The lines at the state unemployment office on Eutaw Street were 15 deep and growing. "I don't know when I'll go back to work. All they said was we're off until further notice," said Charles E. Newlin, 35. "But my landlord doesn't care if there's a gas shortage or not. He just wants his rent money and I'm not sure where I'll get it."
Outside Danny's Restaurand (the poshest, most expensive in town) a few blocks away the curdely drawn sign said, "Open. Not Cooking with Gas." Inside, chefs struggled Monday over a makeshift charcoal pit in a long unused fireplace, a crudely constructed grill over 50 cans of Sterno, and a newly installed electric stove.
"It might have been easier ot shut down," said owner Danny Dickman. "It's a lot harder to work this way, Peoples' nerves get fraeyed. But we've got help that has to be paid and we want to keep them. So we're trying to keep going, whatever the cost."
At the General Motors plant on Broening Highway, an empty beer can, driven by the harsh wind, tumbled noisily across the barren parking lot. There were only a handful of cars on the lot. That's not many when you consider threre's usually 3,000 here," said Robert Smith, who had just been laid off for a vacation. You can't go fishin' or nothin'. All you can do is go home and sit in a cold house. I bought a bag of peanuts last night, but it didn't do no good."
These are the scenes of winter in this town, which bills itself as "a working American city," Baltimore, like other cities, is struggling with a natural gas shortage brought on by the worst cold snap in recent memory.
More than 8,500 workers here have been laid off their jobs, including 5,400 at the GM plant alone. They range from waitresses to shipyard workers to carpenters to plastics workers. Many of the city's finest restaurant have been shut down since Saturday under a special order finally rescinded today. Fuel oil supplies have become strained.
"It's a serious situation no doubt about it. People are out of work all over the place," said Paul Samuels, press spokesman for Mayor William Donald Schaefer. "The sad thing about it is that this isn't a surprise. "Everyone has known we were on the edge of a serious situation for years, but the federal government has refused to do anything about it."
In the country, there is a certain bucolic beauty to winter. Its harshness is so open, so easy to see on the frozen ponds and snowcovered hilltops. But in the city, especially a larger, industrial city like Baltimore, the winter is harder to find. The snow is gone, the stores are open, traffic moves along the streets.
In the city, you look for the winter in the faces. In the faces of the chilled school children waiting for buses at the corner. In the faces of th workmen without jobs.
According to Francis Kenney, Maryland director of unemployment insurance, the number of new unemployment claims filed with his agency has risen from 3,000 a week in mid November to more than 9,000 in the last week.
Gordon L. Reich, a press operator at the Proctor Silex Co. in surburban Arbutus, is one of them. He was one of 400 worksers laid off at the company last Thursday.
"It's going to be rough on me. I'm married and have five kids," he said. The money I get from unemployment isn't going to come anywhere near making ends meet."
"With five kids there are demands on you all the time," he continued, shifting weight from one foot to another. "Every Saturday we spend $100 at the grocery alone. During the week we go back and get another $20 or $30 worth of groceries. That's $120 or $130 a week on food alone. Then there's fuel oil. We filled our oil tank two weeks ago for $68, when they came back last week and put in another $48 worth."
Reich, 38, works in an industry dependent on natural gas. His company makes ironing boards and needs the gas to run its paint ovens as well as heat the plant.
My family will make it pinching pennies, as long as my wife keeps working," Reich continued. "But I'm not sure how long she'll be working either. She works night work at a plastic jug factory. There's rumors all over that place."
Reich's layoff is expected to be a short one. But many of those applying for unemployment benefits today faced weeks ormonths without a job. The striking thing about them was the variety of industries they represented.
Charles Hall, for example, is a polato chip maker for A&-P in Baltimore. He was laid off last night. "They told us potato chips are a luxury item and they won't be making them for a month or six weeks," he said. "The energy crisis, that's what they told us. You can't fight it. What can a guy do."
"We've got four kids, but my wife's working for Social Security, so I guess she's safe," he continued unzipping his yellow parka. "We'll just tighten up, and I'll stay in a little more."
A few way, stood Timothy Baltimore, one of 120 persons laid off at the Southern Galvanizing Co. Next to him was a middle-aged woman, who said she was a one of 400 persons laid off at the American Can Companyh's Baltimore plant. Nearby was Simos A. Salaris one of 400 workmen laid off at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrow Point Shipyard.
"The cold has really done us in." said Glen Smith, a 23-year-old carpenter. "Ten of us were laid off yesterday. It's just too cold to work. The concrete keeps cracking, and people keep huddling around the fire.
"The boss told us that they have $4 million worth of jobs to do, but we can't get to them. And we have to have an extended warm spell before we'll go back. It's ironic. As soon as you save a little, something like this comes up and you end up back where you started."
There was a note of resignation to his voice, and the voices of alomost everyone else interviewed. They were victims in a cruel turn of events, and they realized that there was nothing they could do about it.
Most of the layoffs could be traced directly to an announcement by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. last week that it was curtailing its natural gas service to some 3,000 of its commerical and industrial customers as of 8 a.m. last Saturday - a move that was later extended through this entire week.
Ironically, the hardest hit single industry was one usually immune to such crises - the restaurant business. According to BG&E spokesman Charles Franklin all major restaurants in the Baltimore area were told to eliminate all natural gas use last Saturday, except that needed to keep water pipes from freezing.
"It's sad, really sad. That order produced nothing but chaos," Letita Carter, excutive secretary of the Restaurant, executive secretary of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said yesterday. "Half the restaurant stayed ope, half closed."
Some owners scurried around to convert their operations to electricity. Others, like Danny's hauled in charcoal and cans of Sterno, and cut back menus.
One group of eight owners, representing the Little Italy Restaurant Owners Association, met with BG&-E officials Monday to air their gripes.
"We shut down voluntarily. We can enforce ourselves because we're a pretty tight organization," said Frannk Velleggia, association president. "What angered us was when we went out and saw this and that other restaurant open. You can't tell me they were all using alternative energy sources."
"We thought there had been a certain amount of misrepresentation," he continued, in his tiny office at the back of Velleggia's Restaurant on S.High Street. "It was unfair and confusing. We were all left in limbo."
The restaurant situation, however, eased today when BG&-E announced it was ending its natural gas cutoff to restaurants because "of th public's need for food."
Hope of additional relief came on another front also as Irvin Hoyer, chief of the food stamp division of the Maryland Social Service Administration, announced he had asked the Department of Agriculture to declare Baltimore and 13 counties in teh state disaster areas for food stamp purposes. This would cut down on red tape in applying for food aid. He said an estimated 31,000 households have been made eligible for food stamps by the adverse effects of the cold weather.
The big unknown here was what spinoff effects the layoffs might have. At the Chevrolet Inn, a tavern located almost at the gates of the General Motors plant, Debbie Lituak, the bartender in tight faded jeans, said she was worried that she might become an unwitting victim of the energy crunch.
"I'm afraid I'll lose my job," she said at 3:30 P.m. Monday. "Look around here. It's usually packed at this time. Now there's hardly a soul here."