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James & Theresa, Then & Now

james and theresa, out of the blocks
Photo credit Wendel Patrick

We first met James Carter and Theresa Marable on the 3300 block of Greenmount Avenue back in 2012, in the very first episode of Out of the Blocks. This episode, we reunite with James and Theresa, we listen back together to their original recordings, and we ask them, “What’s changed in your life in the past nine years?”

Transcript:

Aaron Henkin: From WYPR and PRX, it’s Out of the Blocks. I’m Aaron Henkin, here with Wendel Patrick, and it’s been a while.

Wendel Patrick: You mean since our last episode, or since we started this series?

AH: Both, I guess, right? It’s been ten years since we released the first episode of Out of the Blocks.

WP: Yeah, almost a decade. I actually remember when that first episode came out and, at the time, I mean you and I -- we weren’t even thinking about this being a series.

AH: Right, right. It was just this oddball experiment in whatever you want to call it. Radically egalitarian storytelling. Go to a city block and interview everybody there about life.

WP: And who could have guessed that such a simple idea would turn into 80+ episodes on blocks all over Baltimore and other cities across the country.

AH: Yeah, it’s been incredible. And here we are at the starting line of another season.

WP: …Which comes with some bittersweet news. This season is going to be the final season of Out of the Blocks.

AH: This is it. The finale.

WP: More like a coda, I think.

AH: Here’s how it’s going to work. We’ve got a special ten-episode season lined up for you, and it’s going to sound a little bit different. We’re going to explore something we’ve never really addressed before in this series, which is the impact of time.

WP: Yeah, so in each episode we’re reconnecting with people we first met back on early episodes of the show and we’re talking with them about how their lives have changed over these years.

AH: And I can tell you, these conversations… They’re profoundly moving. And I think this season is going to bring a nice sense of closure to the series as a whole.

WP: So, this episode we are going all the way back to the beginning, to the very first block we ever visited: the 3300 block of Greenmount Avenue. That was all the way back in 2012.

AH: So, we managed to hook back up with a couple of folks from that first episode, and right now we’re going to listen back with them to their original segments and then we’re going to get to hear where they’re at in their lives today.

WP: Out of the Blocks - then and now, right after this.

[buzzing of hair clipper]

James Carter: Been doing this for quite a while. Started doing this when I was about seventeen--unprofessionally--and living in an urban setting, right, which afforded me all these… It gave me every opportunity to make all the wrong decisions, so to speak, right? So, I did a small stint where I was incarcerated, which is when I learned how to do this professionally. My name is James Carter. We are here...we’re, like, basically in the heart of Greenmount Avenue. Greenmount and 33rd, next to the old--matter of fact, this may be part of the old Boulevard movie theater. I recall at a younger age coming up to these movies and watching Bruce Lee films and stuff of that nature. Yeah, we in the heart of the business area here in Greenmount and 33rd. I don’t regret the choices I made, maybe because it kind of made me who I am today. I was able to, like, purchase little trimmers from the commissary, right? And with the comb and the razor, like, you know what I mean? And once a person saw, like I had a couple friends that let me use them as guinea pigs, so to speak. And once the other people saw… You know what I mean? Because sometimes it was hard getting into the barbershop, and you’ve got your [4:08?] coming up and stuff of that nature, right? So, it was kind of like a hustle and I enjoyed doing it. So, when I got released I just did my best to try to keep it going. I did three years, three times since then, man. You know, I’ve grown up some, right? You know what I mean? I’m more vocal in my kids’ life, more vocal in my grandkids’ life, you know? And I’m just lucky that I was one of the few people, right, that was given a second chance because a lot of my friends… They didn’t make it. If God was walking in this room right now, I would have to say “thank you” for not letting me go.

AH: (2021) What’s it like to listen back to yourself at that moment in time?

JC: Oh man, it brought back some memories. It took me a little back, just listening to myself. I was like… I just couldn’t believe, like, where I was at that point and to the point that I am at now. Not to say that I reached a higher, higher level, but I would like to think that I moved a step up from that point. I do not work full time, but I still cut hair now that I have a mobile service in which I visit people in houses and cut their hair due to the pandemic, because a lot of barbershops was closed down. So, I still service the people.

AH: Talk to me about what an average day is like for you these days.

JC: I recently changed jobs, so now I subcontract for Amazon. So, I’ll get up around five, six in the morning and I’ll run out to one of their warehouses with one of my vehicles and I’ll load some packages and make some deliveries between the hours of 6 a.m. and, maybe, 1 p.m., I’m done. I made a nice piece of money for that day and then on top of that, I’ll have had appointments, so I’ll go around and service my clients with that. Then, I’ll come home and spend the rest of the day with the missus.

AH: So, it’s been like nine, ten years since we last hung out and had a conversation. What do you think has been your proudest accomplishment in the last nine, ten years?

JC: [laughs] I’m eleven years sober. I’ve been clean eleven years, and the things that I’ve been through, I’ve persevered. I did not succumb to the demons. That normally happens with a recovering addict, when things is going downhill real fast and they can’t cope and they go back to what’s familiar, which is the drugs. Fortunately, I can say that I have held on. I have a good network of friends that I call with stuff of that nature and I’ve been able to hold on. And come October, I’ll have twelve years clean. So, I would like to say that has been my biggest accomplishment.

AH: Congratulations on that. That’s huge. When I met you the first time ten years ago, you were at a point where you were wanting to become more involved in your kids’ lives, your grandkids’ lives… Let me give you a chance to talk about your family.

JC: Oh man, my family’s doing great. My son is married. My daughter recently got married. My two grandsons… I think at the time, they were like five and three. So, one of them is a teenager now and the other one hasn’t quite got to teenage status yet but they have gotten tremendously big and I’m still in their lives and they still call me. We hang out sometimes. Yeah, they doing pretty good. I’m part of them.

AH: The last thing you said in your segment was that if you came face to face with God, you would thank him for not letting you go. What would you say to him today?

JC: I would definitely thank him because of what I went through, with my recovery and stuff of that nature, I haven’t made any… I want to say, any bad decisions to jeopardize my recovery. I’d like to thank him for, like I said, holding on to me when I call out for him. I would like to think he has given me guidance in making decisions once I prayed about it and make my decision. And it seems like things work out. I’m still moving, I’m still moving forward.

AH: So, if we meet up in another ten years, where do you see yourself? Where do you want to be ten years from now? What do you imagine your life to be like?

JC: Ten years from now… At that time, I would be sixty-five and I hope that I have reached my goal of owning my own home. I might be retired from my regular job but I think I still would be cutting hair. Hair is my passion. And probably doing something, because I can’t keep still. I like to keep moving. And just happy, me and my wife, just happy because our ultimate goal is to get our own home and that is what we are climbing for now. So, in ten years I’m hoping to have all of that accomplished.

[dog barking]

Theresa Marable: She may think that that is a weapon as far as the microphone is concerned, and she’s really trained. [dog growling in the background] Zora! She’s the queen of No Limit. [laughs] It’s a pitbull and, to be honest with you, one of the reasons we have her in here is for protection. So, believe it or not, people are more afraid of a pitbull as opposed to a gun or human being. So, it’s a good and a bad thing because some customers are like, “Oh, they have that dog in there. I don’t want to go in there.” But, you know, we are on Greenmount Avenue and it has been great because a lot of people know not to cross that threshold.

AH: She’s a beautiful dog. But a tough-looking one. I’m happy to say hello from the other side of her area.

TM: [laughs] My name is Theresa Marable. We’re at No Limit Communications, 3330 Greenmount Avenue. T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, PCS, Boost Mobile, any car charger, the bling cases, any carrying case for your phone, earpieces, stuff like that, bluetooths… I’m originally from New Jersey. I came here to go to Morgan State and while I was at Morgan, I actually worked for another cell phone store. Then, I left them and decided I could open up my own store.

AH: You want to introduce me to your colleagues? Who’s here with you, Miss Theresa?

TM: Jamesha Richardson is here. She actually came on about three years ago and right now she’s acting vice president of the company. Really stand by me, side by side. And also my personal assistant, Shanice is here.

AH: So, you’ve gone from being an employee at, like, a corporate place to being your own independent business woman whose got a staff of people working for you and with you.

TM: Yes.

AH: Talk to me about your family and friends. They must be pretty impressed.

TM: Yeah. I guess my mom is proud that, you know, I am a business owner. However, it’s really… A lot of people think that owning your own business means that you have a lot of money and that you don’t have to really work. That’s not true. You really have to work harder than you would work for another business. It’s actually amazing to know that I’ve been in business for twenty-one years and to hear me talking about the business and everything back then. It feels pretty good to be still standing and still here on Greenmount Avenue, at that.

AH: (2021) We’re on Greenmount Avenue, but we’re not on the 3300 block. You moved a couple blocks south.

TM: I did. I did. I’m at 3048 Greenmount, right on the corner of 31st. I like this location. I was at that location for a long time. Nineteen or eighteen years. So, this is a better location as far as the storefront is concerned. And I was still able to maintain most of my customers by being only right down the street.

AH: You know, I have to ask you about Zora, your pitbull. I remember her well. Is she still with you?

TM: No… It’s so sad. Zora is gone. She’s gone. She is. I didn’t get another dog for this location because it’s pretty small, so yeah. I didn’t get another pitbull.

AH: You were a budding, already-accomplished entrepreneur when I met you, like almost ten years ago. Talk to me about how life has changed for you since then. Bring me up to the present.

TM: Okay. Life has changed, definitely. I just do some other things. I am also a real estate agent with United Real Estate Executives, so I love that. And also, I am a licensed gun instructor so I teach people how to get their HQL and also their wear and carry license, business-owners for the state of Maryland.

AH: You told me when we first met that people think that being a business owner means that you get to kick back and rake in the money. Have you gotten to that point of business ownership yet? It sounds like you’re still busy as ever.

TM: I’m waiting for it! I am waiting for it. Definitely not here. Definitely have not gotten to that point. You know, I try to learn how to balance things out so that I don’t forget about me because if I don't take care of me, then I can’t take care of anyone else--especially my clients and customers. But it’s rough. Especially with the pandemic and everything going on, so it definitely has been pretty rough. But I’m still here, I’m still going, and you know, I still have, you know, all three businesses thriving.

AH: You mentioned the pandemic. I was going to ask you, what do you think your biggest hurdle or setback has been over the past nine years. Is it that?

TM: Absolutely not. Not for me, because I was one of the businesses that was important, you know, vital, so you could stay open and, to be honest with you… I mean, yeah, I had a little setback but it wasn’t the biggest because my competition was closed. The malls, you know, Mondawmin, Towson… So, all the cell phone stores were closed. So, yeah, I was here, open for the community. Risking my life! [laughs] On the front line!

AH: You stay healthy?

TM: I did! COVID-free. I’ve never had COVID. Let’s knock on every wood around, thank God. So, yeah, I stayed healthy.

AH: The devices that you have for sale in your display cabinets are certainly a little more advanced than what you had on the shelves ten years ago. You have to keep up with technology.

TM: You do. You have to keep up with technology. Yeah, I had… I remember the NexTels and the push-to-talk. You know, everything was walky-talky and customers swarming in for a ten-dollar Boost every couple of days. Yeah, it’s completely amazing how everything has changed.

AH: If I come and find you another nine years from now and do another interview with you, where do you want to be in your life then?

TM: Not on Greenmount Avenue. I don’t want to be here. I want it to be, “Oh, Theresa is overseas somewhere. She’s in, uh, wherever!” And, you know, not here. To be honest with you, retail is tough. I’m hoping to be selling million-dollar listings somewhere and, you know, just checking back. I definitely want No Limit to still be here, you know? I just don’t want to be as hands on as I used to be.

AH: How do you think you’ve changed over the past nine years and what do you think has stayed the same about you?

TM: I think that I am more patient than I used to be and I have more gratitude. Definitely more grateful, you know? You know, when I was younger I probably didn’t have as much patience with customers, clients, and also employees. You know, now I’m just more grateful and… just grateful, to be honest. I’m just grateful.

AH: It is so good to see you again after all this time. I don’t know how you managed to stay looking exactly the same age. I’m a little older and grayer myself but I am so glad to know you.

TM: You too. Aww, thanks so much.

AH: That’s going to wrap it up for this episode of Out of the Blocks, an original production of WYPR and PRX. Big thanks to Theresa Marable and James Carter, who we visited with this episode. And thanks, as always, to my co-producer electronic musician, Wendel Patrick, who creates original music for the series. I’m Aaron Henkin. Thanks for listening. Out of the Blocks is supported by PRX and produced with grant funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Patricia and Mark Joseph Shelter Foundation Inc., the William G. Baker, Jr. Memorial Fund, creator of the Baker Artist Portfolios online at bakerartist.org, and the Maryland State Arts Council at msac.org.

Aaron creates and produces original radio programs and podcasts for WYPR. His current project is The Maryland Curiosity Bureau. Aaron's neighborhood documentary series, Out of the Blocks, earned the 2018 national Edward R Murrow Award. His past work includes the long-running weekly cultural program, The Signal, and the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings series, Tapestry of the Times. Aaron's stories have aired nationally on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Wendel Patrick has been referred to as "David Foster Wallace reincarnated as a sound engineer" by Urbanite Magazine and as "wildly talented" by the Baltimore Sun. He has been referred to by XLR8R magazine as "a hip-hop producer that could easily make any fan of Squarepusher, Boards of Canada, or Madlib flip out." The alter-ego of classical and jazz pianist Kevin Gift, Wendel Patrick is rapidly making a name for himself as a producer to be recognized. His five albums, "Sound:", "Forthcoming", "JDWP", "Passage" and "Travel" were all produced without the use of samples, with Patrick playing every note of every instrument. What is perhaps most astounding and perplexing to listeners is that there are actually no instruments...he crafts all of the instruments, and every note, electronically.