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Quick and Dirty

Goin’ Mobile

The City Paper Quick'nDirtiCam™

By Gadi Dechter | Posted 5/11/2005

The plan had the crisp appeal of a perfect crime: How does an enterprising neophyte break into the overcrowded get-out-of-jail business? He hangs his bail-bond shingle literally steps from Central Booking.

No commercial real estate for rent on the block? No problem. Just set up shop in a retrofitted motor home, and curb it in front of the parking meters at the corner of Fallsway and Madison, catty-corner from the city lockup.

Beside proximity, there’s the obvious marketing advantage of using the sides of an RV as a street-level billboard—not to mention the happy symbol of mobility the outsized vehicle would represent to those hoping to get sprung from the human sardine can that is the Baltimore City Detention Center.

The shiny black motor home with XPress Bail Bonds plastered in bumblebee yellow on every side has been a familiar sight for several years to the thousands of drivers who pass it every day, and a hulking testament to the entrepreneurial spirit that grips the American mind whenever it is confronted with the pecuniary possibilities of a growth industry.

But the massive car hasn’t exactly turned into a cash cow, says its putative owner, Paul Johnson, who’s been operating it for the past 15 months.

“Business is real slow. I’m eating Oodles of Noodles,” Johnson tells City Paper on a recent visit to the mobile home. He declined a request for a tour of the vehicle.

Johnson, who says he also operates a “small chain” of carry-out restaurants throughout the city, is considering throwing in the towel, believing he may have miscalculated the appeal of a bail-bond business operating out of a motor vehicle. “I guess they look at the trailer,” he says, “and they think, He gonna drive off with my money.”

Then there’s the issue of the parking meters themselves. While the headlights of the vehicle point directly into the mouth of Central Booking, its tail must be a constant taunt to the city’s corps of meter maids (aka parking control agents)—whose headquarters are on the other side of Fallsway.

“He is parked right across from where our parking control agents are housed, and he is checked and monitored constantly,” city transportation department spokesman David Brown says. “They check him every hour.”

XPress Bail Bonds is within its rights to operate the business from curbside—as least as far as parking regulations go—Brown says.

Johnson admits he sometimes forgets to feed the two 24-hour meters he occupies, which cost him $12 per day, but makes sure to move the RV at least one parking spot every 36 hours to avoid the “abandoned vehicle” status that could earn him a costly tow to the city impound (also directly across the street).

“I go back and forth, back and forth along the curb,” Johnson explains. “But I am contemplating moving along for real. One of these days,” he adds with a sigh, “I’ll just disappear.”

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