Intersections – A walk in Baltimore
By Nicki Salcedo
I needed a power strip and extension cord. Nothing fancy. The kind that you could easily find at a local drug store. I was in Baltimore at the convention center. It was April. The end of winter. Still cold, but the sky was blue like spring was coming. I needed directions to the store.
I asked a hotel employee which way to go. The store was five blocks away.
“You can’t go out there,” the man said. He was pushing a cart with long fluorescent light bulbs. He was an old man. White. He shook his head at me.
It was Saturday morning around 10 am. I was wearing business clothes. A dress and comfortable shoes. It was 35 degrees outside. My winter coat was neon pink.
I pointed to my phone. “This says CVS is down the street,” I said. I can walk five blocks in any kind of weather.
“Do you have a gun?” he asked.
I laughed and shook my head. He didn’t smile. He was serious.
“You cannot go out there,” he added. Blue sky. Beautiful new hotel near the baseball stadium and the convention center. He pointed to the empty streets like the world had come to an end. “They’ll kill you out there.”
I love zombies. It’s my thing. I looked at all the crisp clear sky and new buildings wonder who “they” were. Why couldn’t I go outside?
He called out to his colleague, a tall young man in his early twenties. Maybe still a teenager. Black.
“This lady wants to go out there by herself. Tell her.”
The kid shook his head at me. “No. You can’t go out there. What do you need? Is it an emergency?”
I felt small then. These men shaking their heads at me like I was crazy. “I need a power strip. We need one for the booth in the convention center.”
The kid said, “We can get you one. Come with us.”
The old white guy and the young black guy lead me to a service entrance. I felt a moment of hesitation. They’d just spent five minutes putting the fear of God in me, then lead me to a dark hallway.
The older guy knew I didn’t have a gun. He shook his head at me again. “It’s okay. Where you from?”
“Atlanta,” I say. I know a lot about Southern hospitality. But I experience something different in Baltimore.
I’d never seen the inner workings of a really large hotel before. We walked through a maze of hallways and elevators and stairs. We passed ladies pushing housekeeping carts.
“That’s the dining hall.” We go by a cafeteria big enough for a high school or hospital.
“Those are sleeping quarters.” We passed rooms like college dorms.
There were supplies and storage rooms and offices. At the back of everything was maintenance and the audio visual department.
“This is AV. We have everything.”
The young guy brought out a brand new power strip with extension cord still in a box.
“I’ll bring it back on Tuesday,” I said, but they told me to keep it.
“Just don’t go out alone,” the older guy said. He walked away while I tried to profusely thank him. He couldn’t care less about my thanks. He made the kid walk me back to the lobby, because there was no way I’d find my way back alone.
I turned my thanks to the kid, but he was the same as the old guy. He didn’t want to hear it. Both men refused to give me their names. I ask about Baltimore.
“You’ll get robbed over here. Especially looking like a tourist.”
I love my neon pink coat. I look like a tourist when I’m at home, too. I tell the kid this and he laughed. When people won’t accept your thanks, give them a smile instead. He left me in the lobby feeling thankful.
I like to get out into the cities where I travel. I hate being cooped up inside. Recycled air and fluorescent lighting don’t agree with me.
When I was in New York, the bellman told me I couldn’t walk to my meeting. “Where are you from?” he asked. Somehow Atlanta suggests a SUV suburban life. People assume I’m ill-suited for the big city. I explained that I drive a mini-van, I’ve never seen an episode of Real Housewives of Atlanta, and I live in town. The bellman still doubted me.
I walked the twenty blocks to my meeting in New York with no problem. Business dress. Comfy shoes.
When I was in downtown Philadelphia, the bellman told me I couldn’t walk to the campus of the University of Pennsylvania because it was two miles away. I can walk two miles. I did walk two miles. No problem.
When I was in Baltimore, I spent all my time inside. I followed the catwalks that connected the hotel to the convention center. I looked at the harbor from behind glass. It wasn’t like me, but I never felt afraid of Baltimore for one second.
Those two men were trying to protect me. Could be they were right. Could be they underestimated me. Either way, they gave me kindness.
I didn’t walk in Baltimore. But I got a glimpse of the city.
They gave me a glimpse of all the working people in a city that no one sees. The people who cook and clean and fix the lights. The ones who walked me through the maze. No one will tell you about them.
Nicki Salcedo is a Decatur resident and Atlanta native. She is a novelist, blogger, and a working mom. Her column, Intersections, runs every Wednesday morning.