Sunday, October 25, 2009

Summer is a time for Brats. And last summer, my roommates and I cooked them often on top of our roof with a smoky joe grill and beer. One specific leisure-filled afternoon stands out in particular. Having just lit the charcoal we kicked back in our rusty lawn chairs to properly take in the last bit of warmth from the low afternoon sun. Relative quiet followed. One that allows you to notice the intricate sounds of the city. My head back and eyes closed, I was able to pick up on the distant sound of police sirens. Listening intently, I tried to pinpoint the sirens location and track their movement throughout Baltimore. In a few second the sirens grew louder, and louder. Soon, it seemed there were more sirens and getting closer to our location. At this point it was weird and this not-so-unusual sound in Baltimore became very unusual. Screeching tires, sirens from all directions. Whatever the occasion it was now in my block of Calvert Street and we were in the prime position for a bird’s eye view.

Without hesitation we immediately climbed to the higher level of our roof and witnessed a TV style police chase in progress. Police on foot were scurrying through the alleys with guns in hand, police cars blocked roads and then, we saw it, the perpetrating vehicle, fly past the front door of our apartment, miscalculate a right hand turn the wrong way on Preston Street, jump the sidewalk, and crash straight into a light pole, which broke from its base and crashed into the middle of the street. The driver took off on foot only to be tackled by a plain clothed policewoman wearing shorts. I wondered if I was watching the filming of a scene from The Wire.

It was an absurdly loud show that drew the attention of many in the neighborhood. It did not take long for people to appear on the sidewalk down where all the action was taking place. From our vantage point, four floors up, we also noticed others who had roof access struggling to catch a curious glimpse of the commotion on the streets. A block away,out of a rooftop window, a shirtless potbellied man looked down with eagle eyes puffing on a cigar.

It was at this moment the city became open. This chance scenario uprooted everyone from his or her own secluded world by the common concern of “what the hell is going on in my neighborhood!” I, too, enthralled with the spectacle, pranced like a giddy schoolchild down to experience the street level milieu. For about thirty minutes, the neighborhood was transformed experientially. Walking up to the scene, I felt a sense of community I had never before in Baltimore for the simple reason that there was physical evidence of other people living in my neighborhood. Collectively spirited and emphatic we stood on that sidewalk mutually concerned (but mostly curious). The veil of introversion which plastic wraps many Baltimore neighborhoods like mine had been broken.

But remembering the brats and my beer getting warm on the roof, I snapped a few pictures and ran back into seclusion. A bit later my roommates and I recounted the experience. I can remember pointing out this feeling of community, but only since learning about these theories of Open City have I thought about it in these terms- that the spectacle of a police chase, a concerning event, a disaster, which momentarily jolt our prevailing self-centered tendencies, or out of necessity bring people to the act of community, can in fact open up the city and provide a situation for legitimate interaction.

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