Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Rafael Alvarez on A Tuesday Morning in Baltimore's Former Chinatown

The first photo below is of Rafael Alvarez driving down a Baltimore City street. He is freakily adept at driving in city traffic; and the man easily gets away with making moves behind-the-wheel that would get most of us beeped at, bleeped at and angrily gestured at, by other drivers and their passengers. When he spotted that brown and tan colored, classic station wagon in great shape, which you can see the front right corner of next to him in the photo, he stopped his small pickup truck three car lengths back from the next vehicle up there in our lane waiting for a red light, so we could check out the classic wagon. He loves the size, solid build, shapes, body styles and big motors of them older kinds'a vehicles, and I do too. But I would have had trouble with other drivers, around me, for stopping in traffic where he did. He's just a born 'n' bred city fellow who seems to comfortably fit right in however he wants to on any Baltimore streets he drives on - no matter what he does. Me-own-self, as an old-time pro-driver, with well-honed driving skills, who once possessed a delivery/cab driver's intimate knowledge of the streets of Baltimore, I was duly, and pleasantly, impressed.

The photo below is Rafael standing and smiling at the corner of Baltimore's Park Avenue and Mulberry Street, in front of where (Abe) Sherman's Book Store used to be.

Below is Rafael in the doorway at 332 Park Ave, next to the front window of the former Sherman's Book Store.

Here are two photographs of Rafael meeting the owner of Bouillabaisse Cafe, at 316 Park Avenue.

Bouillabaisse Cafe
316 Park Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 244-8173 phone
Email :

Here are two photos of Rafael sitting at the table of a small eatery where we had breakfast. I never paid any attention to the name or exact location of the place.

Ralph gave me signed copies of two books he's written - Storyteller and The Wire.

Photography by David Robert Crews

Baltimore's Rafael Alvarez is a journalist, author and television producer and writer. Here is his official web site:

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rafael Alvarez Encounters Morris Martick on Park Ave in Baltimore, Md.

On Tuesday, 9/28/2010, well known Baltimore, Maryland writer Rafael Alvarez and I were walking up Mulberry Street, towards Park Avenue, in Baltimore, heading towards the location where Sherman's Book Store used to be - at the corner of Park and Mulberry. That morning, we had just met for the first time. We each had our own memories of the well known book store and its owner - infamously brusk Abe Sherman - and had each written about Abe and the store. Amongst other writing, Rafael wrote Abe's obituary for the Baltimore Sun Newspaper. I wrote a little story about my times as a teenage customer of Abe's - during the 1960s. Old Abe sold the first Rock and Roll band posters in Baltimore, and I bought a poster of the Rolling Stones from Abe - my first of many posters.

As Rafael and I walked up Mulberry, we stopped to take photos of and talk about the building where Martick's famous bar/eatery once operated. I never was in the place, being too young to go in when it was a bar, and not into spending time in the area when it was a French Restaurant. It is known as an old Beatnik joint to me, and that to Rafael too, but he had had the pleasure of eating many great meals there - when it was a Restaurant Francais.

We walked on up the half-a-block to the corner of Mulberry St. and Park Ave, where we took some photos of each other in front of the former Sherman's Book Store. As we walked on down Park Ave., low and behold here comes the owner of the now closed Matrick's, Morris Martick, strolling up the sidewalk towards us. 88-year-old Morris had been born in the building Matrick's had been in, and he has lived there most of his life. I had never seen the man before, but Rafael knew him well. So we stopped and spoke with him a bit. And I took some good photographs of Morris and Rafael, plus a damned great little video of them conversing.

Below is the building where Martick's was, and Morris Martick was born, has lived for most of his 88 years on This Good Earth, and he still owns the place.

Here are still photographs that I took of Rafael and Morris, with Rafael on the left and Morris on the right:

Morris Martick

And here is a video of some of the conversation between Rafael and Morris:

Photography by David Robert Crews

After Rafael and I parted company with Morris, Raf said that the conversation, photos and video are "gold". I believe they are gold to anyone who has any personal connection to Martick's, or anyone who is into really cool Baltimore history. Do a web search for "Morris Martick" and links to tons of really cool reading about Morris will be there for you to pursue and enjoy.

Here is an article in the magazine Urbanite where Morris speaks about his life:

Here is a Facebook page for former employees of Matrick's:

Make sure you check out the discussion board on the Facebook pages. It's quite humorous.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Slide Show of the Big L Blast Furnace in Sparrows Point, Md.

Photography by David Robert Crews

Start the slide show, and a button with four arrows on it will appear in the bottom right corner of the black box. That button puts the slide show into FULL SCREEN mode.

Most of the photographs are of the Big L Blast Furnace in the steel mills of Sparrows Point, Maryland. Not just photos portraying what the Big L looks like, but how some of us feel about it all. Some of us who have had, or still have, our own long personal relationship with those former Bethlehem Steel Company mills and Sparrows Point .

The Big L can be seen from long distances and numerous-various angles of Southeastern Baltimore County and City, Northwestern Anne Arundel County, and the Chesapeake Bay and Patapsco River areas surrounding Sparrows Point. And the damned Big L also dwells somewheres in the minds, hearts and souls of multiples of thousands of us who possess fond - mixed with not at all fond - memories of being, visiting, living and/or working days of our lives, " Down the Point."

On Friday July 23, 2010, the new Russian owners of the old Bethlehem Steel Mills in Sparrows Point, Maryland shut down their only blast furnace - The Big L. That white cloud pouring up out of the top of the Big L is a result of work being done as part of the process to shut 'er down right, so she can be more easily started up again.

Some folks fear, while others hope, that it may never be started up again, though. Steel workers want it, but some ecologically minded folks and others want the entire mills with it's steel making process, heavy pollutions gone.

Big L will be down for at least 90-fugging-days. And it is the American Steel Workers who are getting screwed the worst. Basically, though, all Americans are being screwed over here.

That''s sho-nuff how I see's it - anyways.

I am who I am, owing my very existence to the Bethlehem Steel Company's long gone Town of Sparrows Point, Md.. That was where my life began, and I enjoyed spending a good deal of time there, especially visiting my grandparents several times every month, till the town was torn down, in 1973, when I was 23-years-old. My parents grew up there, our family went to church in Sparrows Point, and my father's parents were some of the last residents to move out of the rental housing in the family oriented, nearly crime free, company owned town, when Bethlehem Steel tore their town down to erect the Big L Blast Furnace.

My only relative to work in the blast furnaces was my paternal grandfather. But other relatives worked in other departments Down the Point. Uncle Philip (Crews) and Uncle Lindsey (Hall) each worked there for around forty-five-years, till they retired. My father worked awhile in the Rod and Wire Mill, as an electrician. Uncle Nelson was a draftsman (?) there for some time. Aunt Donna (Crews/Walcott) and Aunt Martha (Thomas/Clarke) each worked in the main office for a bit. I gotta ask around the family in case others worked there too, and I forgot. Uncle Stanley (known as John Crews to some folks outside the family) was a volunteer firemen in the Sparrows Point Fire Department , but I don't recollect him working in the mills.

My Granddad Crews retired from "The Point" as foreman of the two largest, most powerful and toughest blast furnaces on The Point; - numbers 9 & 10. About ten years after his retirement, I went to work on the Blast Furnace Labor Gang. While there, older men would express to me their high regard of Granddad Crews, of his natural, big ol' West Virginia Mountain Boy strength, and how my Grandmom Crews used to make him great homemade meals for his lunches (each work shift, some men kept casserole dishes of homemade lunch warm on a blast furnace side rim). I also heard of Granddad's personal, even-keeled and thoroughly fair treatment of his blast furnace crew.

Every foremen on every blast furnace could do every single job on a furnace better than any man there - from pushing a broom, using the ever present-shovel, or driving the overhead crane - with it's dangling, oft partly molten hot, cargo being weaved past workers down on the blast furnace floor. I have Granddad Crews' white hardhat from The Point, and it has "Capt. Bob" hand painted with the quotation marks onto the front of the hardhat above the required presence of his name R.E. Crews, because blast furnace foremen are called Captains.

That has something to do with the blast furnace being controlled from a "wheel house", which has a large ship's like wheel (helm) which is spun round during the casting process - when the molten iron and slag are poured into railroad cars; and a blast furnace is something akin to a ship with a hard working crew - working hard at sailing through their work shifts with firm dedication and determination to make and deliver high quality loads of molten iron for various uses that support and enrich the world economy.

During 1973-74, before the Big L Monster ate the Town of Sparrows Point, when there were 10 smaller blast furnaces working Down the Point, I worked on the Blast Furnace Labor Gang. I loved the physical, mental, emotional challenges, safety-self-discipline-or-get-hurt-and-quite-possibly-die hard work; which requires intense common sense, plus a type of serious intelligence that cannot be acquired via any degree of college education. It broils my gizzards when formally educated individuals socially disregard, disrespect blue collar workers of the ilk I know of who work or worked dangerous, sometimes debilitatingly hot and nasty or cold and nasty, mills and factories of this world.

But, I'm more a former Maine Bear Hunting Guide, a current outdoorsman, photographer and writer than a worker in an Iron Ore black dirt and red dust, filthy, reputedly cancerous, steel mill.

But, oh man, it was often thrilling, death defying-hot-blooded-chilling and ever-so-satisfying to make it through a shift on the labor gang to go home knowing I had faced ordeals of steel mills and had helped to produce reliable product to be sold and used in making for a better, stronger, safer world we live in.

Myself, my family, my community here in, and surrounding, Dundalk, Maryland, once believed that those (now ailing, failing) steel mills would provide many people plenty of work forever. Once, tens of thousands of reliable hard workers held gainful employment in the mills. Now, it is down to two-thousand or so who hold jobs there.

The mill's barely working at all. The land it is on along with the water and air around it are terribly, dangerously, deadly polluted in places.

Unfortunately, the future of the steel mills of Sparrows, Point Maryland USA will be decided and delivered by some of America's former, deadly, communist enemies. Former Communists who are now extremely successful, cut-throat Capitalists of the highest order.

Nobody told me there'd be days like these.