Any professional photographer of a certain age, working in Baltimore at a certain time, will recognize this scene – our most sacred ground. During the era “B.D.” (Before Digital), all photographers kept a mental map in their heads…on it were the locations of all of Baltimore’s Federal Express boxes and their respective collection times. This was a period of great upheaval in the Baltimore photography scene. Out-of-town clients wanted their film (processed or unprocessed), negatives, contact sheets, prints, whatever, OVERNIGHT. Who cares if they weren’t going to do anything with it for weeks? They still wanted it overnight. We all had FedEx accounts, and in late afternoon, as we wrapped up jobs, we’d drive to the nearest box. Our trunks and glove compartments were filled with FedEx supplies – the boxes, envelopes, and delivery slips we were always stealing. If a job ran late (often), or if you lost track of time (often), and the driver had already emptied that box, you had to do a quick assessment of the other boxes in the area, and scramble and get to one before that pickup was made. The staggered pickup times made absolutely no sense, but when it seemed to really matter, that was the day the guy decided to come early. If all else failed, the pickup location of last resort in Baltimore City was here, the FedEx office downtown. 36 Charles Center South. This was the absolute final drop off location in town, and its pickup time was carved in stone. When those packages went out the door, that was it. You had to fight downtown traffic to get there, and of course because this was at the end of the day, there was no parking allowed at the street meters. A one block long service road ran in front of the building, parallel to Charles Street, and parking, even stopping, on it was absolutely forbidden. In a city filled with ruthless meter maids, the one assigned to this beat was the queen. This was her turf, baby. HER turf. If you dared to challenge her, and park on the road, you had to time it just perfectly. She had to be writing a ticket far enough up the block that she wouldn’t want to double back. And that was when you could see her. Make no mistake, she was always there, somewhere, sometime in the coffee shop across the street. Oh, she was good. Very good. But this was all-out war. You had to park, run in, do what you needed to do – any number of factors inside could torpedo the entire process, get back to your car, and start rolling before she could write you up. When you got away clean, it was with a sense of triumph. Of course if you were a total screw-up, and missed the last downtown pickup, there was still the nuclear option – driving the 10 miles to the airport, in rush hour traffic, and (before 9-11), actually handing your package to the FedEx pilot. That activity was reserved for only the bravest among us. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: These kids today, they don’t know how good they have it, I tell ya.
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