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Foots & Lateef, Then & Now

foots & lateef
Photo credit Wendel Patrick

We first met Gregory Hill (AKA Foots) and Lateef Aderomilehin on the 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue back in 2017. This episode, we reunite with Foots & Lateef, we listen back together to their original recordings, and we ask them, “How’s life changed in the past four years?”

Transcript:

Aaron Henkin: It’s Out of the Blocks. I’m Aaron Henkin. Here is how the 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue sounded back in 2016.

Kurshid Zaman: My name is Kurshid Zaman.

Kelly: My name is Kells.

Robert Gibb: Robert Gibb.

Stacey Rose: Stacey Rose.

Pastor Annette Matthews: Pastor Annette Matthews.

Joyce Smith: Joyce Smith.

Pamela Martin: Pamela Martin.

Kemi Aderomilehin: Kemi Aderomilehin

Lateef Aderomilehin: Lateef.

Yusuf Aderomilehin: Yusuf Aderomilehin.

Erika Osby: Erika Osby.

Michael Anderson: Michael Anderson.

Clayton Williams: Clayton Williams, nickname T.

Unknown Voice 1: We’re standing on the legendary, most notorious Edmondson Avenue and Pulaski Street. 2100 block.

Joyce Smith: Soul Source Restaurant.

Lateef: LA Auto Service.

Unknown Voice 2: Emmy’s Food Palace.

PAM: Refuge Way of the Cross Church of Deliverance.

KA: Kemlat Restaurant.

Stacey Rose: Scott’s Tire Shop.

PM: Best Used Appliances

K: Best appliances in town. 2126 Edmondson Avenue.

AH: It’s been five years since that episode and this week, we’re reconnecting with a couple of folks we met back then: Gregory Hill, AKA “Foots,” worked at a tire repair shop on the block.

Gregory Hill: To be honest with you, same song. I pray to God I’m released. I’m tired. I just don’t know how to stop, stay stopped.

LA: Pandemic really affect everybody. Our business has up and down, and when you’re down you have to know what to do.

AH: That’s Lateef Aderomilehin. He runs a shop on the block called LA Auto. We’re going to listen back with Foots and Lateef to their original segments and hear how life has changed for them over the years, right after this.

Stacey Rose: I’m gonna do something we call “making the gun talk.”

AH: Make the gun talk, huh?

SR: Talk to me, baby. Talk to me, baby. [00:02:06] It’s 500, baby. My name’s Stacey Rose. Scott’s Tire Shop. 2119 Edmondson Avenue. What’s my nickname? Shorty! Shorty! They call me Shorty.

AH: Why do they call you that?

SR: Probably because I’m only about feet. That’s probably why I got that name. Five feet of fun.

AH: Say your name.

GH: Gregory. Also known as Foots.

AH: How’d you get that nickname?

GH: Well, you know, I was always tall and my foot was big, so they just gave me the name Foots.

AH: How tall are you?

GH: I’m 6’7.

AH: You’re five feet tall and your partner is 6’7.

SR: Yeah, what a combination, ain’t it?

Customer: I need a tire here.

GH: Let me get your wheel lock keys and we can go. This is a tire change. First thing you do is let the air out of your tires, okay? And what you do is separate the tire from the rim. Put the tire up on top of this machine, push that down, lock it in, take your bar, stick it in, turn it around… The machine do the rest of the work. Put your tire right here, lock it in like that, wham, bam… There we go. Put the tire back on now.

SR: She came for one tire, she’s going out with two good tires.

GH: I wouldn’t want to work with no one other than him, and that’s honesty from the heart.

SR: We work good together. I told him half the things… I know he thinks I told him everything I know but I ain’t gonna teach him everything I know because then he could get my position, you know?

AH: Do you have an interview question for Foots? Something that you’ve always been curious about?

SR: How do it feel to look down at me every day knowing I ain’t never gonna be able to look you right in your eye? That’s what I wanna ask him.

GH: I don’t know, you have to ask God. You have to question God for making you so damn short. I’m serious.

AH: Let me ask you if you have a good question for Stacey.

GH: Yeah. How the weather feel down there?

SR: Man, let me tell you, but living is so sweet when you short man. Because people just love short, handsome peoples, man. You just can't reach a whole lot of stuff. You know what I mean, man?

GH: You can fit in a lot of little spaces either, you know what I mean? Now, what you’re looking for is some bubbles. If you see some bubbles, you know we got a hole in that tire somewhere, okay?

AH: Tell me what this thing is that you put…

GH: A tub, nothing but water. Full of water. I don’t see no bubbles, so guess what? The tire is good to go, buddy.

AH: I’ve only talked to you a little bit here and there, but I can tell that you oftentimes have a lot of emotional weight on your shoulders, like you go through happy times and sad times, don’t you?

GH: I go through a lot of sad times, depressed. You know, I’m diagnosed with depression, you know what I mean? I take it for that, so, you know, I always gotta keep a lot of things on my mind, you know? Right now, I’m fighting this disease. You know, right now I’m on the program. That’s working for me, but I’m still fighting, you know, them demons? Talking about heroin. That’s right. How long I’ve been using? I’d say I’m in my twenties, maybe twenty-five, something like that. You know, fighting it for twenty-five years. It’s a disease, man, I fight with every day because everywhere you look, on every corner, you see people that sell it, you’ve got friends that got it. You understand? It’s just been a rollercoaster for me, a rollercoaster. It’s been tough, you know, because it has led me to be locked up a lot. Twenty-one years. You know, I’m fifty years old now. I’ve been locked up twenty-one years of my life in prison.

AH: You spent almost half your life in prison.

GH: Half my life in prison. That’s right.

AH: How long have you been clean, on the program?

GH: Two years. Right now, I’m hitting and missing. When I say hitting and missing, I get high, depending on how I feel, and sometimes I don’t, you know? I’m up and down, up and down, you know? I want to stay clean, you know what I’m saying? And I’m going to stop getting high, number one, and be a good dad to my kids. And be good to me.

GH: (2021) I’m a sensitive person and a very emotional person, and the whole time you see me listening to that, I’m shaking my head, “Yeah.” I mean, like, yeah, I love it.

AH: So, we’re hanging out at the tire shop on Edmondson Avenue. You’re still here. Shorty’s not here now. What’s Shorty up to these days?

GH: Shorty’s still doing tire work. He works for another company over East Baltimore, you know? At the time he left, he wanted to take me with him. But some people are afraid of change and I’m one of the people that’s afraid of change and I got everything packed down, I’m used to the bossman, I’m just used to everybody. Right now, I’m here. Seventeen years now. Eighteen, eighteen.

AH: When I first met you five years ago and interviewed you then, we talked about depression, we talked about addiction. You mentioned that you, at that point, were hitting and missing with your recovery and staying clean. How’s that ongoing struggle going today?

GH: To be honest with you, same song. I pray to God I’m released. I’m tired. They say you gotta be sick and tired. I’m sick and tired. I just don’t know how to stop, stay stopped.

AH: Tell me how this last year, fourteen months has been with the pandemic and your family and everybody’s health.

GH: Okay. I thank God. Let me just say this. Thank God I got my shot. One of them. I gotta take my next shot June the 4th. Day before my birthday. Oh man, I feel good. That was a damn accomplishment, you know. Thank God, you know? That was a hell of an accomplishment because to be honest with you, doing what I’m doing, as far as getting high, drugs, whatever… It won’t let you be responsible. But I thank God that I had my first shot.

AH: I want to give you my condolences for you mom. I know you lost her this past year. It was to COVID?

GH: Yes. Always a sensitive subject. I’m a little bitter because all my mom… All my mom did was help people, help people. She was a nurse, a registered nurse up Johns Hopkins all her life. And she retired, and then she just wanted to go back and she wanted to go back to a nursing home and continue to help people. You know, I’m bitter because she didn’t even get a chance to take her shot. And I’m bitter about that. I don’t know why. I don’t know, should I be bitter about that? She didn’t get a chance to take her shot.

AH: She came out of retirement from nursing to go back and work in a nursing home during COVID.

GH: Yes.

AH: I mean, it sounds like your mom made a really heroic decision to put her self at risk and to go and do that… That’s a high risk job to do in the middle of a pandemic. I mean, she really went out with purpose.

GH: And I told her, I said, “Ma, don’t go because it’s going to hit the nursing homes.” But it was just too late. It was just too late, you know?

AH: The last thing you said to me when we did our interview five years ago was, “I want to be good to me.” Are you being good to you?

GH: Honestly? No. It’s like I’ll be good to others. I’m a people pleaser. I’ll give anybody anything they ask me for, you know? But yeah, as far as me being good to me is… Get ahold of this addiction. That’s number one. That’s number one.

AH: It amazes me that even with that problem that you’ve had for so long, that you’ve held down this job for seventeen years and every time I come by, you’re here and you’re grinding it out.

GH: I’m grinding it out. That’s right. I do, man. Because this what gets me to where I’m at. This is what pays my bills. To be honest with you, I get tired of it. I get tired. But, you know, I get tired. I get tired of it.

AH: Gregory Hill, AKA Foots. We first met him on the 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue in West Baltimore back in 2016. It’s Out of the Blocks. More in a moment.

LA: My name is Lateef Aderomilehin. My business is LA Auto Service. 2124 Edmondson Avenue, Baltimore, Maryland, 21223.

YA: Here’s the wall full of different wrenches.

LA: This is Yusuf Aderomilehin. He’s my son.

YA: Pliers, different kinds.

LA: He’s here for holiday.

YA: My name is Yusuf Aderomilehin. I’m twenty years old.

LA: When he has holiday all day, he works with me right here.

YA: I’m going to Morgan soon and I’m just working here when I’m on break.

LA: Some people… They will take their car to everywhere--they can’t get it fixed. Everyone says, “Take it to LA Auto. Take it LA Auto.” So, and when they bring it, I say, “Don’t worry. We got you.”

YA: So, we got this green button here for going up. You just press it and… Oil change. You know, everyone needs an oil change. That’s the most common thing. Oil change, brake changes, you know, maybe somebody needs to change their rotors. Pretty much everything that could be wrong with a car, we do here.

LA:Yeah, I grew up in Nigeria. My father have fifteen wives and I have forty...about forty brothers and sisters.

AH: Let me get this right. You say your dad has fifteen wives?

LA: Yes.

AH: And you have, like, forty brothers and sisters?

LA: Yes. I have about forty brothers and sisters. Yeah, my father told me the reason why they have to marry because they were doing farming. Back home, they have a lot of wives because they need help to do farming.

AH: Are you married?

LA: Yes, I’m married.

AH: And you have one wife?

LA: Yes. [laughs] Yes.

AH: Tell me a little bit about your wife.

LA: You met my wife. She have a restaurant very close to me too. Kemlat Restaurant.

AH: It must be nice to have your wife working right across the street from you.

LA: Oh yeah, it’s very, very nice. So, that’s why I’m like this. She fed me.

KA: We do the curry chicken old style, jerk chicken, pulled chicken, we have fish, barbecue fish, and rice and beans.

YA: Oh, my mom? Yeah, she’s a great cook.

KA: My name is Kemi Aderomilehin. 2109 Edmondson Avenue, Kemlat Restaurant. It’s what I like, that I want to do. It’s not because of, “Oh, maybe I’m looking for big money outside there.” But it’s just what I like to do. It’s good to have your own work. You know, I’m not working for nobody. I’m working for myself.

LA: I met my wife when...in highschool.

KA: Twenty-six years ago now.

LA: So, I was playing soccer.

KA: Our hometown is Ikare.

LA: And I’m the captain of the team at my school. She is the captain of our team in our school. So, we met on the field. I will be kicking it from there. This is 1989.

YA: My dad’s childhood compared to mine is a lot different because, you know, he started working at the younger age to get to America and start his own business when he got here. But for me, I just… I never… This is my first job, working for my dad. I never really worked. He didn’t want me to work because he wanted me to focus on school.

LA: [speaking foreign language 00:15:40] It means, “Before a child walk, the child have to crawl.” So, it means that whatever you are doing, you slow down. It’s a step by step. You crawl before walk.

LA: (2021) During the pandemic, the first…all the way much up until December is very, very tough. Sometimes, zero income. But during the, like, September, October, we have, like, five percent, ten percent income coming in. So, we fight for [00:16:28] but they give us only one thousand. So, it’s tough but we still are getting there.

AH: You applied for a business loan and they only gave you a thousand dollars.

LA: Yeah. I applied for business loan, they only give us a thousand dollars because they say we are not qualified. This small business… The problem we’re having is we don’t have the capacity like at big business. Big business know how to file and do all this paperwork, and to pay somebody to do the paperwork for you, they talk about $2,000, $3,000… We don’t even have the money. How are we going to come up with $2,000? Then, a lot of companies will say, “Okay, well, you get the money and then you give us $2,000 from the money.” So, it’s just like, “Okay.” We just say, “Okay, forget it.” But we do the business right here, day by day, mom and pop. They say we do not qualify. It’s the same story all over Baltimore City.

AH: Even still, you’ve stayed alive, you’ve stayed open, and you’re open today. Are things looking up now with people starting to get vaccinated?

LA: Yes. It’s better now because people started getting vaccinated and people see… You know, people have to continue, no matter what. Their life continues. So, it’s been tough but it’s okay.

AH: When I first met you and interviewed you, I also interviewed your son who was working here at the time. How is your son Yusuf doing these days? He was going to Morgan State University and he was working with you during his breaks from school.

LA: Yes. He is doing fine. He is doing fine. He has his… He’s satisfied on the IT now. So, he’s on the IT program so… He has a girlfriend, so he moved out of my house now. He has his own apartment with his girlfriend and they are doing pretty good. And his girlfriend work for New York Times. She’s a journalist.

AH: Congratulations.

LA: Thank you.

AH: I remember you saying… No, it was--I remember him saying that you thought it was important for him to take his time and get an education before he jumped into work. He did that and sounds like it paid off.

LA: That’s true, that’s true. We believe in education. Where we come from in Nigeria, education is the key.

AH: I was going to ask you. How is your extended family doing back in Nigeria?

LA: Oh, we’re lucky. They are doing fine. And I don’t know what happened, but we are lucky in Africa because everybody was thinking when the COVID started, all [00:18:56] about Africa, about Nigeria, about Yoruba, about people because we are so scared that if you can hit us so bad here, if you can hit China so bad, if it get to Africa it’s going to wipe them off. But I believe God do some miracle for us. We dodged a bullet.

AH: Tell me a little about how your wife is doing, how the pandemic has affected her restaurant and her business.

LA: Pandemic really affect everybody, but the most people affected is the restaurant people because people don’t come out to eat and it’s so bad. But right now, it’s coming up. I think more people are comfortable about coming out and the vaccination is going very well so people are more confident to come out and to eat. So, she’s starting to get there too. We are all in the same boat, like I said before. All the mom and pop business you ask in Baltimore, it’s almost the same story.

AH: It’s interesting how much can change over a couple years since I first met you on this block. People have come, people have gone. Some businesses have closed. Talk about this block. Talk about what’s the same and what’s different.

LA: 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue is one of the best blocks you’ll see up, you’ll see down. The unfortunate thing is we’re losing so many people. Like, for example, like T. You remember T?

AH: T is the guy that you let live in the back of a van in your lot because he didn’t have a home and he would watch the lot for you at night.

LA: Exactly. So, I really help him because he doesn’t have a house, I give him money, I give him a job right here. I ask him to sleep in the van right here and it’s okay. So, when he started getting some money, he went and get a house and down the road, I hear he’s overdosed. He’s OD’d and he’s passed away. And so many people in the neighborhood, but the neighborhood is coming along. People just trying to manage to stick in there.

AH: You taught me a Nigerian proverb when I first met you that said, “Before a child can walk, the child has to learn to crawl.” I think the idea of slowing down and taking things one step at a time is maybe useful advice for businesses getting on their feet again right now. I mean, I wonder how that proverb fits into life right now for you as a business owner.

LA: Yeah, it is true. I mean, like, before the child walk, it has to crawl. Our business has up and down, and when you’re down you have to know what to do. This year will be twenty years in this place. So, I will be hanging in there when it’s tough and it’s good and when it’s bad. We always hanging in there. But we take it step by step, day by day.

AH: Where do you want to be three, four, five years from now? Still here, still working, still making the business work?

LA: Yes and I enjoy doing what I’m doing. I love doing what I’m doing. Yes, money is good but I don’t make it my priority. I make people happy my priority. So many people will come to fix their car, “I don’t have money, LA.” I say, “Don’t worry.” Sometimes, they will bring it. Sometimes, they don’t. Sometimes, when I do it for them, [00:22:31] say, “LA, I know I owe you fifty dollars.” I say, “Oh, for real? Okay, thank you.” That’s life. That’s what make me love what I’m doing. In five years time, yeah. Look, because right now I’m getting older, getting old, so I’ll train some people. I’ll train a lot of people but I’m trying to bring some people so even if I cannot do it like this, then they will be helping to do it but I will still be at the back of the stage, looking outside.

AH: Lateef, I’m glad to know you. Thank you.

LA: You’re welcome, sir. Thank you very much.

AH: Lateef Aderomilehin at LA Auto. We first met him on the 2100 block of Edmondson Avenue in 2016. That’s gonna wrap it up for this episode of Out of the Blocks, an original production of WYPR and PRX. Big thanks this episode to Gregory Hill and Lateef Aderomilehin. Thanks also to my co-producer Wendel Patrick who creates an original musical score for each episode of the show. Wendel also photographs the people you hear in this series and if you go to wypr.org/outoftheblocks, you can see then-and-now portraits of everyone we’re featuring on this final season of the show. Until the next time, 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.