Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Wire tour of Baltimore

The Wire is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, shows on TV ever. Its examination of the post-industrial American city, and the way different social forces interact within it, serves as an inspiration for this blog and this set of trips we’ve been doing. Actually, if it weren’t for The Wire, this tour and this blog might not exist at all. Because it started when we went to Baltimore, to see where The Wire was filmed.

We started the day, a sunny summer Saturday, at the corner of Fulton and Lexington, paying our respects to Snot Boogie, who lay dead on this corner in the show’s first scene. Then, we continued onto Lexington Market. I’m not sure if it was ever a filming location, but it is a must-eat spot in Baltimore. Had some crab cakes, cod cakes, raw clams and beer for breakfast. You eat the coddies between saltine crackers, with mustard. I wish all my days started like this.

From there, we proceeded to walk up Pace Street, to Druid Hill Avenue, to the McCullough Street homes. These are the projects where much of Season 1 was filmed. We walked through them, past the “Pit.” There was no orange couch in the courtyard. Walking down one of the streets nearby, we got what would turn out to be the only offer to sell us drugs we would get on our jaunt – Percocet though, not spider bags or WMD.

Now, some people would say it’s not a great idea for two white guys from another city to walk through a neighborhood best known to outsiders for its portrayal on a TV show about the drug trade and inner-city violence. People forget that these places are neighborhoods, where people live out everyday lives and raise families. Would we have done it at night? Probably not. But in the middle of the day on a weekend, there are kids out playing, families and friends hanging out on their stoops. The same stuff you see anywhere in America.

We proceeded up McCullough Street, passing many boarded-up rowhouses with “If Animal Trapped, Call ....” written on the boards covering the doors. After a while, we got to Carlton C. Douglas Funeral Services – the funeral home that served as the Barksdale organization’s headquarters after Orlando’s strip club. Then, we walked over I don’t know how many blocks to Charles Street, leaving behind the gritty feel of that area of the West Side for what seemed to be a more polished neighborhood.

We stopped at Brewer’s Art, the bar where Marlo met Devonne, and had a couple drinks at the bar as we looked back at the cavernous seating area that Marlo first eyeballed her from. Slightly fortified, we continued up Charles Street, past Penn Station, where Marlo went to see if the police would track him there. Then, we made a right, and went over a couple blocks to Tilghman Middle School, the school from Season 4.

We kept going. By now, we were in a grittier neighborhood, and one with a different feel than the West Side neighborhood we had been in before. That place felt rough, but it felt lived-in. This place felt abandoned. We passed a couple blocks of bombed-out houses, and walked up to Bodie’s Corner, at Lanvale and Barclay. On the side opposite Bodie’s, the corner appeared to be in use, occupied by a group of young men in white T-shirts. Until seeing them, we felt like we were the only people left on the planet.

We continued on up toward North Avenue. We went down an alley where Bubble’s Garage was supposed to be, but either we had made a wrong turn or the garage we passed had been renovated to such an extent that it was no longer recognizable as Reginald’s humble abode. We continued on foot to the East Side, looking for Marlo’s hangout and for Hamsterdam.

The neighborhood we were going through now didn’t feel dangerous so much as desolate. We would walk down blocks with 20, 30 rowhouses on them, with only two or three giving any evidence of still being inhabited. The rest were boarded up. A few were actually collapsing, or looked like they’d been gutted from fires. One or two even had trees growing in them. Every so often, we’d pass an old person or two sitting on a stoop, but other than that, the place was empty. The neighborhood was blocks and blocks away from the more inhabited areas we’d seen around Charles Street. We wondered what it must be like to live in a place where this is your world, where you feel so isolated from everything else in the city and everything is abandoned and nobody is around.

We walked through Marlo’s hangout, and got a few cell phone photos of the concrete park where he would meet with his lieutenants and decide who was going to die today. Then, we went through the Hamsterdam area. I think the actual block that was used in the filming may has been razed, but everything else around you looks and feels like Hamsterdam, anyway. By now, we’d worked up a bit of an appetite, so we stopped in the first business establishment we had seen in a while. The little store had a couch in it, some half-empty racks with dusty snacks on them and a little cooler. It felt more like somebody had converted their living room than it did like a real store. I got a soda and a bag of chips. We kept walking, back toward Charles Street. On the way, without even having really planned on it, we walked past Greenmount Cemetery, where Omar met McNulty for the first time, where Stringer met Colvin, and where D was buried.

One of the things I was looking forward to in Baltimore was trying lake trout. Still hungry, and by now getting into a slightly less desolate area of the East Side, we stopped at a carryout joint. I got a lake trout, James got some chicken, I think, and we found an abandoned rowhouse and sat on the steps. For those of you that have never had it, lake trout is a large piece of fried and breaded fish (really it’s whiting, not trout), with the spine still in it, on a piece of white bread. You can get something similar at soul food places elsewhere. I like it with hot sauce. Excellent stuff. Our stomachs full and our desire to see the places where our favorite TV show was filmed satiated, we continued back to Charles Street.

If you’re ever in Baltimore, I recommend you do something similar. Most people I’ve read about who visit The Wire filming locations do so in a car. I think you miss out on some of the feel for a city, seeing it through safety glass as you roll by at 20 mph. There’s something to be said for feeling the concrete under your feet. 

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