Night Crawlers

I.

I used to be a Night Crawler:
one of those people
on foot
in the dark,
going somewhere.

Now, I nearly run them down,
barely able to see them
skittering across the street,
in dark clothing,
with only the dancing light
of their sneakers
visible in my headlights—
if I’m lucky—
as I drive across town
on a Sunday night.

I wonder where they could
possibly be going
at this hour—nearly midnight!

At the corner of North and Fulton,
on the unlit side of the street,
I spot a lone woman
walking her dog.

On my side of the street,
a corner lit garishly bright
by a large, portable rectangular
spotlight on the sidewalk,
and, a few feet away,
by a neon-blue police light
flashing atop the streetlamp,
a gaggle of male nightcrawlers
hangs outside The Oxford Tavern,
an improbably British-style building
in the heart of Sandtown,
where the Freddie Gray Riots
were broadcast on national TV
two years ago,
catty-corner to
my optometrist’s office.

In the daytime,
when I am scurrying
from my car to the optometrist
for my annual visit,
the street looks less menacing,
but still cold.

Tonight, though,
I just want the light to turn green
so I can get home.

II.

Last night, I drove my Mom
downtown to see the end of
City Lights Baltimore,
a new Spring Festival of Lights,
based in the Inner Harbor—
The Crown Jewel of Baltimore—
where, for one week only,
everyone
from Sandtown to Hamilton,
Charles Village to Pig Town,
can be Night Crawlers together,
listening to local bands,
creating their own light shows
by interacting with international
light-art displays
or lighting up their sneaker soles
with special padding in red or green or blue
lights that twinkle when you walk,
or wearing funny lighted cat ears
on your head.

Even the sea of car lights
like mine, stuck in the gridlock —
red tail-lights in one direction,
white headlights in the other,
added to the spectacle.

III.

As we snaked our way
down St. Paul Street,
I recalled my time as a
Night Crawler,
heading, after work,
to the Port Bar
on nearby Water Street,
to meet up with friends
and nurse a couple of Heinekens,
tap our feet, and even dance
to The Cars and Journey and Kansas,
until Last Call—
a real ship’s bell—at 2 AM
sent us out into the night
to find our cars and drive
back uptown
to sleep fast,
so we could
drag our bodies
into work again
before night returned.

IV.

I was so young,
dumb and lucky,
I thought,
as I watched these nightcrawler-revelers
crossing St. Paul Street,
with no concern for the
trail of cars inching along,
changing lanes at will.

I called out to Mom, pointing left;
“I used to hang out in that building
when it was the old Southern Hotel!”
(Though, by then, it was the
Calhoun Maritime School,
where future Merchant Marines
walked down a block
to the Port Bar
to soak up more than the Heinekens
or Long Island iced teas
with the likes of me and my friends.)

“We used to grab a bite at Burke’s—
they made the best Chef Salads!”
I added, pointing right.
(Later on, I remembered
The Playboy Club used to be
right next door to Burke’s—
I had lunch there, once,
with three Lutheran Pastors
I’d worked with
on a summer job.)

V.

I managed to snap a few
blurry photos of the City Lights
as we wound our way
around the edges of the Festival,
narrowly avoiding getting onto
Key Highway, by turning right
onto a tiny side street
I once traveled a lot.
Then, guided by Mom’s shaky memory,
and my own,
we navigated our way back
to the Harbor and home.

VI.

Mom never knew about
my Night Crawler days—
I lived on my own, then.

As I do, now!

Except that, now,
I have to give her a phone call
letting her know
I made it home alive,
even though we live
just houses away from each other.

And if I forget to call,
she calls me, gently scolding.


3 thoughts on “Night Crawlers

  1. I loved the poem and the memories it evokes. Thank you so much!!! I am copying Dan on this so he will have a chance to read it.

    Betty

    \ >

    Like

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