Joined by my Danish friend Susanne, I toured Baltimore yesterday in search of an apartment. I'm moving to Baltimore to attend the Johns Hopkins University. Hopkins' main campus, the one they show in pictures, is in a tree-lined, manicured neighborhood north of the city. But the medical campus, where I'm studying, sits east of the city amid boarded-up row-homes. If you research statistics of the area near the medical campus, you'll see that many homes cost less than $40,000, or less than one year of tuition at the school which towers over them.
In a naive moment, I thought, "I could live in a crack den. I could turn it around!" This was followed shortly by, "Wait, no. No that could be bad. And I don't want to die. That may tip my parents over edge."
So Susanne and I met with a broker north of the city, in the pretty part of town. "Scott" of "Star Property Management" showed us room upon room of picturesque brick homes near Hopkins' main campus. Scott was like a broken record, repeating phrases such as "This is a safe neighborhood" or "Hopkins is very very diligent about maintaining safety on this campus" or "Safety is important." After leaving Scott, Susanne said, "He kept saying the word 'safe'. He said it so much it's like you couldn't believe him."
Within an hour of leaving Scott, an attempted mugging turned shooting occurred. On a sidewalk outside Scott's office at an intersection shared by Chipotle and a bagel shop- little more than a block from the august entry to Hopkins, a man tried to rob a dry cleaners. He was shot by the store owner. As the robber limped out of the store with gun shot wounds to the hip, he told by-standers to hail him a cab. They hailed 911. This was when Susanne and I happened upon the scene along with about a dozen by-standers, including Scott.
"Scott," I said. "It's me, Shannon. Hi. You showed me apartments today. You said the word safe a lot. Tell me Scott, is this a normal occurrence for you?"
"Um, uhhh, oh," ...
"Because this doesn't seem safe to me," I said, and this is when I started getting a little angry.
"This is not normal, no," he said. And just when he thought I might harangue him more, he said, "And now I'm going to go to lunch."
I was more than a little shocked by the mugging/shooting/guy bleeding on the street scene. But I'm also a former reporter who was once offered a job at the Baltimore Sun. I called the editor (the one who offered me the job) and left this message: "Bernie, hi, it's me Shannon McMahon. Remember me? I'm in Baltimore now. To study at Hopkins. More importantly though, I just saw a mugging and there are now 8 police cars at 32nd and Union right by the main campus. I'm not sure what happened, but I wanted you to be the first to know. Here's my number. Call me back."
Bernie called back. "Well hey!" he said. "Not to make jokes about the mugging or anything, but, what can I say but WELCOME TO BALTIMORE."
Bernie and I are meeting for lunch tomorrow, for a more formal welcome to the city.
To friends and family, I say: Get ready because it seems like these will make for exciting chapters in my life. Baltimore of (drug)Bust.
a link to the news story about the mugging: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/baltimore_city/bal-md.ci.robbery12jun12,0,675262.story
a link to the neighborhood where I will live, with Alex, far from both campuses but in safety (I hope): http://www.mvcd.org/