Thursday, May 11, 2006

I was walking home from Rite-Aid on Sunday, having caved into my craving for Smart White Cheddar popcorn and Coca-Cola. Plus, it was a nice day and I wanted to walk, pet the neighborhood cats and smell the various bouquets of blooming gardens. I was thinking what a beautiful neighborhood that I lived in and how picturesque it is. I had just come up on my mom's church, located a short block from me, when I saw the white car blow the stop sign at what had to be seventy miles per hour.

Our neighborhood is one that is regulated by stop signs, since it is just that. A very well kept, historical city neighborhood. Not many like it exist anymore. There is a restaurant, a coffee shop and some through traffic, but not anything that would beg for stop lights. Plus, the cross streets are short blocks, much better suited for stop signs.

When I recovered from what I'd just seen, I couldn't believe someone would be driving so recklessly. That disbelief was soon replaced by horror at the sound of screeching tires, then an unbelievable crash. I flinched at the sound of it like I was shielding myself.

Ho-ly fuck.

Oops. I was in front of a church.

Oh my.

Smoke billowed from the direction of the crash and I ran toward it, as did everyone else who was walking at the time. Stuart, a priest, ran out of the church, shock on his face, more so when he saw the look on mine, and asked me what that noise was.

"It was a car," I said, "It ran the stop sign. They were driving way too fast." I was out of breath, not from running but from adrenaline at hearing that awful noise.

Just as I said that, two cop cars crossed the intersection toward the crash. As Stuart and I rounded the corner, the cars squealed into an alley where neighbors were pointing. The white car was in the middle of the street, doors wide open, airbags deployed, windshield cracked and billowed outward from the impact.

"They ran into that yard!" A neighbor screamed and pointed. The two patrol cars that had sped in the alley had already passed the house that she indicated, and neighbors were trying to signal them back. One guy was in the middle of the road, knees bent, looking like a coach signaling a runner to take home plate, both arms out, palms flat and toward his face, repeatedly pumping his arms in a "come on" motion. I looked back where the white car had come from, and saw a cavalry of patrol cars barreling down the street, lights flashing, sirens going. I jumped up and down, signaled to them to come to the alley, pointing at the house where two men had run. At least twenty neighbors were in the street, sidewalk, or in the alley, all of us pointing the way.

Seconds later, a helicopter joined chase, as patrol officers who had spilled out of their cars tried to scale the wall or ran down the alley. It was pandemonium, as more neighbors who had heard that sickening crash, came outside. There were probably a hundred people all together. One girl had been in the middle of a hair cut and walked around with wet hair and a smock. Another man who had come out of the church was dressed in a green kilt with a golden cross around his neck that hung outside his buttoned up shirt. In the swell of people, police, dogs, cars and dissipating smoke, the damage started to become clear.

Three cars total were hit. Thankfully, that's all that was hit. If anyone had been crossing that walk, they would have been killed. Same if they had been broadsided on driver's side. In Baltimore, the police have a no chase policy, and the bad guys weren't being chased like you see in Los Angeles. There was a lull between the car racing across the intersection and the cop cars that followed it. As I found out later, the driver and passenger were in a stolen car and panicked when they saw a police car. Therefore getting the attention of the cavalry.

Of the damage to the parked cars, one car's driver side panel was peeled off like someone had taken a can opener to it. The window washing fluid container lay on the street. The car was hit with such force that it was pushed on top of the hood of a station wagon behind it, crushing its hood. The station wagon hissed and smoked, an acrid smell that made me cough. After that, the stolen car had careened across the street and hit another car in the rear, knocking it about eight feet.

The crooks then bailed out, scaled a tall wooden fence into the backyard of a house, busted down the door, ran through and out the front door. The helicopter had them in sight all along, and the two were apprehended a couple streets over. Because they broke into the house, which was luckily unoccupied and for sale, an officer told me that they'll get a burglary charge tacked on to their day of fun.

When the cops announced that they caught them, they got a round of applause from us and lots of thanks. Too rarely given to officers in Baltimore. Also, in many city neighborhoods, the people in them wouldn't have directed the police to the bad guys. The same officer told me that they could see us pointing the way and that it really helped.

All of the owners of the damaged cars took it as best they could. They were comforted by those of us around them, but all of us, even the car owners, were glad it was just property that was damaged. That whole scenario could have been so much worse, and the reality of that lingered in the air just like the smoke around us.

After the excitement, I went straight to my mom and Jack's house and told them what had happened just around the block from them. I'd lost my appetite for Smart popcorn and Coke, but willingly accepted the offer of a Cosmopolitan.

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