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What is being solicited by this hand gesture in the streets of Baltimore?
September 28, 2009 8:43 AM   Subscribe

What is being solicited by this hand gesture in the streets of Baltimore?

While driving through the urban wilds of Baltimore, I sometimes see sketchy looking women standing on sidewalks or medians, with one arm outstretched toward the street as if hailing a cab. But the hand of the outstretched arm has the index finger and thumb touching (perhaps as if holding a joint) and the hand waves up and down, much like Mr. Roper's hand gesture when talking about Jack.

Does this gesture mean, "Come get your drugs here"? Or "I'm looking for drugs"? Does it refer to pot or any particular drug, or is it something else like prostitution? I've only seen this gesture done in B'more, not other cities like nearby DC.

Bonus Wire reference: I once saw this hand gesture being done in the background scene of a Wire episode.
posted by That takes balls. to Grab Bag (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
They're prostitutes, hon. You can see them all around Patterson Park and it kind of looks like they're hitchhiking at first glance but no, that is not what they are doing. A wonderful French friend of mine used to tell a great story about picking one up once, thinking she was hitchhiking and the escalating language misunderstandings that went on from there.
posted by mygothlaundry at 8:47 AM on September 28, 2009


If it's women, prostitution.

If it's men, drugs-- that is, pull over and he or his associate will hook you up.

The latter can be easily found in the Coldspring Lane / Alameda area... and, well, pretty much anywhere in the fair city of Baltimore.
posted by charmcityblues at 9:00 AM on September 28, 2009


Aha! Prostitution was my second guess. My first guess was drugs because the hand gesture looks like someone holding a joint. Also, prostitution was not my first guess because the ones (all women) I've seen doing it weren't dressed like prostitutes, but more like homeless women. Is this a Baltimore gesture? I've never seen it anywhere else. Plus, they put it in The Wire, so that makes me think it's a Baltimore thing. I saw one woman doing this gesture in broad daylight on a busy Inner Harbor thoroughfare at rush hour, and I thought wow, that takes balls.
posted by That takes balls. at 9:07 AM on September 28, 2009


Are you sure they're not hacking? I see many more people looking for a ride than selling drugs or sex.
posted by baltimoretim at 9:17 AM on September 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


That's what I thought at first. But what's with the weird hand gesture? The rush-hour one, I'm pretty sure she was soliciting something more than a ride because she let several cars go by before doing the hand gesture at me. So it seems like I was targeted, which got my curiosity up. I assume it's because I currently have a deelux fancypants car (it's used!).
posted by That takes balls. at 9:33 AM on September 28, 2009


Tim's got it. They're hacking. It's usually index finger out, thumb and middle finger touching.

Dealers usually don't advertise, and prostitutes advertise in more obvious ways.
posted by electroboy at 9:38 AM on September 28, 2009


Alright, now I don't know what to believe. So it could be anything from a ride, drugs, or prostitution. I'm back at square one! Where's Bubbles when you need him?
posted by That takes balls. at 9:51 AM on September 28, 2009


Reading B'more Tim's article, I would agree with hacking. As Electricboy points out, dealers aren't advertising and hookers are pretty easy to spot without wildly gesturing.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2009


Hacking.

I'm not sure what you mean by a "deelux fancypants car" but if it's a large American sedan, you're driving exactly what they would expect a hack to drive.
posted by weebil at 10:38 AM on September 28, 2009


In this article the signal is described as:
motioning rapidly with one downturned index finger, indicating to passersby that they would like a ride up, down, or across town.
while in this article the signal is described as:
his hand pointed downward in the tap-tap-tap gesture of a commuter looking for one of the unlicensed taxis that mostly service the city's black neighborhoods, otherwise known as "hacks."
I have to assume that the gesture depicted in the beginning of this trailer for the movie Baltimore City HAKs is what it actually looks like.
posted by mhum at 11:12 AM on September 28, 2009


Here is another example of the hack gesture from a different movie about Baltimore hacks.
posted by mhum at 11:22 AM on September 28, 2009


I'm not sure what you mean by a "deelux fancypants car" but if it's a large American sedan, you're driving exactly what they would expect a hack to drive.

I drive a newer model BMW sedan. I also received the signal when I drove a Jeep Wrangler. They're like suburban cars, in my mind, and I'm assuming not typical hack cars.

The times I've seen the signal done, it was not exactly like the ones shown in mhum's video clips, but similar. There definitely is a finger (either the index or middle finger) touching the thumb, which they didn't do in the videos. But I'm probably overanalyzing. It is done with a tapping or waving motion, which they did do in the videos.

I too scrutinized the article passage about "motioning rapidly with one downturned index finger, indicating to passersby that they would like a ride up, down, or across town." That could be it. It could be that the index finger is pointed down while the middle finger and thumb touch, like electroboy said.

I guess there's only one way to find out. I gotta stand on the side of the road and do it, and see what people stop for....
posted by That takes balls. at 11:50 AM on September 28, 2009


I'm still going to say drugs, at least when it's men.

I used to work for BCFD (in a non-firefighter capacity, sadly) based out of a station in a very rough neighborhood in the NE quadrant. At the time, I didn't have a car, and took the bus to work. My boss, a chivalrous type, found out about this and insisted on getting me rides from the various firefighters. So I got sociological tours of the area from guys who mostly grew up in the neighborhood.

One day, I saw the same gesturing, asked, and was told that it was drug-related. The guy making the signals doesn't have anything on him, of course, and it's not illegal to make hand gestures. So he attracts attention, then directs the customers to a more secluded area for the actual exchange. Your cars (which indicates wealth / possible suburban-ness) would be ideal targets for this trade.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:00 PM on September 28, 2009


Baltimore's got so much "off the books" street trade (from taxi service to drugs to prostitution), that I'm sure there are sophisticated hand signals for each, and sometimes there's crossover among the meanings.

That said, every morning around 8:00, when I'm driving down York Road/Greenmount, I see men and women of all ages making the hand sign you describe and successfully attracting hacks.
posted by baltimoretim at 12:18 PM on September 28, 2009


This is a related question, but why do people in Baltimore just not use the usual hitch hiker thumb gesture? As far as I know, the hack is unique to Charm City.
posted by josher71 at 12:32 PM on September 28, 2009


I live in TImonium, just north of Baltimore CIty. What you are seeing is the universal symbol for 'I want a hack cab!" These unlicensed taxis are usually available for a few bucks to drive to the store, or pick up kids at school. Hacking is dangerous, both for the hack and for passengers.
posted by Fferret at 12:50 PM on September 28, 2009


why do people in Baltimore just not use the usual hitch hiker thumb gesture?

They're not really hitchhiking. If you pick up someone who's looking for a hack, there's an expectation that they'll throw a couple bucks your way.

Hacks are a way of life around here for a lot of people, who can't afford, or don't want to pay for taxis.

Interesting side note, Cappadonna from the Wu-Tang Clan drove a hack in Baltimore for awhile.
posted by electroboy at 1:28 PM on September 28, 2009


why do people in Baltimore just not use the usual hitch hiker thumb gesture?

Hitchhikers don't pay. And hitchhikers go where they're driven. They don't dictate directions.
posted by You Should See the Other Guy at 1:50 PM on September 28, 2009


Alright, I guess the likely answer is that they're hacking, with the possibility of drugs or prostitution. Thanks for the answers, all!
posted by That takes balls. at 6:06 AM on September 29, 2009


Interesting, this is similar to the gesture used in South Africa, amongst the blacks. I was led to understand they also imply they are paying for the ride. I always resented the necessary rule of not picking anyone up. Our car (we ordered sight unseen, based on memories of older models) was bigger than expected, and it just seemed bad to drive past seriously poor folks who just needed a ride. You just didn't know which ones might be out to do bad.
posted by Goofyy at 6:54 AM on September 29, 2009


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