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It's Gotta Be the Shoes

Posted 12/18/2002

Every Friday we at the Nose like to facilitate our procrastination by poring through the latest installment of the Mobtown Shank, the weekly e-zine put out by Atomic Books co-owner (and occasional City Paper contributor) Benn Ray. Generally we relish the heated arguments about politics, peruse the listings for things to do, check Madam 8-Ball's horoscope, then get on with our mundane business. But when the Shank hit the Nose's in box on Dec. 6, we were intrigued to read in the Ed. Letter section that some Baltimore police officers told Ray that sneakers dangling from utility wires are "thrown up by drug dealers as a way to mark territory. Evidently, when you see shoes hanging from phone lines, you're supposed to call BG&E and they'll come remove them."

The Nose is familiar with the old shoes-hanging-from-utility-wires story, but we've always heard it was an urban legend--like the story of the mouse in the Coca-Cola bottle or the one about the kid dying from mixing Pop Rocks and Coke. Among the many things we've heard about the shoes--that they mark gang territory, they are informal memorials to victims of violent crimes, they are thrown on the wires by teenage boys who have recently lost their virginity, they are shoes stolen from kids by bullies who throw them over the power lines for fun--our favorite is the one that explains how the custom of throwing shoes on power lines is common in Palestinian communities where shoes are considered dirty. Those who walk under them (Israeli soldiers, for example) are allegedly humiliated.

So the Nose made a few calls to City Hall, the Baltimore Police Department, and Baltimore Gas & Electric. We wanted to find out how, exactly, the city had determined the real meaning of the dangling tennis shoes. Unfortunately, no one at the police department or City Hall could answer our questions or confirm the story-behind-the-tennis-shoes story. (The Nose did, however, come across an online memo from the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods warning, "As you know, shoes in wires are a quality-of-life issue that might signify drug dealing or gang turn in your neighborhood.")

BG&E spokesperson Sharon Sasada told us that the company cannot say for certain whether shoes dangling from utility wires are gang- or drug-related. She did say that they interfere with the transmission of electricity through utility wires, so city residents are encouraged to call the utility company or 311 to have the shoes cut down. Regardless of what they might mean to some people who see them, Sasada says, BG&E tries to put a positive spin on the annoying phenomenon: "A number of the tennis shoes we find are in great shape," she says. "So when we find them and we cut them down, we donate them to charity."

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