I stayed (not lived) in crime-ridden Woodlawn through the frigid winter of 2018. Nestled in my car bundled under a heavy coat and blanket, with one eye open
Baltimore had a terribly violent year with homicide rates soaring – but that was the least of my worries. It was too cold even for the most hardened crooks, and there wouldn’t be a soul out in Security Mall after midnight when the temps dove into the teens.
Nothing sounded better than the sharp school bell sound on Friday at 2:30pm signaling the mass exodus home. Thankfully I made it out before the brunt of rush hour traffic had hit 95 so most days I was home by 4.
When I couldn’t weather the cold or when mechanics grease was caked in my hair and stained my forearms, I had to pony up for a hotel. The Howard Johnsons in Pikesville became my camp out. Just a year ago, a notorious couple had posted ads on Backpage to lure unsuspecting johns to their room for a full-body massage only to be robbed at gunpoint with a replica handgun. The crime spree was executed to perfection for several months without retribution. That was until one of the victims finally pulled out a real gun and fired real bullets at them. When the “Backpage Bandits” were caught, their reasoning was that they wanted to move out of one of their parents’ home and needed to pay for rent to live on their own. Suffice it to say, they were able to live rent free in state prison for several years.
Knowing the reputation for crime and to spread out my budget, I would never stay two nights in a row but could stay every other night. There was one week that was so ridiculously cold, I had to stay three nights in a row. Thankfully the bone-chilling sub 30 degree temperatures soon abated.
I typically found my rooms on Hot Wire which provides a discount by not disclosing the name of the hotel until after booking. But I was able to crack the code by reading the descriptions and comparing it to nearby hotels. A couple of times, I got a nice room at a Holiday Inn in Jessup and even in the the Radisson in the Inner Harbor.
With age comes wisdom but reaching middle age also meant having to ingest a potent cocktail of pain killers before engaging in any sort of heavy lifting.
But I wasn’t attending any kind of school. It wasn’t all textbooks, lectures and slides. It required turning wrenches, diving under the hood and getting my hands, my face, every exposed part of my body, covered in grime.
Embarking on my third career, my curiosity was piqued by how a six-cylinder diesel engine can pull 80,000 lbs of gross weight. While a Dodge Charger has the horsepower to go lightning fast on a dime, a Cummins engine has the torque to pull giant steel beams up steep grades, slowly but surely.
And at 50, I was no longer young and spry and able to lift heavy tires and drums off hubs with one strong, muscled arm. But that wouldn’t stop me from getting under the truck submerged in a tub of grease, just like the rest of the guys (and gals).
The Diesel School was made up of a bunch of grease monkeys who are unabashedly grungy and felt most comfortable working entrenched in the back of a mechanic’s pit than in the front office.
They were a bunch of young men (and woman) who didn’t enjoy working in front of a computer and didn’t like dressing up in a suit and tie. When they rose in the morning, they would brush their teeth and apply a dab of grease under their eyes like a football player going into battle.
They knew no etiquette, no decorum. Their common phrases were Wassup Bro and C’mon let’s burn this motherf*cker down.
And the school was ruled by a hard core instructor who enjoyed issuing demerits and sending students home for the day for simple infractions such as not tucking in their shirt or wearing the wrong ballcap – one without the school’s insignia.
I even was subject to seeing the academic head of department for arguing with one of my classmates. I was gently scolded then instructed to go home for the day — that was the day I actually got to return to DC.
In the Spring, Jerri my mother’s third-husband passed so I went to visit my Mom during the summer break in July.
And when school resumed spending summer nights in the car was hot and miserable. All four windows were rolled down and besides me an ice chest evaporating cool air — doing all I could to stay cool took precedence over safety.
That was the time that Kam, a student at Construction at the Trade School, was tearing up and replacing the floors in the kitchen on Atlantic Street, and she chose the hottest day of the year to do that.
Suffice it to say, I got a brand new kitchen from a fellow student in another field and it was a win-win because she got to put into practice her newly-acquired skills.