A Little Jab at Gentrification …

Eventually every big city faces the sad reality of change. The question becomes who does change effect the most. For the “inner city” citizens and the urban dwellers, aka Black people and poor people, who are usually forgotten (until property and infrastructure are involved) it’s usually us with furrowed brows. We wonder what is going to come next. This is not just a simple matter of change construction-site-2858310__340but the buzzword of the century: gentrification. Everyone has some definition in one form or another of what this means. In layman’s terms, gentrification is when wealthier, mostly white people see something they want, and they take it. They take it, restructure it and manufacture it for white audiences. For example, the small cafes and restaurants popping up in what is called “Station North.”

Station North is blocks away from what would be considered dangerous or “ghetto” even, but “redevelopment” has started in the area. Redevelopment that allows white academics and art students to benefit from poverty (having lower rent) while being close enough away to feel safe but close enough to say they care about the plight of Black people and issues of poverty in Baltimore city. The gradual change in Baltimore has been happening for quite some time. The big universities started their bidding wars on properties on East North Avenue. The results are things like Parkway theater and (sorry folks) the notorious anti-establishment Red Emmas (which has left its North Avenue location). As nice as these places are, they both have an unspoken, “we only welcome certain types,” kind of vibe. You should be somewhere between wanting to free the nipples and having a Sinead O’Connor look with a septum piercing and tattoos of a dream catcher, geometric shapes, or the lunar cycle. They have the “I’m a cultured artist who is down with a revolution, some days, and I bike to save the environment” kind of vibe.

Look up the word in the dictionary and its synonyms are refurbishment, restoration, renovation, urban renewal, and even improvement. There is a constant question of what is being improved and who asked for the improvements. The problem with the “urban renewal” becomes losing the people who built the infrastructures around what is being “improved.” The problem becomes white people start moving in and pushing Black people out. When the hipster liberals come in, preaching peace, love, and all lives matter while taking your row home to hang ropes of paper lanterns from Target.

Gentrification becomes so important, especially to Black people in Baltimore city because it is more than a word or a synonym of “restoration.” So much culture has been built and erased in the city. From club music to style of dress and even the way we talk. You know someone is from Baltimore when you hear them! Higher rent and destruction of once were homes make life a lot harder for those relocating and reminiscing on “the good old days.” Gentrification is having your childhood memories become a portion of history because Johns Hopkins needs homes for residents and of course expansion of its famed facility. The Hippo, most of East Baltimore, Hammerjacks- places like these are no longer apart of the breath of the city. Instead when people think of Baltimore, they think of Natty Boh and Camden yards – which is a part of Baltimore but every neighborhood is not Canton or Camden yards.

East Baltimore should now be called “Hopkins Town.” Hopkins has changed most of it and is trying to mold it into a uniform, almost carbon copy of other cities. Baltimore once had a flair that is bitterly hanging on. That’s a problem with “urban redevelopment.” Gentrification is not just a textbook synopsis of the many inequalities Black & poor people face. It is the feelings, soul, and authenticity of a place being diffused brick by brick. It is almost as if Thanos snapped his fingers in much of East Baltimore, devouring the city. Higher rent and fancier grub makes nice for tourists and people who can’t afford New York and don’t want to stare D.C in the face, so we meet here in the middle, in Baltimore.

I Could Have Just Went Home

As I stared in the mirror in that stale-stenched bathroom, I knew I had fucked up. How had I gotten myself into this? I was just spending a casual night with my best friend/former roommate, and now I was hiding in her boyfriend’s bathroom. How quickly a favor asked can spiral into hours of reluctant participation in this awkward sitcom-esque scene. I was sick. To be honest though, the bathroom was slightly cleaner than I would have expected two or three college boys to keep it. I was grateful for the lack of shit stains around me, but I was more concerned with the amount of time I had before my friend returned to the apartment. Hiding in other people’s homes rarely goes well. As I stood waiting in silence, I became increasingly convinced of my imminent capture. Each second was more stressful than the last, and I just wanted to go home.

I’m pretty sure the night had begun under normal circumstances. I’d probably gone to my English and business classes. I may have eaten lunch at home because Chipotle hadn’t yet figured out its E. coli situation. I had gas in the car. I remember feeling really good about the way my fro had formed that day, so I was probably excited to be out and about with my friend, Tam. I didn’t live on campus anymore, so I would usually drive us to hang out somewhere after class before I went home. Tam had been fighting with her boyfriend the past few days, but they fought all the time so I thought little of it. I just listened to her current story of how he’d hurt her feelings this time. Most women with guy troubles have the same story every week, but hers were more and more dramatic every time. I chalked it up to them just being extra and angsty like every other young person in love. I did not think my proximity to this relationship would affect me in any way. I just continued to listen to her story.

By what I’d thought was the end of the night, we were parked outside her dorm building so we could rap for a little bit. Since I’d left campus, we hadn’t been seeing each other as often and always wanted to catch up.This usually meant sitting in the car for hours just talking about things on the minds of 20-year-old women. I’m guessing this is when she started talking about her man again. I think I remember her saying they’d broken up “for good this time,” and that she was fine and going to move on. But she could not believe that he wasn’t texting her back after a full day. It didn’t sit well with her spirit. She was clearly concerned and hinting that she wanted to see him. I must have been in a particularly positive mood that night, because I offered to drive her to his apartment. I didn’t want to let my friend walk to his place alone if I could help and, I have to admit, I was a little amused by the whole thing.My curiosity tends to lead me into some real shit.

While I’m driving up the block, Tam calls the boy at least twice with no answer. I believe he also sent her some long, cryptic text about his life and their relationship. If you haven’t caught on by now, this story has gotten a little hazy over the years. I was not high. Anyway, I pull up to the building expecting him to answer her call and let her in so I can go home.  Lesson #795423 about depending on a man for anything. She proceeds to call this man dozens of times with no answer. I’m confident that she called him at least 40 times in less than an hour before she got blocked. Now the whole thing just seemed kind of cruel. At this point I’m still a little intrigued but, while I want to support my friend, I’m not as hesitant to go home.

Now that we know calling him isn’t going to work, Tam comes up with a plan. You usually need a fob to get into the building but you really just need to be at the door the moment someone walks out. So she tells me she’s going to wait in the less-than-optimal night weather for someone to open the door and head upstairs. I agree to wait for her outside in case he doesn’t answer his door to let her in. I guess it wouldn’t have been a good story if he had let her in. Shortly after she leaves the car, we both end up inside the building. I don’t know if I was asked to come inside or if I volunteered, but we were marching like soldiers and Tam was now on plan B. Mind you, her boyfriend is still not answering the phone so, of course, he doesn’t answer the apartment door. We are now on Mission: Trespassing. Tam thinks to call one of her boyfriend’s roommates and ask him when he’s coming back. Apparently, of all four roommates, this one is the least shitty and only one who would help. He says he’s coming back from the cafeteria in ten or fifteen minutes, and he’ll let her in. I’m only slightly worried that something will go wrong, and only slightly less amused. As multiple residents walk past, we talk about which ones we recognize and how much of their business we know. Finally, the traitor roommate shows up and he does not look at all worried or confused about why his roommate’s girlfriend is calling HIM to get into the apartment they share! I figure he must be crazy and used to dealing with crazy women. No shade to Tam. She tells him what’s going on and he says he’ll let us in, but he’s leaving out afterward so he can only do it once. I’m thinking I can finally make it out of here! No. Commencing: Tam’s plan C.

There’s no one in the living room or kitchen and her boyfriend’s bedroom door is locked with the lights out. She knocks on the door asking if he’s in there and to be let in. Now this is the haziest part of the story because I have do not understand how I agreed to be in this bathroom. I remember Tam laughing and smiling at the absurdity of her request: I was to hide in the bathroom so that I could let her back into the apartment when she got back from God knows where because I have NO idea why she needed to leave! WTF, Tam?! But she did. And there I was, standing in this dingy bathroom shaking my head at my reflection. I hit the dougie real quick because why not? At this point in my life, this was the wildest thing that had ever happened to me. I have no idea how long I stayed in there. Maybe it was ten minutes, or maybe it was thirty-five. My phone probably died. Every time I heard a bump or scrape, I knew it was my time. I just KNEW I was going to get caught, so I prepared myself for what I would say to the first boy who saw me and asked what the hell my stranger ass was doing in his bathroom. Just when I’d decided not to throw Tam under the bus and to just take my simple ass home, I finally heard what I’d been dreading. The door knob turned, and I was ready to fight! The door swung open, and it was Tam. Apparently she made it back into the apartment just fine. I don’t remember her explanation, but I was now ready to say my good-byes and find my exit. I’d had enough excitement for the night. That’s when I saw that at least one of the other roommates was home, and our attempts to remain inconspicuous fell to shit. Then there was a second boy. This was not good. I couldn’t leave Tam in there with these raggedy boys and her possibly absent boyfriend. One of them started taunting her asking her why and how she got in his “house”. He was acting how ugly men typically act when witnessing a beautiful woman get dogged by a relatively more attractive guy: gleeful. It was so ugly. Of course, her boyfriend continued to ignore her knocking and pleas for him to answer the door. The tension was getting too thick and the night was getting too late. I was so embarrassed and angry for her that I eventually convinced her to just leave with me. It was a whole mess, up and down.

The night didn’t end well and Tam’s boyfriend continued to be a fuck boy until they made up again by the end of the week. The point is this all happened and I was not drunk or under any kind of influence whatsoever. I was just 20 and bored. Please check on your younger siblings and friends and tell them to go home because they’re probably out doing something stupid.

The End.