24 Dec Baltimore, Snow, and the End of the World

Today, my neighbor, an older woman who walks with a cane, informed me — very pleasantly — that soon the world will end.  “If you watch, you’ll see the signs,”  she added. “They’re everywhere!”  I nodded agreeably and smiled, then said, “Okay, wow.”  I was letting the dogs in. When I returned to the kitchen, Jill asked, “What was that about?”  I shrugged:  “Just Di telling me about the end of the world.” Our neighbor usually does nothing more than complain about her landlord. I’ve never heard her talk about the apocalypse. I’m not sure if it’s her loneliness, the season, or the recent snow that has worn on her.

Baltimore got 21 inches. Proudly we’re calling it the Baltimore Blizzard. As we are a Southern city, we don’t cotton to snow. It freaks us out. Everybody crowds the grocery stores the night before a storm, as if preparing for a siege (or the apocalypse?). Surprisingly, the forecasters got it right this time. Snow kept coming. Our power went out for 16 hours. We were about to camp in front of the fireplace when it returned finally. Living without power, we decided, is most inconvenient. Not that we have grounds for complaint. Jill, who works for Healthcare for the Homeless, visited one of her clients this week. He just got a tiny one-bedroom apartment after having lived on the street for years. She brought him a Christmas tree. He gave her a photo of the underpass he used to call home. Driving to work this morning, Jill saw plenty of others in the street. She started bawling. There’s only so much you can do, and then what?

Thick ice remains on some streets and sidewalks. Baltimoreans have staked out their curbside parking with lawn furniture. I waited till the last minute to shovel. The guy I usually pay to help me checked himself into rehab three weeks ago. It’s his second try at kicking crack. Though determined to go straight, he admits that it’s a long shot if he can’t get away from Baltimore.  “Drugs is everywhere,”  he says. That’s no lie: about one in ten Baltimoreans is drug dependent,  according to a recent study. So that’s our wish for the new year, that he can get enough help to get away.

Baltimore is not “The Wire.” Really. But, sure, you can find all of that here. Our mayor — convicted for petty theft of a few gift cards recently — has been the best mayoral advocate for the homeless in many years. She may hold on to her office yet. Holding on seems to be this year’s theme. If Obama can pass health care reform, I’m thinking, we could see the beginning of something, not the end.