The Hundred

The last blog that I wrote was celebrated by WordPress as number one hundred. So bit by bit, usually two pages and a picture at a time, a kind of diary was assembled. If that is scaled, then we’re looking at around two hundred pages, or about two thirds of a book.

The distinction is that topics aren’t sequential, so while there might be a flow of thought, there isn’t an overall direction.

After I finish writing a text, I log out of WordPress, and invariably it shows me a screen which is called ‘freshly pressed.’ I sometimes click and read, and usually I find three common traits. The first is that the graphic design is much better than mine, the second that the text is quite short, and finally… topics tend to have mass appeal – examples from now are:

1. Four-way no way for highway
2. I see pictures everywhere
3. Norway Day 2: Oslo to Bergen
4. I like my bike
5. A few photos from Toronto buskerfest

WordPress doesn’t explain how they arrive at their shortlist, wether there is some kind of review, or maybe it’s based on hits, or comments, or something else. Whatever the technique, there’s no doubt that getting on that screen will soar your ratings.

Labor day is around the corner, and Baltimore has decided to stage a Grand Prix right through the weekend. That’s all well and good, except the problem with this particular grand pricks is that the racetrack is the city center, and the area around my hotel will be blocked off, no cars would be able to get in or out. Additionally, stands have been set up along the streets, and behind them all the sidewalks are fenced off.

Never a country to do things by halves, a triple neck guitar on display at Bill's Music. Leaping from neck to neck, alternating among 12, 8, and 6 strings, will keep you busier than a one-armed paper hanger.

As a consequence, I had no choice but to leave town, and have made my way to Annapolis. That puts me closer to Washington DC, which works well since I’m taking a train to New York on Saturday, to look at a few things for my book. My strategy for leaving Baltimore was twofold. First, drive like the Portuguese, in intself a kind of GP warm-up. Second, follow any street that was clear, and use the cardinal points as a guide. The race website mentions 180 mph on the streets of Baltimore, but the car I’m driving has a cutoff at 112, as I found out yesterday when driving across the state.

This strategy quickly placed me in the black country. Not the industrial belt of the English Midlands, where I once lived, which was named after the coal seams and air pollution, but the seedier portion of Baltimore, where the black population lives. It’s important to understand that Baltimore is already south of the Mason-Dixon line, a political division drawn up in the eighteenth century, to resolve border disputes among Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware.

The line became better known as a separator between the more racially tolerant northeast and Dixie. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s, a number of books written by minorities were around, which documented the inequity (and iniquity) of American society. Often the authors were ex-gang members, and one of the  common features was that the parents were hardworking immigrants from the South, Puerto Rico, or other areas.

One of my memories, possibly from a book called Manchild in the Promised Land, which I read when I was twelve or thirteen, was that south of the line, colored people who boarded a greyhound bus sat from the back to the front, whites from front to back. The saying was:

If yo’ white, dat’s alright
If yo’ brown, stick aroun’
If yo’ black, dat’s dat

The black neighborhoods of Baltimore didn’t have a race. The only race they know is race riots. Back in the day, after Martin Luther King was assassinated, many U.S. cities flared up in anger. Baltimore has a strong Jewish community, and the Jews and Blacks shared a kind of “oppressed fraternity” prior to the MLK shooting. After that, the blacks, who largely occupied the inner city, considered all whites as the enemy. Many Jewish business were targeted.

One such business was a deli which is still around today. In the 1960’s, in a very different America, it had live chickens for sale to customers. The Polish Jews that owned it were happy to decapitate your chicken for you, and then present it to a rotating plucker that stripped the feathers before your very eyes.

As the deli owners saw their neighbors’ stores being torched, they opted for radical measures. For a period, customers were welcomed by a tripod-mounted machine gun set up on the counter.

God Bless America.

The India Road QR links for smartphones: point your camera and click.


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