The Dodge View apartment complex in Landover begins to stir around 11 a.m. as the glass doors slowly slide open, and the women, in housedresses, carrying sodas or perhaps iced tea, saunter out onto their balconies amid the tricycles and children's toys. Languidly, wordlessly, they wave to their friends on nearby balconies and then slowly into overstuffed sofas and battered aluminum chairs to watch the scenes that unfold on the driveways below.
On most days, the outdoor theater consists of men washing their cars, young men selling marijuana, and marching children banging pots and spatulas while humming the latest "rare Essence" hit.
But on some days, there is real drama.
Two weeks ago, Dodge View residents watched two men get into an argument on a driveway below the balconies. Then one of the men pulled out a gun and shot Rochester Bailey in the head and stomach, killing him. Five months ago, residents watched a Dodge View man stab his friend over a nickel bag of marijuana. And last year, residents say, they watched a man shoot two other men.
Such events have led Dodge View's residents to refer to their apartment complex by a different name. "This ain't Dodge View," says Robin Lundy, 17. "The people call it Dodge City."
"Dodge City" is one of about 600 garden apartment complexes built in Prince George's County in the 1950s and 1960s. Like many of the complexes, Dodge View has deteriorated into a suburban slum. Its 535 apartments have hundreds of housing code violations, and Dodge View is on the housing inspector's list of the 25 worst garden apartment complexes in the county.
The conditions at Dodge View have been so bad for so long that the county Department of Licenses and Permits is considering condemning it even though the current owner, Capco Land Co. of Silver Spring, has been making improvements. "We've been taking a hard stand on these projects," said Joseph Healy of the Department of Licenses and Permits. "We're either going to bring Dodge View into compliance or shut it down."
Despite these conditions, Dodge View still represents, to many of its residents, a step up from their previous Washington or Prince George's apartments. They view the fights and shootings with a certain matter-of-factness, as though they were simply another problem like the mice or leaking ceilings. And they are quick to point out the good points of life in Dodge View, like lots of space in the apartments and a play area for the children and wonderful friends and neighbors.
"I love this apartment, I love the space, it puts me in the mind of a house," says Shirley Lundy, 36. "There's crime here but crime is everywhere; look at where the president got shot."
In "Dodge City" most the men work and most of the women stay home with their children. Many of them moved to Dodge view from other deteriorating garden apartments in the country or from apartments in Southeast Washington that were not large enough for their families.
The residents of Dodge View -- plumbers, truck drivers, house painters, clerks and housewives a their children -- pay anywhere from $350 a month for a one-bedroom apartment to $430 a month for a three-bedroom unit. In return, many of them have to contend with rats, mice, missing front entrance doors, floors that slant, ceilings that leak and no electricity in certain rooms. In addition, police say, there have been three slayings in the complex during the past six months and one stabbing, and several apartments are burglarized every month.
"We consider it a hot spot," said Mitchell Dorsey of the polic crime prevention unit. "That's a police term for various type of problems and in great quantity."
Most of the activity in Dodge City occurs along "The Strip," a driveway at the back of the complex between two long rows of attached buildings and their balconies.
The young men who idle away their hours along the Strip are high school students who could not find summer jobs and high school dropouts and graduates who are unemployed. Some of them sell marijuana to the drivers of passing cars, and others simply chat with their friends or work on their cars. None of them will own up to having a first name and last name. Instead, they call each other Rabbit, Monkey Man, Spider Man, Stinkpot, Shakedown, Shorty and The Saint.
"We be acting so crazy around here we don't want to tell people who we really is," says Rabbit, a student at Fairmont Heights High School who wants to be an electrician.
The young men have an audience in the women who spend the day on the balconies overlooking the Strip.
As they chat, they watch young men sell marijuana to the drivers of passing cars. They see children push each other in shopping carts and suddenly drop the carts to scamper toward the ice cream truck, which visits Dodge City at least three times each afternoon. All the while, stereo speakers on the balconies blare the songs of Rick James, the Atlantic Star and Tina Maria.
By 5 p.m., the balconies ar empty, but young men wander through the driveways and stand in clusters, talking sports and yelling unsubtle sweet-nothings to the teen-aged girls who stroll by in pairs, sometimes carrying babies.
After husbands have returned home and dinner is over, the balconies are crowded. The men hold beer cans and the women, glasses of iced tea or soda. They watch the children play and hear the young men trade insults, and occasionally they witness a fight or a shooting.
The adults in Dodge City have a rule: when there is a fight or a shooting, nobody sees anything. This rule exasperates the county police, who say they have great dificulty making arrests for incidents that occur in Dodge City.
But the children have not learned this rule. They describe every fight, stabbing and murder. "Skip and Calvin started fighting and the Calvin's brother stepped on Skip's face with Army boots," says a 10-year-old girl describing an incident that police say occurred last year. "Then two boys tried to rob Skip and then Skip shot one boy in the arm and one in the heart."
The disagreement over whether to acknowledge the shootings is part of a larger conflict. The young in Dodge City, particularly the young women, say they want to move out because of the shootings. But many of their mothers and grandmothers say they do not have the money to move, and besides, violence and leaky ceilings and mice are everywhere.
When Sylvia Lee, her husband and her five children moved to Dodge View four years ago from an apartment in Southeast Washington, they felt as if they were taking a great step up in the world by moving to the suburbs. They figured that the schools in Prince George's County were better than those in the District, that their children would have more spac to play, and that their apartment would be much larger than the one they could afford in the District.
"I was very proud to be living around here," said Lee, a tall stern-faced woman who works part-time as a cafeteria worker in a nearby school. But now, the problems that she thought she left behind in the city have followed her to the suburbs.
When Lee moved to Dodge View, the lawns outside the apartments were neatly trimmed, all the apartments had tenants, and nobody hawked marijuana in front of their apartments.
Now, there are bald spots in the grass, more than a dozen apartments have been bricked up because they are uninhabitable, and men shoot each other yards away from their windows.
Jeff Feldman, the assistant manager of the Capco Land Company, Dodge Veiw's owner, says most of the complex's problems stem from the destructiveness of some of the tenants and neglect by previous owner, who were more interested in having a tax write-off than in providing decent housing. Feldman says his company has invested $280,000 in Dodge View and plans to invest another $1.7 million.
"Five or six years ago the place wasn't a Montgomery County but it was livable," Feldman said. "I'd like to see it get back to the way it was."
But unless Feldman is able to make a sweeping renovations within a few weeks, the tenants at Dodge City may find themselves moving, according to Healy.
Still, Sylvia Lee does not want to move. She believes that her children get a better education in the county schools than they would in the District and she does not want to leave her friends and her elderly parents who live in Dodge City. "I can't afford to move every time something goes wrong," Lee says. "I've never seen a ghetto built but I've seen them made. It's up to the apartment manager and it's up to all of us to keep this place up."
She resents that young men sell marijuana and fight in front of her children, but she does not think such events will harm them. She thinks the shooting will teach her children "who to be around and who not to be around." And as for the marijuana peddling: "I grew up in a drug neighborhood and I turned out okay," she says. "It's all a matter of having a good family foundation. You have to communicate with your kids and spend time with them. That's what's important."
Lee's daughter, Tony Hawkins, 18, a petite young women who is working this summer as a lifeguard, sees things differently. She has two main ambitions. The first: "Raising my baby and taking care of my man." The second: To move away from Dodge City "to somewhere where its quiet and peaceful and where my friends can come up and not get hasseled by people selling reefer or fighting."
In the afternoons, as they stroll along the highways, the teen-agers and young women of Dodge City trade dreams. Few of them are about the careers they will someday have. Most of them are about boyfriends and husbands and children and the houses they someday will own.
"One of these days I'm going to find me Mr. Right," says Robin Lundy, 18, who has a baby and lives with her parents. "Then I'm going to move to a nice house in Virginia."