If it’s not on fire, does anyone care about Baltimore?

May 7, 2015

A view of Baltimore from the northbound train tracks. FRANK MURRAY for Reuters

We’re a species of rubberneckers. People will always gather around to watch a fight in the street. If there’s a traffic accident, every driver slows down to see just how bad it was.

But that curiosity failed the people on the Amtrak train as it approached Baltimore on the way to Washington. A recent walk through the train’s eight cars revealed no one looking out the window at the city that sits, dwarfed and hidden, between New York and the nation’s capital.

The city where Freddie Gray died while in police custody; where fires burned and thousands of protesters marched; where a curfew was declared and the National Guard called in.

A view of Baltimore, Md., from an Amtrak regional train enroute from New York to Washington. FRANK MURRAY for Reuters

People who take the train regularly — especially the glitzier, semi-speedy Acela service — have stories about the powerful, the rich and the influential people who they’ve run into, maybe in first class.

Isn’t that senator someone? Doesn’t she run that media company?

Many make the round trip between New York and Washington in a single day.

That means they go through Gray’s Baltimore twice.

Entering the city from the north, Baltimore’s boarded-up row houses are hidden. A rider sees the normal detritus of the East Coast’s industrial past — bridges so rusty that you wouldn’t want to drive across them; husks of factories in which nothing’s been made for more than 20 years; garbage that no one is ever going to pick up. Aliens from Alpha Centauri will sift through all this for some clue as to who we were. It’s unlikely they’ll be impressed.

FRANK MURRAY for Reuters

Vice President Joe Biden saw the decay every day as he commuted into Washington from Wilmington, back when he was a senator from Delaware. But he’s hardly the only one. Amtrak sold more than 12 million rides last year for the Acela express and the local, slower regional trains, combined. Not everyone made the whole trip from New York to Washington, but it’s the most-traveled leg by far.

But if you want to see the Baltimore that you’d recognize from The Wire, you have to be heading north from Washington. Then Charm City reveals herself in glimpses. The streets open up, seeming to run for miles, lined with nothing but faux-stone-fronted row houses, many of which have boarded-up windows.  This architecture is distinctly Baltimore. Unfortunately, the smashed windows of vacant buildings can be found in Washington, Lowell, Massachusetts, Newark, New Jersey, Cleveland, Ohio, Detroit, Michigan, or Gary, Indiana, as well as in the outskirts of cities that are still thriving, like New York and San Francisco.

FRANK MURRAY for Reuters

On the train between New York and Washington, the rider is insulated by soft-cushioned seats, darkened windows and capricious Wi-Fi, maybe even a beer or glass of wine.

A recent ride showed passengers focused inward. They slept, watched movies, some snuggled with their traveling companions. Many talked quietly or listened to music on their headphones.

In the dining car, people sat around tables chatting, or with papers and laptops spread out in front of them. It was late in the day, coming close to an early dinner, but people weren’t eating or drinking much, just looking for a place to sit.

But no one was curious to see what had happened to Baltimore on this trip, less than a week after riots shook the city. Fair enough. Few of us were all that interested before the trouble, either.


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This is the editor of the opinion page? Editor, where is your opinion? Is there ‘fault’ for this blight? Whose? What will you have us do? Or, are you just laying a guilt trip? Who is guilty?

Posted by aeci | Report as abusive

And you forgot to mention that the cities–and the states in which almost all of them are located– listed in this tale of woe have been run by the Democratic Party for decades. And I say this regretfully as a life-long member of the Democratic Party.

Posted by bluepanther | Report as abusive

The question is, does Baltimore care about itself. We all got our own problems each day. Step up and fix things around you, if you don’t like how they are. Or move. It is not America’s job to fix Baltimore.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The $1.8 billion dollar question is…what did Baltimore do for itself? Crime is up, jobs are down and so are the number of residents. It has been controlled by one party for the last 40+ years so the residents and politicians only have themselves to blame.

Posted by JTNYR | Report as abusive

To answer the question, NO!

Posted by bcp1854 | Report as abusive

If Baltimore’s own citizens don’t care about their city, why should I?

Posted by worldscan | Report as abusive

The fault is with the current federal government administration. They want people poor. They want unrest. They insight riots. They want government control,just as they have taken over and interfered in several NAACP driven investigations. They want control of all poor cities and states, and eventually all of the US. Our administration is working for the likes of George Soros and other communist extremists, who want all people poor and wants rioting throughout the US. This is how power will be openly taken. He states this openly. Just check who funded Obama. Reuters is controlled as well, and why this comment will not likely be allowed.

Posted by Bringbackmorals | Report as abusive

BringBackMorals explains: “The fault is with the current federal government administration. They want people poor. They want unrest. They insight riots.”

Thank you. That was “inciteful.”

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

I agree with bringbackmorals that democrats and big government want control over people and don’t want them to fend for themselves.

Posted by syphonedtooth | Report as abusive