” she said.

“It’s a 2002 Toyota.”

She turned around and pulled a handwritten invoice off of a cork board. “It’ll be two hundred ninety eight. And some ID.”

I slid a three hundred dollars in twenties and my drivers license through the thin opening in the bottom of the plexiglass.

“I can’t make change,” she said.

“That’s ok,” Blake stammered. “Keep it.”

“Alright,” she said. "Here’s what you’re going to do: You’re going to open that gate behind you. Walk straight back, into the open lot behind the building. Find your vehicle. Drive it back under the awning up to the big door. I’ll open the door just long enough for you to get your car out. Once the door closes, I won’t open it again. No matter what.”

Blake and I exchanged a look that said, quite simply, Fuck.

We opened the gate. We stepped out into the open lot and began frantically looking for my car. When I say frantically, I mean to imply that there may have been some actual scampering about and perhaps even a little squealing—some of it from me. We found my car, jumped inside, and drove under the awning towards the huge overhead door. “I really don’t want to go back out there,” I said.

“I really don’t want to get out of your car and into mine,” said Blake.

The door opened much too quickly, and I begrudgingly crept forward. Then, as quickly as it opened, it started to close. It was as if we were being kicked back out into the street. I sped up to avoid getting crushed and stopped near Blake’s truck. His keys in hand, he leapt from the passenger seat, darted in front of my car, and, in the time it would have taken most to unlock it, got inside, started the truck, whipped it into reverse, and blew through the first red light.

Trailing a mere seven inches behind his rear bumper, I followed that J. Crew model out of West Baltimore, back to the apartment from whence we came.

There were four open visitor spots. (When it rains, it pours.) Moments later, there was an open bottle of red and a story that began, “Oh. My. God. Evan, you would not believe where we just were…”

11 comments:

Terroni said...

Blake and I talked about this again tonight. "Do you think maybe we were just being a couple of paranoid white kids?" he asked.

"I thought so," I said. "And then, out of curiosity, I checked the police crime stats for that area. A guy was shot in the stomach and robbed on that corner two nights before we picked up my car."

"Well then..."

"Indeed."

jenny said...

I've never read a blog post and been scared before, please dont get your car impounded again!

Eric said...

Hookers should wear bonnets.

Blazer said...

I agree with Eric.
Also, am very happy that you have this vacation so that we get to enjoy more frequent great posts.

Terroni said...

Hookers in bonnets.

If Eric ever runs for office, that should be his platform.

I'll be his campaign manager.

Eric said...

Haha, cool!

Susanlee said...

I laughed the entire time I read this, nervously. I thought it was probably okay, since you had to have survived in order to write the post. Next time you should take Justin into the ghetto with you. He's a viking.

secret agent woman said...

Jeez, could you not have waited unti morning?

dive said...

Holy crap, T! I was on the edge of my seat all the way through that.

It was better than a movie. Had I known I'd have microwaved some popcorn to eat while I read it.

MmeBenaut said...

Holy cow Terroni. I can't imagine living in a place like that. You should all move to Australia.

.j.william. said...

Yeah, unfortunately Detroit couldn't prepare you for this--see, there just aren't enough people left for it to be overly dangerous. It can't even do that well anymore.