FELL STREET FOOTNOTES #4
February 8, 2015
We pay our bill at the register at Jimmy’s on Broadway, grab the Baltimore City Paper, and pull on our jackets and scarves as we squeeze past the crowd at the door. Sunday morning: Jimmy’s before nine. After that you have to wait for a table. We take the two-top behind the cement post because it’s toward the back and protected from the cold blasts from the door, and besides, that’s where the waitress expects us to be. Today, it isn’t too cold. Discussing our goals for the day, we set off toward home.
Before we reach the corner of Broadway and Thames, up and down the road flash the urgent lights of multiple police cars, two ambulances, an the AirFlex van—I really wonder what that is—and three fire engines. People clasp their cups of steaming coffee close to their chests and gather in small groups in the square and we edge across the street at City Pier. Sirens blast. The pier is for police only. A rescue boat patrols among the Saturday night flotsam while divers bob and search.
“Anybody know what’s up?” The sirens keep us jittery. “Eh, prob’ly just another body in the water.” Still, no one is quite as blasé as he sounds. We look over the side of the piers and wonder where footholds might help a person up, but we can’t find any—just some rubber bumpers one might hang onto in the freezing water, the under-pier mallards looking on, curious and wordless. We think of last night’s drinkers, one of whom might have stumbled in. We think of despair—so many homeless; so many loves gone bad–and we think of families, but we see no one who looks personally involved besides considering the hazards of his own living.
Finally, we move on to subjects unrelated to the vehicles revving around us, the noise of the sirens and the blinking lights, and we discover that the man who’s now wandered down the vacated pier with us is retired, has lived in the area all his life, has a daughter who gave him his NCIS hat (“She’s always bringing me some little gift.) and that the brick she donated to the harbor promenade has his middle name spelled wrong, the Anglo one squeezed between Mario and Silvestri, and that, at 83, he just can’t retire. He drives cars for the auto auction house, the one that sells barely used government vehicles on Tuesdays.
The three of us spot something in the water. It floats away from us on fast-pushing waves. “It looks like an arm, maybe,” I say. “Just a log, I think,” says John. I zoom to it with my cell phone camera, but the glare on the surface makes it impossible to see what it is. It would be so much more striking were it a dead body, but I don’t say this, banish the evil wisp of wind that suggested it. “People see something, call it in. Usually it’s a false alarm.”
“But these rescue units could have put out a three-alarm apartment fire. Shouldn’t they be on call in some other part of the city? And all these police could have arrested a whole mafia ring. Why so many?” Mario shrugs. Others turn back toward wherever they were headed. I think it’s a case of human solidarity—all those big “guns” turning out for the support of a single life. Hospital staff are waiting up at Maryland General, fresh sheets stretched across a wheeled bed. Warmth would be offered. Yet chances that someone would be found alive are nearly zero.
Tonight, news has reported the incident as a false alarm with good intent. Someone thought she saw a human being in the water, and she called 911. The firemen put their gin-rummy hands aside and pulled on their shiny protective clothes. Divers rolled out of bed and struggled into wet suits and strapped on tanks. Police officers left the streets for the harbor. And we came to help with our hope for drama and our support for life, two strange buddies in our make-up. Yet everyone stands ready to be a hero, at least. Everyone wants to save a life–at least one.