New Year’s Eve is always GOOD! Cab services become hot and heavy around 9:30 p.m. and last throughout the night. People are everywhere! They line the shores of the Inner Harbor from Canton to Federal Hill and beyond. All elevated vantage points in the vicinity of downtown are utilized; people’s focuses are on the Inner Harbor fireworks. Many restaurants are packed, as are hotels, clubs, and private home parties. It’s a big money-maker for cab drivers because most people are partying hard and refuse to stay put at any one location.
The annual New Year’s Eve fireworks started a few years before my first book, “Hey Cabbie,” was self-published in 1984. Baltimore’s downtown, then, was a ghost town after 6 p.m. The City Fathers wanted nightlife downtown to attract masses of people to various public and private venues. The first attractions were the Baltimore City Fair, the Hyatt hotel, the Convention Center, the National Aquarium, and the World Trade Center. Their vision and efforts have been well received to this date!
During that time period, downtown Baltimore shifted from the Howard/Lexington Street corridor to Lombard/Pratt streets south and President Street to Martin Luther King Boulevard east to west, respectively, including the Inner Harbor.
The major holidays drew masses of people to the harbor. Many people spent their entire day relaxing, shopping, and strolling the harbor’s promenade. The restaurant business boomed. People waited in lines outside of establishments for tables. The Inner Harbor’s business was no joke to its employees. Tourists and conventioneers were attracted, and they loved our city!
Also, there was a state of the art movie house at the intersection of Market and Lombard. Here, one could park within the complex, catch the parking lot’s elevator, and in seconds be within the theater’s lobby.
That was then and this is now. The recession, high unemployment, and crime have plagued our city. The movie theater is long gone. Many businesses have relocated to what is considered the city’s newest jewel, Harbor East. We have lost a good percentage of our population to the surrounding counties, and the local news media don’t paint a pretty picture when it comes to crime, especially when it concerns the Harbor.
There’s a big divide between the “haves” and “have nots.” The police are put on high alert when it’s known that the “have nots” are coming to the Inner Harbor. Baltimore City’s black population is well over 60 percent.
New Year’s Eve fireworks draw a heavy cross-cultural mix of citizenry from across the Baltimore metropolitan area. This event brings out a huge show of force, which includes uniformed police, mounted and motorcycled patrols, and their equipment. Streets are barricaded, large floodlights are strategically placed and a mobile jail is positioned in close proximity. They are prepared and ready for the action. The only things that appears to be missing are riot helmets and long crowd control batons.
One New Year’s Eve, this well-dressed middle-aged white couple, tuxedo and all, flagged me at the intersection of Lombard and Light streets. They were sharp, somewhat tipsy, and full of joy for the evening. Their destination was Canton Square. He said, “Man, it’s been absolutely hell trying to get a cab!”
“We intentionally left our car home and wanted to cab it for the evening,” he said. “It was no problem getting to our affair at the Hyatt. But, after leaving the hotel, no cabs were to be found, because police had cordoned off the surrounding streets. The only street in the immediate vicinity that was open was Light Street South. There cabs zoomed by, but they were all hired!
“So, we walked and were harassed by the police at pedestrian detours. They actually told us in abrupt tones where we could and could not cross the street. Finally, we were able to get on Calvert at Pratt. This street was also closed to vehicle traffic. Huge spotlights beamed down on us from Redwood at Calvert; everything was lit up; and police were everywhere.”
The lady said, “This is definitely a turnoff. I know that the police are here to protect and serve, but I actually feel like I’m under military detention in a war zone. This is scary. I sincerely hope they come up with a better plan for policing the Inner Harbor’s major events in the future.”
Actually, I was real nervous, too.
Thaddeus Logan is the author of the books “Hey Cabbie” and “Hey Cabbie II.”