Rough Weeks In the City


There are rough weeks, and there are Baltimore rough weeks. It’s different.

A rough week for you? Traffic. Car’s broke. Woman complains. Man’s lazy. Kids cry. Mortgage due. Job sucks. You suck it up. Drink. Move on. Your parents did.

Baltimore rough week. Three-year old McKenzie Elliott shot and killed while playing on her front porch in Waverly. Devin Cook. College student, zoo employee, lacrosse player, leader, shot down in a drive-by in the Park Heights neighborhood while dropping friends off from a summer league game. Mothers cry. Pastors wail. Memorial balloons soar above Druid Hill Park.

A good week in Baltimore? People shoot each other too. But then it’s just business.


I turned 32 recently. It’s an odd year. Not old. But old enough. The 10-year college reunion creeps up. An internal lull festers. What am I doing? What’s the goal? Kenny Powers said once ‘I don’t want to be first at exercise.’ Where’s the healthy anger? The hunger? I fight with myself but I’m still hazy uptop.

We held my birthday dinner at Tio Pepe’s, a Spanish restaurant located in a basement in Mt. Vernon. It’s a Baltimore institution. My parents held their wedding reception there, 32 years and four months ago, following their courthouse nuptials. I’d never been otherwise.

A pleasant elderly man in a black tuxedo greeted us at the door. He talked and smelled like my grandfather, the former Phillip Gonzales, himself a career maitre d in Washington, D.C. Tio Pepe’s deceptively large, running several rooms deep, all stuffed with tables covered in white linen and silverware. Baroque pantry paintings and oversized Man of La Mancha serving plates hang about. Waiters in color-coded dinner jackets scurry about. The jackets indicate hierarchy; red for the head waiters who serve and perform table prep, blue for the food runners and tan for the waterboys.

Baltimore blue hairs and blood bloods populated the restaurant. At one table, a gaggle of lawyers celebrated a financial breakthrough. At another, a drunk old man in glasses asked his dinner companion to go on a Nordstrom’s shopping excursion for a wardrobe update. The friend, though, bitched how the department store fucked up his tailoring last time he bought a suit there. Their wives smile faintly and sip their cocktails.

We drank sangria rojo, and ate serrano jamon on melon and, later, paella. Garlic, wine sauce and saffron engulfed us. Our server, a stout man from the Dominican Republic, plated our food at the table, piling the rice, mussels, chicken, sausage and lobster in front of us. He was pleasant but distant. If he or the other members of the wait staff were plagued by dreams of acting stardom or a corner office, they didn’t let it enter their lexicon. They just poured the drinks and served the food and later I expected went home to their lives and families. The attitude was comforting, professional.

After dinner, on our way out, we passed the maitre d in the black tuxedo. He was talking to another table, and mentioned that he had worked at Tio Pepe’s for 45 years. That’s a life. He’ll probably die there, still wearing his tuxedo, slumped against mahogany bar by the front door while waiting to welcome the next couple out celebrating a wedding or a new child or a birthday. It’s a pleasant thought. Dying at work in a tuxedo in that matter doesn’t seem a horrible way to go.


A few weeks ago I wrote an article for work about the shooting death of Devin Cook. It’s the second murder of a Baltimore lacrosse player I’ve written about in the last six years. There’s plenty of bad and a little good in the piece. I try to make my readers understand:

“Stories like this, especially in cities like Baltimore, rush by frequently, and more often than not go by without notice. Lacrosse, though, woke us up to Clarke’s story, and to Devin’s story. We’ve held sticks, just like them, and sweated out on the field, just like them. It’s why we want others to play, and why this sport has been so gung-ho about “growing the game.” If nothing else, all of us, from the top Division I All-Americans to the kids just suiting up and having fun at the low-end club leagues, can empathize with a fellow player.”

Devin’s killers are still at large.


The Friday after my birthday we drank on the Avenue in Hampden. Late in the night, while waiting to cross the street, a small African-American girl popped out of a nearby apartment door and started skateboarding up and down the block. She wore pink clothes and her hair was pulled up in pigtails. The skateboard was bigger than her.

It was 10 p.m. but the little girl kept rolling up and down the block, her wheels grinding hard on the concrete sidewalk. Sam and I stood and watched her, forgetful of the traffic or red light. We were a bit taken aback, but not particularly surprised a 6-year old would be out skateboarding this late at night. Not in this neighborhood. Not in this city.

The girl rolled up to us, stopped, smiled brightly and pointed toward the street. “The traffic’s gone if you want to cross,” she said.

We thanked her and crossed over to our car. She said you’re welcome and then continued to ride up and down on the sidewalk, her wheels still grinding hard, and her laughter echoing into the evening.

The three-year old, McKenzie Elliot, was killed earlier in the day that Friday, playing on her stoop in Northeast Baltimore.


I found it. The nugget for this summer. David Simon. Can’t escape him. Not in Baltimore. I read a book about Television’s Third Golden Era. HBO. Sopranos. Deadwood. Mad Men. Three Davids. Fuckity, fuck, fuck. Blood. Breasts. The Wire.

There was a cop. Ray Cole. Homicide Detective. White guy. White hair. Not quite bad po-lice, but not a superstar either. Real life, the actor was a veteran producer, Robert Colesberry. Real life, he died during Season 2 production, so he had to bite it in his fake life too.

Don’t know how it played here in reality. TV cops, though, held an Irish wake for Ray Cole. Laid his body out in dress blues on a pool table in a cop bar. Popo sang and drank and the fat cop, Sgt. Jay Landsman, gave the eulogy (not Real Jay Landsman, a true-to-life former Baltimore PD. He’s skinny and sports a mustache. Later, Real Jay Landsman played fake Lieutenant Dennis Mello in The Wire Season 4. The lines blurred often like this).

Landsman praised the cases Cole did good po-lice worked on, and forgave him for his ineptitude in others. Cole was human, like all other city cops, and suffered his own transgressions. In the end, though, “Ray Cole stood with us, all of us, in Baltimore working, sharing a dark corner of the American experiment. He was called. He served. He is counted.”

I’d like to think we’d all count like Ray Cole. Count the taxpayers and the little girls, count the waiters and the young men, count those residents just passing through and  those who are stuck, happily or otherwise, to this burg.

We’re here in real life though, and everyone has to suffer through rough weeks.

Author: Geoff Shannon

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