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It’s better in Baltimore. You’ve heard it. Well, before you move out of your absurdly priced D.C. apartment and join the commuters from the “real city” next door, let me tell you what it’s really like.
Sure, you get an apartment with a full-sized refrigerator for under $1,000, but there’s hell to pay. First off, there is the MARC train, the $175-a-month tin can that regularly grinds to a halt with engine failure or when tourists use the emergency brake for a handhold.
On Tuesday, I arrived at Union Station just in time to catch the 6:40 p.m. back home to Baltimore. The train was in the station, but passengers formed a scrum on the platform. A blown engine? Windows taken out again by well-thrown rocks on the way in? Hard to tell.
A half-hour later we were halfway home when the train slowed down, then stopped. On the track ahead, an Amtrak train had conked out, blocking our path, a conductor told us. Passengers were being loaded onto another train. We’d move when that was finished. The lemmings pulled out cell phones to pass the information to their spouses. “Eat a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich,” the guy sitting next to me said to his phone.
If the trains are troubling, the helicopters are a nightmare. A few hours after pulling into the station, I was in bed. I hadn’t been asleep long when I heard the shots, like a full pack of firecrackers thrown into a campfire. Maybe it was firecrackers, I thought, and drifted back off.
Nope. Soon the tell-tale thwack of helicopter blades, the spotlight, the sirens.
The shooting was just one instance of violence in the city on Tuesday, the news said.
It wasn’t the 6-year-old caught the crossfire, the triple shooting on Fayette Street, the dude shot in the head, the woman shot in the stomach, or the others. It was the four men shot a couple blocks from my apartment on Mount Royal Avenue.
The helicopter spun circles around the neighborhood for more than an hour, illuminating the alleys, rattling the walls.
Wednesday, I sprinted to catch the 8:10 a.m. MARC train back to the world. I arrived at Penn Station at 8:08 a.m., head groggy, covered in sweat, low on caffeine. I glanced up at the board. The train would be 10 minutes late.